Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chinese composition part1

I'm going to do something very brave, go where I've not gone before... I'm going to post a Chinese composition!

I thought it was time, considering I've posted so many English compos and zero Chinese ones. The reason I've neglected doing so for so long is that Chinese doesn't come naturally in our household, even to Kenneth, who studied in a SAP school for 10 years. The best analogy I can give is that for us, using the Chinese language is like a very right-handed person attempting to write with his left hand. (For me, it's like using my left foot). My kids are definitely more adept at it than I am (which isn't saying much) but still, it requires lots of painstaking work and effort even to maintain a basic standard of efficacy.

It's a pity - the Chinese language is so rich in culture, I think we're losing a big chunk of our heritage due to our ineptness. So we try to encourage our kids to take an interest and hope that in time, they can see beyond the challenges of learning the language to appreciate its beauty.

Unfortunately, while I am adamant against memorising good phrases as a technique to teach English composition, both my kids do this for Chinese composition. The schools teach it this way and the Chinese language is such that so many of the nuances are so complex that they need to be learnt straight off. I suppose it's possible to develop your own style but my kids don't have strong enough a command of the language to do so effectively.

In p6, Lesley-Anne usually scored between 26/40 and 29/40, which is in the moderate range. For the composition below, she scored 32/40 which was her highest this year. The Chinese standard in her school isn't too hot, so probably pales in comparison with other schools, especially the SAP schools. Anyway, I'm just posting it here as a record of her work.

This is the picture:

Here's what she wrote (sorry, unable to type out - would take me a year):

Monday, October 26, 2009

A day in the life

I'm sometimes asked what my typical day is like. It's a question that's awfully hard to answer because while there are some constants, there are usually many variables, even within the same day of each week.

Occasionally, people also ask me how I can juggle work, seeing to my kids, blogging and other activities at the same time. Truthfully, I'm a little embarrassed by the idea that I could be a super mum because I really am not. The freedom I get from running my own business from home can't be overstated, it gives me the flexibility to tend to changes in schedules, and how long I spend on work really depends on how efficient I can be, not how many hours I have to sit in an office.

So essentially, this arrangement affords me the lifestyle I want, while allowing me time with my kids. However, every now and then, I have one of those days where I feel I have too much on my plate and get totally frazzled. Last Tuesday, during the PSLE marking week, was one of those days. Here's what transpired - a glimpse into a not-so-typical-day of my life.

8.15am: Crawl out of bed. I really should stop going to bed at 2am.
8.30am: Poke head out of bedroom door and yell at kids to get ready.
8.39am: Yell at kids to put on their shoes because we're out the door in 1 minute.
8.40am: Leave the house.
8.41am: Go back to house to retrieve car keys.
8.43am: Enroute to school, mutter under my breath about arranging badminton training sessions at this "unGodly hour".
8.55am: Drop Andre at school. Shout last minute instructions at him from car window.
8.56am: Drive Lesley-Anne to chalet. Lucky girl is having a post-PSLE sleepover with her girlfriends. Proceed at snail pace because I've never driven this route before.
9.15am: Reach destination unscathed, hooray!
9.30am: Finally arrive at chalet on foot, slightly winded. Parked at the wrong place, darn it.
9.40am: Leave chalet, feeling somewhat sentimental over Lesley-Anne's first sleepover with friends.
9.55am: Home. Have toast and big mug of Super 3-in-1.
10.10am: Finally can settle down to work. Hmm... maybe I'll just check on Mouse Hunt first.
10.30am: Get call from Andre - training will end half an hour earlier, only 2 kids (including him) turned up. Darn it! Well, gotta pick him up soon so might as well continue playing.
10.45am: Leave to pick up Andre. Mutter at the crazy pedestrians playing Russian Roulette by stepping off the kerb in front of my car.
11.00am: Have a chat with badminton coach on Andre's progress. Wonder how to juggle all the upcoming changes in the training schedule.
11.30am: Enroute home, marvel at an elderly man who proceeds to cross the road despite seeing my approaching car, waving his walking stick at me menacingly the whole time.
11.45am: Arrive home. Send Andre to shower. Tell him he has to practise his piano before lunch.
12noon: Rap on the bathroom door and yell at Andre to hurry up, taking a luxury spa bath isn't going to get him off practising his piano.
12.15pm: Decide it's really time to work. Oh look, almost time for lunch. Ah well, might as well play Scrabble then.
12.30pm: Lunch.
12.50pm: Sit at computer. Really should start work now.
12.51pm: Oh wait, forgot to assign Andre his math revision homework.
1.00pm: Go back to computer. Open several emails from clients asking when they can expect their writeups.
1.02pm: Major panic. Attempt to start writing. If only can get rid of this writer's block.
1.10pm: Mojo flowing now. Subject is awfully boring though. Come on, keep at it.
2.30pm: One draft completed. Break to mark Andre's math assessment paper. Mutter under my breath over careless mistakes.
2.45pm: Go through math paper with Andre. Before I start, Andre says, "Mummy, can you not say 'tch' when I get something wrong? I don't like it." Yikes, guilty as charged.
3.00pm: Fall asleep. Super 3-in-1 has limited potency. Or maybe I shouldn't go through test papers on my bed.
3.25pm: Wake up with a start. Stumble to computer. Full intention to work... right after I sound the Mouse Hunt horn.
4.15pm: That can't be the time????? @*&!@%$!! Scramble to start work. Feverishly. I'll have another mug of that Super 3-in-1.
5.15pm: Phew! Managed to finish it before the end of the day. Send it off to client. Amazing what looming deadlines can inspire.
5.20pm: Drive Andre to get his hair cut. Seriously, I feel like I'm participating in a live video game where you maneoveur the car to avoid zig-zagging pedestrians. Wasn't there a recent report in the Straits Times about the increase in jaywalkers? I swear half of them live in my neighbourhood.
6.00pm: Hair cut done, ooh... Michael Chang, look out! Off to have dinner at the nearby hawker centre. Char guay teow with all the crispy lard bits. Never mind lah, Andre had badminton training this morning. I know I didn't, doesn't driving count as exercise? Teh tarik to wash it all down.
7.20pm: Home. Put all my persuasive charm on to cajole a pouty Andre to do a couple of English worksheets, reminding him it's SA2 next week.
7.30pm: Get sms from Lesley-Anne: "Just had dinner. Having a great time."
7.50pm: Mark English worksheets. Terribly worried over mistakes. Go through worksheets with Andre, trying very hard to reign in the 'tch'.
8.30pm: Fetch Kenneth from MRT station. Very happy it's my last drive of the day.
8.50pm: Chillin' time. Andre and I take turns to watch each other play computer games. Wonder what Lesley-Anne is doing.
10.00pm: Watch 'The Mentalist'. One of the better shows on tv these days.
10.30pm: Pack Andre off to bed. Hugs and kisses. "I love you, mummy." He truly is a good kid.
11.00pm: Me time! Rest of the household is out like a light (well, except for Lesley-Anne whom I'm sure won't be getting much sleep tonight). Alternate between playing Mouse Hunt, clearing emails and writing this post (wondering again why I ever started this blog).
1.00am: I'm wide awake. That teh tarik sure has kick!
1.55am: Decide to go to bed. Technically, it's not 2am yet, right? I'm sure I'll be fine tomorrow... I mean today.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why we shouldn't try to make our kids happy

A friend sent me this video clip which I thought was rather pertinent (thanks Slim!) It's by Connie Podesta, a marriage counsellor and it's food for thought. Do watch it (it's less than 5 minutes lah).

Her message is that while many adults comment that kids these days are different from 30 years ago, it's really the parents who are different. And a big reason for that is that we have become too pre-occupied with trying to make our kids happy.

Of course as parents, we want our kids to be happy. I think the problem arises when we mistake happiness as a goal instead of an end product. When this happens, parents start running circles around their kids trying to make them happy, as if that's their purpose in life. It’s exactly what those parents that I previously described as keys, try to do. As Connie mentions, once kids cotton on to that (and they will, very quickly!) boy, are you in trouble because you're letting yourself be held ransom to their every desire. Can you say brat?

Happiness is not a goal. It is a resultant state, helped by ideals such as living responsibly, having good values, having compassion for others, pursuing your passion etc. If we as parents provide a solid foundation for nurturing these qualities, then maybe, just maybe, our kids will be happy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

English composition part 5 (Andre's)

I've been talking a lot about Lesley-Anne's compositions so I think it's time to post another of Andre's. Since his last half-hearted attempt at writing one at home, I've not asked him to write another. I just got tired of nagging him and I realised that the forced assignments weren't bearing much fruit anyway.

But can escape mum, can't escape teacher! He's had to write a couple as part of his homework and I thought this one was worth a post. This was the picture he had to write about, sorry it's not very clear.

This was what he wrote:

"Hurray! Hurray!" "The exams are over!" the students at Sunshine school shouted. Mary was so happy that the exams were over. She was so proud of herself because she got full marks for all subjects. Mary rushed back home.

When she was on her way home, she thought, "Mum will be so proud of me, I can't wait to get home." When Mary was walking along her corridor, she noticed a man acting suspiciously. "Oh no, the strange man is trying to break into my neighbour's house! I must warn Mum quickly."

Mary quickly and quitely went into her house and immediatly ran shrait to her mother. "Mum! Mum! I saw a man trying to break into our neighbours house!" she said. "Oh no, quick, we must call the police at once!" Mum replied. Mary nodded and rang the police.

By the time the man was coming out of the house, the police were here. The police caught the man red-handed.

The man mumbled, "The police are here, I'm done for!"

The man tried to run as fast as he could, but the police caught up with him. The police pulled the man down to the ground and handcuffed him.

"Wait! I can explain, OW!"

The police ignored the man and took him to the police station.

Mary's mother was indeed proud of Mary. Her mother praised Mary for being vigilant. Mum gave her thumbs up and hugged her. Mary was so happy because she did a good deed by staying alert.

Ok, so there are quite a few holes in the plot and the grammar is questionable but I was rather heartened by his effort, it's an improvement from his earlier attempt. Forgive a mother's partiality but I quite enjoyed reading it because his use of dialogue was so animated it made me laugh. Can you tell he has been reading copious amounts of TinTin and Calvin & Hobbes?

More importantly, he didn't drag his feet to write this! He finished this piece of work without whining and without my prompting, which is an achievement in itself. Feeling encouraged, I asked him, "Do you enjoy writing more now?"

The instant and matter of fact answer: "No."

Ah well, one step at a time. I can dream, can't I?

Monday, October 19, 2009

UNSW Writing competition... and the real reason why it's good news

Lesley-Anne has truly come into her own this year. Apart from garnering a Distinction for the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Science competition, she also managed to clinch a Distinction for the UNSW Writing competition.

Admittedly, the writing award wasn't as unexpected to me as the science one but still, it came as a very pleasant surprise. This is because in the three years that she has participated in the writing competition, this is the first year she managed to get a Distinction. According to the report, this puts her in the top 6% of p6 Singapore kids who sat for the test.

However, what I found most encouraging about the report was not the actual score but the progress that she has made over the past three years. The great thing about the UNSW competitions is that they track the history of the student's scores, in relation to other kids in the cohort and even in relation to other cohorts, as shown here:

As you can see, in p4 when Lesley-Anne first took the test, she scored only marginally higher (as shown by the black dot) than the cohort's average within the top 41% (she received a Participation certificate). In p5, she improved slightly, scoring within the top 31% (receiving a Credit). This year, her results shot up (depicted by the black triangle). The score is borne out in her compositions - the ones she has written this year are a vast improvement from those written in 2008 (click on the label 'English' to find postings of Lesley-Anne's compositions). If I'm interpreting the chart right, the p6 results are very similar to the sec1 results this year, which gives me some reassurance that she should be able to cope well with English next year.

To me, her performance spells hope, not just for her but for Andre as well. Why? Because I know there was no significant difference in the type or intensity of coaching Lesley-Anne received in writing from last year to early this year when the test was conducted (although she did have an excellent English teacher this year). There was also no marked difference in her reading frequency that could have contributed to the sudden improvement in results. This tells me that she naturally developed a maturity in writing and was suddenly able to commit her thoughts into words effectively, ie come into her own style of expression.

I've been resisting enrolling Andre into a writing class despite his mediocre marks in composition because I find that many of their methods stifle creativity and impose rigid techniques such as memorising model compositions and phrases instead of instilling the love of writing. Lesley-Anne's results in the UNSW competition makes me optimistic that I'm making the right decision, to let Andre develop his writing skills naturally through time. I realise it's a gamble (what if it doesn't improve sufficiently by PSLE??) but I'm willing to take a chance because I think nothing is worth the risk of killing your child's love for the language.

So parents out there, if your kids are facing problems acing their compositions right now, take heart! Maybe there's hope yet.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Goodbye Hammie

This post is purely for my kids to remember their pet hamster, Hammie, who passed on earlier this week. A friend had given us 2 hamsters back in 2007 and they've been our family pets since then. Hyper died earlier this year, probably due to her over zealous love for food and unhamster-like disdain for exercise. She died peacefully in her food bowl, true to character till the end.

Hammie was feistier and livelier, which made her more fun to watch and play with. As she aged, she grew mellower and would enjoy being stroked, even licking my hand. Here's a short video we took of her earlier this year.

Hammie lived to a ripe old age. Dwarf hamsters typically have a life span of 1½ to 2 years but Hammie lasted a grand total of 2½ years. Every time we thought the end was near because she started to look frail or drop fur, she would miraculously rejuvenate. I attribute her longevity to the fact that we fed her lots of fresh food. And I'm not talking just vegetables or fruit - we gave her prawns, cheese, eggs, fish and even yoghurt. Hamsters are omnivores, they even eat chicken, just make sure that the food doesn't have sauce on it or strong seasoning. Our hamsters really lived it up! Well, if your life span is that short, make the most of it, right?

We're not sure if we'll be getting new pets. Losing a pet is sad, even a hamster. I can just imagine how traumatic it must be if it's a dog or a cat. Andre wailed, "I'm so sad about Hammie!" even though he'd barely played with her for months.

So the hamster cages are going into cold storage for now. Goodbye Hammie, you were fun to have around. Hope you're enjoying fresh prawns and eggs in Hamster Heaven!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

English composition part 4

Posting compositions is one of the easiest posts to write as they require no thinking or planning on my part - just type 'em out and voila! Anyway, I've been meaning to post more of Lesley-Anne's compositions but decided against doing so before the PSLE, to avoid any comparisons and add to her stress.

Now that the exams are over, here's one that she wrote this year. The style is slightly different from her usual one in that it has more descriptive narration.

Here are the instructions:

One day, you and your sibling were strolling in a nearby park. Suddenly, you heard a noise coming from behind you.

Based on the above situation, write a composition of at least 150 words. In your story, make use of the points below:

  • how you and your sibiling felt
  • what the both of you did
  • what happened in the end
The Wind

The sky was dark and raindrops made a "pitter patter" sound on my window. The wind was howling loudly outside my window. In the past, I hated storms. The flashes of lightning and claps of thunder made me feel uneasy, sometimes scared. Now, with my furry companion asleep in my lap, nothing about the storm scares me. He probably has a calming influence on me. I marvel at the fact that he is not afraid of storms himself, after all, he had been through a terrible ordeal involving a storm...

Alicia and I were walking at the park. We both loved that park. The occasional breeze would seem to whisper to me, as if it is saying: "Do you remember all the fun you and Alicia had in this park?" and I would recall how we used to sit on the swings while waiting for the ice-cream man to come and how we rode on the round-a-bout until we got dizzy. That day, the park was cooler than usual because of the rain the previous night and the playground was wet. Because of this, we had almost the whole place to ourselves and the park was peaceful without the laughter of young children sliding down the slide.

"Sis! Did you hear that?" Alicia asked, her voice trembling.

"Hear what?"

"The bush, it rustled!"

"The bushes always rustle when there's a breeze."

"I know that, but this one it... whined."

"Bushes don't whine!"

"But this..."

Her sentence was cut short. Then, I heard it too. A faint whine coming from a bush. I peeked in but I saw nothing. I felt something brush against my calf. It was hairy and a little wet. What was it? An image of a big, slimy hairy caterpillar crossed my mind.

"Yuck! Get it of my leg!" I shrieked.

"Get what of, Sis?"

"The caterpillar!"

She started giggling.

"Some fine sister you are! Help me now!"

"Does that look like a caterpillar?"

I turned around and saw the muddiest dog in the world. Its fur was matted and drenched and it looked as if it had rolled around in a pigsty.

"Aww... Sis! Let's take him home!"

Was she nuts?


"He is in the most sorry state ever!"

"Why would you want him? Just because Mom and Dad are vets and would take in an animal anytime doesn't mean that you should take him home! You don't even know what breed he is, let alone know how to take care of him!"

"He is a Jack Russell."

How did she know that? Anyway, I stood my ground. I wasn't going to let Alicia take that dog home. Being a Jack Russell, he would probably be hyperactive and would be able to tear the house down.

I dragged a protesting Alicia home leaving the dog behind. Our parents were not home yet. Thank God they work on weekends and come home late at night after bedtime or they would instruct me to bring the Jack Russell home after hearing Alicia's story. By the time Alicia wakes up tommorow, she would have forgotten about the dog. She is very forgetful.

Knowing Alicia, she would probably sneak out to go and get the dog. However, she could not as a storm was brewing.

As I looked out the window at those dark clouds, I could not help thinking about the dog who was going to get soaked again in the rain. On imagining how sickly it would look if it caught a chill, my heart softened. I wanted to go back to the park to bring it home. But one thing stood in my way. My fear of storms. The lightning and thunder always scared me, since young. However, I pluckered up my courage and went out the door.

I returned home with a shivering dog in my arms. Both of us were drenched, but it was worth it.

A clap of thunder brought me back to earth. The wind was still howling outside, reminding me of the day Fluffy came into my life.

Once again, her choice of words is very simple and she relies a lot on dialogue to keep the plot moving. I realise that's how I used to write as a student too. I think the grammar could be better but Lesley-Anne tells me she tends to make grammatical mistakes when she's writing quickly. I hope this is something that will correct itself in time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The PSLE maths conundrum

Last PSLE paper today! Woohoo!!

By now, some of you may have heard of the ruckus over the PSLE maths paper on Thursday. In short, the paper was a killer. How tough was it? Let's see - a boy who's a Math Olympiad platinum winner cited the paper as Math Olympiad standard. Others have said it was even harder than some of the top schools' prelim papers.

Lesley-Anne came home teary-eyed as she couldn't solve three 4-mark questions and she barely finished the paper, no time to check at all. From what I heard over the grapevine, tears were flowing in PSLE exam halls all over Singapore. Lilian and I were predicting that complaint letters by panicky parents would rapidly find their way into the Straits Times' forum page. Surprisingly, this has not happened yet, although Today newspaper has already written a piece on it here.

I'm not one of those parents, in case you're wondering. The reason is that I have no wish to become one of those kiasu, whiny parents who complain whenever things don't go their way. Besides, I don't think it will make an iota of a difference (what, you expect MOE to hand you an A* because you complained?)

I have no issue with difficult PSLE papers. I think generally, it evens itself out because the PSLE T-score is moderated, meaning that each child is assessed not on the actual score on his exam paper but how he performs in relation to the rest of the cohort. The better you perform compared to your p6 peers, the higher your T-score will be, regardless of your actual mark. So a difficult paper is actually advantageous for kids adept in that subject because they will be better able to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Having said that, I think the challenge is to be able to pitch the level of the paper appropriately. In the case of this year's maths paper, I think it was unrealistically high. Of course this is just my gut feel since I haven't seen the paper, I'm going by comments I've read in forums and anecdotal accounts.

In most years, the PSLE maths paper contains a couple of very challenging questions which I assume is to suss out the truly bright mathematical talents. If so, then the majority of students are not expected to know how to solve these, which is fine. However, this year, the few challenging questions were so difficult that they stumped many of even the top tier maths whizzes, eg. those who participate in the Math Olympiad and those in GEP. If this is true, then instead of being able to identify the top 5%, maybe you end up identifying, say the top 0.5%. The top 5% then gets bunched up with perhaps the top 20% because all of them couldn't solve the same questions. (All numbers are arbitrary).

My question then is, how is this useful in any way? The handful of maths prodigies has most likely already been identified, through their past performance. What is the value of having a measurement tool that can differentiate only the top 0.5% followed by the next large category of 20%? Not much, in my opinion.

My main concern, however, is the impact on kids who are in the middle of the bell curve (which would be the majority). Again going by what I've heard, the rest of the paper was no piece of cake either, with many questions requiring a lot of time and thinking, even for Paper 1, which is traditionally more straight forward. This meant that many kids were not able to finish the papers. I know exams are also a test of time management but to what degree? I mean, is someone necessarily a better technician because he can assemble a gadget in 20 minutes versus one who can do it in 25 minutes? What are we testing here?

The purpose of any exam, especially a national one, should be to test understanding of the concepts and the ability to apply them, not to trip the kids up. I'm not suggesting you have a super simple paper that everyone can sail through but if you have a paper where a good proportion of the kids (who have gone through the national education system) is unable to perform satisfactorily in, I think it puts a question mark not on the students but on the system. Something is wrong - either the kids were not taught adequately or the exam not set correctly.

The casualties of course, are the kids. You can argue that since the T-score is moderated, kids shouldn't be too unduely distressed over an overly difficult paper. To that, I say we sometimes forget that these are 12-year-olds. Give them a break. Many of these kids have been slogging for the PSLE all year, diligently doing paper after paper, sacrificing tv and other pleasures for the hope of performing well at the PSLE. Being unable to answer the questions or even finish a paper sends them this message: "Your effort was not good enough." Demoralising is an understatement. Even if they do manage to attain a reasonable T-score, it's like a back-handed compliment - they just didn't do as badly as others.

Lesley-Anne was very disappointed with her performance in the paper after putting in so much work, although I acknowledge that having DSA does relieve the anxiety somewhat (thank God!) I hope that for the sake of the sanity of future parents and kids, the national exam policies and practices can be reviewed and adjusted appropriately. Not too much to ask, surely?

Friday, October 9, 2009

What's the lesson again?

One of the areas we're constantly trying to work on in Andre's badminton journey is mental tenacity. As is common with young kids, Andre hates to lose. When he starts missing shots, he tends to get very emotional and frustrated, which as you would expect, causes him to perform even worse.

We're constantly trying to impart the lesson that attitude is as important as ability when it comes to sports. Kenneth always reminds him to focus on the next point and not dwell on the previous point that he had lost. Just one point at a time. Of course it's easier said than done. When Andre's on the court, his competitiveness explodes in full force, making it hard for him to accept failure.

Last week during badminton coaching, this point was hammered home. Andre was playing against another student in a 5-point round game. He was down 0-2 and his opponent needed only one more point to win the round. Coming from behind, Andre took the next 3 points and won the round, to the disappointment of his opponent.

In the car, we thought that was an excellent opportunity to reinforce the lesson. (We're cheong hei people lah!)

Kenneth: You played very well just now. So now you know what's important in a game?

Andre (promptly): Footwork.

Kenneth: No lah!

Andre: Smashing?

Kenneth: !!!! Aiyah, you were two down and you still managed to win. So what did you learn from that episode?

Andre (light bulb switches on): Not to get frustrated.

Kenneth: That's right. Of course footwork is important. But more importantly, you must never...?

Andre: Lose.

Kenneth: GAHHHH!!

Andre (catches on like a game show contestant): Give up! I mustn't give up!

I'm sure he would have gotten it right the first time if it was multiple choice...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lego Power Miners

This week's posts are all about Andre. PSLE starts today lah, so I'm leaving Lesley-Anne alone for now. Shhh...

As you know, Andre received a couple of boxes of Lego Power Miners for his birthday at his request. We'd actually given Lego a miss for years, even amidst all the Bionicles craze, as Andre had never been keen on building contraptions. He'd always prefered ready assembled cars and trucks, those that required any sort of construction, he usually left to Lesley-Anne.

So I was a little surprised and apprehensive when he asked for Lego Power Miners. I think Lego is a marvellous toy but you basically pay for the fun of construction, it's costly if you're just looking to play with the final product. Anyway, he assured me he was interested in building it, so these were the two sets he received from us and his aunt.

The first one is a mean machine, it took Andre and Lesley-Anne a few hours to put together. When it was done, I must say I fell in love with Lego all over again. I loved Lego as a kid but of course the selection was much more limited in those days. It had the same quality and attention to detail that I remember and perfectly cut pieces - not a single uneven fit that is so common (and frustrating) with the imitation Lego toys. No wonder Lego has been able to maintain their price premium for decades, despite the proliferation of copy cats.

This is the 8961.

Very intricate moving parts. The drill and truck operator seats came complete with tiny, miniature gear shifts! Here's a close up of the motor bike. There's even a little clasp at the back that holds the bike in place. A Lego man can ride on it and hold its handlebars.

The set also came with a catapult and two rock monsters that you could flip their tops open to store coloured gemstones (one of them in the pic below came with the other set).

The 8959 is a smaller set, Andre assembled it by himself.

As luck would have it, we discovered later that these two boxed sets can be combined to form a mega monster - the Crystal Crawler. What a bonus! After playing with the two toys separately for a couple of days, he attempted to construct the combined one. The step-by-step instructions are online. Before he could complete it, he had to leave for badminton training so I finished building it for him. It's a real beaut, I have to admit and I'm not even a machine-oriented person. I was just awed by the meticulous construction. Here it is:

The scoop at the back extends seamlessly and completely. When stretched out from end to end, it looks like a mechanical scorpion. Very cool!

Andre has been playing with his Power Miners all weekend, he loves them. My engineer brother-in-law was fiddling with them and sighed, "This is the type of toy I dreamed of as a kid."

A truly educational and creative toy. Totally worth saving up for!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cherishing the wonder years

It's hard to believe that Andre is 9. Just the other day, I was walking along my estate and had a sudden flashback of clutching Andre's chubby little hand as we traversed that route to his pre-school together. Was that really 5 years ago? Seems like yesterday.

I think all mothers feel that pang when their youngest child grows up. Maybe that's why we're determined to baby our little ones for as long as possible, to hang on to the sweet, wonder years where the world is still waiting to be discovered.

I won't pretend that I don't miss those years, but I'm very grateful that I was able to have near perfect work arrangements to enjoy Lesley-Anne and Andre to the fullest at that age. We can't turn back time and I feel for parents who regret not having spent more time with their kids during their formative years.

Andre has matured significantly in the past one year. I can see the difference even in his physical features. He has lost much of that baby face as well as his baby fat, probably due to his badminton training. He no longer has interest in cartoon merchandise like Ben 10 and has begun to recognise and steer towards his sporting abilities. At a recent birthday party, he was playing soccer with a group of friends and the birthday boy's mum asked me if Andre attended soccer coaching as he was a very good goal keeper. I said no, his performance was probably boosted by the fact that he's not afraid to fling himself right into the path of the oncoming ball! Andre also shared with me, not without some pride, that during PE, everyone wants to be on his team. This makes me glad, especially since back in school, I was always last on the schoolyard pick! (Bookworms and PE are like water and oil - they just don't mix).

My little boy is growing up fast. But in certain aspects, he's still as child-like as ever and I hope he will maintain that innocence for as long as possible. He still climbs into my lap and is generous with his hugs and kisses. He still holds my hand, he will make silly faces and mimic silly moves. He still says the funniest, out-of-the-blue, totally huh? things - (in reponse to an insult from Lesley-Anne - "if I'm a dust mite, you're... you're... fabric!!")

Last week when I was picking Andre up from school, a boy dashed to the school gate, waved enthusiastically at him and yelled with affection, "Bye Andre!" Later, I realised that boy was one of the kids in the class who was constantly getting into scrapes and having trouble making friends. I asked Andre if he was a friend, he replied, "Yes. W told me not to be friends with him but I don't care lah. I'm friends with everyone."

I think it is this easy-going and gregarious nature of Andre that enables him to accept everyone for who they are and enjoy whatever life has to offer. It is humbling that my 9-year-old should be a constant check against my own cynical attitude, and it's a real blessing for me. My wish for him is that he will never lose this guileless temperament. At the risk of sounding like a besotted mum, I truly believe the world would be a better place if there were more Andres in it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

9 candles for Andre

It's Andre's birthday! My little imp turns 9 today, would you believe it. Since yesterday was a school holiday (Children's Day), it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate his special day. He told us explicitly how he wanted to spend it - have a Japanese buffet lunch and visit the Science Centre. Feed the tummy and feed the mind. Why not?

So off we went!

Lunch was at Hoshi Restaurant at IMM, recommended by Lilian. There's an ala carte buffet promotion there now, $28.50++ for adults and $15.50++ for children. They charged Lesley-Anne the child price even though she's above the 140cm height limit, so that was a bonus.

It was excellent value for money. Nothing gets my attention faster than the phrase "free-flow sashimi". Quality wise, I actually differed in opinion with Lilian on quite a few items. The sashimi was fresh but somehow, we felt the quality lost out to some other ala carte buffets we've tried. The tuna was a little mincey and not as firm. Having said that, it didn't stop us from having 6 platters of mixed sashimi and 7 extra plates of salmon sashimi...

I thought the highlight was the ebi tempura. I'm usually not a fan but these were super light and crispy - excellent! The soft shell crab was pretty good too and Lesley-Anne loved the yakitori. The tepanyaki items looked better than they tasted - ok but nothing special. Food pics here:

Can you tell he's satisfied?
Then we headed to the Science Centre, just around the corner. (Yes, we planned it that way). I haven't been to the Science Centre in quite a few years so I was pleasantly surprised to find that they have added some new and more interactive sections. I thought some of the previous exhibits were looking a little run down. The pic on the left is of an old display but always a favourite optical illusion with my kids.

One of the temporary exhibitions currently running is the F1 exhibition, which showcases the technology behind the uber cool sport. There's an actual F1 car on display and here's Andre trying out the position of an F1 driver.

A relatively new section at the Science Centre is the I-Space area which showcases IT in all its glory. Tons of interactive displays including RFID tags, 3-D games and home applications - all great fun for this little boy who loves trying out gadgets. Taking centrestage in the I-Space section is a neon-lit tree-like structure made out of optic fibres. It's pretty neat.

There was also this giant electronic soft board (sorry for bad description, I'm no techie!) where you could sms a message and see it float on display. I imagine Andre thought it was magical that the Science Centre knew it was his birthday.

We didn't visit the Omni-theatre but there's a Van Gogh show currently being screened and I thought this promotional exhibit was very interesting. You may recognise the scene below from one of Van Gogh's very famous paintings but what you may not realise is that it's an actual physical exhibit. The way the room and furniture has been painted makes the scene look uncannily like a picture. Amazing stuff.

To top off that fabulous day, Andre went home to his pile of presents and to his delight, he got everything he wanted (he made no secret of his birthday wishlist) - a couple of new Beast Quest books, a badminton shirt, more toy cars and his favourite - two boxes of Lego Power Miners. What can I say, he has very nice family members!

And of course, what's a birthday without cake? Happy birthday Andre! You'll always be my lovable, huggable, cutie pie.

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