The Diaperbag family.

We are the Diaperbag family. There are Jordan, Evan and Dylan (also known as Muffin) and they are fondly known as JED. We are their parents. Ondine and Packrat.

This is JED

Always playing or planning and plotting to take over the world. Always up to shenanigans.

This is Jordan, our first born

Actually she's part of a twin set. She was known as Twin 1 in-utero. She loves to draw what she dreams, dances what she draws.

This is Evan, reluctantly the younger twin

He's Twin 2 by two minutes because it took the doctor that long to find him. We don't think he'll ever forgive the doctor!

This is our youngest, Dylan (also known as Muffin)

He fancies himself the Lion King. His favourite activities are to climb, jump, pounce and roar at the world. The world is his Pride Rock.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Coming into their own- Evan

The first weekend of the holidays had the twins going off separately to do their own thing. As twins, they started off doing everything together and being clones of one another. As they got older and because they were first in different classes and then different schools, they began to do different things and go their separate ways. We see this as a good thing. Especially when the things they choose to do are so different.

Evan chose, very excitedly, to go to camp with Packrat. His school organised a Father-Son Camp and Evan wanted badly to sleep in a tent and be at a camp fire. Packrat's response was luke warm, filled with bad memories of NS field camps. But the enthusiasm of his son was something that he couldn't say no to.

So they spent the weekend out in Sembawang where occasionally mobile phones get the "Welcome to Celcom" message.

When he came back, I asked him to write down words and thoughts about the camp. From all that, this is what we surmised.
The things he enjoyed about camp:

1. Playing catch with his friends.
Any time he had while waiting for the next activity to begin, he would do what other 7 year olds did- he played catching with his friends. And they did a lot of that, complete with monkey photos.

2. Skipping.
A first for him where we realised that the kid had remarkable air time. Just like his dad. With such utter glee at that. 

3. Hop Scotch
Both father and son came home raving about Sembawang Park. I guess that's going to be on our holiday 'to-do' list.

4. Eating.
Food is of greatest priority to Evan. He embodies the saying "A hungry man (boy) is a grumpy man (boy)". So as long as he is well fed and his tummy is filled, he's a happy camper.

5. Playing with Papa.
This was what the camp was meant to do. Dad- son bonding and on this alone, they fulfilled the objective, by the buckets. Now more than ever, Evan is Packrat's little shadow, always wanting to hang out with him, do stuff with him and asking for him when he isn't around.

What he didn't like about the camp (much shorter but much more loudly articulated):

1. The toilets
While they weren't spoilt, they weren't clean and there was a smell. So in his words, they were 'disgusting'. He refused to use the toilet if it wasn't necessary and he figured out very quickly when it wasn't necessary.

2. The showers
Open showers with cold water and muddy floors. He declared a moratorium on baths on the second day because he knew I was picking them up late at night. But that meant, the car had an unholy smell to it and the clothes had to go straight into the wash. Leaving it till the next morning would have caused our home to require a HAZMAT team come in to decontaminate it.

Looking dirty and scruffy because of the moratorium on showers
3. Sleeping in tents

While he was all excited to go camping because he could sleep in a tent, he really didn't like sleeping in the tent. It was uncomfortable and he was lying on the ground; despite the yoga mat that I had sent with them and the sleeping bag. When he came home, he rolled around on his bed and relished it, declaring how he missed it.

All in, I'd say the camp was a good thing for him. 
He got to experience 'ponding' first hand when the rains threatened to literally wash the camp away and he was, in a sense, gently pushed beyond his comfort zone; Evan's body shuts down at 8.30pm but at camp they kept going and going and he really didn't have much of a choice so he kept going till he literally crashed.

We tell him how NS would be much more uncomfortable, how Papa won't be there and how he'll be playing catching of another sort with his friends. His response is to pray that there will be no war. He also swears that he isn't going back again, ever. But in spite of that, he wears a huge smile when he looks at the pictures of the camp and he does this repeatedly. He also talks about the camp at every chance he gets.

So, no matter how vociferous his complaints have been about camp, I'm proud of him because no matter how miserable he was when it rained out or uncomfortable it was, he had fun in the things that he did and he never once asked to go home. That to me, is achievement unlocked for Evan.

Perhaps by the time Muffin is his age, he and Packrat (more importantly) will be ready to go again. But then, who am I to say since I wasn't the one out there with him?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Holiday things to do- heART for art (A Giveaway)

The holidays have arrived and I have been asked, with deep seated panic, by other parents 'WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THE KIDS DURING THE HOLIDAYS?'  and then followed by the question, what sort of holiday classes the twins will attend. For most part, I try not to send them for classes, for a variety of reasons.
a. They are generally expensive when I have to multiply them by two or three.
b. Holidays are meant to be just that, holidays- away from structured classes and time.
c. This article together with others about free play vs summer camps echo quite loudly in my head.

I have, occasionally, signed up for classes for JED. It happens when the children are genuinely interested, ask to attend them and we can find space in our budget for them. The other situation is usually when we have to travel and JED are parked with the grand-maters. In that situation, the grand-maters and carers often need some time away from what can be very demanding children so we build in time-outs and breathers for them (the carers not JED) by sending them off for a few hours every day.

When I have to pick holiday programmes for them, my general rule of thumb is that they have to be non-academic, fun and either invokes creativity or are creative and they have to have to pass muster by said child.

Jordan's request for holiday programmes usually run along the lines of arty or dancey classes and over the years, we've figured out how to pick the good ones for her. We've also figured out a way of weeding out the duds.

Arty classes cannot
a. Be large- Art work, especially on canvas requires some supervision. If a class is too big, the pieces come back looking like they fell off a production line or in a total mess. 

b. Have right and wrong- I once had an art teacher who complained about how the twins had done things wrong. All they had done was to add their own personal flourishes into the art piece. That got them labelled as 'disobedient'.

c. Be uniformed- Usually there is a theme for art classes but when a child decides to use his fingers to do dots rather than a paintbrush, it should not result in a scolding. Art at this point is about allowing a child to explore the various mediums of the form.

d. Expect you to pay for the ridiculous- We're done with dance camps where we have to end up paying for tickets and costumes for End of Camp show pieces. 

The classes that worked were always the ones that
a. Had teachers or facilitators that made the children feel comfortable and spoke to the children at their level. They were also the ones that how to relate to children.

b.Had structure. It wasn't that creative and fun meant free for all. Little ones thrive on structure because they have an idea of what to expect and where they were headed to next.

c. Had activities pitched at the child's levels. That showed that they weren't just out to fleece the parents but had some sort of understanding as to what a 3 or 4 or 5 year old was capable of and how long the attention span was for that demographic.

So, Jordan and my choice of an art studio is heART studio. It's small but the ambience is cheery and the teachers engage. In my book, any place that can convince 'does not like new experiences' Evan to do try something different (we sent both of them at the same time) is a win in my book. No tears, excitement at being able to muck about with chalk and get dirty meant Mommy was quickly forgotten.

Jordan loved playing the the chalk on canvas and loved how she was shown to get her pinks just right.

All this and the interesting one- day camps they had made it on top of my list for art holiday programmes.

Even 3 year old Muffin who at that point hadn't gone for anything of this sort allowed Packrat to leave him for 3 hours where he splattered and painted on a canvas and surprised us with a space ship, Mars (in his words) and Earth. My favourite part of his painting was actually the stars.

Jordan and Evan haven't been back to heART in a while though they had a lot of fun there and remember it fondly.  Muffin has since gone back again for another of their vacation programmes where he got to paint Obi-wan Kenobi. He would have gone back for every repeat session if I had let him because he wanted to do a collection of Star Wars paintings.  

So, because it's the holidays coming up and to celebrate the beginning of it, Diaperbag is giving away two holiday camp classes from the many available;

  •  A Canvas Painting session of Mr or Miss Fox from Mr Fox's Adventures-  for 3 to 4 year olds 
  • A Canvas and Clay session of  Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer one for 7 year olds and above
Both classes are on 12 December at 1.30 pm to 4 pm.

Here's how to win one.  
1. What's the one favourite thing that you or your kid likes to draw? (I love drawing snails. I don't know why. All my notes from JC and uni days are filled with snails) Do this by 24 November 2014. 
2. Leave us your name and email address so that we can contact you. 
3. Check out heART Studio's FB page and like it so that you get updates on their courses. 

Some thing to note:
  • The child has to be within the age range for the specific workshop. 
  • No repeat winners are allowed. 
  • Winners will be notified by email, through the email address provided. (So don't forget to leave one!) 
  • Winners must confirm by reply email or phone call, within three days. Otherwise, we'll take it as you aren't interested and give it to someone else
  • The workshops have been specifically picked by heART Studio so they can't be swoped for another  day or another workshop. 
  • No existing students allowed, we want to let the uninitiated have an opportunity. 
  • This giveaway is open to Singapore residents only.

Schedule for Dec 8 to 12

Schedule for Dec 15 to 19 

heART Studio very kindly gave JED an art session for each of them in exchange for this post. But the two cents worth of opinions here are ours. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

We killed a caterpillar; or why we can't have pets

JED found a caterpillar. A teeny tiny one. I don't have photographs of when they first brought it home because it just

Anyway, they wanted to keep it and make sure if became a butterfly. So I figured why not. After all, Muffin's perennial favourite book is still The Very Hungry Caterpillar and it seemed like an apt, post test- end of term experiment for them. And it was as short time and as unintrusive as pets came.

They were amazed at how fast the caterpillar grew and how much it ate. Muffin was wondering worriedly when it would get its tummy ache as the Very Hungry Caterpillar did. I was just amazed at how much it pooped.

Then one day it stopped eating, inched up one of the twigs that I had put into the container (thereby reminding me once again that I was in charge of the pet) and stayed still.

And that's how it stayed. And stayed.

We think it's died. That it didn't manage to metamorphise. And that was as far as it got.

Evan feels sorry for it because he always feels bad for anything that suffers. The other two seem to vacillate between hoping that it will emerge and not caring that it's died.

It reinforces my long term mantra of no pets. If we can't even keep a caterpillar long enough to help it become a butterfly, what more the other higher maintenance pets like fish? And like I said, the onus was on me to check if it was okay and to feel the loss of it because it's died.

I'm not traumatised but really, NO. MORE. PETS.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Lesson learnt

Despite the fact that it is a universally accepted truth that children in Primary One have no exams, there are these things called mini-tests. And in my book, when we are told ahead of time that there is a 'mini' test, files are sent home so that they can revise for it and that we are told that it will be a certain percentage of their final grade, IT IS AN EXAM. An exam by any other name is still an exam.

They did it mid-year too but since they had only been in school 5 months give or take at that point, the twins had no problems with it. This recent one, culminating the entire year's work required much more revision and because there was more to test, it was also a longer paper.

They survived relatively unscathed, except for their Chinese paper.

What we took away from it.

a. There is actually wisdom in setting practice papers for the children to do. Mistakes that were carelessly made were not specific to but more endemic to the end of the paper where I suspect they were mentally exhausted from the effort. Practice papers however, have to be timed. I should have known this. I have spent a lot of time doing this with my students but I had been under the false impression that kidlet exams didn't require the same amount of mental endurance.

b. Being pedantic is important. So many marks were lost because of punctuation and where upper case letters were required but were absent.

c. Reading instructions are important, even if it were in a language they aren't competent in. Or, the level of competence needed for Chinese had to be at least where they could read the instructions. Jordan dropped an entire grade because she chose to write the characters of the words rather than the number of the word, as specified. And because she had written the word inaccurately (see pt b.), marks got docked for it despite her knowing the answer.

d. We ought to allow our kids to get what they deserve. I wanted badly to go to school and take it up (see pt c.) with the teacher. After all, she did get the answer right. But two things stopped me.

i. The teacher could easily have decided that she should have docked all the marks in the section because Jordan hadn't followed instructions. Then, rather than helping her gain a better grade, I would have caused her to drop yet another grade.

ii. The girl's gotta learn. Stupid things like that can cost dearly. And in national exams eventually, the papers do not get returned for checking so making a mistake like that would mean irrevocable consequences.

So, she has had to stick with her- 1 mark shy of a higher grade- mark.

e. We know where their weaknesses are now. One of the things about assessment is that if done properly (meaning they test what has been taught rather than toss something out from left field at them), it can act as an indicator of what the child knows and doesn't know. So, instead of teaching ahead as Singaporean logic would dictate, we're going to spend an hour every day during the holidays building on what they haven't got a good grasp of. That way, they'll still have to listen in class at the beginning of next year and they might get a bit better at their multiplication and division. That's the plan.

Of course, the egos of my two 7 yos have deigned P1 work for babies. They can't wait to not be at the bottom of the school. Our response thus far has been, show me work with no mistakes then we'll break out some P2 stuff. Though in truth, if they could show us stuff without mistakes then they ought to use that time to read all those wonderful books on the shelves.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Challenging the stereotypes

One of the most frustrating parts about being a teacher is realising that my students bought lock stock and barrel the racial/ religious stereotypes that were virulent in Singapore. I have lectured, nagged, corrected, ranted and raved at them for making grievous assertions.

Evan came home announcing that there was a food drive in school where they were supposed to bring can food to donate to the underprivileged. While Evan tried to explain the mechanics of the food drive to me, I felt the familiar sensation of my blood boiling. But I had to remind myself that this was my son and he was 7 years old and he was reporting a message he had been told in school.

He had said "We need to buy can food to give to the poor people. And the food must be Halal because the poor people are Muslims."

In my mind, this was a precursor to the ignorant assertions I hear from 17 year olds about how all Muslims are terrorists and all poor people live in Africa. I am very sure that their stereotypes come from bits and pieces of misinformation as well.

I don't think his teacher actually said any of that to him. I suspect the message was that
a. We are running a can food donation drive for the underprivileged.
b. Please make sure the can food is Halal so that if the underprivileged we are going to give the can food to are Muslim, they can eat it too.

So, donning my teacher hat, I proceeded to try to correct the misinformation and explained to him that it wasn't that all poor people were Muslim and that it was so that we could bless everyone equally with our donation.

I could see he was having a bit of a hard time understanding everything I was explaining to him but he tried to correct himself later on. And he was very pleased with the stash of can food he had picked out. Of course, he's footing half the bill so perhaps, when I tell him that he owes me $6, he isn't going to be so pleased.