Thursday, November 26, 2009

Advent calendar version 2

Last year, I wrote about the Advent calendar I made for my kids. If you are wondering what an Advent calendar is and how it works, do read that post so I don't have to repeat it here. I'm not doing one for my kids this year, it's a lot of effort and I think they've outgrown the novelty anyway.

But for those who might be interested in making one (and I do encourage it as it's loads of fun for the kids), I thought I'd share the one I did for 2008. Again, feel to copy the rhymes but you'll need to change the ones that are specific to my family, like references to Ben 10 which Andre was crazy about last year.

Last year, I didn't use all Christmas related words (this was my third year doing it so I was running out of ideas!) Plus Lesley-Anne was older and the rhymes were getting too simple for her. So I turned some of them into riddles instead.

Once again, the first letter of the answer to the rhyme spells out a sentence, in this case "May love and peace be with you". To give it added difficulty, I didn't give out the clues in the order listed here, they were jumbled up with no. 22 actually given out on the last day of Advent (24 Dec). So after the kids got all the clues, they had to rearrange the letters to form the correct sentence.

I'm just listing the letters in the correct sequence here so you can see the final sentence. Hope that explanation isn't too confusing!

1. Maths

It gives you many headaches
When you can’t work it out
But when you finally solve them
There’s much to shout about!

2. Asterix

A funny little sign
A funny little man
He has many wild adventures
Stop laughing if you can!

3. Yelsel

Button a as bright
She is ballerina a
Thing right the does always
We are her of proud

4. Leprechaun

A little green creature
Found in Ireland I’m told
He looks for ends of rainbows
To hide his pots of gold

5. Open Sesame

Ali said this
So did Daffy
When they said this
They got plenty

6. Verb

It’s not a singer but it sings
It’s not a telephone but it rings
It does a lot of actions
But it is not a thing

7. Exams

These things are such a nuisance
These things you really detest
But when they’re all over
You’ll be glad you tried your best

8. Andre

A cute and clever dragon
Please always stay that way

9. Nikko

We really loved this place
Even though it was freezing
The udon warmed us up
It was really very pleasing

10. Daddy (this is a repeat of the one I shared last year, the actual D word I used refers to a specific person so I prefer not to share it here. Just create your own!)

Sometimes he’s smiley
Sometimes he’s not
But whether he is or isn’t
He sure loves you a lot

11. Pie

It comes in many flavours
Like chicken and apple crumble
But the one that tastes bad
Is the one that’s called humble

12. Egg

Hard or soft
Fried is best
Yummy whichever way
Just don’t get it for your test

13. Angels

We never see them
But we know they’re there
God sent them to protect us
To show how much He cares

14. Cannonbolt

He rolls up like a ball
I made him dance some Russian
If he hits some big monster
The monster gets a concussion

15. Emotions

It can turn your eyes green
And make you red, white or blue
You can’t see or touch it
But it’s very colourful

16. Beijing

A land rich in history
With a very winding wall
We were recently there
And we really had a ball

17. Email

You used to use a pen
Now you use your fingers
The goal is still the same
It’s to send out messages

18. Wise Men

There were three of them
They travelled afar
To look for Christ
They followed a star

19. In

You’ll see it in something
It’s there in everything
It appears in thin air
Yet it’s found in nothing

20. Tin Tin

A clever Belgian boy
With a helpful little dog
There are a couple of twins
Who’re always in the fog

21. Hammy

Very, very active
When she bites, ouch!
You give her lots of food
And she stores them in her pouch

22. Yes

I see it in your eyes
It started yesterday
Knowing Christmas is near
This you want to say!

23. Omnitrix

It makes you look real funny
And gets you in danger
Yet every boy wants one
Have you seen anything stranger?

24. Unicorn

A mythical beast
Somewhat lopsided up there
It only has one
While others have a pair

Happy Advent! Meanwhile, we'll be going on a short vacation from the weekend to end of next week. So I'm taking a break from blogging but I hope to see y'all when I return.... hopefully refreshed! Adieu!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Andre's 2009 report card

Another school year has ended. I would rate Andre's academic performance as fair. His final exam this year showed me quite distinctly where his strengths and weaknesses are. While I don't want to put any labels on him, it's apparent that he needs help in his languages - both English and Chinese. For both, his spoken language is better than his written language.

Andre's science is ok but I still find that his strange perspective sometimes gets him into trouble. For instance, there was this question in the science paper:

Mr Ting brought a mystery animal to class and asked this pupils to guess what it was. The clues are listed below.
  • This animal is covered with fur.
  • This animal eats meat and bone.
  • This animal can run and jump on land.
  • This animal can swim in water.
  • This animal can be kept as a pet.

Name the mystery animal.

I mean, it's quite obviously a dog, right? This is what Andre wrote: "The mystery animal is a platypus."

I went in despair, "how on earth can it be a platypus??"

"I didn't know a dog could swim!"

"It's a pet! How can a platypus be a pet?"

"I thought you could keep it in a tank."

Maths was the only subject he achieved a Band 1 and it was probably this that saved him. He managed to get into a reasonable class next year and I'm thankful for that. His results are not spectacular but I know they could have been worse. Moving ahead, we will need to put in more effort into his languages to build on his foundation and make sure he doesn't slip further.

Meanwhile, this was what his teacher wrote in his report book:

"Andre is a diligent and responsible student who shows a positive attitude towards his work. He readily accepts feedback on his weaknesses and works towards improvement. This can be seen from his enthusiastic nature in class over the semester. A warm, cheerful and caring boy, he takes initiative to extend his generous assistance to his peers and this makes him a well-liked student amongst his classmates."

Andre was very encouraged by what she wrote - I think it's great of her to focus on his attitude instead of solely on his grades. I'm praying that he will be blessed with an equally enlightened teacher next year and be motivated to keep learning.

Friday, November 20, 2009

To my school

Last day of school and it's a bittersweet moment for Lesley-Anne. Today, she leaves the school that has shaped her character and laid her academic foundation for the past six years. As a parent, I believe the teachers have done a terrific job. For the most part, Lesley-Anne has enjoyed her time here and I know she will remember it fondly.

So here's a little something I wrote to mark her rite of passage.

To My School

When I first came here
I felt so very small
Many confusing walkways
And a massive hall.

At times it was tough
I really didn't like school
The teachers were too strict
Kids could be cruel.

But as time passed
I became familiar with these walls
Faces and places
I grew fond of them all.

Six years I've spent here
Many friends I have made
Day in and day out
We've studied and played.

Wasn't it just yesterday
They were my new classmates?
Now we're all great pals
Ready to graduate

Older and wiser
A teen I'll soon be
So very different from
The little girl that was me.

And now I only remember
The good times I've had
Knowing I'm leaving this place
Makes me kind of sad

My new journey's beginning
Something I'm looking forward to
But no matter where I go
I will always remember you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The best gift

All you observant folks out there may have realised, "Hey, Andre is in p3... wasn't the GEP tests a few weeks ago?"

The answer is yes, the GEP screening and selection tests are over, and no, he didn't get in, to those who might be wondering.

While I'm not losing any sleep over this result, I was rather concerned before the tests as Andre was showing signs of anxiety that he would not get into the programme. This came as a surprise to me as he had always seemed rather indifferent to GEP and we as parents have always been conscious not to compare him with Lesley-Anne. I kept reassuring him that it didn't matter whether he got into GEP or not, and trying to instil the message that everyone has different talents.

Despite this, he persisted in asking, "What if I don't get in?" until I said in consternation, "It really doesn't matter! I don't care if you don't get in! Why do you care so much?" Then the truth emerged - he wanted it because it was the best. Plus his sister was in it. It was about winning.

Have you ever seen pre-schoolers at play? When one child decides to play with a particular toy, all the other kids will clammer to play with that same toy and a fight will ensue. And when a child finally decides that another toy is preferable, all the other kids will instantly want that toy NOW. It doesn't matter if there are heaps of other equally interesting toys in the room.

It's the same with adults. Nothing is seen as more valuable than the item that is most coveted by others. In the Singapore education landscape, GEP falls under this category. The GEP is regarded as the most desirable "toy" and this mindset is cascaded down to the kids. I can keep spouting that GEP is designed and suitable only for intellectually gifted kids but that doesn't stop my hit rate from rocketing just before the GEP screening and selection tests, from parents searching "GEP coaching" to reach my blog. (Yes, I can actually verify this).

Being able to get into the GEP becomes a trophy of the highest level and this mindset has somehow seeped into Andre's psyche from school and his classmates. Although he only had a faint inkling of what GEP was, in his mind, it was the "best toy". Naturally then, when he heard the news that he didn't make the grade, he was terribly downcast.

I'm sure you're all familiar with the phrase: "When God closes a door, He opens a window." I'm rather ambivalent about this statement because it suggests that God sometimes gives us something that's second rate or as a consolation prize (afterall, it's so much easier to walk out the door than climb through the window!) I don't think that's true. I think God wants to give us the best all the time, just that what He knows is best for us (the operative words being "for us") is sometimes not what we may consider the best.

Andre experienced this first hand. Even as he was still smarting over not getting into GEP, God's "window" opened. Within the same week at his usual badminton coaching session, he was given a letter by the academy inviting him to join a special coaching class, where about ten kids from the academy are handpicked to be given extra attention and put under more intensive training. These are supposedly the kids with potential and in what I thought was a very generous gesture, the academy will even sponsor their apparel and equipment, including rackets, t-shirts, shorts and bags, among other things. Basically, these kids will be the poster children of the academy.

I just had to marvel at God's timing. It rammed home the message that God gives only what's best for you, something I'd tried explaining many times to Andre but he didn't quite grasp until that moment. It was quite clear to me that God closed the door to GEP for Andre because it doesn't play to his strengths. But the badminton special class does.

It's not about winning - it's about growing as a human being, it's about the journey of life and what makes us better people. We don't know yet where this will head, but right now, we're just accepting all gifts with open arms and with gratitude.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In honour of Lesley-Anne's braces

Came across this poem by Shel Silverstein from A Light in the Attic. Made us giggle, what with Lesley-Anne in braces and all.

Tusk, Tusk

The Walrus got braces,
And that's why his face is
A tangle of wires and steel.
He'll sit and he'll wait
Till his tusks are both straight -
And then think how happy he'll feel!
(But meanwhile, they're ruining his meal.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Totto-Chan - in Chinese, no less

I've mentioned before that we don't read enough Chinese books in this household. I'm always mindful that the habit needs to be instilled but you know, we just never get to it.

Part of the problem is picking the books. When we're at the library trying to sort through the ineligible (for me) shelves of books with Chinese squiggles, it's always "too hard", "too simple", "got hanyu pinyin", "too boring", "too history book", "too moralistic" or something else.

So when the Chinese tutor lent Lesley-Anne this Chinese book to read over the holidays, it was a welcome gesture.

It's actually the Chinese version of the famous Japanese children's book, Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window. For the uninitiated, the book is a memoir by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, a Japanese UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, who wrote about her unconventional education during World War II at Tomoe Gakuen, a Tokyo elementary school. The protaganist Totto-Chan was expelled from a regular school for disuptive behaviour but was recognised by Mr Kobayashi, the principal of Tomoe Gakuen, as an imaginative and curious child with a thirst for life's wonders. From her eyes, the reader sees the how Mr Kobayashi harnesses his unusual outlook towards learning and children to help his wards enjoy a happy childhood and appreciate the simple things in life despite the war.

Originally published in 1981, the book has been translated into numerous languages and remains the best selling book in Japanese history.

I've read the English version (in fact, I'm sure I have it somewhere but can't seem to locate it) and while it's a charming and heart-warming story, my frank opinion is that the style of writing is a little boring. I attribute this purely to the translated text - I'm pretty sure it's much more engaging in its original language.

The Chinese version holds more promise, probably because the Japanese and Chinese languages have more in common in terms of sentence structure and form than Japanese and English. Lesley-Anne is enjoying the Chinese version. To her, many Chinese books focus too much on the description of settings which is uninteresting whereas this book tells the story with much dialogue and in a more narrative manner.

So this is one of my rare recommendations for Chinese books. It's a fun story, though it's probably more suitable for girls. If you need some Chinese reading material for your kids, you might like to look this one up at the library.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Andre's room - please knock!

Ever since we told the kids they would be getting their own rooms, Andre had been super psyched about it. At one point, he was telling me several times a day, "I can't wait till I have my own room!" until I was so sick of hearing about it and snapped, "If you don't stop saying that, I'm going to take it back!"

The instance his room was set up, he pasted this sign on the door:

It reads: 'If you want to come in, knock on the door! Andre's Room'. He took this notice very seriously. On the first day, I'd walked into the room unannounced and he looked rather miffed.

"Mummy, you didn't knock."

"The door was open! Anyway, you don't knock when you come into MY room."

"That's because you didn't put up a sign!"

Ok, so the rules are, you have to knock if you want to enter his room. He will ask, "Who is it?" and you have to answer before he will permit you to go in. Even if he can actually see you standing in the doorway. Heck, it doesn't even matter whether he's in the room or not. He was in the living room and when he saw Lesley-Anne march straight into his room, he yelled across the hallway, "YOU DIDN'T KNOCK!"

This is what his new room (originally my office) looks like. The desk and chair are new, the others are existing furniture. The row of bookshelves and the piano (not shown) are part of the original setup. They have to remain in his room due to lack of space elsewhere but he says he doesn't mind. He actually gets a kick out of having piano lessons in his own room.

There's a little corner by the window and it has turned out to be Andre's absolute favourite spot.

He reads and plays with his toys there. I think he relishes the fact that he's completely out of sight there, if anyone looks into the room. It's his own little space within a space. Oh, there's probably another reason and it's there on the right wall. When Andre found out he was getting his own room, he didn't ask for anything... except, would you believe it, a mirror. That's right, the vain pot was not interested in desks or shelves or cupboards, as long as he could admire himself in the looking glass.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the vainest of them all?

Monday, November 9, 2009

A room to call my own

One of the more exciting milestones for the kids this year was that they finally each had their own room. Up until last Tuesday, they had shared a room and this was what it looked like (from two different angles):

With Lesley-Anne at the brink of adolescence and differences in interests and opinions becoming more disparate between the two siblings, tempers were flaring much more often. It was clear that they each needed their own space.

We live in a three-bedroom apartment but one bedroom was being used as my study cum office, so guess who had to make the sacrifice *sniff*. We didn't do anything extravagant, we kept most of the existing furniture and just added a few new pieces. The kids were content to have their own rooms and didn't make any demands.

The original shared room became Lesley-Anne's room. Andre, ever suspicious that he might be getting the shorter end of the stick, asked why his che che could have the larger room. She immediately retorted, "Because I had to wait longer for my own room." Can't argue with logic like that.

After the furniture musical chairs was done and the dust had settled, this was Lesley-Anne's new domain. The barang is still slowly being unpacked, hence the piles and bags.

This is the view from the other side of the room.

I think it's a great space for a growing girl and she has all she needs for now. At least I hope so! I couldn't believe how much stuff she had until we had to sort through them, it's like a rolling snowball - it gathers more mass along the way. Wherever there was an available table top or unused chair anywhere in the house, she would mark the territory with a pile of her belongings. Without realising it, I've raised a hoarder. I'm crossing my fingers that she will now contain the mountain heaps within her own room.

Will post about Andre's room separately.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The rights of the child

The other day, Andre brought home this booklet from school:

It's a full colour booklet produced by MCYS and each page depicts an article stating a right of the child, according to the United Nations Convention, like this one below:

It's very well done and simple to understand but I scratched my head over the objective of distributing the book to students. Was it meant for the kids? The parents? I mean, even if the kids were made aware of their rights, would they be able to take any action if they had tyrannical parents? And the parents, if they were like the father in the picture above, I'm pretty sure wouldn't give 2 hoots about what this booklet said.

Anyway, I was flipping through the booklet and came across this picture:

Wait just a doggone minute! A burger?? I know they're actually referring to food but I can just picture kids going to their parents, saying "Mummy, it says here I have a right to a burger. Can I have one now?"

A little illustration is a dangerous thing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Braces for Lesley-Anne

Lesley-Anne has commenced her journey on braces. It was one that she faced with great trepidation but I'd insisted on it as she has quite a few crooked teeth and one tooth in particular that grew behind another. I have crooked teeth myself and always wished that I'd gotten braces when I was young. Having a great smile makes such a difference to one's features.

We visited our family dentist/orthodontist right after Lesley-Anne's PSLE. We figured that it would be a good time to start since she had time on her hands to adjust. Upon examination, the dentist said that Lesley-Anne's overlapping tooth meant that her bite was wrong and she wasn't able to grind her teeth sideways. If this was not corrected, it would affect her jaw growth and she might end up with what he called a "banana jaw".

So what started out with cosmetic intent became a necessary procedure for developmental reasons. Before this, I was hazy about the process for braces - it was very educational for me too, so I'm going to share what we learnt so far from Lesley-Anne's experience, for the benefit of others who might be considering this step.

We'd heard that many people had to have extractions when they did their braces and this was a major fear factor for Lesley-Anne. I'll try and explain what the dentist said: Often, the reason for crooked teeth is that there's simply not enough space - either the teeth are too large or the jaw too small or both. When that occurs, the teeth start growing in whatever space they can find, in whichever direction. In such instances, it's usually necessary to remove some teeth to make space for the remaining ones. 9 out of 10 people who have braces require extractions. The catch is that if this is deemed necessary, you'll need to remove a total of 4 teeth - 2 from the bottom and 2 from the top, for an even set of pearly whites. If you hate extracting one tooth, imagine extracting 4.

Lesley-Anne was extremely fortunate in this respect. According to the dentist, she only lacked half a tooth space, ie only one tooth was half overlapping. If he was to perform the extractions, she would have too much space to fill, meaning that when her teeth were all straightened out, they would collapse inwards too much, creating a much smaller arc. Conversely, if she were to keep all her teeth, they would make a slightly larger arc than currently, to compensate for the missing half a space. In other words, she'll just have a fuller, toothier smile. Think Julia Roberts.

The choice was obvious and it was the dentist's recommendation anyway. I could see Lesley-Anne relax her grip on the armrests once she heard that she wouldn't need extractions!

So this was the timeline: The first step was putting in the separators, which are to create a space in between the molars. A week later, she had molar bands fitted and metal brackets (to hold the wires) stuck onto each individual tooth. I never realised that these were simply glued on! Lesley-Anne said it felt strange having so much metal in her mouth. The next day (last Saturday), she had the wires put in. Braces now come in a variety of colours and she chose a dark blue.

This is the part where the discomfort sets in. Because the wires have hooks, they sometimes catch onto her lips and ulcers can set in. Chewing food that's too hard can hurt too, so she's surviving on a soft food diet at the moment. She's braving it like a trooper though, I think it will get less uncomfortable with time. We've told her that everytime she feels discomfort, just think: "No extractions!"

From now on, it's back to the dentist once every few weeks to tighten the wires. The discomfort will always be felt most when the wires are newly tightened. This process will continue for two to three years, depending on the individual. According to the dentist, don't be too happy if you're able to remove your braces very quickly because it means your teeth are very loose, which isn't a good sign.

The braces will set us back by $3,850. But perfectly straight teeth and a healthy jaw? Priceless.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Try your best? Scratch that

These two weeks are Andre's SA2 exams and frankly, I'm exhausted. The PSLE has taken the wind out of my sails and I find myself suffering from a serious case of exam overdose. So what has happened is that revisions with Andre had been left even later than the usual last minute preparations, which is getting everyone at home hot and bothered (except Lesley-Anne who's still basking in post-PSLE bliss).

Amidst the fluster however, I'm finding a silver lining. For some reason, Andre has suddenly decided to put his best foot forward and appears very motivated to do well in these exams. When I was going through some of his math assessment books and just thinking out loud that he wouldn't have time to complete some of the papers, he actually suggested, to my utter astonishment, that he do two in a day so he could finish them.

The week before his composition exam, he was even more out of character. When I asked him to do an English paper, he offered to write a composition instead. My jaw literally dropped. If you've been following my blog, you will know that he dislikes writing compositions more than anything. For the past week, he has been doing 2 or more pieces of extra work for me everyday (on top of school, tuition and piano lesson), without whining or complaining.

I'm not sure what caused the change of heart. I want to believe that he's slowly growing up and realising that his studies are important, although I suspect a big part of it is due simply to his competitive nature spurring him to perform well. I do know he was very gratified to read all the positive comments about his composition that I posted, so maybe that's the impetus.

But here's the rub: I don't know if he will get the results he wants and it's getting harder to gauge what is a "good" result. I hear this cliche all the time: "Just try your best! As long as you've tried your best, doesn't matter what your result is." I'm guilty of using it too.

Over time, I've realised that this statement is superfluous and I think kids get tired of hearing it. What exactly is your best? People say it all the time but they don't really think about it. It's impossible to quantify what someone's "best" is. Does not working consistently throughout the year mean it's not your best? Does having one careless mistake too many mean you didn't try your best? The fact is nobody puts in their 100% effort 100% of the time, everyday of the year (just ask yourself how many times you had an extended lunch hour at work).

What happens is that parents start to equate "best" with results. They spout maxims like "as long as they try your best", but when the child comes home with a 70/100 paper, they immediately conclude that the child has NOT tried her best. So essentially, some of these parents who say "just try your best!" are exactly the same as the parents who say "you must get Band 1!" At least the latter are more upfront about it.

I've come to terms to reality. I've stopped asking my kids to try their ambiguous best and instead, focus on whether they are applying a reasonable amount of effort in their studies. The fact that Andre has shown an inclination to work for his exams is cause for celebration in itself, I'm trying not to confuse the matter by tying it to his actual grades. I want to look longer term and enourage him to remain motivated and enjoy learning. When we say it's the effort that matters, not the result, let's really mean it.
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