Sunday, July 27, 2014

Look! See! Explore! Discover! - A Review of I Theatre's Round the Moon, Blue the Sky

"Questions... Questions... Questions..." said Smallest Dragon.
"Answers! Answers! Answers!" said Twiglet.

Enter the fantastical world of Smallest Dragon and her forest friends Twiglet and Leaf. The night is young and Smallest Dragon has just begun her explorations of the world around her. She discovers that the moon is round and that the sky is blue. But that's only the beginning; she is soon sought out by her friends Twiglet and Leaf. Twiglet has recently been extremely disturbed by a new phenomenon - she cannot come to terms that leaves are not only green, but that they can also be red or brown. It is up to the wise Smallest Dragon to help set things right.
Beautiful sets and dazzling costumes depict the magical forest environment.
I Theatre's latest play, Round the Moon, Blue the Sky, is a distinct departure from its previous productions. Director Brian Seward told Parenting on Purpose that he wanted to experiment with this piece, given that the children's theatre scene has become increasingly "commercialised", almost in a "formularistic" manner. Round the Moon therefore takes on a completely different format from traditional plays; there is little dialogue, few side plots and hardly any instances of humour directed at the adults. But the production captures the essence of a child's world - the essential elements of exploration and play.
"Since the moon is round, no other objects can be round." - Twiglet.
In many ways, Smallest Dragon is Seward's mouthpiece. She encourages the children in the audience to Look, See, Explore and Discover. This, she says, should be the way that true learning takes place; through self-discovery and creative play - the genesis of idea formation. To emphasise the point, children were invited onstage to create new objects from shapes such as circles, triangles and rectangles. Smallest Dragon's philosophy is in stark contrast to Twiglet's rigid assumption that since the moon is round, no other objects can be round. However from another perspective, Twiglet's views represent those of a baby, whose world only consists of basic and literal elements; whereas Smallest Dragon personifies a toddler's world, where exposure to new stimuli expands on existing perspectives, thereby broadening mental concepts of the world around.  

Round the Moon is an enjoyable play; with the children in the audience happily satisfied with the simple elements of child's play such as hide and seek and peekaboo - on hindsight we would have brought our 2-year-old E as we think he would have enjoyed the bright colours on the set as well as the child-like interactions among the actors. There are also theatrical elements that both children and adults would enjoy, such as the evocatively emotive music, composed and arranged by Belinda Foo. And the surprising use of black light theatre brought a sense of mystery and awe to all around.
Our 4-year-old son Z enjoyed the black light theatre elements most and
was excitedly describing the stars that he saw on stage.
Remembering the cast. Z said he liked Twiglet best as she looked like a tree.
(He loves trees!)
Targetted at children aged 2 to 8, Round the Moon, Blue the Sky is a regional collaboration with Ming Ri Institute for Arts Education in Hong Kong and ACO Okinawa in Japan. Performers represent all three locations. After its run in Singapore, Round the Moon will then travel to Okinawa in Japan, and subsequently to Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. 

Following the completion of Round the Moon, I Theatre intends to take its operations further into the Asia Pacific region, with possible future plans to work with theatre groups in Taiwan and Korea.

Special thanks to local family portal Little Day Out for the opportunity to review this production.

Click here to read our pre-production piece "Round the Moon goes Round the Region" written for Little Day Out.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

An Exploration Into an Interest-Driven Curriculum and How It Helps Learning (Or How We Went Spider-Crazy)

Education is the "science of relations", says Charlotte Mason, a revolutionary British educator at the turn of the twentieth century, whose methods are perhaps more relevant than ever today. In her book Towards a Philosophy of Education, she says,

"Education is the Science of Relations'; that is, a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––"

I have been dwelling on this idea for some time, even as I try to introduce Z to as many new ideas as possible in our homeschooling through books and new experiences. Our little boy is someone who appreciates a consistency in routine and finds comfort in the familiar. (Don't we all?) But when we have heard about the Singapore Flyer for the thirtieth time, or helped him scan a dusty bush for spider webs for the who-knows-how-many-eth time, it has been difficult to be patient and not hurry him along.

I came to the conclusion that I had to either use his passions in these subjects to their full advantage by taking the bull by its horns, or continue pausing on every walk to search for those elusive spider webs. Hence, we started our new term with a unit on Spiders.

His love for all things arachnid strangely began in Osaka, Japan, with his first encounter with a superhero. Our almost-3-year-old stood mesmerised, watching Spidey crouch on a fake brick wall in various spidery-poses as fans waited to take pictures with him. He had never watched the show, but somehow the whole idea appealed to him. He has since been trying to hunt for spiders and their webs in Singapore, but to no avail. Where have all the spiders gone?

Our recent trip to Northern Thailand cemented his interest. On our first evening stroll on the sprawling grounds of the beautiful Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort, we found a very industrious spider spinning his web beneath one of the two majestic century-old rain trees which the hotel is known for. The sight was an unforgettable one. We stood entranced as we saw the tiny spider do its dance as the delicate strands of silk were spun in the moonlight, the lacy framework perfect in its form and sheen. The four of us must have been a sight to behold, squatting beneath the overarching branches.

A delicate dance in the moonlight.
We launched into the lesson on the first day of the new term. The boys took to it immediately. I had the feeling Z could not really believe we were studying something he was so interested in. I was amazed at the progress I could see in him. His attention span doubled - he can now do seat work for up to an hour, quite a long time for a not-yet-four-year-old. My little boy, who used to only be able to read one picture book at the most at a time, sits poring through the spider books we have borrowed from the library and asks me to read them to him at bedtime. His eyes widened when we said we would build our own spiderweb. He can rattle off the parts of a spider (abdomen, head, spinnerets, fangs) and tell you how many legs and eyes it has.  
Learning all about spiders.
It's amazing to watch how interested Z is in spiders and the tenacity with
which he devours books.
It is amazing what interest can do to a child's learning. What a contrast to my own experiences in school, where I remember often questioning my poor parents about what was the use of my studying things that I simply could not find a use for in my everyday life, such as the periodic table or algebra. (My inclinations were clearly not in these areas!) I was unfortunately a picture of a disinterested student for most of my early school years, lacking initiative and motivation to learn.
Making a "spider web" out of twine.
Our homemade spider with its eight legs and eight eyes, fashioned from
green play dough and chenille stems.
This is, of course, not saying that we should only study things which interest us. There is  good rationale in broadening a child's scope of ideas which he is introduced to when he is young, as you never know where his interests may lie, be they in astrophysics or the culinary arts. I think there needs to be a balance. The role of us as parents is to introduce a regular supply of ideas to our children, through good books, conversations, field trips and excursions, and to watch and see which take root, which compel and excite them. At the last homeschooling fair, we met a mother who intentionally placed different coffee table books out in her home and observed which topics most interested her children. As Charlotte Mason says,

"To excite this relationship or appetite toward things lovely, honest, and of good report is the earliest and most important ministry of the educator." (The Original Homeschooling Series)

However, readers of our blog may ask, how is this relevant to those of us whose children who spend most of their day in school, and who still want to find a way to grow their interests and passions? Here are some possible ideas:

1. Surround your children with a variety of information on topics they are either interested in, or new ones you think might interest them. One mother said she placed different coffee table books out in the living room and observed which caught her children's attention - one of them took to Nanospace, and the other to Medicine and Human Anatomy.

2. Find information on the subject. The library is a great source, and so is Pinterest! Google "unit study" or "lap book" together with your topic, and you will find a treasure trove of worksheets and hands-on activities you can do with your kids. I find the best books are those that Charlotte Mason called "Living Books", written by a person who has a passion for the subject but in narrative or conversational style.

3. Accompany newly-acquired knowledge with a hands-on activity. Our unit culminated in the creation of a spider web and the model of a spider.

4. Reinforce with a field trip/ excursion, if possible. Our younger son loves butterflies, and I intend to take him to one of the butterfly gardens when we explore the topic next.

5. Learn along with your child. Pick up a book or two for yourself on the subject! It is such an affirmation to him that you are interested in what he is interested too. Besides, a bit more learning never hurt anyone!

You never know which of your child's passions may lead to his future career and life aspiration - but more than that, by letting him grow his passions, you are affirming his sense of self and giving him the space and time to do what he loves best.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Round the Moon Goes Round the Region

This article was written for Little Day Out, a Singapore-based family portal. Little Day Out chats with I Theatre’s Artistic Director Brian Seward on the challenges of expansion for a local theatre company.

Come July this year, the I Theatre production Round the Moon, Blue the Sky will not only be shown in Singapore, the play will also be making its rounds in Okinawa, Japan, and subsequently to Hong Kong in October.

Round the Moon, which is a fast-paced production combining a unique blend of physical theatre, riveting puppetry, black light magic and lots of audience interaction, will be the first I Theatre production to tour the larger East Asian region.

Speaking to Little Day Out, I Theatre’s Artistic Director Brian Seward noted that the play will involve the close collaboration of three actors - one from Singapore, one from Hong Kong and one from Japan. Working together for a short but intensive period of time, the three will first act in Singapore, and subsequently head over to Japan, Hong Kong, and  then possibly to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

I Theatre has already expanded into Malaysia. Earlier this year, the company took the local production of The Magic Porridge Pot to Kuala Lumpur. Partnering with Malaysian theatre company PJ Live Arts, I Theatre will also be taking its Puss in Boots production there. Executive Director of PJ Live Arts Diong Chae Lian told Little Day Out that the Malaysian audiences responded positively to The Magic Porridge Pot, and are eagerly looking forward to the next I Theatre production. She noted that I Theatre ensemble was very good in interacting with the different groups of children and their parents, and that the collaboration has been a positive experience.

Little Z attends Puss in Boots, one of the I Theatre productions that is
going overseas.
Agreeing, Brian Seward noted that finding a suitable partnership has been a key obstacle influencing the company’s theatrical expansion. He shared that in the past, I Theatre had explored connections with various companies in other countries. But no viable partner was found. Brian reflected, “We have to take small steps. If we try to do too much too quickly, we might collapse.”

One challenge of taking a local production overseas has been the lack of Caucasian faces. Brian noted the societal perception that the production is not professional without a Caucasian face. While such a mindset appears to be parochial, Brian however commented that audiences are used to the major productions from the US and the UK, which are seen to be more “professional” than local plays. He however noted that local actors do have the professional experience overseas in the US and UK, and are as equally experienced as overseas actors.

But the main advantage that local actors have over their overseas counterparts is that they understand local sensitivities, especially in areas that might be offensive to various local groups; something that overseas actors do not understand. Brian commented that I Theatre understands the local sense of humour and local culture, and these elements are incorporated into the productions. He shared that overseas productions sometimes cannot connect with the audience as they do not understand the local context. 

Round the Moon will make its rounds in Singapore from 21‐27 July. It is specially tailored for children from 2 to 8 years old; although older children and grown ups will also find the play to  be amusing, enthralling and engaging. The original Little Day Out article can be found here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Potential Artists

Quote of the Day:

Children must be allowed to develop at their own pace. Our older son is attending art class now, and we are thankful to heART Studio for providing him with the space to progress according to his own pace. I believe that when children are allowed to grow, they will then tap on the potential that they have within them; children are born creators and innovators, endowed with the power to shape their world in a way that they can understand. 

Much of education today dictates the manner through which children should act and think. I feel this somehow suppresses the inner child, depriving him of the freedom to create and innovate. For it is when the child is free to act; that's when he will eventually be able to deal with the pressures of life from a position of strength, and deal with these challenges from a fresh perspective, eventually overcoming them more effectively than those who choose to tackle them in a conventional manner.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Birthdays, Everydays

Dutch crawled up on my lap, “But Mommy, I want you to play with me. One day you’re going to wake up and wonder where all the years have gone. Someday I’ll be too big to play with you. Please?”

It's not by chance that I happened to read Kari Patterson's blog post today. It's about a tired Mum who chooses nevertheless to go outdoors with her 8-year-old to watch the clouds. They tickle and laugh, and crawl around like tigers. She learns to watch the clouds, and also watch her son. He is growing up. 

My younger son is on the cusp of 2-year-old hood. In our eyes, I think he turned two long ago; just because we know he thinks he's older than that, and behaves that way too. But he's still my baby, and I am a little sad that he'll never be one again. 
Special spontaneous outing at the park.
Our older boy turns four this week too. I already find it hard to remember how it felt to have him as a baby, a toddler. Now he is a little boy, to be reasoned with, who makes me laugh and cheers me up. We can't wait for him to surprise us with more of the person that's emerging from within, but he will no longer be that bundle of unbridled energy that he was in his toddler years. Self control and a tempered spirit have come into play, which are all good things. Just not the same. 

Not that we don't try to fight it, this growing older thing. I have tried to slow time by working part-time from home and spending every possible moment I can with them. I was there for all their milestones-walking, talking, their first spoon of pumpkin mush. Mark has chosen a more flexible work arrangement to spend more time with the boys. We go on holiday. A lot. Because we love travelling, but also because we love what being together for extended periods of time does for us. We are able to take a step back,  find some perspective, and see the new shoots of grace and growth springing forth which we did not have time to notice before.

And yet the time flies. 

My mother used to sing this song when we were little, from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. 

Where are you going, my little one, little one
Where are you going, my baby, my own?
Turn around and you're two, turn around, and you're four, 
Turn around, and you're a young girl going out of the door.

I cannot see yet to the point when my 2- and 4-year-old go out of the door. The irony is that this very goal of parenthood is the one that we sometimes deeply dread. What an inward tussel, that of holding on and letting go. One is necessary, but our little ones also need the other.

My solution at this point? I will spend their birthday week, and all the weeks after, for as long as they will allow me, showering them with kisses and hugs, and bedtime cuddles. I will surprise my 2-year- old at the playground with a loud "Boo!" so that he cackles with laughter, and let him surprise me back. I will wrap my 4-year-old in a blanket piled with pillows on top, and pretend to eat him like a hungry spider devouring its prey.
Mummy "Spider" prepares to "devour" her "prey".
And I will learn to take a step back and see the grace upon grace that is evident in their lives.

Community helps. We are so grateful for the friends who have been pointing out how the children have grown; how Z is a lot more comfortable in social settings now; how E is picking up so many new words. They give an external perspective which we sometimes lack.

So Happy Birthday, our dearest boys.

Z - When Daddy and Mummy look at you, we see God's grace. We see a young warrior with a brave heart, but also a tender soul who looks at people and has compassion on them,  just as your Lord Jesus did. We see a young man who is not afraid of feelings and is growing to be comfortable in his own skin. Who walks to the beat of a different Drummer. We love the way you dance and worship God! May your sensitivity to others and your unique sense of individuality be strengths and not weaknesses. Our prayer for you this coming year is that you will grow in the confidence and security that can only be found in your identity in Christ. You are the apple of His eye, and ours. And may you grow in the fruit of the Spirit as you relate to your brother and those around you.
Our brave young warrior with a big heart.
E - You are our Mr. Sociable! Thank you for the joy you bring to everyone you meet. Your confidence and enthusiasm for life are infectious. You are so sweet-natured and have a tender heart for the weaker and vulnerable among us. You love babies and animals, and you have a way of making people feel better. We are intrigued by your interest in cooking and how well you carry a tune! What a precious giggle you have. Our prayer for you is that you will learn to temper your energy with self control,  and learn to also be comfortable in your alone moments and not just in the company of others. That you will grow to know how much Jesus loves you and to be secure in our love for you.
Our young and sensitive child who has a soft spot for animals.
May we all take some time to watch the clouds this week. You never know what growth, challenges or grace you might find.
Always our little boys.
"So we watch them, yes? Day by day. Intently. Watching for new pictures, new evidence of grace. The white peach-fuzz, the golden skin, the too-big teeth and puppy breath. All of it. We watch for growth to praise, challenges to face, grace to celebrate.Their eyes, skies, windows to their souls.This week,  dear Mum … watch that."

Excerpts taken from

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Korea 2013: Busan Chapter 5

Dalmaji Hill

We awoke the next morning with a sadness in our hearts. This was our second last day in Korea, a land that we had come to enjoy. However, we resolved to make the most of the day and to end our holiday with a bang.

The first stop of the day - Dalmaji Hill. The Life in Korea website has an interesting description of this place:

Dalmaji Hill is a bluff cliff, located just southeast of Haeundae Beach. Along Dalmaji-gil, near the entrance to the hill, a cafe town caters to lovers and young couples who come to enjoy a cup of coffee and the nice view of Haeundae Beach, the sea, and the moon. Special vista areas include P'algakjeong and Jeonmangdae. The area has also become famous for watching the moon rising on the lunar year's first full moon day. (The name comes from this ritual- dal means moon andmaji means rising.)

Each year 200,000 to 300,000 moon watchers pray for their wishes, watching the full moon rise over Haeundae Beach. On the year's first full moon day, the Dalmaji Feast is held here with a variety of games including kite-flying, yutnol twigi, farmer's music, traditional dance, and other traditional activities. Buddhists also worship with a ceremony for liberating living creatures, a ceremony to pray for a rich haul, and a ceremony to burn Daljip (moon house). On the beach, people contribute specially prepared rice cakes and fruits as an offering to the sea, hold candles in their hands, and pray for year-long peace and happiness. This ceremony is called 'Feeding the Dragon King.' After this first step, the feast reaches its climax by burning Daljip as the full moon rises above the sea.

There's a certain charm about Dalmaji Hill. We had spent the last week in Busan, Korea's second-largest city, which was definitely more built-up compared to our earlier locations of Jeju and Gyeongju. Dalmaji Hill evoked an out-of-city feel and we were instantly at home once again in nature, with our older son Z excitedly asking, "Shall we go to the forest?"
Both sons thoroughly enjoying our walk in the hills.
Little E having a special moment with Daddy...
And with Mummy.
Ice cream and coffee in one of the lovely cafes on the hill.
Little E finally falls asleep after an energetic morning.
The scenic view from the hills.
The walk down the hill took far longer than expected, and after two hours we realised we had gone the wrong way! We could have continued walking, after all, both children were by now fast asleep. But a rumble in our tummies quickly got the better of us and we were soon in a taxi headed to our favourite fried chicken restaurant.

All Things Bon Chon

Given that it was our last full day in Korea, we resolved to enjoy our favourite fried chicken one last time before we left. And the meal was just as delicious as we expected it to be!

The succulent Bon Chon chicken served with a quenching glass of beer to
complete the meal!
Our sons loved the view from the restaurant, which overlooks the
famous Haeundae Beach.

Haeundae Beach

After a satisfying mid-afternoon meal, we proceeded to take a walk around the area where we were staying - Haeundae Beach. The Korean Tourism Board posts this description on their website:

Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장) is probably the most famous beach in the country. "Haeundae" was so named by scholar Choi Chi-Won (857~?) of the Silla Kingdom (BC 57~AD 935). When he was walking past Dongbaekdo Island, he was fascinated by it and left the carved words "Hae Un Dae" on a stone wall on the island. Haeundae is 1.5 km long, 30~50m wide, and spans an area of 58,400㎡. The white sand is rough and sticks easily to your skin. The sand of this beach is composed of sand that comes from Chuncheon Stream and shells that have been naturally eroded by the wind over time. Haeundae Beach is also famous for the various cultural events and festivals held throughout the year. At Haeundae Beach there is a Folk Square where you can enjoy traditional games such as neoldduigi (seesaw jumping), Korean wrestling, tuho(arrow throwing), tug-of-war and yutnori. There is also the Beach Culture Center and the Beach Library. Numerous people visit every year from June to August.

It was a peaceful evening walk for our family as the kids enjoyed running
around the beach and soaked in the picturesque atmosphere. In the
background, you can hear soulful music being played by roving musicians.

Our older son Z spent time just walking on the beach. He loves the sea and enjoys contemplating the beauty of nature.
Our younger son E enjoyed running after the seagulls.
Here he is trying to feed them and play with them.
Our final boat cruise around the bay. Here's the famous Diamond Bridge in
all its splendour.
As we returned to our hotel room that night, we reflected on what a wonderful time we had in Busan, and in Korea. There is something magical about this country that we have come to love - perhaps it is the lovely scenic island of Jeju with its wild natural surroundings; or maybe it is the strong sense of history and culture which we imbibed in Gyeongju; or perhaps it is the vibrant and energetic Busan, with its charming beaches and delicious food. 

One thing we are certain about - we will definitely come back here again; hopefully not in the too distant future.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Five-Minute Fillers: Masking Tape Car Park

We are starting a new section of our blog called "Five-Minute Fillers", because we have realised that a lot of our readers are busy parents who wish to spend quality time with their children but are tired after a long day at work. Or you may be looking for ideas as to how to keep your little "preschooler hurricanes" occupied before they destroy the house! 

Anyway, these are either our own ideas or modified from other blogs; they are completely easy to execute in terms of materials and time needed, but hopefully high in returns in terms of the amount of play and learning your children will get out of these simple activities. Five minutes of prep but hours of fun! 

This one is self-explanatory. 

Materials needed:

- Electrical duct tape/ masking tape
- Scissors
- An assortment of toy cars


Arrange the tape in a car park design.  Demonstrate the idea once. Let the kids take it from there! 

Possible Learning Explorations:

- Fine motor skills: "parking" the cars in between the lines
- Imaginary/ Role play: finding a lot like Daddy/ Mummy
- Patterns and parallel parking (Oops, I mean lines! )
- Counting in groups/ sets: count in twos/threes
- Sorting: according to colour/ design

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nurturing Ambition

Quote of the Day:

When you ask a child what he wants to be when he grows up, you get a myriad of answers, ranging from being a doctor or a fireman or a chef. These desired childhood occupations are a result of the child's exposure to the different occupations and reflect his or her interests at the time of questioning. However no child really knows what he or she wants; nor are children expected to make difficult decisions at an early age. 

Our role as parents is therefore to provide as much exposure for our children so that they can have a greater understanding of what interests them, pursuing avenues that bring them greater satisfaction and therefore greater meaning in what they do. We then need to nurture our children's ambitions, guiding them and encouraging them when things don't seem to go right. But ultimately we need to allow our children the freedom to make their own decisions. For if we have been guiding and nurturing them from an early age, we can be confident that they will make the best choices.

We may yet be parents to the next Napoleon, the next Salvador Dali, or the next Jamie Oliver!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How to Cook with One Hand

It all started one morning when my almost-2-year-old son was crying uncontrollably outside our bedroom door. Interrupting the little one in mid-cry, I tried unconvincingly to distract him. 

“E. Enough crying. Come play blocks with Daddy.” 

The young boy ignored me and persisted with his screaming.

“E. How about if you come cooking with Daddy?”


The boy suddenly stopped his crying. Without the further shedding of a single teardrop, he turned silently, and purposefully marched to the kitchen. 

“Cook with Daddy, “ he grunted.
Early indications of our younger son's interest in cooking.
All this happened about a month ago, and I recorded the events in a Facebook update:

I should publish a book entitled "How to Cook with One Hand", a compilation of recipes on how to cook with your almost-2-year-old child; ranging from simple recipes on how to get your son to beat eggs for an omelette dish to the "dos" and "don'ts" of cooking e.g. why you shouldn't eat raw sausages and mushrooms when you're cooking teriyaki beef and garlic fried rice. 

Quite a fun process. Till today I have yet to know of an almost-2yo who knows his onions and garlic and sesame oil!  
Little E helps Daddy to beat the eggs for our omelette breakfast.
It was truly a memorable moment. The little boy helped me to get the pre-chopped garlic and onions. He had asked me what these items were some time back, and I was surprised that little E still remembered what they were. I was naturally more hesitant about the eggs, despite the little one’s attempt to retrieve them from the fridge himself. Cutting the onions provided to be more than I had bargained for. This particularly because young E had climbed up on a kitchen stool, and was helping himself to the slices of raw onion from the chopping board. I had to quickly give him the unbeaten eggs and he helped to whisk them after observing me add herbs and black pepper to the mixture.

The highlight of the event was the actual frying of the eggs. You could almost hear an exclamation of joy when I cracked the eggs into the sizzling oil. Almost immediately, the little one’s eyes opened wide, as he observed the solidification of the raw egg. “Carry me,” he asked; and he refused to take no for an answer. That’s when I felt compelled to carry the little boy and continue the cooking process with one hand holding him and the other managing the frying pan.
Tasting the finished product.
From that moment onwards, E has come into the kitchen to "help" with the cooking on many different occasions. And he has asked to be carried during most of these moments in order to observe the proceedings on the stove, always pointing to the different ingredients as if trying to remember what each of these were. So imagine my surprise one day when he indicated to the pepper mill when I was cooking fried rice. "Add pepper," said the little boy. And after I had followed his instructions, he then pointed to the container of salt. "Add salt." I turned to him in astonishment, and knew he was absolutely serious in the words that he had uttered!

I believe I might be sharing my kitchen with the next Jamie Oliver!

The other incident which seems to indicate that I might have a gourmet chef for a son occurred just this week. My wife was accompanying the older child for an art class, and I had one hour to spend with the younger boy; so I took him to a nearby supermarket to buy food - one of our friends was coming for dinner and I had to buy a chicken and some vegetables for the meal.

It was all systems go the minute the little boy entered the supermarket. He went around the store enthusiastically, asking me for the names of all the different vegetables - eggplant, celery, cabbage; he was interested in them all! Then we went to the seafood section and he excitedly pointed at all the different kinds of fish, asking me for each of their names. I had to restrain him from touching each of the items, almost as though he was examining the freshness of each item.

"Fish," he said. "I want to eat it!'

"Oh?" I asked. "Do you prefer the sea bass or the red snapper?"

And the little boy pointed to the sea bass with an excited smile.
Examining the carrots that he had chosen that morning
in the supermarket.
Little E had a unique way of "chopping" the carrots into bite-sized pieces.
His method was to hit the carrot lengthwise against the side of the table with
so much force that it would snap into two.
When we were paying for the groceries at the counter, little E returned to the fruit section. He purposefully picked up one of the big baskets that customers normally use for their shopping, and proceeded to fill it with lychees. He had earlier taken a few of the fruit and given them to me, but I had returned them to the shelves, telling him that we would not be buying the lychees. The little boy had apparently not forgotten the fruit, and had now decided to take matters into his own hands! (Post-note: Daddy finally gave in and the little one got to take home a handful of lychees.)

In his book The 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers, Ken R. Canfield observed that there is a secret within each father that he longs to express with his kids. He noted that each man has an individual expression of his fathering that he longs to share with his children. For some, it could be a special time of camping in the woods, while for others it could be a precious time shared flying a plane.

I have realised that cooking has been my expression of fathering with E. I cherish the moments spent in the kitchen just teaching my son to do simple cooking tasks. And I was a very proud father that day in the supermarket, with the encouraging smiles I received from the other customers as the little boy walked out of the store carrying his own little bag of grocery purchases.

How to cook with one hand? You just have to make sure that the hand holding the child is the one that is always there to lift him up, to support and to guide him. And the result will be a delicious dish, wonderfully and lovingly created by both you and your son.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Growing Young Minds

Quote of the Day:

What is the true purpose of education? Today we went to a homeschooling fair organised by the homeschooling community in Singapore. I was honestly surprised and wowed by the number of people who were present - from parents who were sharing their homeschooling ideas to children who were playing happily in the fields. 

It was a heartening experience for me, to listen to the various parents sharing passionately about their individual educational journey. One mother, for instance, shared how her 11-year-old son was learning about nanotechnology and black holes while her 13-year-old daughter was more keen to study about the human body and possible medical applications. Another parent excitedly shared her children's nature study and art journals, and we were blown away that her children were studying and drawing insect and plant parts from the age of 3! Yet another mother shared how her children had learnt writing simply by reading aloud and summarising classical texts from "living books" - narratives written by people with a passion for a particular subject or topic. And I of course took particular interest in the parent who left historical coffee table books lying around so that her children could develop an interest in history even during their pre-school years.

The various ideas have provided me a new meaning to the practice of education. As educators and parents we are so absorbed in making sure that our children arrive at the end product of their studies - the metaphorical "cut flowers" depicted by John W. Gardner. Yet I believe the true meaning of education is to provide the raw materials to our children so that they will learn to grow their own plants. Our children need to be given good seeds and fertile soil for their young minds to cultivate. They then need to be taught how often to water the plants and how much sunlight is optimal for growth. With constant attention and guidance, lovely plants will rise from the ground, beautiful flowers that will provide much enjoyment for all around.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Korea 2013: Busan Chapter 4

Jagalchi Market

Korea's largest seafood market was one of our top priority stops in Busan. We were planning to get there early the next day, but the kids were very tired and we decided to sleep in, heading for the market only in the afternoon. Due to heavy traffic and the long travel timing, we only reached there just as the sun was making its way towards the horizon.
"Jagalchi" is actually a combination of two Korean words meaning "small rocks"
and "villages". Due to modernisation and the construction of a wharf, no traces
of either remain.
View from the city in the late afternoon.
The boys enjoying a rare pensive moment.
Wandering in the live seafood section.
The practice is for you to choose your dinner at one of the numerous seafood
stalls and allow the chef to cook up the meal of your dreams.
Our sons were quite interested by all the fascinating sea creatures.
We didn't expect both boys to enjoy looking at the various
food items and even tasting them! 
You know your sons enjoy food when they go from stall to
stall pointing at the items and asking to taste them!
And who can resist the huge and juicy ginseng roots on sale there!
Our children had a whale of a time dancing near the water area where there was loud singing and happy Koreans enjoying their beers and soju. After we had purchased a fair quantity of dried shrimps, scallops and fresh ginseng, we headed back to the Lotte Department Store where our boys were eager to catch another glimpse of the musical fountain there.

Korea @ Play

The next day it was time to return back to the photo studio to collect our photos and we were very pleased with the final product. As the weather was not optimal for an outdoor outing, we decided to let the boys enjoy the lovely indoor playground that we had come to enjoy. (We have written about why we love Korean indoor playgrounds in a previous post.)
There is an hourly train that goes around a section of the indoor playground.
Children run to board the train whenever they hear the horn.
We particularly enjoyed the quality of the items and how well
each section was maintained.
During the trip both our boys developed a love for playing
shop. They would engage in pretend play, buying and
selling food at the "market".
We didn't realise this then, but our younger one was already
picking up an interest in food and in cooking.
The bright colours and cosy decor made every child (and
adult) feel at ease.
The children were very sad to leave as they knew that it was the last time that they were going to an indoor playground. What was especially sad for us was that our wonderful Korean adventure was coming to an end in just two days' time...