Monday, July 27, 2015

Celebrating Youth Day...and almost playing truant

So earlier this month, MOE did a switcheroo on Youth Day. Instead of the school holiday being on the first Monday of July as in previous years, it was changed to Monday, 27 July.

Well, we didn't get the memo so we'd happily planned a family lunch on 6 July to celebrate the event for our kids. How could both our kids not realise the mistake, you ask? Well, for Lesley-Anne, it was block test period anyway and she knew the celebrations had been moved to end of the month but thought it was just for her school, not nation-wide.

As for Andre,'s Andre. He's usually the last to know anything. It wasn't till he'd read a thread about school work on his class watsapp group that Sunday before 6 July that he realised something didn't quite fit. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to sms his teacher, who confirmed that Youth Day had been postponed.

Heng ah! Almost accidentally went AWOL. It would have been mighty awkward trying to explain why Andre was enjoying a leisurely brunch at a restaurant when he was supposed to be in school.

Anyway, it's Youth Day today and Andre had finally received his SG50 Lego set. I really feel this is the best gift ever. It encourages creativity and is a nice change from those trinkets and gimmicky stationery that just ends up being tossed or lost at home. Thank you, MOE! 

I didn't expect the set to be quite so substantial. 244 pieces including two minifigures (which are too big to be part of the infrastructure but never mind lah, I love Lego minifigures). You can make three Singapore icons from the same set, though not at the same time. Each icon has the option of three levels of difficulty (I guess it's because the set had to cater to the large age range from p1 kids to JC students).

I got Andre to make all three icons at level 3 so I could take photos.

Cavenagh Bridge:

Gardens by the Bay:

Changi Airport:

A very happy Youth Day to all youths and the young at heart! And yay, we can legit go eat today :D

Monday, July 20, 2015

A new website and other Danger Dan news!

Quite a fair bit of Danger Dan excitement for us over the past few days. First, the stocks of Secrets of Singapore arrived at Epigram Books!

Ahead of schedule and looking good, I must say! So on Thursday, we dropped by to sign a few copies.

For those of you who placed orders with Closetful of Books, hang in there. I'm sure they will receive your copies real soon! Meanwhile, if you're waiting for the stocks to reach the bookstores, I expect they'll be on the shelves by early August.

Timeout Singapore wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece on Danger Dan in their July issue - a hilarious interview with the Boy Wonder himself! You can read the article here.

Finally, we decided to create a Danger Dan & Gadget Girl website. In the past, we didn't feel this was necessary as there wasn't much information to put up, so we relied solely on the Danger Dan Facebook page. However, as the books have now gained their own following (plus Facebook is becoming increasingly unpopular with kids), we decided it was time for Danger Dan to have his very own platform.

The website address is - do support the page and visit it for updates on the series!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The pitfalls of affluent parenting

I shared this story from Boston Magazine on the Of Kids and Education Facebook page over the weekend. The article talks about many issues that have bugged regarding parenting, such as bribing our kids to perform simple tasks, and the fall-out that results from these missteps.

There are many pertinent issues raised in the article but the one that I want to focus on in this blog post is the culture of overabundance - where our kids get so many things they want so easily (and even more stuff they don't want), that they have become jaded and unappreciative.

We live in a society of instant gratification and I'm not just talking about the kids. I know many kids want things NOW. But parents are a big part of the problem - we give in because we too want to feel the joy of seeing our kids happy NOW. So we feel the urge to heap the best and the latest on our kids, as if that is an indication of our love for them. 

All studies and child psychologists will tell you this is a big mistake...and yet parents can't help themselves. It's like a drug - making our kids happy NOW has become such an addiction that it rules our life. My mother-in-law dotes on my kids and has a generous heart. When she found out that Andre was hankering for sugar rolls, she went out and bought a box full. And then another box a few days later. And more the following week, by which time, Andre was all hung over on sugar rolls and the prospect of sugar rolls was more alarming than pleasurable.

It's not about the giving. It's about knowing when to stop. Sometimes, the more we give, the less they want. What is a toy worth when you have 50 other toys? How will you outdo your previous gift? Will you feel the pressure to go larger, fancier, more expensive? I remember when growing up, birthdays were something to treasure because there was a chance of getting a book I wanted. Compare this with modern times when I buy my kids all the books they want. Close to my children's birthdays, I always ask: "What would you like?" and more often than not, both child and parent are stymied because my kids can usually get whatever they want any time of the year. Heck, they don't even have to wait till their birthday to have cake.

I think in smothering our kids with stuff, we are robbing them of the indelible excitement and anticipation of wanting something, and then working or saving to get it. The wait and the effort make the reward that much sweeter. More importantly, it develops priceless values such as diligence and patience.

Bromfield, a child psychologist, says “Getting what they want, whenever they want it, can undermine children’s learning patience, gratitude, and all those old-fashioned values that help the adults they grow into manage a healthy, responsible, and contented life. Affluent parenting can deprive a child of fundamental life skills.”

Bromfield advocates not trying to keep up with the Joneses as a way to break out of this trend and this, I support whole-heartedly. Giving in to your kid who says "But he-and-she has one!" is the fastest way to snowball down the massive Toys R Us mountain. (You can bet that after you give in, your kid's classmate is emotionally blackmailing his parents the same way, using your child as the baseline).

My kids were the only ones in their class without a handphone for the longest time. Then the only ones without data plan. Lesley-Anne got her own laptop only last year, in her first year in JC, because she needed to work in school. Till today, we do not own a Wii, Xbox, Playstation or even an iPad. You may call us the family living in the Stone Age but guess what, we function just fine. What we don't get used to, we don't miss.

Likewise, when we calculate pocket money for our kids, it's based on how much their canteen food costs and what we think can keep them properly fed, not what other kids get. We believe in setting our own values for giving, not based on the standards of other families. We're not a shop. We're not obliged to offer market rate.

Financial prudence teaches the value of money, as well as how to manage money. Once again, life skills. When we go to a restaurant, my kids don't choose the expensive items. If there's something on the menu Andre wants that is more expensive, he will ask if it's ok to order it. It's not that we curb their choices, it's that prudence has become part of our family psyche.

Related to the appreciation of the value of money and things is the spirit of thankfulness. Have you ever heard parents complaining about their kids, "I gave them everything and yet, they're so ungrateful!" I wonder if they've ever stopped to think that maybe that's the problem - they give too much. The truth is, the more we have, the less we value. The less we value, the less grateful we become and I find this to be one of the sad contradictions of an affluent society.

From a young age, when my kids receive a gift, Kenneth and I would always make them thank the giver, whether personally, by phone or sms. I won't claim that we did this consciously thinking "we must make this a habit!" but without quite realising it, it stuck. In our family, we say thank you a lot. We always thank each other for gestures and gifts, even little ones. I don't know how it works in other families, but I thank Kenneth when he picks me up from the MRT station. He thanks me even for little things, like helping him print out a form. When we go out for dinner, our kids always thank us, even if dinner was just at a hawker centre. They thank Kenneth when he buys back food or durian or cake for them. (When it's something especially nice, they thank him multiple times!) It has become intuitive, a habit.

Some people may think, alamak, liddat also must thank! Only a small thing what. To me, it's not about how big or small the gesture was. It's about cultivating the habit and the spirit of thankfulness. In some ways, it's like saying your prayers. Why do we need to say prayers? God already knows what we need even before we ask! The point of saying prayers is less for Him than for us. By going to God in prayer, we connect with Him and grow our own spiritual life. Similarly, giving thanks is sometimes less for the benefit of the giver than for the receiver. By constantly showing appreciation for little things, we become more aware of our blessings and grow in thankfulness.

There is no shortcut to nurturing values. (That's like asking God, "Give me patience NOW!") We can't spout values to our kids one day and expect them to materialise the next. Want your kids to be diligent, resilient, caring or thankful? Then mean what you say and create the environment that allows for these values to take root.   

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Secrets of Singapore - a fun history book for SG50!

For the past month or so, over the June holidays, Lesley-Anne and I have been busy putting to bed this baby:

Yup, it's another Danger Dan book! However, this one is significantly different from the previous series of five books in that it's non-fiction and a solid 232 pages.

How the idea for the book came about

Having seen kids read our Danger Dan series, we noticed something unexpected: some kids, upon receiving the latest book, would turn to the back portion first - where we have two pages of Fascinating Facts offering historical information about the people, places and events covered in the book.

That's when we realised that some kids are very interested in facts and information. Personally, I love the Horrible Histories series by Scholastic and always wished there was a version for Singapore history. Currently, there is no one single children's book that talks about Singapore's history in a fun way and that's a shame.

So Lesley-Anne and I discussed this and to cut a long story short, we set out to write this history book ourselves! It ties in with the historical theme of Danger Dan and acts like a companion to the series.

Writing this book was challenging, not least because of the massive amount of research needed. The larger challenge was trying to explain everything simply so that kids would understand and not get turned off. I was especially motivated because both my kids didn't find social studies in school terribly interesting, especially the political bits. I don't think Andre remembers much, he was only interested in the parts about the war.

I know the textbooks have been simplified somewhat over the years but I feel they still fall short, especially when it comes to the political portions. The problem is that politics is a very alien concept to kids and history books tend to throw in many unfamiliar terms within a section, thinking that giving definitions for key words would sufficiently address this issue. Eg. this is half a para in my kids' history book:
"Although the Labour Front won the most number of seats, it did not have an absolute majority (won 50% or more of the seats) in the Assembly. Thus the LF formed a coalition government with the Alliance Party with David Marshall becoming the Chief Minister."
The definition for "coalition" was given as "coalition government is a government made up of a combination of two or more parties."

Zzzzzz. I can imagine kids nodding off just reading this short segment. Did the writers think that only "coalition" was a difficult word? What about Assembly? What about party? What about seats? Lesley-Anne told me that in primary school, when she read that a political party had won two seats, she pictured a man holding two chairs! Even at lower secondary level, Andre had a foggy understanding of local history. Referendum, alliance, commissions - they all went over his head.

In other words, don't assume that kids would understand any of that stuff, let alone be interested. Why should they? They've lived only about a decade. Politics is something completely foreign to them.

So, with great determination, Lesley-Anne and I set out to try and make local history interesting for kids. Or at least show that "fun history book" is not an oxymoron!

About Secrets of Singapore

We've kept it simple. The language is similar to what we'd used for the Danger Dan series, casual and simple. The target age group for this book is 8-14 years old. Where we've had to use more complex terms, we tried to explain them simply. If it meant omitting details that would leave kids' heads swimming, we chose to do so. For us, it's better for kids to have an idea of the overall concept than confuse them thoroughly with details.

We've kept it fun. Similar to the style of other Danger Dan books, it's quirky. Apart from the chronological retelling of Singapore's history, we also covered a lot of ground in thematic areas, eg. transport, housing, nature, sports, etc. The book is also wonderfully illustrated and designed (Epigram Books' brilliant designer really outdid herself, adding drawings and graphic elements to every page, which lend such vibrancy to the text). Here's a sample spread of the Food section.

We inserted many snippets of information that we call Fascinating Facts to make the narrative richer, on things that we thought kids would find interesting, even if they were not as historically significant.

We've kept it neutral. We tried to stick to the facts, to be as objective as possible. Our aim is to educate in a fun way - we're not interested in making any sort of statement, political or otherwise. When choosing what areas to cover, we focused on what we thought kids would find interesting. For instance, we deliberately chose not to cover the Singapore economy. And because the book is not commissioned by anyone, we're not obliged to include or exclude certain things, or to write it in a certain way.

We don't claim that the book is comprehensive (although we do cover a lot!) or that it can replace local history textbooks. But we truly believe that it would be a great supplement to help kids better understand what they're learning (and hopefully raise their interest). I wouldn't put it past some adults to enjoy this too. At the very least, it might make you nostalgic reading about some of the things we grew up with!

We've been very encouraged by the positive advanced reviews of Secrets of Singapore.
“A very comprehensive and interesting recounting of Singapore’s history from its earliest times, Secrets of Singapore is wonderfully written in a style that is exquisitely simple and appropriate for young readers.” —Koh Boon Long, former MOE Deputy Director, National Education, and retired principal

“Danger Dan and Gadget Girl have really outsmarted me this time. There are secrets of Singapore that I didn’t even know about! Secrets of Singapore is a comprehensive account of everything Singaporean—from history to politics to transport, education and food—and has fascinating details, interesting commentaries and humorous illustrations. It is a book that should be in every Singaporean kid’s collection.” —Dr Cheah Yin Mee, partner and consultant, Learning Ventures, council member, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Singapore

“I wish Danger Dan and Gadget Girl were around to help me with History back when I was in school. Secrets of Singapore will be a boon for those mugging for Social Studies, as it presents facts about the social and cultural history of Singapore in an interesting way, with memorable illustrations by James Tan.” —Lim Cheng Tju, country editor for the International Journal of Comic Art

“An easy-to-read, interesting book that should appeal to any young reader who wants to find out more about Singapore’s history. It also contains many fun facts that are not commonly known.” —Lee Siong Boon, History teacher

Pre-orders for Secrets of Singapore

Finally, how to buy the book! The book should hit bookstores end July/early August in time for National Day (yes, it was timed that way!) Retail price is $15.95 (after GST).

However, you can pre-order the book from my favourite bookseller Closetful of Books, who has generously offered a 10% discount on Secrets of Singapore, from now till 19 July 2015 midnight. Click on this link and key in the coupon code SECRETSOFSINGAPORE at the last stage of the payment process to enjoy the discount. The discount will apply to my other books as well (other Danger Dan books and The Good, the Bad and the PSLE) and shipping is free if you spend at least S$30!

Secrets of Singapore will be delivered to you within two weeks of its release date (24 July 2015). Lesley-Anne and I will autograph all books purchased from Closetful of Books and they will include a small gift as well.

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