Sunday, September 18, 2016

Twinkle Twinkle: A Review of I Theatre's "Little Star"

The little star shone brightly in the living room of Cosmo and Celeste; a dazzling display of brilliance and enchantment. Lost in the midst of their squabbles, the brother and sister pair realise that there are better things to do than to fight - they need to help the little lost star find its way home! And so it's off on a grand adventure. Is the star's home beneath the deepest depths of the sea? Is it beyond the furthest reaches of the galaxy? Or is home really where the heart is?
Little Star, Little Star, how can we help you find your home?
Little Star is I Theatre's second production intended for younger audiences between the ages of 2-6. The first performance, Round the Moon, Blue the Sky, was a regional collaboration with Asian theatre powerhouses in Hong Kong and Japan. But Little Star represents a first locally for I Theatre in its outreach efforts to younger theatre audiences. It also represented an experiment by Artistic Director Brian Seward, who creatively stitched together various theatrical effects in order to appeal to younger children.

The black light theatre undersea effect was reminiscent of an earlier production this year, The Rainbow Fish, which I Theatre performed to great success by immersing the audience completely in darkness from start to finish. The Little Star production, while adapting some of the elements from The Rainbow Fish, had its own appeal, and the young audience was treated to lovely dances from the fish, as the adventurers scoured the seas in search for the supposed home of the little lost star.
Does the Little Star belong in the depths of the ocean? Will it find a home there?
In addition to the visual effects, Little Star also created a whole new world of imagination through the use of puppetry. The three major characters each had a life of his/her own, and the actors did their best to speak through the brightly-coloured puppets.

An I Theatre production would not be complete without a good theme. For Little Star, it incorporated familiar concepts of childhood curiosity and individual exploration, as embodied by the human characters Cosmo and Celeste. The brother-sister pair exhibited aspects of sibling rivalry which all young children can identify with. Both children also illustrated an innate desire to explore and to seek out adventure, an occurrence not uncommon with children of that age. I Theatre pieced together these interesting elements seamlessly, and incorporated them into the broader story of the siblings' search for a home for Little Star.
He ain't heavy. He's my brother.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
How I Wonder What You Are

Children young and old have always looked up into the sky, and marvelled at those tiny twinkly things we call stars. What are they? Where do they come from? Our human minds can only compare them to diamonds in the night sky. But if we stare hard enough into the vast expense above, and search the inner recesses of our hearts, perhaps then we could possibly find an answer to the numerous questions that bombard our minds.
What answers lie within us, within the recesses of our heart?

Artistic Director Brian Seward and the cast of Little Star.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sensory-Friendly Play at the Theatre: A Review of the Esplanade PLAYtime! Series 2016

It was a musical thriller for the senses! Eddy, the Bird Who Was Afraid of Heights, was going all out to rescue his friend Matt the Rat from the clutches of the evil crow. The children witnessed the entire drama unfolding in front of their eyes via different mediums such as light play, wayang kulit, and human puppetry at its finest. And the crowd of kids from preschools and special education schools across Singapore were completely mesmerised! Coupled with catchy tunes, memorable characters and a large component of audience interaction, the performance was truly Children's Theatre at its best!
Esplanade PLAYtime's The Bird Who Was Afraid of Heights has larger than life characters 
that fly into the hearts of the kids.
Kids were enthralled by the use of light play and other theatrical delights.
The Bird Who Was Afraid of Helghts is the third production from the Esplanade PLAYtime series this year which introduced sensory-friendly elements in order to make theatre more accessible to children with special needs from all ages and abilities. Esplanade says a sensory-friendly performance has the following features: a generally brighter environment with no total blackouts, no sudden loud sounds, as well as free and easy access into and out of the theatre during performances. And, if kids need a place to take a break and relax from the performance, they can also head out to a space created specially for them - PIP’s PLAYbox, which is located just next to the theatre.
Pip's PLAYbox is a lovely space for kids to relax and chill out.
Sensational Play has been supporting the Esplanade by loaning our items for
the kids to enjoy!
Parenting on Purpose has had an exciting journey with sensory-friendly productions. Since we were invited to take part in Singapore's first sensory-friendly performance by the Ministry of Bellz earlier this year, we have been privileged to be part of a group of individuals who were consulted by the Esplanade on how to make a concert sensory-friendly. This was in order that children with special needs would be able to enjoy the arts without getting a sensory meltdown at the theatre. Given our increasing involvement in the area of special needs (through our store Sensational Play and our training arm The Social Factor), as well as our background as educationalists, we were glad that the segment of the population with special needs has been getting more attention here in Singapore - a key highlight has of course been the 2016 National Day Parade, with my long-time theatre idol R. Chandran helming a segment featuring participants with special needs.

And so Parenting on Purpose has been privileged to be at all three productions of the Esplanade's PLAYtime! 2016 series which featured sensory-friendly elements.
Esplanade's plays have a strong audience participation element and children love helping the actors
in little collaborative tasks.
The first performance, Bunny Finds the Right Stuff, was adapted from a popular children's book by author Emily Lim. It spins the tale of a soft toy rabbit Bunny, who just didn't feel right with the way she was. As such, Bunny gets the help of her friends to find the right stuffing needed so that she would not be floppy anymore. But what is the right stuff? And is our identity related to finding the right stuff?

The sets for Bunny Finds the Right Stuff were delightfully illustrated yet simply designed.
My two kids, then aged 5 and 3, loved the Bunny production. Its interactive elements left many in the crowd wanting more. A case in point was my 3-year-old's desire to give his stuffed toy bear to Bunny, in order that she would be able to "feel right" again. Both boys also loved the catchy songs and the excellent acting and puppetry by the four-person team of Andrew Marko, Bright Ong, Lian Sutton and Selma Alkaff.
Meeting the sharks. Lighting has always been a strong element of most of the PLAYtime plays.
A wonderful and interactive time for the kids.
The second production, Grandpa Cherry Blossom, is a retelling of a popular Japanese folktale, Hanasaka Jiisan. It tells the story of Ojiisan and Obachan, an old couple who longed to have a child but couldn't have one. Then one day they found a little puppy and decided to care for it. Little Shiro, whose fur was as white as his name, was the apple of their eye, and the old couple showered all their love on him. So the little dog decided to repay Ojiisan and Obachan for their kindness. He had a secret that no one else knew about - he could sniff out gold! What happens then when Ojiisan's evil neighbour finds out about Shiro's special gift, and schemes to keep the dog for himself?
Grandpa Cherry Blossom featured characters who were larger than life and much loved by the children.
Esplanade keeps its production ideas fresh. In this scene, the animated river comes alive to share its
tale of how Ojisan finds little Shiro.
Grandpa Cherry Blossom transports the audience into heartland Japan, with its quaint traditions and deep respect for honour and gratitude. Any student of Japanese culture would be fascinated by the extent that the drama took to transport its audience into the Land of the Rising Sun. And the story was told with stunning digital animation and fascinating light play, to complement the excellent acting of the four cast members. 

Spectacular digital animation was a key feature of this production, presenting to the audience the
ethereal and magical nature of the story.
It has been a most enjoyable journey partnering the Esplanade in its sensory adventure. Through it all, the experience has made us more aware of the needs of those around us; everyone after all, needs to be be the opportunity to be exposed to the arts. Consider my older son, aged 6. He has had outings to the theatre since the age of 2/1/2. From a child who used to be scared of clapping in the theatre, he has grown into a boy who choreographs his own theatre performances at home, complete with "black light theatre", puppetry and "audience participation". I can see how comfortable Z is with theatre and the arts, and as a parent, that really beings me great joy. Perhaps one day I will see my little boy directing his own plays, or being an actor on stage; and that, I believe would be a day I look forward to!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Schooling for Gold: a Parent Reflects on Singapore's First Olympic Gold Medallist

50.39 seconds. The (less than) one minute of time that made history for the small island nation of Singapore. Millions in Singapore and around the world watched as 21-year-old Joseph Schooling defeated his long-time idol and heavily-decorated Olympian Michael Phelps, the man described as "the most-decorated Olympian of all time". Indeed most of the international news footage had been previously focussed on Phelps, given that the American is expected to retire at this year's Rio Olympics. The New York Times even ran an article with the headline: "Somebody (His Name’s Joseph Schooling) Finally Beats Michael Phelps"!

For Joseph Schooling, it could not have been a prouder moment, as he not only bagged Singapore's first and only Olympic Gold, it was also a race that proved he had not only matched, but also beaten his childhood idol. Indeed a 2008 photograph of 13-year-old Schooling standing side by side with Michael Phelps has been spreading like wildfire on social media, alongside another photo taken in 2016, with both men in a similar position.

In the wake of the Schooling victory, news feeds across social media has been rife with numerous questions, for example whether the Singapore government would declare a public holiday to celebrate the historical win, or what the 21-year-old Singaporean would do with his 1 million dollar prize money, or even whether Schooling should be deferred from serving National Service for another four more years.
What does the future hold for young Singaporeans? Can a small country like ours
actually produce an Olympic great? 
For Sue and I, what has captivated our imagination has been Joseph Schooling's Olympic journey - all the way from the age of 6. It seems Schooling had a chat over dinner about his granduncle Lloyd Valberg, who has Singapore's first-ever Olympian in 1948. The chat was apparently what inspired the young boy to decide there and then that he wanted to follow in his relative's footsteps. His parents Colin and May supported the decision, and made every effort to prepare him for his training; with his father taking him for training every morning, and both parents eventually sending him to the US to be trained under a leading coach.
As parents, are we walking alongside our kids and supporting them
in all that they want to do? Difficult questions for difficult times.
I strongly believe that parental support was a strong reason for Schooling's success. Moments after winning the race, Joseph called his father, who affirmed him strongly: "Son I love you, you've done the nation very proud." And the 21-year-old responded: "I love you too Dad." Even before the race both parents were strong in their support for him, with the father declaring, "I want you to stun the world" and the mother stating: "If all goes well, Singapore will rejoice with us."

I have been running a parenting workshop on "How to Help Your Child Succeed". The premise of that workshop is that grades are no indicators of a child's future success in life. What's important is for parents to learn how to communicate with their children and how to help them develop a love for what they want to do; supporting them as the kids inch closer to their personal goals.

Joseph Schooling's parents clearly had the end in mind as they chose to support their 6-year-old child in the "crazy" dream he had. Consider that Singapore is such a small country with a minuscule population in comparison to other demographical greats such as the USA. What makes someone in Singapore dare to dream that he or she could be on par with America, the leading country in the world! But the Schoolings believed in their son; to the point of sending him overseas to learn from the best, in the way that they felt would help him achieve his goals.

I have the privilege of speaking to parents from all segments of the population. One question I often ask them is: "Do you know what you child likes to do?" or "What is your child's favourite hobby?" The sad thing is that most parents are not able to answer my question, even if their child is as old as 6 or even 10! If we don't know and understand our children, how can we help they realise their dreams and to achieve self actualisation?
I've spoken to many parents at the end of my workshops. While some of them have a clear picture
on how to help their kids, many appear clueless, and it is so sad to hear their stories. 
I believe another key reason for Joseph's success was his dogged determination to achieve his goals no matter the cost. Indeed his father recalls how he would go for training rain or shine; and even though he did not have enough sleep. In today's society, how many of our children are as resolute and disciplined as Joseph Schooling? How many of our young people possess the resilience that will bring them through to the end? That is something I share with the young people I talk to during my career guidance workshops. And I can see many of their eyes light up when I tell them that passion without focus is dead. We have to teach our kids the importance of perseverance; and not to give up even when the going gets tough!

Our two sons Z and E are now 6 and 4 respectively. Before their birthday last month, both boys had very specific requests for their birthday presents. For Z, he asked us to help him build a real water playground, complete with tilting buckets and all related paraphernalia. We knew that was largely a result of his desire to become an architect when he grows up. As for little E, he asked specifically for a dead frog, a dead scallop and a dead crayfish; complete with a real scalpel - he wants to personally dissect those animals so that we can examine them clearly. As parents, we were more than slightly amused by their requests, but we have taken them seriously even though both of us know next to nothing about construction and dissection. 
Our two little boys, whom we are so very proud of!
Just yesterday I told my wife the story of a world-famous architect. This Nobel Prize winner was apparently responsible for a massive integrated entertainment resort in Asia. At the centre of the complex was a gigantic water playground, and it was flanked by a zoo, a farm and a bird park. I told Sue that the architect had dreamt of such a structure since he was 6; and that he had even come up with the plans for the resort at that age. My wife was very curious and asked me who this famous architect was. With tears in my eyes, I smiled, "His name is Z Lim; and I am so very proud of him."

Yes, my dear sons. Your dreams are your destiny. May us, your parents, always help you to reach towards your goal. May you fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Changes & Choices: The Primary School Consideration

There was a burning question that was at the back of our mind; it had been there for awhile, since the beginning of the year, but it grew more and more pronounced as the dates grew nearer. Then about a few weeks ago, the question came to the forefront of our consciousness, as the dates of the Primary One Registration drew nearer: Should we enrol our older son Z into Primary One? 

Yes we had made the decision to homeschool our kids even before either of them arrived; and yes we have been preparing ourselves mentally and emotionally to start the application process that could get Z exempted from compulsory education. But the question was especially difficult since I had come from a wonderful school with a rich history and a strong Christian tradition. What if my sons "lose out" from experiencing the education that I had gone through? After all, it could do no harm if we just showed up at my Alma Mater during the Phase 2A stage of the Primary One Registration Process, and secured my son a place there. We could always change our minds and chosen to reject the offer later. 

Even as I write this article, my senses are rife with the deep emotional bonds I have had with my old school. Our school spirit is so strong that if any alumnus was to spontaneously stand up and to sing the school anthem in the middle of a crowded auditorium, that every other old boy in the room would also rise up and join him! It is a common identity that we share as old boys, based on many precious shared memories; and this deep "patriotism" often translates into strong networking ties among us former students, long after we had graduated from the school. 
Our older son's Classical Conversations homeschooling community.
This will be his alma mater!
The younger son learning how to make paints from natural substances.
Here he is conscientiously pounding chalk to create our own paints.
Yet there are other considerations besides "school spirit"; and one major decision was whether we wanted our children to be part of the education system that we had grown up with. And that answer was for us a unanimous "No!"

Consider the recent revamp of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). As educationalists, we were hopeful when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the system was going to be changed during a previous year's National Day Rally speech. Although we had hoped for the entire exam to be scrapped, but we felt that there was at least going to be some hope for the future of our children. However the Ministry of Education (MOE) announcement this week on the new Achievement Level (AL) system left both Sue and I feeling very disappointed.
The boys embarking on nature studies on their own accord. What better way for
kids to learn than to get them interested in their own pursuits?
While there were changes in the way students are assessed, from a peer-benchmarked system to an individually-assessed system, many of the PSLE's fundamental principles remain the same.

From our perspective as parents, and as educationalists who work with many academically weak students, we are most concerned with the narrow mark discrimination between the top bands as well as the huge mark range in the middle. 

For starters, the term "Achievement Level" is something we are not comfortable with. The PSLE revamp was intended to help foster a more holistic education system and help reduce stress among children taking the exam. How does a Level indicator bring about these changes? Especially since it portrays a myopic mindset regarding the efforts of students, diminishing their value to that of a mere number, and negating the more holistic considerations that an education brings. And what about students who do not score well in their academics? Does it mean that they have failed to "achieve" success in their education?

Considering the new system in greater detail, the narrow mark discrimination in the upper bands will result in an increased level of anxiety among parents and children, causing them to be pressured upwards towards a higher AL, especially since there is an illusory perception that it might be easier numerically to push a child from a Band 3 to a Band 2 as compared to a corresponding movement from Band 6 to Band 5. MOE's reply that the "majority" of students do well in the PSLE is also not comforting, given the many students we meet in our day-to-day work. These are not the top elite in Singapore, who lose sleep over the catastrophe that they did not make Band 1. These are the common majority, who struggle just to "pass" their exams, and to hopefully carve out a better future for themselves. We fear that the new system will not work for them, and that they will get further frustrated trying to better themselves from a Band 6 to a Band 5 and from a Band 5 to a Band 4. 

But education is not just about grades and academic achievement. I can understand the MOE's preoccupation with assessment and about channeling students from one academic stream to another. While the concept of academic meritocracy and achievement levels seems at odds with another idea that "every school is a good school", the PSLE does serve its function of streaming students into their allocated "lot" in life. In that respect, the normal curve effect of the new PSLE assessment will be effective. Top students will get into institutions of their choice. But these choices will be closed off for most of those in the lower academic strata of society, who will be banded into schools that they did not choose. That, to me, is the saddest part of the entire exercise. We seem to have headed back to the beginning of this entire PSLE rigamarole. 
Our younger son's fascination with the Venus Fly Trap first occurred during a nature hike
when he saw his first carnivorous plant. Now he is extremely interested in the mechanisms
of how plants are actually able to trap and digest insects.
Our older son will be of Primary School age next year. And as much as it is tempting to consider an option where he enters the school of my childhood, Sue and I both feel that the education system as a whole is not something we want him to be part of. 

Education should not all be about grades and assessment, and little Z would have been thrown right into such a system if he entered a mainstream school next year. 
"Mummy, can we do school?" asks the little boy. And this question has been asked on so many
different occasions;  not only at home in the afternoons,
but also during our travels overseas - in a busy shopping mall, and in our hotel room.
This is truly the essence of what a holistic approach to education should be all about!
We know that we are blessed to be able to even consider the choice of homeschooling our children, an option that not every parent is able to consider from a financial point of view; and for that we are grateful.

Since we have been given the privilege of making such a choice, we will aspire for our school to be about learning and about creativity; about exploring and about adventure. It will be about character-development and about resilience-building. And our school will be fun; for that is the premise that will drive our kids towards a stronger desire to learn; and towards having an education of a lifetime!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Simple Life

It was an overseas school trip with a difference. The children, all 21 of them, awoke eagerly as they made their way to the campsite, some 80 kilometres away. There were no complaints despite the long road trip; nor were there any hesitations as the young ones trudged up the final 300 steps to their destination. And the teachers maintained half a smile on their faces, even as they carried their heavy backpacks, and negotiated all 300 of the winding, undulating steps.

This was the beginning of an exciting 3-day, 2-night Treehouse Adventure in the rainforests of Gunung Pulai in Johor, Malaysia. And the group was no ordinary school; it comprised 10 families from the Homeschool Singapore Facebook Group, with teacher-parents guiding their children, of ages 3 all the way to 16.
Our lovely treehouse abode for the 3-Day, 2 Night Adventure.
Ascending the 300 Steps. Photo Credit: Eve Sam
The premise of the adventure was simple; for families to get back to the basics and enjoy what nature has to offer. We were to stay in a treehouse, fashioned from solid wood, and built on living trees. The floorboards were made of bamboo; while the rooftops pieced together from attap leaves. There were mosquito nets, and we had the option of sleeping on mattresses and pillows. But if we chose to sleep on the bamboo floor, there were gaps between each bamboo floorboard to help in the ventilation of the treehouse and to keep body temperatures down.
High ceilings. Each structure is made from natural materials with much ventilation.
Photo Credit: Victor Toh
Our little adventurers having a peaceful nap. The gaps in the bamboo
allowed for much ventilation and it was really cool in the treehouse.
The steps of the treehouse were made of bamboo too. This meant that if you decided to use the restroom in the middle of the night, you would have to make your way down in the still of the night; down the thin bamboo steps, and into the nearby "outhouse", which was thankfully equipped with a regular flushing system. Baths were also taken in the outdoor restroom, and if you're thinking of a hot shower, that's a notion you would have to leave at home; although the idea of a cool shower with water channeled from the nearby stream might rejuvenate your senses!

Yao, the owner of the property, shared that he built the place with the intention of helping city folk enjoy a "back to nature" environment. In fact, it took the local Orang Asli a good nine months before the entire place was built, and the materials used in the construction were all taken from nearby sources. For instance the wooden boards in our large dining hall actually came from decommissioned ships in Singapore! 
Our dining hall. Note that the wooden boards here used to sail the seas as parts of a boat!
Every evening our dinners were served in a large pot, with food cooked over a
wood-powered fire. Photo Credit: Eve Sam.
We led a simple life those three days; with nasi lemak for breakfast, fried bee hoon for lunch, and hotpot vegetarian ee mee for dinner. We were surprised that the ash from the open fires were used to wash plates, and that these produced sparklingly clean dishes! 

Through it all, the kids were happy; happy to trek to the nearby waterfall and splash around in its cool clear waters; happy to embark on a rather arduous three-hour hike up the mountain (with an average 45-degree incline); happy to scale the massive watchtower; and most of all happy to just enjoy the facilities that the place had to offer - swings, giants hammocks and a breath of fresh air.
This massive watchtower seemed reminiscent of a scene from
The Lord of the Rings. Photo Credit: Candy Tay.
Our almost-6yo Z was clearly in his element during the hikes.
Kids were clearly enjoying the hike. No whining. No complaints.
Photo Credit: Eve Sam
Helping each other negotiate difficult obstacles. Photo Credit: Eve Sam

Truly amazing to see that we had natural climbers
in the group! Photo Credit: Thuy Dao
The "Water Brothers" enjoying a lovely dip in the nearby waterfall.
Throughout the entire 3-day trip I did not see a single child glued to his or her electronic iPad; neither did I observe a family of parents seated at dinnertime, with their smart phones wedged in their hands. Instead I saw children helping themselves to the food, before seeking out their friends to enjoy meals with. And parents were free to enjoy the company of other adults, knowing that their kids were nearby, engaged in healthy and safe activities. Indeed one of the highlights for the kids must have been when one of the parents took out a packet of marshmallows, and the children were then seen huddled around the dinner fire, grilling their little wooden sticks of delectable delights.
Kids will be kids. And they don't need iPads and other electronic devices
to "entertain" themselves!
Boys choosing their own friends to share their meals with. Photo Credit: Eve Sam
Our almost-4yo son E found a "Sister" to take care of him. Firm friendships are forged in such natural scenarios.
Photo Credit: Eve Sam
Lovely luscious delectable delights!
I'm not sure if I can live such a life on a regular basis. We have to acknowledge that we are living in a modern era, and that life as we know it cannot be as it was in the past. Some of us may have romantic notions of living in an historical era, or others may wish that certain modern innovations were never invented. However we have to face reality. How do we parent our children in a modern era where we may not necessarily agree with whatever that we see that's happening around us? I believe the answer is in our principles and in our values. If we bring up our children in alignment with strongly positive principles and values, they will themselves be more likely to lead their lives on the basis of these fundamentals. For at the end of the day, it is not only a simple life that we are looking for in the physical sense, but a simple life in the emotional and even spiritual dimensions.
Family games led by the Ong family. This was our answer to the question: "What do your children hear you say the most?"

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Parenting by Default

These past couple of weeks have been crazy for us. First there were the assignments that I had to complete for my postgraduate course, then there were the workshops that we were suddenly asked to conduct, and finally there were the bazaars that we attended to sell our online store items. It was an extremely busy season, and many of our working hours were occupied with meaningful things; that included taking care of our two little boys and managing both their learning and non-academic needs.

One morning, my older son came to me after I had just returned home from an early class. "Daddy," he said. "I'm so glad you're home. Can we go to the Gardens by the Bay?" he asked hopefully. With a sadness in my heart, I replied, "Sorry Z. Daddy has to go back to work later. Maybe after I come back? Oh. Actually Daddy and Mummy have an important meeting tomorrow and we need to prepare. I don't think we can go today. Er.... How about another day?" "OK," said the little boy as he walked away, almost as if he had his tail between his legs. 

And I felt a deep sorrow in my heart; I felt as though I had failed him completely as a father.
One of the happier moments with our boys during this busy period.
Why do I work so hard? The answer seems obvious. I am living in the most expensive city in the world (according to the Economic Intelligence Unit). As such, I need to work hard to maintain a certain standard of living in order to match up with the rising cost of living. So I spend most of my waking hours engaged in work. I need to build up my business, I tell myself. Hopefully one day I would have earned a sufficient amount of money in order to spend more time with my children. Oh well, my kids will understand if I don't spend so much time with them now. There will be time later, I console myself. And so I live each day in autopilot mode, and even my parenting appears to be operated by default.  

There is one small problem when you are parenting by default - our kids don't grow up by default! Yes, you can pacify the kid who presents you with his drawing, acknowledging his presence with a slight nod and a cursory look that screams, "Go away now. I'm busy and I don't have time for you and all your little unimportant things." Or you can farm out your playtime to the domestic helper, charging her to manage the menial task of ensuring that the kids are safe and entertained at the playground; of course not realising that your domestic helper is herself preoccupied with the hand phone that she takes out every time she is alone with the children.

I note that the above examples may be extreme, but I believe I am not presenting a fictional account of life in Singapore. On the contrary, these instances are so close to real life that they have jolted me back to reality. I have to tell myself that I do not want to ever become the parent in those scenarios; I don't ever want to parent by default. After all, that's the reason why we are working so hard in the first place! It would appear as circular logic if we were to say that we need to spend all our time working hard in order to earn enough money; especially if the primary purpose was to enjoy time with our kids. Yet so many Singaporeans buy into this fallacy. There was a recent tongue-in-cheek statement identifying a Singapore in the following way: "You know you are a Singaporean if you go to work before the sun goes up and leave office after the sun goes down." 
Spending time with our kids in their play.

There are many people who do not become parents by choice; they get married and before they know it, they have a child. Yet there are many others who go the extra mile to ensure that they become a parent. Regardless of the circumstances through which you became a parent, you are never a parent by default. Yet many people end up parenting by default, simply because they do not choose to be intentional parents. That's the difference between parenting by default versus parenting by intent

When you parent by intent you take the time to listen to the heart of your child. You notice which colours he chooses in his drawing, and then take the time to understand the reason for his choice. You listen to every detail of the long story that she tells you, and then painstakingly ask her questions to either draw out the details, or to help her develop her narrative. You turn to the little child whose general body language screams out to you that he or she had a tough day at school, and then connect to him or her in an empathetic manner, giving the child the physical and emotional space to be real with his or her emotions.
Parenting by intent means to allow kids the freedom to express themselves in drawing and other creative means.

Looking at my current season in life, I long for the times when I can set aside the busyness of my work, and spend time to connect with my children once again. I know that I need to work, for this brings financial security to my family; and as a man, my work is so much linked to my self esteem and my sense of identity. Yet a wise man once said, "There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under heaven." I have received a brief respite in this season of busyness, and I know that nothing would bring me more joy than to be able to listen to the heart of my children once again. 

To my Dearest Sons: 

Daddy longs to listen to you each time you present an account of how your day went. I love to listen to your stories of how you were the brave little boy David who conquered the mighty Goliath with your light sabre. I love to look at your beautiful paintings, to enjoy how you have chosen the cool colours of emerald green and turquoise to create a lovely forest landscape. I love to be your "Daddy-horsey", to piggyback you all around the house, and then to end off our adventures with a royal tumble on the bed, everyone rolling in deep laughter and bursting with tears of joy.

I know there will be times when Daddy will need to be busy at work. But I promise to always take time to listen to you; to put aside my computer and to simply share a smile with you. I will try my best to listen when there is a sadness in your voice, and to comfort you in a way that you understand. I ask for your forgiveness for the times when I was your parent by default. I know that I am only human, but with God as my help, I hope to be the parent that God intended for me to become. 

I love you so much. 

Love, Daddy.
Always loving you! 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sound of the Bellz: A Review of Singapore's First Sensory-Friendly Concert by Ministry of Bellz

It was a concert with a difference. The lighting was at 50 to 70 per cent of a regular concert setting; the sound was at 40%. But the melodic chimes of the handbells echoed on. And all of it was music to our ears! Featuring music from famous musicals such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King", and celebrating the efforts of students around the country, the concert was put together by local music group Ministry of Bellz (MOB). 
The melodic chimes of the handbells. A delight to the ears.

Creating a sensory-friendly environment to help children with special needs enjoy the arts.
What was so special about this concert was that it was Singapore's first sensory-friendly concert; intended to help children with special needs appreciate theatre and the arts. Damien Lim, Founder of MOB, wanted the show to be inclusive so that children with special needs could enjoy the concert. He worked with the National Arts Council and removed elements from the concert that could be potentially challenging for children with special needs - settings such as a dark concert hall or overly-loud acoustics. And, to help children anticipate what was going to happen next, the organisers displayed the song titles of the upcoming items. This was to help children who are anxious, and to prepare them to deal with uncertain incidents.
The happy children in the audience. 
MOB gathered a strong team of volunteers to serve as ushers. And unlike other concerts where "disruptive" concert goers would be asked to leave, the ushers were instructed to provide assistant to any children who had difficulties in regulating their emotions. MOB also provided pre-concert activities, and space was set aside outside the theatre for a sensory space where children could go to when disregulated. 

Our online store, Sensational Play, was pleased to support the concert with the equipment for the sensory space. We provided items such as peanut balls and sensory tactile balls, to help children get the required sensory input that would help them become more calm. Sensational Play also sponsored bendable toys for all the children in the concert. The toys, which served as fidgets, were intended to serve as stress toys, and children can manipulate them when they feel anxious or upset.

Setting up our Sensational Play booth outside the show.

The "genie" of the show, R. Chandran from ACT 3 Theatrics. Fond memories
for this writer, who was at Chandran's first ACT 3 performance many moons ago
As in all concerts, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; and judging from the happy faces in the audience, this writer believes that the experience was all worthwhile!