Letting Children Be Children

It’s the December month and it has been wet and gloomy. Love the cooler weather but being kept indoors with the boys during the school holidays can be the surest way to drive me up the wall. Imagine them kicking ball in our little apartment. It drives me crazy and sometimes I think it’s their way to test my patience and limit. They are probably thinking, ‘if we make enough noise, Mom may just pass us the iPads!’

I have to admit that it works most times. Other times, I just let them wear themselves out. Occasionally they will surprise me with something pleasant. Like yesterday afternoon, when the younger one got too bored playing with his Lego men and fiddling with my new air diffuser that emits spiraling vapour. He pulled out his crates of wooden blocks and started building, yet another Rube Goldberg machine.

Rube Goldberg machine is a series of devices put together to perform simple tasks. They are linked together to produce a domino effect in which activating one device triggers the next device in the sequence. No, I didn’t introduce it to him, he learned it from YouTube.

As usual, his machine didn’t work well. It failed to set off the kind of chain reactions that he had in mind. We had a good laugh trying to take videos which were interrupted with failed trigger points. He was soon back at working on his next contraption as soon as we finished running through the first one. Sometimes he gets frustrated after multiple attempts but usually he would pick himself up, dust himself off and start again.

I’ve lost count of the number of contraptions he has made, every one is different, some more complicated than others. Sometimes he would exhaust using all his toys and rummage through the house for suitable materials. He could work at it for hours and it was a delight to see him so fully engrossed working at something, determined to get it to work.

It dawned on me that perseverance, grit and determination come naturally when children are doing something they enjoy. They learn through having fun and play give them a chance to practice what they are learning. 

How often do we have to tell our kids that they should keep on trying and never give up? I know I do and perhaps I should feel guilty.

Guilty for failing to realise that they probably aren’t very interested in the first place. Guilty for trying to mold a ‘perfect’ child, when we ourselves aren’t perfect. Guilty for forgetting that play and having fun is essential, even for adults as we get bogged down by responsibilities and routine.

Guilty for expecting the best effort at everything, in the name of character and value building. Can we do it ourselves?  Of course, there is no rules that say that parents can’t expect more from their children but to what end?

Ultimately I think it is not just about aptitude, it’s about passion. By doing what we love, we tap into our natural energy and become our most authentic selves.

So while it may be tempting to plan their days with meaningful play and purposeful learning this school holiday, perhaps we should first cast aside the fallacy that ‘Mom knows best’. More importantly, we should  grant them the space and time to play, to explore, to wonder and to be the children that they are.



Mom, Can I Use The iPad Pleeeease

It’s the first week of school holiday and my boys can’t get enough of screen time! It is driving me crazy and I am tempted to just ban them from the iPads.

That would be ultimate. They will get bored and they will find things to do and they will survive like how they have survived through many of our road trips and holidays without gadgets.

But I am also caught in a dilemma, that using electronic gadgets is not all bad. In fact there are so many things they’ve learned on the internet and through playing games. The latter might not be apparent but I am slowly changing my views. Result of the many conversations and arguments with my elder boy which shall be dealt with in another post.

Ultimately, they need to learn about self restraint, discipline and balance. That seems like the biggest challenge. How can I teach them when I am still constantly working on these things myself?

In an attempt to take control of the situation, I decided to set down a couple of rules. They will be given access to the computer based on these terms.

1. If they are learning something new
2. If they think of a project to work on

My 13 year old is trying to convince me that working at improving his gameplay and climbing up the rankings satisfy the terms that I’ve set. We are still in the midst of negotiation and discussion. Currently he is earning his screen time by doing chores around the house.

The other day, he scrubbed the toilet, mopped the floor, washed the dishes and made me coffee to earn enough credits so that his friends could come over for a gaming session. It made me feel like an evil step mother but I think that’s what they mean by tough love.

As for my 8 year old, the rules help to set some guidelines and boundaries. It gave him something to work on other than playing games.

He found out that he could make some really cool animations using Scratch and has been working on his ‘project’ the last couple of days. So far, it seems like a good way to train his patience, use his imagination and stimulate his creativity.

He realised how tedious it is to make an animation. Creating so many different frames just to animate a simple movement. It was quite amusing and entertaining to watch him act out the moves before drawing them out and putting them on the screen.

So while I continue to struggle with how much screen time my boys should be given, take heart that even Elon Musk, the mind behind Tesla, Space X and Solar City, who is a gamer himself, struggles with the same challenge with his 5 boys.

The biggest battle I have is restricting their video game time because they want to play all the time. The rule is they have to read more than they play video games. They also can’t play completely stupid video games. There’s one game they downloaded recently called Cookies or something. You literally tap a fucking cookie. It’s like a Psych 101 experiment. I made them delete the cookie game. They had to play Flappy Golf instead, which is like Flappy Bird, but at least there is some physics involved.

― Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk: Inventing the Future



Turning 8

My little man is turning 8 and he is so excited because I’ve agreed to let him invite his classmates over our place after school, just like his elder brother gets to do so.

Yes, he can’t wait to grow up and get the kind of freedom his elder brother has. In fact, I think he can’t wait to grow up like his elder brother, and yet, they could not be more different from each other. The fact that both of them emerged from the same gene pool is sometimes mind-boggling to me and my husband.

He is sociable and good at making friends. We think that he is good at charming his way with his big dimpled smile and he doesn’t even have to try. It didn’t matter even if he wore a toothless smile for most part of his growing up years.

He is very good at sports. I think that he got his good sense of balance and ball sense from me but my husband will be the first one to disagree. I think he is just jealous and he will tell you it’s the other way round.

He has started reading chapter books but he got bored reading his collection and got curious over his brother’s Science Fiction books instead. They were beyond his reading level so we agreed to read to him The 13th Reality.

What we thought was too complex, he surprised us with his explanation of the Nonex, the Chi’karda, the Barrier Wand and the different Realities. He told us that he tried to imagine the scenes in his head and we are currently into the 4th and final book in the series.

He has a vivid imagination which helps in his story writing. I am probably biased but I find his stories interesting even though they were often peppered with spelling and grammar mistakes. His originality trumps model essays written with flowery phrases and perfect sentences.

When he started Primary 1 last year, he had no concept of test. He didn’t know the format of a test paper. The idea that he and his classmates would be sorted, ranked and grouped based on their test results didn’t exist in his head. All thanks and no thanks to his parents who did not do their part in preparing them for Primary 1.

Obviously, he didn’t do very well for Primary 1. He was too innocent and naive to know the norms and standards of school. Thankfully he has a teacher who was very understanding and agreed that it was okay to let him take his time.

Then came Primary 2. After bumming around for more than a year, we started to see improvement in his work and his teacher was extremely pleased. We told her that we didn’t do much, it was probably his maturity that helped him figured things out.

Sometimes I think growing kids is like growing plants. You sow the seeds, water them, give them plenty of sunshine and they will sprout into beautiful seedlings.

He is now in the midst of his year end examination and he just had a week break from school because of PSLE marking. He got really bored one afternoon when I took away his games. When I ignored his plea, he disappeared into the craft room and emerged later with this.

He had helped himself to the hot glue gun and disposable chopsticks and made what he declared to be an F16 fighter jet. I asked about the missing air intake and the extra tail fin. He was quick to tell me that he made a mistake. It should be an F15 instead!

The same thing happened again the next day and this time, he made a cross bow arrow. He got really frustrated when the arrow couldn’t shoot the way he wanted it to go. While I busied myself in the kitchen, he figured out that by sticking a piece of blue tac to the arrow head, it could prevent the arrow from spinning and by reducing the body weight, the arrow could fly further.

Dear Marcus,

It is okay to be bored because that is when you start using your brain to get creative. You will end up making things or invent games in your head because that is what you love to do. You always surprise me with the things that you can come up with.

Don’t be afraid to make mistake and always ask why. It is often the WHYs that lead you to real learning, something more valuable than giving the right answer.

As you turned 8, we wish that you will continue to wear that big smile on your face, let your imagination takes you to places and never lose that sparkle in your eyes!

Happy Birthday!

Love, Mama and Papa