Holiday Camp at The Little Executive

My 7 year old was whisked off to a 5 day Globe Trekker holiday camp with The Little Executive at the start of the June school holidays. It was his first time going for a holiday camp and he didn’t quite know what to expect.

I showed him some videos and photos of The Little Executive’s past holiday camps such as the Dino Discovery Camp and Astronaut Training Camp which got him fairly excited, yet I was a little bit concerned because the camp he would be attending didn’t have any of his favourite dinosaurs or spacecraft, he would be ’traveling’ around the world instead.

It would be a 5 morning program where the kids ‘travel’ to 4 different countries to learn about their history, traditions, cultures and the languages they speak.

I was excited and thought that the camp could better prepare him for our upcoming Japan trip. Then Day 1 came and he figured out that instead of having the luxury of spending the morning at home, fiddling with his toys, he would be going for some sort of ‘lesson’. It took me more than an hour to cajole and coax him to get out the house.

We met Michelle Wee, one of the 2 brilliant ladies behind The Little Executive. I have known Michelle through a close group of mother bloggers and was drawn to her blog for her very down to earth approach to bringing up 6 kids! Yes, you heard me right. She has 5 girls and 1 boy and in her blog, she often dishes out sane tips and wise parenting advice on how she does it without going broke while maintaining her sanity. Apart from being a mother of 6, she is also a trained occupational therapist and she seems to have married passion with work when she started The Little Executive. I have been eager to find out more about their program, so when Michelle offered a spot for the upcoming Globe Trekker holiday camp, I was quick to grab it.

Marcus quickly met up with the facilitator for the camp. His name was Jim, a very friendly guy and it wasn’t difficult for my playful one to warm up to friendly stranger. Very soon, he forgot about our morning fuss and disappeared into his classroom without bidding goodbye. By the time I picked him up after the class, he was chatty and chirpy and rattling off about what he had learned. They had travelled to Mexico and learned about the Aztec people. They did some worksheets, made some craft and tasted some food. It was not hard to see that a lot of thought has been put into the lesson plan. Everything was planned around the country they ‘travelled’ to that day. I like this thematic way of teaching and learning. There are so many interesting things and ways to learn about a country!

I was glad that he enjoyed his first lesson and that kind of set the mood for the rest of the week. He was eager to know the next country they would ‘travel’ to and the week whisked by quickly. I was curious to find out what made him change his initial impression of a ‘learning’ camp and here are 3 main things that I found out from him that the camp did differently from his school.

1. More interactive teaching and learning

Instead of listening passively to the teacher delivering the lesson, the session was a lot more interactive and provided an end to end learning process.

The kids got to watch interesting videos on the countries they were visiting and that was certainly more interesting than listening to his school teachers’ monotonous voice. Before watching the videos, they were asked to look out for certain objects so that they could complete the given worksheets and the facilitators would discuss further the information that they have gleaned from the video. The kids were particularly attentive and would buzz with excitement while watching the video.

This would follow by a craft session where they would get their hands dirty, making things that were associated with the country they visited that day. Beside Aztec mats, they made boomerangs, sushi, paper origami and even a sandy beach using kinetic sand.

I think these craft sessions are good for tactile learners who learn by touching and doing. The physical activity and “hands-on” craft helped these kids to understand and remember things better.

2. Talking is allowed

Yes, kids are allowed to talk in class. In school, my boy would tell me that he was not allowed to talk even after he has completed his work.

During the camp, the children were allowed to talk and discuss, albeit quietly and respectfully. My boy confessed that he gets bored, sitting whole day in school, listening to his teachers talk. I probably get bored too and I seriously think this is the reason why so many children these days are being diagnosed with ADHD. Well, I probably need more data to justify my assertion. I think interaction and exchange of ideas are such important aspects of learning but sorely absent in our current school classrooms.

3. Peer learning

The age for the kids at the camp ranged from 4 to 8. The class was a mix of kids of different age groups, thus different abilities. It was so completely different from our local schools where the kids are grouped based on age, graded, sorted and further grouped into groups of similar abilities.

During the camp, the older kids got to help out the younger ones. Age appropriate activities of varying complexities were also given to the kids so that the activities were within their abilities. Being an older boy, Marcus was assigned as a group leader. He told me his job as a leader was to help out the younger ones. He loved it and felt mighty pleased with his new role as a ‘big brother’ in the group.

On the last day of the program, the kids were grouped and given the task of doing a presentation to the parents. So I was expecting something like a show-and-tell session my boys did in school, where a written script is required for rating and often parents go to great lengths to help prepare the most impressive presentation materials.

At the camp, I was impressed that the kids did everything themselves and were free to decide how much to present. The older kids would help the younger ones in the group. I saw them whispering to the younger ones during presentation helping them out with what to say. It was so very cute and heartening to watch these little people work as a team.

Personally I like this ‘peer learning’ setting where the children learn and help each other. I think at the camp, they have found a good way of mixing the kids without leaving anyone behind. The younger kids learn by observing how the older ones do things. The older kids learn a great deal when they have to explain what they know to others. It is like reinforcing and internalizing what they’ve learned. As fellow learners, they are more empathetic and understanding towards another kid who is struggling to grasp the new concept. They learn empathy, cooperation and team work. Isn’t that how we have always learned since the beginning of mankind when we lived in small tight communities.

All in all, I like the fact that the camp focused on the journey and the process of learning rather than the outcome. I think this runs against the grain of the Singaporean psyche where outcome is the penultimate. It is not easy putting such a program together and I think at The Little Executive, they have done exceedingly well in delivering such a program.

To find out more about The Little Executive’s curriculum and programs for children from Nursery to P2 Level, please visit their website or follow their FB page

You can reach them at

Address : 144 Bukit Timah Road Singapore 229844
Telephone : +65 6908 1889
Email : knockknock@thelittleexecutive.asia

Our Creepy Crawly Pets

We found this guy at our doorstep last Friday afternoon.
It was a deja vu moment.
6 years ago, a similar guy showed up at our doorstep on my elder son’s 7th birthday.
He thought it was a present from his Dad.
And my boys had their first praying mantis pet.

We were just reminiscing the days where we had our first mantis.
And lamenting how hard it is these days to catch one.
The NParks people are doing a good job keeping our parks green and keeping bugs away.
We hardly see any creepy crawlies around our estate.
It was easier to find them when we were living overseas.

The boys brought home a couple of geckos during a hiking trip when we were living in Alabama.
These green fellas were cute, according to my boys. (and no, I don’t like them)
They crawled all over us when carried but won’t move around much if left on their own.
We didn’t build any nice homes for them but let them live with the boys’ toys and hunt their own food around the house.
One eventually died and we let the other one go.

We also found a brown widow in our backyard, tucked in a corner of the seat of an outdoor chair and decided to keep her.
The brown widow is the cousin of the more infamous black widow.
We learned from then on, to never assume that the chairs were safe for sitting and always check the bottom of the seats.

She had a fat butt and could be identified by the orange hourglass on her belly.
She uses the same neurotoxic venom as its cousin but is less dangerous because she delivers less venom in her bite.
They came out from hibernation when the weather started to warm up.
That was when we couldn’t do without the pest control guys.

She built the strongest and stickiest of homes, definitely not those that could be destroyed by a gust of wind.
During the time that we had her, she managed to kill a few other species of spiders.
We dropped in those spiders as ‘food’ and they were found dead, wrapped up in sticky silk the next day.
We weren’t sure whether she sucked the juices out of them but she is known to eat up the male after mating.
We tried to verify that by dropping in what looked like a male brown widow but that got her killed instead.
Till today, we still couldn’t solve the mysterious death.

These creepy crawlies often don’t live long.
But they lived long enough for the boys to learn that keeping pets requires work. (and for me to find my hidden courage and capacity to like these creatures)
Finding food for their pet was one of those work.
They had to catch them alive because these creepy crawlies like their food fresh, just like us.
And for every creepy crawly they had, they learned about death and saying goodbyes.
It was perhaps one of the toughest lesson for them and they remember.

Last Friday, they were thrilled when mantis showed up.
But that excitement didn’t last long.

They loved how alert the mantis was.
They loved his vibrant green coat and how he eagerly propped up and peered into my camera.
They loved his vividness.
But they also sensed that he was scared and was trying to escape.
And they were most worried to see him die.

They had the mantis long enough to show him to their Dad when he came home from work.
Both boys decided to let the mantis go that very evening.
I was the one who was reluctant, knowing how hard it was to have a mantis showed up at our doorstep!
But I agreed to it and later realised that maybe I should be glad that they showed kindness and could empathize with their creepy crawly friends.
 

 
Read about their first mantis pet
And how he died.

Motherhood

14 years ago, during my job exit interview, my lady boss asked me blatantly ‘Are you sure you want to quit your job and stay at home?’

She was in her 40s, probably had more experience raising kids than I had working as an IT consultant. I could almost sense her subtle hint, that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

I was 3 months pregnant with my first child, spending long hours at work, stressed and unhappy. I foresaw myself going through an unhappy pregnancy if I were to stay on. I chose to quit and I was lucky I had a choice. The decision was for myself though I did consider the ill effects an unhappy pregnancy would have to the unborn baby.

2 years later, we were uprooted from the comfort of our home to live in a foreign land. I realised it was a matter of time that I had to leave my job and I was glad I made the decision earlier. If I had made the same decision any later, I might have confused it as being a sacrifice made to accommodate my husband’s career and things might have turned out differently now.

Being a new mom was tough and it was even tougher living in a foreign land, away from family and friends. Some of these tips helped me through my early days as a new mother, some are still relevant today. I realised there are new challenges at every stage of parenting and having the chance to live overseas has helped shaped some of our parenting decisions.

Here are some challenges we faced.

1. Battling the FOMO monster

Should they learn to play the violin at 3 and paint like Picasso at 4? Do we need to send them for brain training? Are we short changing them if we can afford to but choose not to sign them up for that holiday Science camp or not buy them that latest LeapFrog toy?

Though my husband and I have made a conscious decision not to jump on the bandwagon, I have to admit that the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) monster rears its ugly head too often.

Most of their friends have their days packed with lessons. The local kids in our neighborhood hardly come out and play because everyone is busy learning something after school!

Do we give in to the monster or should we get a hold of ourselves? It’s a constant struggle.

We realised that it takes a relatively strong heart these days to let our children be children.

2. Letting them learn at their own pace

Both my boys weren’t early readers. When they were in preschool, their teachers feedback that their inability to do phonics might be a concern. It was hard not to panic when everyone is rushing. Even the teachers are rushing.

Should we send them for reading classes? Should we assure the teachers that our kids will be ok? Oh, I tell you. It was tough It almost felt like we had to stand up for our children to protect their childhood. They were 5 and I knew I couldn’t read when I was 5!

We knew that they enjoyed story time and they loved having us read to them. We were concerned that rushing them to read when they weren’t ready might do them more harm than good. We continued to read to them and we read any books that interest them. They eventually started reading independently when they were 7.

My younger one started reading chapter books recently. My elder boy who is a voracious reader started reading at about the same age.

3 years ago when he was 10, he topped his school’s reading score that year when we were in the States. The students had to sit for a reading test for every book they read to test out their understanding. I didn’t keep track on how much he read but the school recorded 9,030,416 words (I just asked him to pull this out from his school’s FB page!) which is equivalent to 100 full-length novels. He set a new reading record for the school and made the school librarian shaved off his beard on stage because he lost his bet. Nobody expects an Asian boy to beat them at reading. It was hilarious.

So moral of the story, they will catch up and they will get there, at their own pace.

3. How much screen time

Kids today grow up in a very different world from our times. With the advent of the smartphone, they have access to almost anything and everything. As a parent, I continue to struggle with how much screen time should they be allowed.

On one hand, we think we should allow them to play video games. It improves their motor skills, hand eye coordination and it’s fun! They watch YouTube videos on improving their gameplay which also opens up a whole wide range of ideas on Science, creativity and learning.

On the other hand, too much screen time cannot be that good. Especially when they keep clamoring for the iPad, rushing through their homework and refusing to play outdoors. In situations like these, we cannot help but feel a little frustrated and question ourselves whether we should have even opened the Pandora’s box in the first place.

The fact is, creativity and technology is going to be the world of their future and at the moment, the schools don’t seem to be able to keep up with the rapid changes in learning. So it does fall on the parents and the kids themselves to find the latest tools for learning.

While watching and playing Minecraft videos and games, the kids learn about logic gates and binary code. Just the other day, my 7 year old was bored and decided to make something he saw on YouTube. A ‘robotic’ arm using cardboard, strings and straws.

It was a tedious process and we spent many hours working on it. Apart from learning that the little skeletal bones around our hands play an important role in the movement of the fingers, he also learned how complex the whole skeletal system is and it is not easy to make a robotic arm work like a human one!

Ultimately we hope that they will learn to self regulate, practice self restraint and learn to balance between work and play. But it’s a lofty goal because we know even adults struggle with these skills.

4. Teaching them Responsibility

As a Stay-At-Home-Mum, it is tempting to hire a helper to do the menial chores at home. But it will be too easy to slip into dependency and laziness. There will always be someone to clean and tidy up after us, to fetch the glass of water, to iron our clothes, to cook the dinner, to wash up, to pick up the toys, etc etc.

We tell the children that the home is a place for people who do work. Everyone in the house has responsibilities.

For them, their responsibility is their schoolwork. It is their responsibility to do their homework and understand what the teachers teach in class, not Mom’s and Dad’s. Their responsibility also includes cleaning after themselves, setting up the dinner table, putting their dirty clothes into the laundry basket, keeping their room clean and helping to change their bed sheets every fortnightly.

We decided that we will not have a maid at home because it will be hard for us to teach the kids about responsibility. They must learn to fend for themselves. That also means that we set ourselves up for a lot more work at home.

5. Restraining ourselves from spending

How do you teach the kids the value of money when they easily get what they want because the adults are willing to buy them the latest and greatest? Wouldn’t it be nice to see the kids happy just by spending a little money? Wouldn’t it be nice to eat in a air conditioned restaurant than to sit in a stuffy hawker centre?

Teaching them the value of money requires conscious effort and it can be challenging.

We have two iPads at home – about 2 and 5 years old. My younger boy had dropped the older iPad and cracked the screen. The other iPad is in dire need of a new cover. They were complete eye sores. We probably should fix the iPads or buy a new one. Their friends and cousins all have newer iPads. We could probably afford it too.

We told them that when the iPads die, there will not be another one for them to play. Now they are more careful and they take better care of their iPads. We want them to learn that having an iPad is a privilege and not an entitlement. Just because everyone has it doesn’t mean they will get one too. Same goes for smartphones, my son got his first smartphone when he turned 13.

Refraining from spending when we know we can afford it can be one of the hardest things to do.

6. Letting go

We were just watching Nemo the other day and I chuckled as Nemo’s dad asked the old sea turtle “How do we know they are ready?”. The old sea turtle’s reply was a empathetic “You just know…”.

But in the real world, things don’t work out like that. We know that our poor judgement can cause the kids to get hurt. From the playground to getting to school for the first time on their own, it is tempting to sneak behind them and watch over them like a drone.

The boys started roller blading recently. Last weekend, we decided to let them venture onto the cycling track. It was my husband’s idea and I wished I wasn’t there to watch.

What if they go too fast? What if they lose control? What if they can’t brake in time? It was nerve racking to watch them fumble with their blades surrounded by cyclists, joggers and pedestrians. Danger was lurking everywhere.

We eventually made it to the cafeteria for lunch. They had a few falls, some minor bruises but no broken bones. In that few hours, apart from figuring how to be more efficient in moving their roller blades, they learned about their own limits, how to spot a potential danger and test out their decision making skills. These lessons are invaluable.

The truth for us parents is this – we never really know whether they are ready or not until we let go. But it is hard to let go unless we know they are ready. So it’s a chicken and egg problem. How do we break out of this cycle?

Perhaps the toughest part about modern parenting isn’t just the day to day challenges of taking care of another human being. It is the endless decisions that we need to make starting from day 1. To breastfeed or not, to co-sleep or not, to let them cry it out or stick to attachment parenting and the number of decisions we need to make just piles up along the way.

We basically have to decide what’s best for another human being when sometimes, we can’t even figure out what is best for ourselves. What if we aren’t good decision maker ourselves? What if we can’t even sort out our own lives?

I came into my role as a mother, clueless yet wanting to be perfect. But like all things in life, nothing is perfect nor will it ever be. Some days we’ll mess up, and some days are worse than others. The important thing is that we are doing the best we can from where we are with what we have.

It wasn’t this clear when I walked into my boss’s office 14 years ago but I wish I could tell her now that leaving my job was one of the best decision I’ve made. Being a mother is the most humbling job I’ve had. My children have taught me to be the person I am today. It was a hard lesson sometimes, but so very worth it.

 
 

In this month of May, whether you are a single mom, foster mom, adoptive mom, helicopter mom. free-range mom, breastfeeding mom. formula-feeding mom, working mom, stay home mom, rich mom, poor mom, chill mom, tiger mom, c-section mom, epidural mom…No matter what decisions you’ve made to bring you where you are today, you’ve done an amazing job. You are enough, you are important and you are worth it. Happy Mother’s Day in advance.

 

 
This post is part of the ‘Mothers Make It Work!’ Blog Train hosted by Owls Well. To read other inspiring stories please click on the picture below.

At next week’s stop we will be visiting Angie at Life’s Tiny Miracles. Angie is the Mommy behind the Life’s Tiny Miracles blog. The journey to Motherhood has been a bittersweet experience. As a mom of 5 kids (3 in Heaven), Angie embraces every bit of this season: the tears, the insanity, the sacrifices and the joy that comes from knowing she’s loved as a wife, a friend, a daughter and a Mom.