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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The math that adds up

The other reason why we pulled the twins out of the Nazi Chinese school was this.

A friend of mine, Liz,  set up an enrichment centre last year. It's called BlueTree Education. Muffin went there in December for Santa Camp and they all fondly call it Santa School, which has a nice ring to it. Anyway, I've always liked all the stuff that they did there. If ever there was coveting for enrichment classes, this was it. Not because it would explicitly guarantee them good grades but because the classes seemed to framed around the creativity, critical thinking and imagination. All things I believe in. Then Liz asked if the twins wanted to try out their Math programme.

I hedged because the twins have a very packed school week. That and the fact that although an educator, I don't want to buy into the tuition culture more than I have to (the 'I have to' part is the Chinese) . Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me as well as Jordan who has actually been bugging me for Math class, we went to pay Liz a visit one early Saturday morning. Liz doesn't actually teach the class. The class is taught by another ex teacher.

I dropped them off and ducked out, happy to have 90 minutes to do non-kid related things. When I got back to get them, they were chomping on a chocolate chip cookie each and looked extremely disappointed that I was there.

By the time I managed to wrangle them out of the centre I'd blown my 10 minute grace period with parking,

So what did this have anything to do with why we pulled them out of Nazi Chinese School?

1. It showed that enrichment centres/ classes weren't made equal.
2. It showed that classes could be engaging for the children and they could actually want to go to class and have fun there.
3. It showed that there were different ways of teaching children and to build their confidence.
4. It showed that learning didn't have to happen by rote and didn't require beating the child down to do it.

And why I liked the BlueTree Math specifically?
1. They used manipulatives. Both Jordan and Evan are visual learners though Evan is able to do rote a little bit better. But nothing helps them understand the concepts and apply them as manipulatives do. I've always been a big fan of manipulatives and spend a lot of time looking at what to get on Amazon.

2. Math games that teach both speed and accuracy.

3. Not a ridiculous amount of homework but a doable set. On top of that, the homework set they take home is consolidation of what they've done in class. Same sort of questions, different numbers and different levels of difficulty. So there hasn't been excuses of  "I don't know how to do my homework!" and much more willingness to practice. That's also meant they've become more confident with their Math and the positive cycle going on now is nicely self-perpetuating.

4. The teacher is encouraging and affirming of their efforts. Evan used to come out of Nazi Chinese ecstatic. But his ecstasy came from the fact that the 2 hours of torture was over. Evan comes out of class here beaming, telling me what games he's played and how much the teacher encouraged and praised his effort.

5. Jordan, who has always felt that her strength has been in English has become bolder with her Math because  it is explained in a way that she understands and as a result, she gets them right. That makes her dare to try more challenging questions. It makes me smile to see her take on her Math, that she struggled with a little bit more than Evan and it reminds me of this ad about reminding girls that they can be pretty brilliant too.

All good things.

So for now and while they say it's fun and they want to go, we'll let them do Santa School (BlueTree Math) and learn something while they're at it.

 BlueTree Education is very kindly sponsoring the twins' Math class with them for a term. If anyone is keen to try their stuff, they offer free trial classes. I love what they do at English and Current Affairs Club too but for now, the twins need more play time than classes. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

The things they say

We love eavesdropping on JED's conversations with one another and we love their conversations with us. 

They say the darndest things. 

Of course, there have been occasion where they've actually used swear words that they've inadvertently picked up. But then there are funny phrases that make us chuckle and go "where did you get that from?"

Because she picked up our anthology of Edgar Allen Poe and insisted on trying to read something from it. Because she told me she didn't understand what she read. Because I asked her if it was hard to read. Her response was "verily". 

Playing some version of 20 questions with Jordan and Muffin in the car. His question is "Is it friend or foe?" Not entirely sure which television show he picked it up from but it's still quite fancy. 

He asks to watch Wallace and Gromit because it's been a while. Before it begins, the letters BBC flash across the screen. His reaction to it in as proper English as a five year old could muster, "This is the BBC World Service."

Funny the things they internalise and pull out of their hats. Of course, we have to watch what we say in front of them and what they read but for most part, it's just amusing.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Choosing our battles with Chinese

We're almost at the end of the first term of Primary 2. Things are moving at an infinitely faster pace. It isn't frenetic yet but it's slowly getting there. There is something on practically every day and the twins take it in their stride as long as they get some time to run around downstairs and shout on top of their voices. But the day they hate the most is Wednesday. On Wednesday, they spend two hours in what Packrat and I have labelled Nazi Chinese class. This was the same holiday class that the twins were doing at the end of last year. This was the same class that Evan didn't want to continue and we insisted they had to because it was good for them.

Admirably, they've stuck to the strict regime of homework that would require the entire week in between classes to complete. Chinese compositions to re-copy, spelling to practice, paragraphs to memorise and passages to practice reading out loud. But the thing is while they've definitely become more resilient in the face of great difficulty and in their eyes, drugery, we have decided to concede that it isn't for them. 

We discovered this about 3 weeks into the term but decided that we had a responsibility to the twins to make sure they see through the term. The reasons why we felt this way were that

1. Evan was demoralised. Every single Tuesday night, he would tell us how much he dreaded going to class the next day. He felt like he was being picked on by the teachers because he was slower writing. I didn't believe him until I saw the teacher rolling her eyes at him above his head. So he didn't see it but the Mommy peeping in to check if they were done caught it in full.

2. The school and therefore the teachers work on a different pedagogical philosophy than we subscribe to. We don't and have never believed in putting down a child to motivate him or her to succeed. Perhaps some children respond to that but we have never treated JED that way and therefore they recoil from being treated in that way. It has a lot to do with my mother reminding me to "teach a child from what he knows to what he doesn't know" rather than "This is what you ought to know, I don't care how you get to that point, but you bloody well get there or suffer wrath." And it didn't seem to matter that what they ought to know was various standards above what they actually knew at this point. This actually makes this Nazi Chinese class a great class for kids who want to excel. But for kids like mine that still need to have the love for the language cultivated and the pillars of the language strengthened, nope. Akin to building a skyscrapper on swampland.

3. We spent many of their pre-schooling years in schools that were bigger on nurturing than demanding excellence for results. This school was markedly different. Nurture? Where is there time to nurture? We have things to do and places to go. Flail? Learn how to swim? Can't? Then, drown.

4. Jordan was becoming too competitive. Because they put so much emphasis on who finished first, she always wanted to finish first regardless of the quality of her work.

I did blog about sticking to our guns and letting them go through it. Well, guns have been stuck to and gone through they have. We've given our notice and we're done with it.

Practically, it does leave a big hole in supporting their Chinese. And we've been trying to plug it ourselves, the way we want them to learn while we find something of the right fit. This has meant that I've had read to JED in my very rusty and patchy Chinese. It's also meant that Packrat and I have spent a whole afternoon on the floor drawing up matching flash cards for the twins just so that part of their revision becomes a game rather than mundane memory work. Perhaps this way, they retain it past the test next week.

It would be so much easier to concede as necessary the whole rote, over-teaching schtick that everyone is buying into. That way, I can, in all good conscience, keep them in the Nazi Chinese class because it is good for them and I can be sure that they won't fail at the language. My way? They truly might fail But that is looking at it only from my perspective. From their point of view,  Evan hates the language already and barely tolerates it. If I stuck him at the Nazi Chinese Centre for the long term, it might end up with him having such a revulsion for the language that once he figures out how to be more rebellious, he won't care if he fails at it. Jordan, she might pick up a bit more from it but at what cost? Becoming uber competitive and crying every time she doesn't come in first?

I wasn't fantastic at Chinese but I had neighbours that I played with, who spoke only Chinese and I loved the Channel 8 dramas. Those two things saved me from the fate that awaited my very anglo, mission school- going brothers. I didn't hate it like they did because I used it and I was conversant in it and it helped me do relatively well for it. Even if I'm no longer there, it's where I want JED to be at and my sense is that forcing what seems to be the industry's standard of what is the best down their little potato-banana throats is really not going to help this cause.

So we fight smart. We forsake this war in the hope that we will have energy for the longer battle and it might be a little bit more painless.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Peer Pressure; The Gadget Edition

Over the Chinese New Year season, one of mrbrown's updates was "Words I find myself saying the most to my kids during ‪#‎CNY‬: "Oi! Put the iPad/iPhone down!"

It was a refrain too true for us as well. JED know that iDevices aren't kosher when it comes to entertaining themselves. And they are all good about it until they are faced with some other kid whipping out their iDevice then everyone gravitates toward it. Moths, naked flame, that sort of them.

While they know the rules by heart, their sense of self-restraint is as strong as everyone else playing by our rules. Unfortunately, we are in the minority and that makes it hard for our soon to be 8s and newly minted 5 to resist.

We go visiting or, during the non-CNY season, go out with a bag loaded with non-tech entertainment. Crayons, colour pencils, paper, magnetic puzzles and books; all stuff that JED are happy to play with on a regular day at home. The problem is that these work at home because there isn't an iDevice for them to fall back on. But it's a losing battle that we end up always having to fight; an uphill battle when many around us whip it out as their first resort to resolve boredom. Analogue toys and entertainment don't stand a chance when they are put beside their loud, flashy and digital cousins.

We do need to state on the outset that occasionally, JED do get time on the iDevices, like the last hour of budget-non in flight entertainment- flights where we need a breather from the non-stop stream of conversation that they've held since the plane took off or when they've displayed incredible patience, maturity and resistance in a situation or when there are sharp instruments about and we need them to stay perfectly still.

The point is that we don't want them to rely on the gadget as a first pick antidote against boredom. Because truly, they are harder to parent with the gadgets as child-minders. We've seen how when Muffin gets too much screen time and we try to take it away, there is much screaming and tantrum throwing. We've seen how the twins fight over a gadget because each feels that they haven't had enough time on it. We've seen how they turn into mindless drones unable to answer the simplest questions when they are watching pissed off birds attack alien green pigs. Our solution then, is to remove offensive gadget for more peace round the house. And every time we are at gatherings where these devices reign supreme, we go home with more angsty, demanding and indignant children.

In desperation, Packrat and I eventually resorted to telling them to pick between being able to watch television at home (another rare and treasured occurrence) and crowding around an iDevice to watch someone build something or plant crops. Yes, perhaps it is replacing one evil with another. Our defence is the television is more easily controlled by us and JED have to always come to a common consensus as to what to watch before the television goes on. That and the fact that television is purely a public holiday or weekend indulgence for them.

It is a sad day when the least of all the evils is the television set and it is a viable alternative to 5 kids staring at the glow of one tiny device. 

We've tried everything.

a. Rationalising with them that non-screen games where they can include everyone else are more fun.
b. Lugging about the aforementioned bag of tricks.
c. Rewarding them for not being on the device.
d. Warning them of a future of rapidly increasing myopia.
e. Intoning the dangers of how these devices cause their brain cells to disintegrate and dribble out of their ears.

Sometimes one works better than the other, sometimes they need to work in tandem and sometimes none work at all.

While I love my gadgets as much as the next person, I really don't love how complicated it's made child rearing.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Muffin is into Transformers now, the same way he was into Star Wars last year. He spends his days playing with his toys, looking at pictures of them and trying to draw them. Obviously, his favourite Transformers character is Optimus Prime and he obsesses about how to draw the Autobot sign, how to turn himself into Optimus Prime and everything that was ever written about him.

So, today, he flips to a Transformers Manga comic that Evan borrowed from the library and asked for arms like Optimus.

Short of buying the costume (which will inevitably end up being too hot for him), he wasn't in possession of Optimus arms. He had used the long plastic container that contained CNY  love letters but insisted we cut out the base of it out, but it wasn't ideal because we wanted to put stuff in it, it would have sharp bits if we cut it and it didn't have smoke stacks.

Smoke stacks. Information that take up precious memory brain cells in my mind.

Anyway, he wanted arms. So we made arms with a box.

Things needed:
1. One Bata shoe box (Need not be Bata)
2. Scissors
3. Lots of thick tape
4. Cardboard strips to make the bracket to hold the smoke stacks (I can't say smoke stacks without rolling my eyes).
5. Marker pen
6. Toy golf sticks, recorders, anything long and can pass off as a smoke stack.
7.  Symbol of Autobot to copy. If only we could have traced them then Muffin wouldn't accuse Mommy of drawing uneven Autobots on his arms.

Instructions for those who have Opti-Muffin type kids,
1. Cut the box and tape them into triangles and make sure the arms can go through.
2. Create little brackets for the smoke stacks so that they won't fall through or move about. 
3. Draw signs
4. Use remaining shoe box to make breast plates because Optimus has breast plates. If you have time, you can paint them Optimus colours; red and blue. 

So half an hour and a lot of scotch tape later, we have Opti-Muffin who can transform at will. 

That ought to keep him busy for the morning plus he's got stuff to bring to school for Show and Tell. The other Optimus arm he tells me, is for his friend who is also Optimus Prime.