Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Nurture a Love for Reading in Your Child - Special Tips, Ideas and Insights from the Expert (Part 2) (Plus a Giveaway!)

Today, we continue with the second part of the interview with Ms Fiona Walker, the Principal Director of Schools, Julia Gabriel Centre for Learning and Chiltern House on the topic of instilling the love for reading in young children. If you have missed the first part, click here to read.

Q: What can parents do if a child doesn’t seem too interested in reading and tends to run away in the midst of reading together?

A: Sometimes you could say “You know what, I’m going to stay here and finish the book because I’m loving it”, and he might just come back, or he might not. But he’s thinking “She’s carrying on, I might be missing something, even if I don’t want to do it right now”. At your son’s age, you will be challenged to get him to sit down and listen for any length of time. So bedtime stories are the best, because they are tired and less likely to run about.

Q: Share with us how parents can use the Rainbow Bear series of books to help our children with reading? For example, for my little boy (not forgetting that he doesn’t seem too interested with text yet).

A: You can use the Alphabet Zoo book. We use that and the puppets in our schools when we first introduce the letters of the alphabet at about 18 months, just so that they become familiar with the letters and we use them all the way to our Nursery 2 classes, which are at about 4.

You can use the puppets and the songs in the CD. Songs are a wonderful way to get them to hear the sounds and the use of the language.That’s why this whole scheme is successful in that sense because it really brings learning alive and you’re not just sitting down and going through the book.

Q: Is there going to be another book in the series?

A: Yes, there will be! Rainbow Bear’s third adventure is going to be about word families, for example “at”, “that”, “mat” and so on.  It’s great for when the children are beginning to sound out words and read independently.

Q: Any other advice or tips?

A: I think the most important thing is to make it fun and to always keep in mind your child’s level of development and his interest. There’s not going to be learning if you pitch it far too high - it’s not going to interest him or he’s not going to feel like he can do it. While we can give our children a little push to see if they can do it, but if they can’t, or they are just not interested, we should respect that. Then come back to it another day, come back to it through another route.

There are many ways to get children reading beyond sitting with the book. Keep the sitting with the book to something really enjoyable, even if it means you only manage to do that a few times a week or just once a week. You can find other ways to point out the language in the environment. My son loves cars, so he’s really good at recognizing all the car brands. Which is great, because it’s a very important pre-literacy skill whereby he’s able to recognise symbols and understand they have meanings. Which is what letters are – they are symbols and we all agree on their meanings and we put them together to form words.

There are so many symbols with meanings within our environment; the more you spend time pointing them out and you see how quickly your children can see something and know what they mean. By understanding their level of visual discrimination you can have a good indication of when it’s feasible to start nailing down the alphabet and practicing the sounds.

Parents can also consider the use of technology like iPad in teaching literacy. I did have concerns initially. But I see that my children love it and they are so engaged. At the end of the day, learning boils down to how engaged the learner is. I think my son’s learning to read took a big step forward when he got an iPod Touch when he was six. My husband got him games where there’s a lot of reading involved . He’s more motivated to read when it helps him to play the game.

Of course, don’t leave it to just computers games to teach reading but I think they can certainly be useful tools, especially when you can control the amount of time they spend and the games they play.

Thank you, Fiona, for your wonderful sharing and insights. I've certainly learnt some useful tips on how to engage my son in reading together.

Now for the Giveaway!

There will be two books to be won:

1. Rainbow Bear's Dinosaur Discovery - An Adventure in Blends and Digraphs

2. An Alphabet Zoo - Phonemic Adventure with Rainbow Bear

Both books come with CD and songbook.

Here's how you can win one of the books:

1. 'Like' the Mommy Cafe Facebook page.

2. Leave a comment here and share which book you hope to win and what you like about the book.


  • The contest is open to readers residing in Singapore.
  • For the purpose of the draw, participants will be placed into two groups, one for each of the book. There will be a winner from each group.
  • The contest will close on Wednesday, 7 March 2012, 11:59pm.
  • Winners will be randomly picked and the result will be announced on this blog and via Mommy Cafe's Facebook page. 

Join the giveaway now and win one of the two books and embark on an exciting reading journey with your child! Do share about the contest with your friends too!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Going Social

As a mom, time is very precious to me. Even now, I'm finding it a constant challenge to juggle the many roles I play - wife, working mom, daughter... you get the drift. So for a long time, I resisted getting involved with social media because I don't want to stretch myself thin with too many activities on top of family and work commitments. After all, I'm not someone who's crazy about chasing trends (among my friends, I was probably one of the last to change to a smartphone).

Yet I really didn't want to be left out. I'm curious about what's so exciting about Twitter or LinkedIn (I have a friend who raved about how LinkedIn has helped to bring in lots of freelance projects for her). At the very least, I want to know how these social networking sites work because I enjoy the challenge of learning something new.

So after much deliberation, I decided to jump on the bandwagon. I've got a Twitter account that had been dormant for a while. I revived that and am still learning how to navigate my way around the world of tweets. Sometimes, the number of messages are just too overwhelming for me. I can't figure out how some people can follow so many others and keep up with the avalanche of tweets!

Next, I got myself a Pinterest account and now I'm hooked! I love this very visual networking tool and have so much fun creating boards and pinning photos of things that inspire me or brilliant ideas for home organising, toddler activities etc. I'm loving it!

Of course, I guess for me as a blogger, starting a Facebook page is another milestone for me. I look forward to sharing with you interesting stuff or useful information that I come across; I also hope to be able to interact more with you this platform.

So let's get connected!

Please visit the Mommy Cafe Facebook page here (please like my page, thanks!)
If you are interested to see my Pinterest boards, you can go here.
I'm also on LinkedIn over here, let's link up!

Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Nurture a Love for Reading in Your Child - Special Tips, Ideas and Insights from the Expert (Part 1)

I recently had the privilege of meeting Ms Fiona Walker, the
Principal Director of Schools, Julia Gabriel Centre for Learning and Chiltern House, one of the most well-known preschools in Singapore. Julia Gabriel Centre has recently launcheda new book titled 'Rainbow Bear's Dinosaur Discovery: An Adventure in Blends and Digraphs'.

I invited Ms Walker to share with readers of this blog one of the topics she’s passionate about – instilling a love for reading in young children. Read on for some great tips and insights from this early childhood development expert!


Interview with Ms Fiona Walker

Q: How can parents instill in young children a love for reading?

A: The best way by far, to instill a love for reading is to read them; you can start when they are born.

For young children, it’s not really about the words or the text in the sense of the writing. It’s more about the sitting down and sharing a book together and engaging them with pictures and stories.

Words and text are not going to interest the very young ones. Until they are able to recognise the different shapes, colours and see patterns and differences in things, they are not going to have interest in the squiggles at the bottom of the page, they are going to be absolutely meaningless to them. 

Q: What types of books would you recommend for young children (2 years and below)?

A: Interactive books are great. When they are really little, it needs to be fun; they want to do something with the books so storytime can be interactive , such as a book where they can lift the flap, has different textures that they can touch or where there are buttons they could press that will make funny noises. At this stage, they are taking in information through their senses, so that’s going to be much more important to them rather than looking at the squiggles at the bottom of the page (i.e. the words).

Q: How do we move on to introduce story books and introduce children to the words/text?

A: Once they get a little bigger, they might start liking a special character, say Bob the Builder, or Dora, so you can look for story books about these characters.

As for words, usually children will start with learning how to spell their name, that’s normally the first word they learn. They will know their name begin with K, or R and then you can ask what else in the book begins with the letter K or R and keep relating to it. You’re drawing their attention to the text but you’re not making it into a reading exercise. Nothing’s going kill their interest in books and stories faster than turning the fun and enjoyment of reading together into a task or a lesson.

Q: How do we choose books that are suitable for our children?

A: Instead of thinking about reading as such, you should think instead of what’s their interest now, and match the books to their interest, as opposed to trying to match them to books you think they should be reading. So for example if your child is interested in cars, you can find books with wheels, then you can take a few minutes to flip through the book with him and then you put the book away while the excitement is still quite high, and he will go back to it.

The other thing is, don’t give up, children’s interests change all the time. I’ve been so upset that I’ve bought some books for my son and think they’re going to be so loved, but he showed no interest and I think that’s it, he doesn’t like them. But in two months’ time, he suddenly might be much more interested and come round to those books. 

Q: What kind of environment can we create to encourage the love of books and reading?

A: The easiest way to encourage a love of reading is to be a reader yourself. If you’re not so much a reader yourself but want to encourage your child to enjoy books, then you do have to make the effort to read to them.

Some children may be late bloomers in the reading department. Biologically, there’s so much that goes into learning to read, that it is accepted they will only have everything in place to be able to make sense of text until they are between 4 and 7 years old. In Singapore, our school system expects that to happen at the earlier rather than the later stage. This can put a lot of pressure on children and parents.

Another thing parents can do is to get the children to make books. Like if your child is into plants, then you can pick leaves together with him and let him make his own books. (Brilliant idea, why didn’t I think of that?)

Q: What may backfire in our efforts to nurture the love for reading?

A: I think to rush them in the development of the skills that are necessary for literacy can be to the detriment of them enjoying books. So when you’re reading them a story, it should be that you’re just reading a story to them and not half way through you say “Read this to me…  What does this word mean… Spell it out…” It shouldn’t be like that; don’t turn it into a task or lesson. Of course, there’s a time and place to teach learning how to read, but it should not be to the detriment of enjoying books.

Part 2 of this article will be published this coming Wednesday. There's also going to be a giveaway of TWO copies of Julia Gabriel's books! The details will be announced on Wednesday. See you!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thankful Thursday: Simple Happiness

This has been a tiring week. The little boy is down with flu and hasn't been attending school. Besides fever, he's also having a running nose and is coughing so much that even his voice has started to turn a little hoarse (first time ever).

Little things, simple joys

Nevertheless, it's during moments like this that I feel especially fortunate to be a WAHM. If I had been working away from home, I'd be worried and probably be calling every other hour to check on his condition, since I can't fully trust a helper to take care of him and be able to make the right decisions.

It also reminds me to be thankful to a husband who is supportive of my decision to work from home (there are times I've taken this for granted). Given Singapore's high cost of living, many families are dual-income households with each spouse being responsible for equal share of the household expenses. It's thus not an easy decision to survive on one main income.

I'm thankful too, that despite being unwell, the little boy is still full of energy and is as active (and mischievous) as ever...

He's also been talking a lot and picking up simple phrases here and there and applying them to situations that often had us laughing:

Exclaiming "My gosh!" (I seriously don't know where he learnt this from, definitely not us) whenever we try to wrestle away from him things that we don't allow him to play with, such as the thermometer, canned food and pots.

Saying "Kenan good boy" when we call him "naughty boy" or comment that he's not behaving himself.

Telling me "Be careful!" when I was cutting his nails and it went a little too deep.

And we were the happiest when he finally remembered our names and accurately say it out.

Ah... the joys that a child brings.

However, because the boy has not being going to school, I didn't get much work done. Ironically, I ended up spending more time experimenting in the kitchen.

I made caramelised pork for the first time (followed a recipe I found online) and finally learnt how to fry fish properly using the HappyCall pan - more greaseless days ahead!

While the week went by in a seemingly 'unproductive' way, I'm thankful for the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the simple moments in life.

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things."Robert Brault

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Follow Up Review of Happy Call Pan

I've been using the Happy Call Pan for a few months now. While I'm not a great experimenter like some  users who not only cook their meals with the pan, but are happily using it to make cakes and breads and so forth. Nonetheless I've gotten myself busier now as I ended up taking over the helper's role in the kitchen! Even then, I would say this is one of the best buys I've gotten for the kitchen.

In this post, I'm sharing more of my experience in using the pan:

1. Cooking vegetables
Depending on the amount you cook and especially the leafy ones, you will probably end up adding the vegetables in over a few rounds (after the vegetables have shrunk enough for you to add more in). This is due to the size of the pan, and I'm already using the deeper pan, which is bigger.

2. Fry fish (a whole fish)
Frying fish is probably the hardest to do, especially in trying to get crispy skin. You need to first make sure the fish is pat very dry, then at the advise of some other Happy Call users, to rub salt and corn flour on the skin before cooking. Still, I couldn't get it as crispy as frying in a wok. I suspect it might be because I'm using  the deeper pan and there's more space around the fish, hence it does take quite a while to get the fish thoroughly cooked.

3. Grill Salmon
Whenever I grill salmon, which is a very oily fish, the kitchen becomes oily and by the time it's done (which took quite a while), I end up with a pan full of oil - which ALL comes from the fish. Perhaps I've cooked it a tad too long so all the oil  came out? But I don't have as much problem with cooking cod fish.

4. Frying chicken wings
Just like with frying fish, I could never get crispy skin with the chicken wings. Not sure if it's the cooking method or simply because of the pan. They turned out more like braised chicken wings, minus the gravy. The floor is also more oily than when I cook other items (but much less than frying salmon).

5. Scratches
I'm not sure if it's just me, but there's already a few scratches on the bottom of the pan despite being very careful with it (that;s also why I don't let the helper use the pan; she's really rough with things). Thankfully they are not very deep scratches, so I continue using the pan. I suppose maybe the edges of the wooden spatula isn't smooth enough. So be very selective of the spatula you use. By the way, does anyone know if it's harmful to health to continue using the pan after scratches have appeared?

6. Weight
Depending on how much food you're cooking, it can get a bit too heavy sometimes. But I'm not a strong woman to begin with. So this is not actually a problem. Anyway, in most cases, it's not necessary to keep flipping the pan, especially not when you're cooking something with more liquid.

Overall, I'm pleased with the Happy Call pan. I've also been cooking lots of pasta and fried noodles and fried rice because I don't have to worry about greasy fumes or lingering smell in the kitchen from the cooking. It's also healthier since I use lesser amount of oil because of the non-stick property of the pan.

How's your Happy Call experience? Do you think it's one of the best investment you've made for the kitchen? 

Monday, February 20, 2012

After Happy Call, This Is What I Am Experimenting With....

After using Happy Call pan for a few months, I've began looking around for other kitchen gadgets that either cooks faster or saves me effort and energy (electricity/gas).

I remembered having two Endo brand thermal magic cookers (5L and 2.5L) stored away at the top kitchen cabinet and decided to take them out and give it another try.

I purchased the pots more than a year ago from Metro during a special promotion. If I'm not wrong, I paid about $80 for them.

How the Endo thermal cooker works

The thermal cooker comes with an inner pot and an outer/thermal pot.

According to the manual, you just need to place ingredients in the inner pot, put on stove and cook for about 10 minutes (start timing after water boils). Then transfer inner pot into the outer pot and cover lid. The food will continue cooking using heat retention technology (to read more about the technology, go to here and here).

Benefits of thermal cooker
  • No monitoring required
  • Saves electricity/gas
  • Helps keep food warm for a few hours

The Endo cooker also comes with a small 'saucepan' so you can cook two things at the same time e.g. boil soup in pot and steam tofu in the saucepan.

For full-time working moms, you can cook your food in the morning and by the time you're home, dinner is ready.

My experience with Endo thermal cooker

The reason I stopped using the thermal cooker was that I found the food wasn't as tasty as compared to cooking on the stove or using slow cooker.

This time round, I tried letting the food cook longer on the stove before transferring to the thermal pot, and also let it cook longer in the pot and the taste turns out better (not as bland; more concentrated). But I would still prefer the food cooked the 'traditional' ways or maybe I just need to experiment a bit more.

So far, I've only used the pot for cooking porridge, soup and making desserts.

I would say I'm a happier thermal cooker user now because the food taste better than when I first used the cooker.

The helper is also happy with using the cooker. She would make porridge in the morning, then concentrate on doing other chores. When lunch time comes, our food is ready. Or she makes soup in the afternoon and it will be ready for dinner. Meanwhile, we save on gas and electricity.

By the way, one tip I read from a local forum is that you can take out the soup/stew about an hour later to boil again and then put it back into the thermal cooker. I believe the food will definitely taste more concentrated/stronger done this way. Will try this out.

Besides Endo, there are also other brands available in the market. What I know of is Tiger and La Gourmet (sometimes I wonder if the results would be different if I use one of these more expensive brands).

By the way, it seems that thermal cookers can be used to make cake and bread loaf. Now, this begins to sound like a good addition to the kitchen, doesn't it?

Thermal cooker recipes

Bubur Terigu the healthy version (dessert) - by Ellena Guan
Red bean soup - by Ellena Guan
The thermal cooker thermal cooking weblog
DreamPot Recipes

Are you also using a thermal cooker? How do you like it? Do you know of other time-saving or energy-saving kitchen ware?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Let's Play Doctor!

You might have read in a previous post that we don't really buy much toys for Kenan. Yet, my boy has two sets of doctor's kit. Simply because I couldn't resist buying the second set after seeing how fun it is:

* Stethoscope with heartbeat sound
* Otoscope and magnifier with light
* Syringe with spring loaded
* Medicine bottles with  caps that can be opened

Each item is functional in its own way, which is the total opposite of everything in the first set of doctor's kit we got for Kenan (thermometer can't 'read' temperature, bottle caps can't be opened, a stethoscope that not only didn't make any heartbeat sound, it kept saying "you're sick".. how irritating is that? In the end, I removed the battery). The best part is, it's just $9.90! 

The brand? My Family Doctor. I've seen them at various places, like at a Metro sale (pics on the left) where there were two sets with different combination of the items and came with a soft  bag, and also at Kiddy Palace (right pic); all at $9.90. 

The one Kenan has was bought from NTUC Xtra but it didn't come with any container (too bad I bought it a bit too early). The items that have light or sound are battery operated but are not changeable. Honestly, the battery didn't last long, but at just $9.90 a set, I thought it was worth it. 

Now, who wants to see a doctor?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reconnecting with My Passion

Today, I am blogging at World Moms Blog.

It was quite a hard post for me to write (but I chose the topic anyway), I felt kinda of 'exposed' talking about it, because I'm baring a part of me that I don't really talk about with others - a dream and a passion that I've kind of lost the confidence or the zeal in pursuing. But something got me thinking that I need to relook at it this year.

It's got to do with this logo:

So please hop over to my blog post and if you could, leave me a comment there (or here if you prefer).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thankful Thursday: Things to be Grateful For...

Not sure about you but I'm quite happy that all the festivities are over and life is quietly settling down into old routines.

Strangely, while I'm not one who likes rules, yet I come to realise that I do appreciate routines. It brings with it a certain orderliness and predictability that can be quite calming.

Looking at the months ahead, I really do need a strong routine in place, as there are some big projects in the pipeline that will occupy much of my waking hours. So I really need to manage my time and the household well so that I can be as productive as possible.

And talking about the projects, I'm really thankful. They are projects that are meaningful to me and I'm excited that I'll get to work on them (I'll probably share more along the way).

Work aside, the little boy is at a stage where he's developing his linguistic skills rapidly. Not only is he saying some new words everyday , he's also able to reply us in simple two-, three-word phrases. Such as when he was playing with bubbles, he would say "coming down" to describe where the bubbles were going or tell us "from there" when asked where he picked something up from.

The most interesting of all is probably how he calls himself a "good boy". Like when I told him I'm not going to give him snacks because he had misbehaved, he looked at me with his innocent eyes and said, "Kenan good boy!" and hoped that I'll change my mind. I immediately burst out laughing. And these days, he used that on us quite a bit! Anyway, it's getting more fun now and I'm looking forward to when I can have a proper conversation with him!

Meanwhile, the boy is still as keen about helping with the house chores as ever. He thinks it's really fun and feels proud that he can accomplish some of the tasks he sees us adults doing. I happily let him do it, because I think it helps to build his motor skills and confidence.

Kenan enjoys cleaning the house (and he will say "Kenan wipe" or "Kenan mop" and sometimes snatches the cloth or broom or mop from us) and the vaccum cleaner is his new 'toy'.

Inevitably though, he often ends up making us more busy...

(he thinks that pole is a toy.. hm...)

While he can be naughty and tests my limits more often now (he's at the so-call terrible twos stage), I'm still thankful for the joy he brings us! God is good!

Today I'm linking up again with Mama J from Mum in the Making on her weekly Grateful Gatherings link up.

Come join us and share what you're thankful for this week!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Dinosaurs Have Come to Town!

Wondering what to do this weekend? Come join Rainbow Bear and his dinosaur friends for a day of music, songs, art and craft and more!

To celebrate the launch of 'Rainbow Bear's Dinosaur Discovery: An Adventure in Blends and Digraphs', Julia Gabriel Centre is hosting The Dinosaur Stomp on Saturday, 4 February from 10am to 5pm at Forum The Shopping Mall.

The Programme

The fun-filled family event comprises stage performances and floor activities.

Children  will get to enjoy a time of music and songs, lively performances by Rainbow Bear and friends, and the Dinosaur Stomp. They can also participate in art and craft activities, face painting, and bring home some nice goodie bags and wonderful prizes from Lucky Draws and a Dinosaur Egg Treasure Hunt (1-2pm). To register for the treasure hunt, please contact Julia Gabriel Centre at 6733 3422.

Guests can also look forward to a special book signing and photography session with Julia Gabriel and Rainbow Bear (12.30pm and 4.15pm).

About the Book

(book cover; image provided by Julia Gabriel Centre)

Rainbow Bear's Dinosaur Discovery is the latest addition to the series of children's books from Julia Gabriel Creations.

It features 24 dinosaur characters and through vibrant text, colourful illustrations and engaging songs, children will learn sounds like 'Ch', 'Th', 'Sh', 'Wh' and more.

For a peek inside the book set (which I received a set of):

I have not start reading the book with Kenan but thought I'll listen to the CD first. I found that it makes a great companion to the book. It not only repeats what's in the book (read in Standard English pronunciation), the addition of songs helps reinforces the learning in a fun and engaging way.

To find out more about the book, do go down to the Dinosaur Stomp this coming Saturday.

The book, CD and songbook set will be selling at 15% off its normal retail price ($29.95) at this one-day event. So don't miss this chance!


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