Thursday, April 03, 2014

Book Box Thursday: Wild Alphabet Pop-Up Book

Recently, I found this really good book that I am extremely eager to share, because it is just so fun!

It's Wild Alphabet Pop-Up book which I bought from The Groovy Giraffe, an online bookstore where overprint and overstock books are priced at up to 85% off. It's not expensive, just $18.90 after discount (usual price $25.14). When I saw it on the site and viewed the preview pictures, I thought: interesting, a pop-up book of animals from A to Z, with an accompanying description for each too. Must check it out.

So I ordered it, and had it delivered. I didn't expect it to arrive so early, since the order was made on a Friday. But viola, I got the book on Saturday after a tired day at the grandparents'. Big pleasant surprise. Bigger surprise when I opened it. I had thought the book might be bigger, since it had all the pop-up stuff. I had no idea how I got that idea. However, the book is about the size of a CD case, though much thicker. Nice size to fit into the kids' day bag when we are on our adventures.

Wild Alphabet 1

As you can see, our animal figurines couldn't resist checking it out either.

And it's no wonder. The animals inside this book gives a good overview of wild animals, both small and large. Think of wild animals the likes of a chinchilla, a jaguar, a koala and even a dinosaur. Wild animals both gentle and fierce are included, so little minds have an A to Z idea of what wild animals live in our world.

Wild Alphabet 6

Wild Alphabet 5

The good thing about this book is the description that accompanies each animal. It gives information such as the appearance, behaviours and other characteristics. And for some, it even give little tidbits about the animals's living habitats. These little nuggets of information are wonderful in triggering the curiosity of little kids, and opens the doors for further discussion and exploration of the animals. The fonts are also creatively used to add variety to the description.

What really rocks is the pop-ups. Like this one of a mosquito. See how it pops out of the page.

Wild Alphabet 2

Check out this pop-up of a tiger too. It doesn't pop out of the page like the mosquito, but I like how the cut-outs and the colours of black and orange work together to reveal a fearsome picture of a tiger's head. 

Wild Alphabet 3

How about this pop-up of a xantus bird? Cool, isn't it?

Wild Alphabet 4

There are more examples of such innovative pop-ups. Therein comes another worry. The pop-ups can be a little fragile, so little hands will have to handle the book with care. Good opportunity for adults to educate them about caring for a book, though. Wild Alphabet engaged and amused EV and AA, myself included. We talked about the animals, we talked about the words. They even asked how the pop-ups work. It definitely made for a great conversation starter. Highly recommended for its entertaining and educational factor.

Special Discount Code!!
Here's a special discount for all ToddlyMummy readers. Just click on The Groovy Giraffe button on the right sidebar, and you will be taken directly to The Groovy Giraffe website. Shop for your books, and when checking out, just key in the unique code 'TODDLYMUM' for a 5% discount on all books (except bargains).

In the meantime, do share with us other pop-up books you've read. Why do you like them?

Disclaimer: We received a $20 voucher for the purchase of Wild Alphabet Pop-Up Book for review purposes. No monetary compensation was received. All opinions and images are my own.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Review: Lollibox Happy Family theme

Since Lollibox pioneered the concept of fun in a box, delivered right to one's doorstep, many similar concepts have emerged. Some have gone quiet, but I'm glad to note that Lollibox still remains strong in the game, and keeps coming up with awesome new ideas, such as craft parties and craft party boxes.

Lollibox 1

In addition, they don't seem to be sitting in their laurels when it comes to their signature craft boxes. In fact, they do constantly look at ways to improve it, as can be seen with the Happy Family theme box, where they've updated the cover design of the instruction sheets and also redesigned the 'Enrich' activity sheet. With a more vibrant cover design, the instruction sheets retain their detailed feature. There are accompanying pictures for every step, and I like the inclusion of extension activities, like the possible questions to ask to prompt the kids' thinking and response.

Lollibox 8

The revamped 'Enrich' component is now an activity sheet with three sections of various activities relevant to the theme. For the Happy Family theme, the activities include a maze, drawing a family portrait, and an investigation into whether the family members are right or left-handed. These activities are very different from the previous version, which involved a card of three suggested activities ranging from art, science, fine motor and dramatic play. While the current version is more focused, it would be good that future activities also include science, fine motor and dramatic play suggestions. I believe this will provide more variety to a young mind's learning and discovery.

Lollibox 6

Now for the activities itself. There are usually two in the box, and depending on the child, these activities can take up to 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. We did the cardboard house first, and EV and AA both assisted with the painting - EV painted the house while AA took responsibility of the roof. It was a rather serious affair for the both of them, as well as for this mummy too, as I tried hard to prevent them from painting themselves, and each other.

Lollibox 2

Lollibox 3

They both helped with the paper puppets too, which represented a family of four. AA chopped on them, while EV decided to number them. AA lost interest then, and toddled off to do his own thing. EV persevered, and here she is playing with the cardboard house and paper puppets. She keeps wanting to stuff all the puppets into the 'warmth' of the house.

Lollibox 4

The next activity was rather interesting too. We drew outlines of our hands, which looked so fun to AA that he returned to get his drawn too. While this mummy was cutting out the hands, EV entertained AA by drawing more outlines of his hand. AA tried to help and ended up outlining on his own hand.

Lollibox 5

After sticking the hands to the wooden tree stand, we stuck the apples, each representing a family member. I'd ask EV which family member she remembers, she'd identify him or her, I'd write their salutations down, mostly in Chinese, like 妈妈, 爷爷, or 舅舅, then she would stick them on the hands. And the end of it, what we got is a very pretty family tree, literally!

I must say that the activities are quite well-thought out, and fits the theme well. On one hand, I wish the box that the activities came in was smaller, it seems such a waste to use the big box to house two activities, a badge, an instruction sheet and an activity sheet. However, I can understand the rational of having such a box, just in case some themes' activities are bulkier; it makes sense to have a one-size fits all box to fit the different sized activities of different themes. Though I'm not sure about the purpose of the coloured paper strips. If it is just for embellishment purposes, then I personally don't think it's necessary to include it. For one, kids will end up throwing the strips all over the place in the name of fun, plus they will most probably end up in the waste basket, in my opinion, because that's exactly what happened!

Lollibox 7

Did I mention the badge? Yes I did. I think the badge is awesome as an encouraging 'pat-on-the-back' kind of reward. EV was so proud of herself for completing the activities, that she insisted that I pin on the badge for her immediately after she finished, and wore it throughout that whole day. She was still asking for it for the few days that follow. Just imagine: wouldn't it be awesome to have a series of badges that show achievement and tenacity through such creative activities! I think the kid would be so motivated with high self esteem and confidence!

Special Discount Code!!
Here's a special deal for all ToddlyMummy readers - 10% off storewide! Just enter the discount code TODDLY when you check out (valid till 30 April 2014).

Hope your kid has as much fun as EV and AA had.

Disclaimer: We received a Lollibox Happy Family for review purposes. No monetary compensation was received. All opinions and images are my own.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Interview: Lynette Chua, Head of Speech & Drama, Julia Gabriel Education

Many English enrichment centres are touting Speech and Drama classes. Is it just a drama class, as the names suggests and hence has led to some parents misunderstanding what it actually means. What do children in Speech and Drama class learn? Do you know what Language Arts is? How is it related to literacy?

I'm very happy to introduce Lynette Chua, Head of Speech & Drama at Julia Gabriel Education. With a passion for Speech and Drama since her younger days, Lynette works with local educational institutions on speech and communication programmes. She shares with us her insights into what goes on in a Speech and Drama class, and gives us the low down on the latest buzzword in language teaching - Language Arts.

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What is Speech & Drama? Is it a drama class?
Speech and Drama classes aim to help students build their confidence in communication. Teachers introduce a plethora of drama and communication games, voice and speech exercises, poems, rhymes and stories to inculcate a love for language. Drama is used as a powerful tool for learning in all our classes. Children are encouraged to offer ideas, exercise critical thinking skills, use language creatively and take on roles to develop stories or adventures in class.

As students get older, they also build public speaking and presentation skills in Speech and Drama classes. Students are guided to structure information, ideas and opinions into formal talks that they share with an audience.

What does a child learn in Speech & Drama classes?
A child learns to speak expressively with clear Standard English speech sounds, as teachers guide them as positive language models in class. A love for literature and language is nurtured by sharing a wide variety of texts.

Older children gain confidence in public speakers and become more confident communicators as they master the use of language in both formal and informal situations.

Is Speech & Drama useful in promoting literacy? How?
Yes. Speech and Drama is useful in promoting written literacy. This is because the ability to articulate sounds accurately precedes the ability to write. By encouraging children to use language confidently and to speak it accurately, we build a good foundation for literacy by helping them to first gain strong phonemic awareness. Children who are able to hear the sounds of the English language and articulate them clearly will find it much easier to decode the symbols of language (phonics) when that is introduced to them.

The poems, rhymes and stories used in Speech and Drama also help children gain a greater understanding of their world. When children progress towards written literacy, they are then able to decode language with a greater sense of understanding.

At the older levels, the exploration of texts such as poems and extracts from novels, through drama, aids reading comprehension and provides stimulus for writing. Having explored text in Speech and Drama classes through whole body learning activities, students are exposed to vivid language and gain a better appreciation of good literature.

Can Speech & Drama only be taught in a class setting, or can parents also try to nurture that in their children at home? Can you share some tips?
Certain elements in a Speech and Drama class work more effectively when there is a bigger group of children. However, there are some things that parents can do at home to encourage children to appreciate and use language creatively and expressively.

Here are some ideas:
a) Share stories as a family. Read aloud to your child. Pick up books from the library, purchase a poetry anthology or tell stories about your own childhood to your children. Every child loves snuggling up to mum and dad when they share a story.

b) Encourage your child to share their ideas freely with you. Ask lots of open-ended questions to encourage children to elaborate on their ideas. Acknowledge their comments and stay engaged during the conversation.

c) Play make-believe with your child. Pretend to be a patient that requires help from a very wise doctor, a chef, a waiter or any role that your child wants you to be. You might have to endure numerous injections with a pretend syringe, or get scolded for not taking orders fast enough, but through role-play, you are building your child’s imagination and encouraging them to use language that they would normally not use in day-to-day conversation. Just remember to let the play be very much child-led.

There are so many Speech & Drama classes nowadays. Aren't they all the same? What should parents take note of when choosing a class for their children?
Parents should note the following when evaluating a Speech and Drama programme for their child:

a) Philosophy and methodology used in the centre – what kind of drama approach is adopted?
b) Quality of the material or curriculum
c) How the lesson is conducted – elements of each class
d) Class size, teacher to student ratio
e) Qualifications and experience of the teachers
f) Facilities of the centre
g) Cost

Language Arts has been the buzzword lately in primary and secondary education. What is Language Arts? How is Language related to Arts?
The term 'Language Arts' (LA) has many varied definitions. Broadly, it can be understood as an integration of the study of technical language and the study of how language is used for communication. In Singapore, Language Arts (LA) aims to help students build better language skills, specifically reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing.

The Arts are essentially expressions of creative skill and imagination. The LA programme invites students to interact with quality texts that are great examples of works of art. These texts become springboards for children to express their creative skills and imagination in their own writing. Through the text study and writing processes, students develop their language and literacy skills.

How is Language Arts taught at the pre-school level?
LA is taught with the use of age-appropriate books that build on phonemic as well as phonological awareness.

At Nursery 1, we introduce three year olds to the sounds and letters of the alphabet.

For students who are in Nursery 2 to Kindergarten 2, we use a progressive reading scheme that helps students build early literacy skills.

Picture books across a variety of themes, drama and word games are used widely in class to build interest in exploring language. Drama also features a part because it provides a whole-body language learning experience, and helps students delve deeper into what they read as well as inspires writing ideas.

How useful is Language Arts in promoting literacy. Why?
LA is all about literacy! LA provides children with a rich diet of sounds, words and ideas from a young age to pique their interest in the language. In an environment where words are enjoyed, spoken, listened to and eventually written, literacy skills are built in a fun way, naturally. This is the best way for children to acquire language. Children are not taught by rote, nor do they have to memorise tedious rules of grammar, which would dampen the enjoyment of learning a language. LA also helps to contextualise learning which facilitates understanding and promote long term retention.

Can parents adopt Language Arts in the home? How can they do it?
Yes of course. A child learns their very first word from interacting with their family members. It is interesting to note that parents usually speak much more to their infants than when their children are toddlers. The constant chattering of an inquisitive toddler and incessant “why’s” being asked could wear tired parents out. However, parents should continue speaking and engaging with their children as they grow older.

Here are some activities parents could do with their children at home:
a) Play word games
b) Encourage children to draw things they see around them.
c) Ensure that books feature as a big part of the child's play. Where possible, build a home library or make library trips a part of your family routine. Read aloud to your child and talk about the stories.

What happens in a Language Arts class?
Typically, LA classes at our centre start with pre-writing activities to help them tune in to the lesson for the day. These activities vary from shared stories, whole-body exercises and drama to word games, and more. Students then explore text for reading, comprehension, learning of concepts and/or to study language conventions. This is followed by a writing activity which varies according to the literacy development stage of the class and the objectives of the lesson. This lesson structure does change according to the profile of the class to meet the needs of the students as we adopt a child-centered approach.

If both Speech & Drama and Language Arts are about nurturing literacy, what's the difference? How does one choose which to attend?
Speech and Drama focuses more on building oral literacy skills. Children become more confident communicators and are able to articulate themselves with greater clarity. As communication is a two-way process, children also build listening skills in these classes. As they interact with peers very actively during class, children also build social skills, cooperation and critical thinking skills to process or solve conflicts during drama adventures.
Language Arts on the other hand, focus more on helping children acquire written literacy skills. Greater emphasis is placed on getting children to decode language so that they build reading and writing skills. In the LA classes, students also learn about language conventions more explicitly and take time to apply the writing process.

Do you think Language Arts is just a fad that will pass?
No, I think Language Arts will become increasingly important. As it is, the Ministry of Education has already revamped the English syllabus for both the PSLE as well as the O’ Level examinations. Greater emphasis is being placed on a student’s ability to not only write well, but speak well. Students are also expected to communicate with a greater breadth of language and awareness of the world around them. Children need to be given opportunities to use language in a variety of forms to become truly adept with it. Speech and Drama and Language Arts provides children with that platform. We believe that through speaking, reading, writing and listening to language creatively, students will gain mastery in both their oral as well as written literacy skills. We must aim to build good communication skills in our children so that they are able to hold themselves with confidence in this increasingly competitive global economy.

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Thank you Lynette.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Why we love doing art at HeART Studio

EV has been attending class at Heart Studio for the past six months. Her journey has been fun, and for this mummy, extremely amazing as I witnessed the creations of her beautiful art works.

If you are searching for an art school for your kids, and am still deciding, why not consider Heart Studio? Before I proceed, I must state clearly that I am not being compensated by Heart Studio in any way to say this. I am sharing my honest opinions, because I've seen for myself how good Heart Studio is what they do. And I believe that other kids will be able to benefit too, as my little EV has.
So here is why we love Heart Studio.

The teachers are awesome!
At four, EV attends the Little Dali classes for kids between three to 4 years old. The teacher-in-charge, Teacher Syafiq has a reputation of being extremely good with kids, and it is oh-so-true. Recently, Teacher Jay joined the team, and his casual yet patient nature has been a hit with EV too. Both of them are really good at bringing out the hidden artistic talents of the kids, and it’s amazing how their warm personalities appeal to the kids. Many times, I’ve been surprised by the work that EV has achieved, and this is not only because she enjoyed it, but she also liked the teachers. The other teachers who teach the older kids too are equally approachable. And judging from the amazing art works that kids in their classes do, one can tell they are awesome too.

Heart Studio 1
Focus on the child's 'can do' ability, independence and confidence
The atmosphere at Heart is very positive, and the belief is that every child has the ability to do it. Keeping to this, opportunities are given for the child to gain more independence in their own ability, for example, asking them to get their own paintbrushes. Seems rather simple, but it definitely is a much better way of nurturing independence instead of just laying out the brushes before class for the kids. When doing the art work, the teachers only provide guidelines and advice, allowing the kids to learn and do on their own, finish the art work and gain more confidence in their abilities. The fact that projects are theme-based, and kids have the choice to decide what they exactly want to do within that team, it also helps to train the kids to think independently and with confidence.

Heart Studio 4
Slow and steady gets the artwork done
Lessons are revolved around themed art projects. Each term, there are three projects to be completed, and about three to four lessons are devoted to each theme. The first lesson of each theme is spent explaining the basics of the theme, before moving on to the actual art work. For example, the ‘occupation’ theme’s first lesson involved learning the difference between drawing a male and female, and how to draw a body. Kids were tasked to draw their mummies and daddies. This is how EV drew her mummy and daddy. This is an important step, as it teaches the importance of always learning the basic foundation before moving on, such as how to hold a paint brush. The whole process also teaches kids that tasks can and should be broken into smaller steps in order to get it done more successfully. Both are important life skills that kids need.

Heart Studio 3
Heart Studio 2
Boosts creativity, exercises the right brain
With the projects being theme-based, kids have the freedom to choose what they want to create within that theme. This helps to boost their creativity, as they do not need to stick to drawing the exact thing. In fact, the kids even get to decide what details they want to paint in, or whether they want to paint a night or day scene. And since creativity is associated with one’s right brain, that part of the brain is also being exercised at the same time.

Develops perspective
And since kids have the freedom to choose what exactly they want to draw under a particular theme, the end result for each kid is always different. There is no one identical art work, and through this, the young ones will learn that everyone around them is an individual, with different preferences and personalities. They learn that everyone has a different perspectives to the same theme, and learn to respect these different perspectives. This again is an extremely important life skill to have.

Conducive environment with a wide corridor
Heart Studio is not cluttered. Far from it. The whole Studio is very neat and organised, making it a very conducive learning environment. The kids will also learn about being neat and organised. It’s very cosy too. The wide corridor is extremely inviting to the kids, and they do run along it, even though they are told not to do it. But as one hears the kids laughing and giggling, one knows that they are having fun and enjoying the whole process. They are safe too because of the neatness and lack of clutter. And knowing that the folks of Heart Studio have considered this fact makes me feel that they are truly caring for the kids while teaching them art.

That’s why as a parent, I feel comforted when EV attends class at Heart Studio. She’s enjoying herself, she’s learning art and some life skills, but most importantly, she is safe. And I'm heartened to see that her creativity has developed since we started lessons there last September. Find out more from these review posts.

If this sharing has got you interested to find out more, you can do so at their website. The new terms starts next Monday.

Disclaimer: No monetary compensation was received for this post. All opinions and images are my own.

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Thank you for reading. If you like this post, please do connect with me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, so I can share our fun adventures, thoughts and exploits with you.