Monday, April 18, 2011

Hello again (and again)

To all of you lovelies who get our blog feed, my apologies for the repeat postings this morning. After I posted last night, I had a few more thoughts which I wanted to include, so I did a heavy edit this morning on last night's post, which became so unwieldy that I split it in two. Anyway, hope you enjoy reading (or re-reading) both posts!

Also, lately I have been receiving a lot more emails from you lovelies - can I just say that I LOVE getting your emails, thank you! They always put a happy smile on my face! Do feel free to ask me about anything under the sun, I'll answer you as best I can!

Specifically, I am thinking of sharing a little bit more about our Shichida home practice - would you like that? I know many parents try to research the Shichida Method online and there really isn't a lot of stuff around. Ryan has been on the Shichida Method since he was about 8 months old and we are very happy with it, so I'd be happy to share our experience with anyone who is interested in the method. I would also be happy to answer any specific questions about the method or about what we do at home - leave me a comment (anonymous if you prefer) or send me an email at pinkiepirate(at)live.com!


Leona

Swimming class on Sunday was interesting. Coach introduced yet another new exercise and I think the children enjoyed it. All the children sat on the side of the pool and took turns to jump off and swim a short distance to Coach and then another short distance back to the ladder at the side of the pool, all without their parents.

Here's a shot of the little swimmers - as you can see, Ryan (fifth from the left) is the tiniest one! That's why he gets a lot of tender loving care during the class.


Shichida class went well. I think the new time slot is much better for us, we now have lots more flexibility in our Sunday schedule.

Anyway, just to reassure you that it was NOT all work and no play, Ryan got a fabulous surprise on Saturday - his very own private pool!





Hope your weekend was fabulous too!

Ryan will be skipping three weeks worth of classes over the next three weeks due to our travels. I'm not sure if he'll miss any of the classes but I think his teachers will miss him!

At PlayClub on Saturday, the feedback forms were distributed in anticipation of Parents' Chats in three weeks' time. As we will not be around, I filled up the form on the spot and during the outdoor play segment, Safina had a little one-to-one chat with me about my feedback and Ryan's progress. She said that Ryan has progressed very well in Playclub and she's happy that he knows the routine so well now.

I told her that I thought Ryan was bored - she said not at all! She said the children love the fact that there is a routine and they love that it is so repetitive.

Thinking about that, I think she's right. I realise that, when he goes through the motions, I never have to force him or even to prompt him, he goes ahead and does whatever is needed according to the routine and he does it happily. He doesn't pay attention when he knows he doesn't have to pay attention, but that is not necessarily a sign of boredom - it could simply be that he knows the routine so well that he is contented, secure and reassured enough to just sit back and relax.

After all, that's the point of having a routine - so that the child will have some stability, comfort and reassurance once he is used to the routine. Yet the moment that Ryan perfected the routine, I started worrying that he was bored. I forgot that this is the time for him to enjoy the fact that he knows the routine like the back of his hand. I forgot that there is value in letting him enjoying all the benefits that he has earned - the stability, comfort and reassurance of repetition.

Isn't it interesting how I misread what was going on? I knew he was enjoying himself but I still thought he was bored - I forgot the simple principle that a bored child will not be a happy child and Ryan is certainly happy in class!

Safina also mentioned, in our little chat, that she wished there was more "bonding" with Ryan, although this wasn't a criticism on his development - it was just a personal wish on her part because she really adores him.

Ryan has a natural wariness when it comes to people, he's very cautious by nature and he takes his time to size you up and decide if you're friend or foe. As for physical affection, he regards it as a privilege to be bestowed on special people. He isn't the sort who will let everyone and anyone hug and kiss him and he certainly will not hug and kiss everyone and anyone. His teachers love to catch him and ask him for a hug and they usually have to settle for a high-five.

I am perfectly ok with that. The way I see it, Ryan has forged strong relationships with certain people and he reserves his physical affection for these special people. That's the way it should be. I don't want Ryan to be going around hugging and kissing everyone, regardless of how whether he knows the person or not. I'm happy that Ryan is learning how to develop healthy relationships and that includes going through the steps sequentially, in their logical order. In other words, let's get to know each other better before we hug and kiss, shall we?

No matter how affectionate a person is, he/she isn't going to be going around and hugging and kissing everyone. There has to be a line somewhere - we don't hug the waiter at the restaurant, we don't kiss the cab-driver when we get to our destination, we don't go around touching strangers on the street.

For adults, the group of people to whom we shower physical affection grows slowly - as our family grows, as we make more friends, when we fall in love. That's natural, isn't it? So, why is it that, for our children, we do it backwards - we expect them to be physically affectionate to everyone and then slowly cut back on that physical affection as they grow older? We want them to think that the world is full of love but slowly, as they grow up, we teach them that this lady isn't for hugging, that man isn't for kissing, you have to stop touching people. Why don't we take a more positive approach and let them start with a small group of special people which they can widen as they grow older? Wouldn't that be a happier way to do it?

I always hear other parents talking about how there are all these wonderful teachers who hug and kiss all the students in school - those are definitely wonderful teachers, but I always wonder whether I really want everyone to be hugging and kissing my son? Well, I don't mind, but it is certainly not a deal-breaker for me if the teachers are less touchy-feely.

Hugs and kisses may seem very innocent now, as we are talking about two year olds, but, being wary and cautious is actually part of normal childhood development - it is nature's way to protect the young from being led astray by strangers/predators. So that's another concern.

I do know children who are adorably affectionate to all and sundry and I wonder what we would do if Ryan had turned out to be an effusively affectionate child? How would we deal with it?

Interesting food for thought.

I think, at the very least, I would teach him that, having a relationship with someone is a necessary requirement for physical affection, and the more physical affection you give/receive, the stronger that relationship should be first. That's the key to making all those hugs and kisses a genuine expression of love.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

For the sake of Elmo

I mentioned that there was a Part 2 to my birthday celebration. Well, our little "staycation" last weekend was actually the teaser for a bigger and longer holiday, which is going to be ... drum roll please ...

We're going to NEW YORK CITY!

Did I say that loud enough? No? WE'RE OFF TO NEW YORK CITY, BABY! WOO HOO!!

Ahem.

It all began when Richard suggested that, for my birthday, we take a short holiday overseas, three days and two nights somewhere nearby. Problem was, we couldn't decide on a suitable destination. I'd just got back from Bali, we'd just gone to Chiangmai a few months back and we couldn't imagine that Ryan would enjoy Hong Kong and Bangkok very much at his age. We then talked about taking a few days off around Labour Day, perhaps make it a five day vacation, which meant the Maldives or Australia was possible. We were quite keen on that actually. Richard applied for two days' leave and we spent the next few days discussing possible destinations.

After a few days of ding-donging around, we were not getting anywhere (pun intended). I asked Richard to take a further two days of leave for that week and he did, which meant that we now had a stretch of 9 days to go somewhere. We were now thinking - Europe!

Another few days went by and still no progress on our target destination. We wanted a destination where we could enjoy both child-centred activities as well as grown-up activities. People were telling me that I could consider France because, apart from the grown-up stuff, there was a Disneyland. However, Ryan isn't familiar with the Disney characters and he is still too small for most of the rides. I started thinking about the characters whom Ryan knows of and, of course, ELMO was the answer!

It was an epiphany! I don't know why I didn't think of it before. I immediately searched online for Sesame Street theme parks and I found one, called Sesame Place, in Pennsylvania, about 1.5 hours drive from New York City. (I didn't realise it at the time but there are actually a few more around the world - check out this list.)

I immediately sent an SMS to Richard: "There is a Sesame Street theme park about 1.5 hours from New York City."

His reply was: "Huh then must go oredi".

And that settled it!

Over the next two weeks, we bought our plane tickets, applied for our visas which included a short over-the-counter interview at the US Embassy, checked the exchange rate (very favourable!), checked the weather, got an International Driver's Licence, all the while dreaming of Ryan having dinner with Elmo. At the last minute, Richard announced that we were still going to celebrate my birthday weekend and that's how we ended up in Resorts World Sentosa last weekend. So yes, we've been busy busy busy!

Now all you lovelies who have been to New York countless times may think, what's the big deal. Well, to explain, I have never been to New York or anywhere in the USA and I have always said that I will never be able to make it to the USA simply because I can't imagine being stuck in the plane for 24 hours. The long travel time far outweighs any motivation to be there. Now, for the sake of my son, I am determined to get him within hugging distance of his beloved Elmo, and no long haul flight is gonna stop me. You could say it was a life-changing moment for me.

We fly into New York City on Saturday morning (30 April) and we plan to go straight to Pennsylvania and spend about two to three days there, which includes one day for Sesame Place and another day for the Please Touch Museum. After that, it will be New York! New York! all the way. If you lovelies have any suggestions on where to go or where to stay in New York City (or Pennsylvania) or what to see/do/eat (or what not to see/do/eat), please feel free to pass them to me!

Can you tell I'm excited? No? NEW YORK CITY, HERE WE COME!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My birthday!

I've been a little quiet on the blog, I know. All for good reason!

I've been working on a craft project for Ryan and it's a real time-sucker. It's coming along, slowly but surely and I'll show it to you when it's finished. This is a goodie, I promise.

Other than that, I had a birthday! Yes, I turned a year older last Friday and my dear hubby checked our little family into a hotel for the weekend in celebration!

We chose to stay at one of the hotels in Resorts World Sentosa. They were selling a two day-one night package for S$298. It was a very short stay - the check-in time on Saturday was 3 pm and the check-out time on Sunday was 12 noon. Nevertheless, we decided to go for it!

On Saturday, Ryan skipped his Playclub class but we still had a few errands to run so we only checked in at about 4 pm. The first thing we did was to check out the swimming pool. We had heard that the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel was fabulous so we headed there and we certainly weren't disappointed!

There was a man-made beach at the swimming pool, complete with a patch of sand for beach volleyball!


There were numerous pools, including a jacuzzi and a pool for "serious" swimmers. There was also a waterplay area, with slide and water jets, for the children. Ryan had a rollicking good time!



After a bath it was time for dinner. We went to Chinois by Susur Lee. Very nice ambience, food was very good, service was attentive, we certainly don't mind going there again.

The hotel package that we bought included free tickets to the resident show at the resort - Voyage de la Vie. So, after dinner, we walked over to the theatre for the show. The show is a theatrical circus performance - there are acrobats, a contortionist, trapeze artists, a juggler, magicians, a sharpshooter and their performances are built into a storyline punctuated with songs sung by the main character. If you've watched Cirque du Soleil, just take away the big top, put it on a stage and you get the general idea.

The show lasted 90 minutes and there was no interval. The amazing thing was that Ryan watched the whole show with complete fascination. His attention was focused on the stage for the entire 90 minutes! He didn't say a single word throughout the show (but the minute the curtain came down, he started talking about it).

A funny thing was, for the first half of the show, Ryan was standing on my seat behind me with his hands on my shoulders peeking out at the stage! Haha! Actually, this was a good sign to me that he actually understood the tone and the emotion of the story that was being played out - the main character is unexpectedly taken on a fantastical journey where he meets all these (circus) characters. I would be very afraid if that suddenly happened to me!

Richard and I spent a good part of the show marvelling at Ryan's total immersion. Ryan took it all in, from start to finish. Isn't that the beauty of being a child? To be able to slip into a world of fantasy so seamlessly with complete acceptance, without a hint of judgment or jadedness? It was simply beautiful to witness.

After the show, we walked around the resort a little bit but we could tell that Ryan was a little tired so we headed back to our hotel room and we all had an early night (before 11 pm!).

The next morning, we got out of bed at about 10 am - what glorious sleep! After a quick trip to the toilet...

... we sang Happy Birthday and blew out the candle on my birthday cake! Happy Birthday to me!

After Richard and I devoured more than half of the cake (Ryan didn't want any), we rushed over to the pool at Hard Rock Hotel again for one last hurrah. We checked out at noon and rushed over to Springleaf Tower for Ryan's Shichida class at 12.15 pm.

Ryan surprised me today at Shichida because he aced the linking memory without any practice the week before! This is the first class of the term and we did not know what material the class would be using for this term's linking memory. So, basically, Ryan saw the cards for the first time in class. Despite that, he still managed to identify all of them without hesitation! Sensei was so impressed at his speed and she complimented him. Marvellous!

All in all, it was a great weekend. I had a happy and wonderful time with my little family - the best way to celebrate my birthday! Oh, by the way, there is a Part 2 for my birthday celebration coming up - will write about that in my next post!

Ryan goes to a nanny when I am at work. One question that I get very often is, what does Ryan do there all day?

There seems to be a genuine concern that he isn't doing anything and that he isn't getting any mental stimulation or social interaction and there is an assumption that, because he is not in school, he is not maximising his potential.

Typically I get these questions from my friends here in Singapore. In fact, I've never been asked such questions by friends outside Singapore. In Singapore, when I mention our plans to send Ryan to school when he is 4 or 5 years old, there is a short awkward silence. After all, it is fairly unusual in Singapore.

There are countless pre-schools here that have seized the chance to capitalise on early childhood education, bringing forward the enrolment age earlier and even earlier. As recent as one generation ago, people were still enrolling their children at 5 and 6 years old, but in the last ten to fifteen years, the craze has gained phenomenal momentum and it has now become the default to enrol children at 2-3 years old. It is accepted without question by many parents that, since pre-schools have a class for this age, their children should be in it.

Personally, I can't see what happened to human evolution in the last ten to fifteen years that led us to conclude that human beings need as much help as we can get, as early as we can get it, hence the need for schooling at 2-3 years old. But well, that's how things are over here, no matter how inexplicable. Here's some trivia: read this 2008 BBC article for the historical reasons why children were sent to school at an early age (5 years) - one of the reasons was to get them away from the negative influence of their irresponsible parents!

Anyway, in Singapore, I find myself in the strange position of having to justify why I choose to keep Ryan out of pre-school until he is older. And when I say older, I am only talking about 4 or 5! It is the opposite when I speak to friends outside Singapore - I have to justify why my son is attending enrichment classes at the tender age of 2!

I'm not knocking people who send their children to pre-school at 2/3. Everyone has a different perspective and different circumstances and every parent has the right to decide what's best for the child. What's right for my son may not be right for their child and vice versa. This is my perspective and my choice for my son.

So how do I explain why I keep him out of school? Well, let me say that it is not easy because my answers are not the answers that these concerned people are looking for. They have a mental checklist of what a child should be doing or learning and my answers don't always fit on that checklist. His nanny doesn't have a curriculum or a syllabus that I can refer to and tick off.

To me, the huge benefit of spending the day at his nanny's is that he has formed a strong and loving relationship with his caregiver and he is surrounded with love and attention the whole day. There is a ton of research on how insecure attachment with a caregiver can prevent a child from forming healthy relationships with others. Loving care and attention are needed if children are to grow into adults capable of forming healthy relationships with others. Of course, Ryan has a secure relationship with Richard and me but that's not the issue here. The issue here is whether he is better off in school or at his nanny's. On this point, his nanny wins hands down.

However, this answer is usually not satisfactory to other people. It is too intangible. They want to know what Ryan is "doing". It doesn't count unless he is actually "doing" something. They usually bring up terms like mental stimulation and socialisation. So, let me jot down my response here as a note to myself.

First, mental stimulation.

Ryan is constantly exposed to language and conversation while at his nanny's. When he was learning his first words, his nanny taught him "flower", "ball", "bye bye", and a lot more. A couple of months ago, she told me that Ryan pointed up in the sky and said "Bird fly" (Ryan has yet to put together a sentence in my conversations with him). She taught him that he should go on the potty when he needs to "Ng Ng".

She buys books for him (at her own expense) and reads with him. She buys all kinds of toys for him (again, at her own expense) and many of these are toys which I would have chosen myself. I understand that he does watch some programmes on the telly - some Hi-5, some Spongebob, some Barney and some other children's programmes, but I think he doesn't get a lot of TV time because he is completely uninterested when we come across Spongebob or Barney in the stores. At the moment, he only has eyes for Elmo and since there are no Sesame Street programmes on television now, he definitely did not develop Elmo love from watching television.

When I pick Ryan up in the evening, he is usually playing. I have seen him playing with a shape sorter and some Lego. I have seen him running around throwing and catching a ball and dunking it into the basketball hoop. I have seen him cuddling and taking loving care of a soft toy. I have seen him dancing around to music. I have seen him yelling out the letters while watching Wheel of Fortune. I have seen him pretend to answer and talk on the telephone. I have seen him chuckling while watching Sesame Street on Youtube. I have seen him cuddling under a blanket on a mattress in the living room with his nanny. All great learning through play!

Of course, Ryan has got the stability of a routine at his nanny's. When he is dropped off in the morning, he gets his bath, then his lunch, some playtime and then it's naptime. Then, bath again, milk, playtime, dinner if I'm late and more playtime till I fetch him. He is also exposed to the daily rhythm of a household. He has never been put in a playpen and he is given the full run of the house. He sees his nanny cleaning the house, hanging the laundry, cooking lunch and dinner and answering the door/telephone and he normally wants a piece of the action and he usually gets it. All important practical skills. His nanny also teaches him good habits, like sitting down at the table for meals with no television on, and good grooming, like always wearing pants instead of showing off his diapers.

Ryan's nanny does bring him outdoors in the late afternoon/evening. Sometimes they just go for a walk around the block. She brings him with her to buy fruit at the stall downstairs and the fruitseller talks to Ryan, admires his curls and gives him a free piece of fruit. Sometimes his nanny brings his push-along tricycle and he gets to go for a ride. Sometimes, they go into town. She/her daughter and Ryan have gone on the MRT and the bus before (Richard and I have yet to do that with Ryan!) to the shopping malls and the supermarket where Ryan helps with the groceries (putting them into the shopping cart, etc). Lots of opportunity to observe the world and to participate in day-to-day activities. Wonderful, wonderful.

Now, socialisation. Let me explain that there are different meanings/nuances to the term "socialisation" and when I get asked about socialisation, it is usually in the context of whether I am concerned that Ryan will have problems making friends or playing with others.

First let me say that I am not concerned about Ryan socialising with others at this age. My primary concern at this age is that he develops a rock-solid sense of security, wellbeing and identity. Once this happens, then it will be effortless for him to make friends, get along with teachers, etc. in the future. This is well supported by research - trying to socialise your child without going through the fundamental step of building your child's sense of self first can be detrimental to your child forming healthy relationships in the future.

Having said that, Ryan is not without opportunity to socialise with others while he is at his nanny's.

Ryan's nanny is constantly talking to him and I don't mean, "Eat your food" or "Time to nap" or "Wear your shoes". She actually makes conversation with him - how are you? how come you are so sleepy? did you stay up all night catching chickens? look at that flower! pass me the wipes please!

Ryan's nanny's husband is perhaps Ryan's greatest fan. He calls Ryan "Clever Boy", I've never heard him call Ryan anything else. He is Ryan's ball buddy - they are always playing toss and catch together.

Ryan's nanny and her husband have three grown-up daughters. Two are married and live elsewhere, they visit often. The eldest, Caroline, still lives with them. Caroline absolutely adores Ryan and is constantly playing with him and teaching him stuff - she is the one who taught him how to give a "hug hug" and a "kiss kiss", including how to give a flying kiss (smooching sound included). Ryan is always taking possession of her soft toys and she is always buying him new clothes and toys. She teaches Ryan that he must say "please" and "thank you". She is Ryan's gateway to Elmo - they watch Sesame Street on Youtube on her notebook, with Ryan on her lap.

During the school holidays, Ryan's nanny has a couple of nieces who like to stay over at her house. Ryan's nanny looked after them when they were young, so they are very close to her. They are also in love with Ryan and spend the whole day playing with him when they are there. They love Ryan so much that they even came to support him at one of Ryan's tubbing competitions!

When Ryan was about one year old, Ryan's nanny took another baby into her care, so Ryan had the chance to interact with this little baby and be a "big brother" for a change. Since last month, the little girl is no longer with Ryan's nanny (her parents put her in childcare to be with her older sister) so now it's just Ryan. Also, as mentioned, apart from all these wonderful and loving people who interact with Ryan, Ryan also gets to go out and meet people, whether his nanny's friends and neighbours or just people on the street. His nanny has lived in that area for many years now and she has many friends and is friendly with many of her neighbours so Ryan gets a taste of community life.

So there is definitely no lack of social interaction while Ryan is at his nanny's.

To round off my answer, I would add that, academically, Ryan is doing fine. He knows the entire alphabet and the letter sounds. He knows his numerals from 1-20. He knows his colours and he knows his shapes. He knows many animals and their sounds. He knows many songs and poems/rhymes and is familiar with many stories. He didn't need to go to pre-school to learn any of this. Richard and I taught him everything at home. His nanny may also have taught him these things, I don't know. I do know that she reinforces them during the day. Often she will tell me that Ryan can do this or he can do that. One day she told me, "He can recognise all the letters of the alphabet, even when they're upside down!" So I guess that she must be doing something with him that involves these concepts.

Summing up, Ryan is doing very well with the present arrangement and I would even say that he is doing better than if he were in pre-school. At the crux of it, he gets undivided love and attention the whole day long from his nanny and her family and, when he is not with them, from Richard and me. To me, that is fundamental to a toddler's life. Everything else can wait. When he's four or five, we'll re-visit the arrangement and see if his needs have changed but in the meantime, I'm in no hurry for school.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekend update

We had a long and lazy weekend. Ryan went for all his classes but in between we did very little. We lazed about, relaxed and just slowed down.

My weekend actually began on Friday evening, when I joined some mummies for a steamboat dinner at Chongqing Hotpot at Tanglin Shopping Centre. As usual, it was a noisy and happy affair.

On Saturday afternoon, there was PlayClub. Ryan is so familiar with the class routine that he knows when his participation is required and when it isn't. So for example, he will help to find the magic box and he will tap the magic box as it goes around, but when the teacher goes through the "guess-what's-in-the-magic-box" routine (which is more or less the same act every class), he doesn't bother to watch - he only looks up when the item in the magic box is revealed.


Again I got the feeling that, although he is happy enough in class, he is no longer challenged and there is nothing new for him to learn. I think he will be happy to move on to Edudrama next term.

This term we finally got around to using Ryan's Chinese name in class. For the past three terms the Mandarin teachers have been calling him "Ryan" because we were not able to tell them what his Chinese name is! We know how it sounds in Cantonese but we do not know how to say it in Mandarin and we do not know the Chinese characters for it. We finally got around to copying it off his birth certificate and bringing it to class, together with a photo for his fun pass (yes, his fun pass has been without a photo for three terms too). So this term, the Mandarin teachers have been calling him by his Chinese name, which is completely alien to him (and to us). Well, at least now we know!

Swimming class on Sunday was interesting. Coach showed the students how to lift up their heads to breathe while doing the breast stroke. I feel like they are really swimming now!

Managed to get Ryan to revert to his heads-and-arms-first dive into the pool. Still, on the very last jump, he did a flying leap feet first into the water! Hahaha!


For lunch, we went to Seb's Bistro at Rochester House. Ryan had some indoor play at The Playhouse, while Richard and I took turns to eat. After that, we drove to Ngee Ann City. I went to Art Friend to pick up some craft supplies and Richard popped into Kinokuniya. As for Ryan, he fell asleep in my arms so I had to carry him while I picked out my stuff. After that, it was time for Shichida class.

It was supposed to be Shichida term break but because Ryan's sensei went on leave two weeks back, she arranged a make-up class for us. Like last week, only two students showed up. Actually Ryan's class this term has only three students, including Ryan. I'm not sure if the third one has dropped out as well now. Anyway, the sensei said that for next term, Ryan's class will be combined with another class whose sensei is leaving. She said that she was not sure of the quality of the students in that class and she asked us if we'd rather join her earlier class at 12.15 pm. She said the students in her earlier class were quite well-behaved so it would be quite conducive.

She also mentioned to the two students in class (Ryan and his classmate) that, of all the two year olds that she was teaching, they were the best! That is such a wonderful thing to hear! Between the two, Ryan is definitely the better one - his concentration and skill at doing the activities are much better. The other student's mother actually asked me how we managed to get Ryan to be so focused. Her son still runs about in class sometimes and she said that she thinks it's because her son joined Julia Gabriel's Eduplay. I told her that I didn't think that was the reason because Ryan is also in Julia Gabriel's Eduplay programme.

Anyway, we decided to join the 12.15 pm class for next term, which will be good because we will have more free time in the afternoon.

Went home and, as Ryan didn't seem to want to nap, we brought out the sprinkle mat for some splashing fun. Hope you remember our video back in October last year of Ryan splashing about in the mat!


Ryan hardly napped during the day so it was not surprising that he wanted to call it a night shortly after we got home from dinner.

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