Thursday, March 27, 2014

Making music with mommy

"Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education." - Plato

B and I have always enjoyed making music together. Once he could sit up, we attended music and movement meetups and eventually, Kindermusik Village and Our Time classes till he started nursery this year. If like us, (1) your tot already gets some music exposure in preschool, (2) you think he has potential and interest to go further, but (3) you're uncertain about the differences, cost and logistics of "extra" music classes, why not try some fun yet structured music making at home instead?

Given my thoughts on enrichment, I'm currently not sending B for additional music class until he's ready for specific instrument, dance or vocal lessons. We recently completed a 10-day free trial of BrillKids' Little Musician and plan to adapt it for the year as long as I've got a flexi WAHM schedule. B LOVED it. He asks for "Music class at home? Solfège? Clap along?" and sings random chords throughout the day. Check out the video to see (or rather, hear) what I mean!
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Wait a minute. Solfège? Music training? Sounds so hardcore! Also, isn't music best learnt in a group? Well, B gets plenty of social music with his school and playmates. What I'm doing here is more structured music that'll lead into formal lessons in the future. This was easy to try given my music background but after the trial and seeing all the resources available, I'm sure anyone can do it too. No need any "formal" experience or pitch perfection. The key is the right attitude, interest and time :)

Let me explain a bit more....

Why "music training" and why now?
- Music is a whole brain activity, using 90% of the brain, more than any other activity
- Music lessons in childhood do enlarge the brain, with studies showing better grades due to improved concentration, confidence and learning
- Music trains the higher cognitive functions, spatial-temporal reasoning, puzzle-solving, aesthetic literacy, overall perceptual, imaginative, visual and mathematical abilities
- Singing and pitch discrimination are increasingly accepted as tools to learn to read
- Rhythm and tempo control helps kids perform routine activities with more ease and efficiency
- Instrumental practice enhances coordination, concentration, memory, improves eyesight and hearing

What can you do at home? LOTS if you're willing to be involved and do it regularly. Short periods frequently in a relaxed environment work best at the early ages. What I liked about Little Musician is each session lasts only 5 mins every day - with options for more. Build on what your kid knows or enjoys, use activities that develop a good ear like listening, singing and imitation, and have fun performing, composing and improvising together.

Singing and Listening begins while the wee one is in your belly. Once he starts to make vocal sounds, he'll soon imitate you (and others) in singing, so sing often and enthusiastically, together or alone - no need for fancy instruments or to wait until their motor skills improve or you join a class. While background music has its time and place, active listening involves interaction. Engage your kid on what they hear and respond when the songs, tempo or dynamics change. Draw, dance, show pictures or videos of instruments and performers, attend live concerts as often as you can. Concert prices in Singapore are quite pricy but there ARE many free or community events that work just as well. Don't just stick to nursery rhymes and lullabies, introduce classical, jazz, rock, pop, rock, folk, world music too. The younger the child, the wider their taste although they also love repetition :)

Rhythm and Pitch is B's first indication (to me) that he liked music. As a baby, he loved rhythm - bouncing on my lap or knee, swaying, spinning, dancing, clapping, and was fascinated by my guitar, electronic keys, buttons and drum pads at home. We are now working more on pitch, i.e. the ability to distinguish how high or low a note is and whether something is out of tune or not. This is where solfège comes in, i.e. do-re-mi, the easiest and most common system of learning pitch and scales. It links listening, singing and playing (aural skills) as we learn to hear sounds in our head before singing. Do-re-mi is easy to vocalise with open vowel endings ideal for singing as opposed to ABC letters for key names. Somewhat inspired by the Eguchi Method, we listen to and match notes with letters and solfège names using hand signals and a colour coded keyboard (or other pitch instruments such as xylophone, handbells, chime, resonator bars if you have them).

Instruments (toy, home-made or real) expose them to different types of sounds: everyday ones, pitched and unpitched. Start with percussion such as drums, shakers and castanets and expose them to "real" instruments like violins, guitars, pianos, other strings, woodwinds and brass, if possible. You don't have to buy - DIY with household items, borrow or exchange with friends, "play" whenever you can on real instruments. Else, brands with good quality, child-sized instruments are Melissa & Doug, Music4Tots, Music Factory products though IMO, these are all more reasonably priced overseas :)
 
Composing and Improvisation comes naturally to kids. Has your lil one ever changed the lyrics or tune slightly with a cheeky grin? B does that all the time (even in Chinese)! We should encourage this. Talk about it when they're doing it, what sounds, dynamics and words are used, introduce vocabulary as you accompany a favourite story or match different moods and situations. Be silly together and your kid will see music as something they can use to express themselves and play with on their own. How many times have I asked B "What shall we sing?" and he goes "Wheels On The Bus" with a funky new variation each time!

Of course, Little Musician isn't the only home resource out there. I've listed a few that are FREE online, some for music appreciation and other (paid) programs as well:
- Plank Road Publishing Music Concept Videos - fun, animated, FREE videos
- Trebellina, an animated treble clef that teaches babies, toddlers, and preschoolers how to read music, pitch, and instrument names and sounds
- Beethoven's Wig - classical music with lyrics and bits of knowledge added
- Golden Records child's introduction series digitised vinyl records available for free
- Classics For Kids for resources on classical music and composers
- Tuneables music education cartoons for preschoolers
- Moosicology songs, stories and colourful pictures for 0-7 years

Have a music program for under 3s? I'm always open to trial and discuss :)

Source: Little Musician, Moosicology, Wikipedia and other sites from Google!

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: What's playing at Watten

Watten Estate lies between home and B's school, so we've driven past countless times but hadn't explored till recently. If you venture beyond Bougainvillea Park which is a tad overgrown, the larger shady Watten Estate Park (off Hillcrest Road, near Greenwood Avenue cafes) is lovely BUT there's no toilet or wash area for the wee ones :(

A mom friend also told me about Shelford Road Playground, a hidden gem nearby (junction of Shelford and Watten State Road) that's perfect for tots:



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Monday, March 24, 2014

Enrichment: Can't live without it, can't live with it

I cringe whenever my friends with primary (and yes, even preschool) age kids talk about their packed evening and weekend enrichment schedules. I cringe because I can identify, and I see how easy it is for us - well-meaning parents - to get caught up in a race that's become more about academic excellence rather than academic help for those who truly need it.

Our own enrichment woes are about Chinese. Although I've tried to keep B's time free for play and bonding, this is one area where we need help in. I harbour no illusions that B will be a top scorer in advanced Chinese, but I do want him to be confident academically when he enters local primary, and not let poor Chinese be his Achilles heel in school, and later on in life. Currently, I haven't found the right program since B graduated from the parent accompanied playgroups at Chengzhu as the timing and method are not suited for my kinesthetic and auditory learning boy. We've tried 1-to-1 tutors at home but B's too young and lacks the focus to engage 100% with them - and besides, playing and interacting in Chinese with him is something I can do myself. I'm not ready to leave him alone in a brand new (fully Chinese!) environment as he just started half day nursery. So in the interim, we signed up for weekly mom-and-tots flexi sessions at Bibinogs till B turns 2.5 years, hopefully enabling us to enjoy our last few months in class together. Going forward, I'm still searching for a more structured yet interactive class that mixes outside and at home learning. Maybe we'll trial Berries or Hua near us in a few months when he's ready for another drop off. I'm also in the midst of sourcing more Chinese toddler books and DVDs, but the caveat is this banana-mama needs hanyupinyin to make any sense of the characters :( At the moment, the only time he willingly speaks Chinese is when he sings - a start, I guess :)

video

All that said, before you go tiger mom enrichment-crazy on your kid, watch this video - a reminder that too much of a good thing can be more harm than help. Let's not kill their interest before it has a chance to bloom!



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Sunday, March 23, 2014

World peace begins at home

What does it mean to live a peaceful life? IMHO, the key is to work towards peaceful relationships in your home - with your spouse, kid(s) and if you have any, your domestic helper. But how to do this when we're struggling with being at peace in our own lives? As parents, we're often busy, stressed, sleep-deprived, sick whenever the kids get sick, and lacking any personal time or space. Here are some thoughts:

With your spouse: Sometimes, a little time out gives much needed perspective when emotions are frayed. There are days when I still struggle with giving up a traditional corporate career and the (seemingly lack of) ROI on all my years of education - resulting in a rather bitter attitude towards my constantly away hardworking hubby. I've been trying to reflect and approach situations with a more peaceful and rested heart. Also, as parents, we should TRY not to let our issues (anger, disappointment, concern, etc.) with each other surface too frequently in front of the kids. The very young ones can pick up on the emotion but may not understand the context or even think it is about them, i.e. something they did wrong. For me - someone who often wears her heart on her sleeve - this is hard. Just as we teach our kids to use their "indoor voice", I too need to remember that being peaceful means to talk and not shout, to smile and not frown.

With kids: Give our kids the foundation to develop and learn to be a child of God - peaceful, cheerful and contented. As B adjusts to nursery drop off and soon, taking his mid-day nap there as well, we're trying to re-establish a routine that provides comfort yet fosters independent growth. Kids thrive in a secure environment with familiar surroundings, playmates and caregivers, regular healthy meals, designated quiet times with spaces to play/read on their own, unique yet diverse experiences AND perhaps most importantly, adequate sleep - ideally by 9p. I've ALWAYS been asked about B's early bedtime, as in "why can't he come out, stay later, wake up later instead" To me, sleep is sacred. When kids sleep well, we all sleep well, so why change what ain't broke?

With the helper: Let's face it. We are lucky, spoilt even, in Asia to have foreign domestic workers who assist us in chores and if you need, babysitters and nannies at a reasonable rate, be it part time or live in. Yet too often I find employers who do not treat their helper in a way that leads to a peaceful living and working relationship, while they maintain high expectations on their deliverables and attitude. B asked me once: "mama, daddy, ama, kong kong is family. What about aunty (our helper's name)?" I told him "We live together in this house, we should treat her like family too." I wonder if he understood that, but he does now include her in his prayer requests at night and asks where she is when we go out on our own or on her days off.

The more centered we are on Christ and not self, the more we'll be at peace with others and ourselves.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

When dinosaurs ruled the earth

February ended with a roar, a dinosaur roar! Unlike space, transportation and animals which were easy hits back when we were doing monthly themes, I wasn't sure how B would take to dinos - I mean, the names are hard to pronounce and animals are all dead and scary looking (except for Barney, but he's not quite ... real). By the end though, B was impersonating the T-Rex walk, wrapping his tongue around "triceratops," "apatosaurus," "stegosaurus," and knew how to spell "D-I-N-O-S-A-U-R." A success!

Lucky for us, there were TWO great dinosaur showcases in Singapore this past month, both different yet good. We first visited Titans of the Past - Dinosaurs and Ice Age Mammals at the Science Center. To be honest, we'd trekked out west before for the Megabugs Return exhibit but weren't too impressed. I felt the center overall could do with some upgrading. However, this time around, we were pleasantly surprised by the toddler friendly activities and animations that managed to keep two 2+ year boys entertained throughout! It's a shame the exhibit is over so soon (25 October 2013 - 23 February 2014) and not that well publicized - when we went on a Thursday afternoon, there were less than 10 visitors there. Besides pressing all the buttons to animate the dinos roaring and eating, B also enjoyed the mini paleontologists dig (aka sandpit) where they could brush for fossils.

We also went to Dinosaurs: Dawn To Extinction at the ArtScience Museum (25 January - 25 May 2014), getting there just before 5p in time for the free English tour. IMO, the exhibits here were of better quality and clearer presentation, with bone fossils AND life size models, info boards and occasional activity stations. The caveat was we had to pay admission for B whereas he got in free (under 3 years) at the Science Center. That said, even distracted mommy retained a few bits of knowledge in between making sure my lil live dino didn't break anything!

B attempted to fit all the puzzles, but most were set too high for toddlers - and he's quite tall at 95cm+ (for 27 months). He also enjoyed the model of the walking T-Rex and the footprint section, where you could make your own track, identify and compare various footprint tracks.

Go here to see the other kid-friendly events and activities coming in March (booking required) if you have older kids, 6 years and up. Some of the hands-on/take home crafts that we did included a 3D mock up of an apatosaurus and making wayang kulit dino-age birds and lizards (shadow puppets).


To reinforce the theme at home, we did more art and craft and of course, library books!
Cutting out letters, dino shapes and rolling eggs from playdough makes a happy B
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Making a dino foam penholder and paint-stamping dinos using styrofoam:

















Tracing and colouring pre-writing worksheets from here. His fine motor skills aren't great, but he's slowly improving, i.e. changing colours for different objects, following straight and curvy lines, etc.

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