Letter to my son: Dear JJ, you are five

Dear JJ,

You turned 5 with a pop and a bang last week.

We invited some of your friends over and you had a blast with them. Your daddy was the perfect game-master. We created a few games that went quite well with the theme – first the new “recruits” had to get through a “laser” obstacle course, made with raffia string, not real laser of course.

kids party game laser obstacle course

In the next challenge, they had to throw sand-bag “grenades” into the designated denotation area, cordoned by a hoola-hoop. Then they had to throw spider-darts onto a web-board (a nifty toy we got from IKEA recently). Finally, it was shooting time, and everyone had to shoot the target (designed by daddy) with a nerf gun.

simple DIY party games

The games were simple and doable for all the kids who were above toddler age, and we’re glad for two things. 1) That everyone had fun. And 2) That the games didn’t cost us very much at all as we just used whatever we found in our toy boxes and storeroom. All you need is some imagination and a very fun game-master to execute the plan. (Kudos to the daddy!)

We’re also thankful that you had grandma around to feed you your dinner (it’s terribly hard to get you to focus on eating with so many friends and toys around you!) and your favourite aunties around to play with you and help you with fixing your new Lego blocks. (Yes you couldn’t wait to fix/play with all your new toys.)

You are so loved, JJ. And though it may not seem like it in those moments when you’re upset with us or we’re upset with you, we would not trade you for anything else in the world.

Over the past year, I’ve seen you grow in confidence, in social skills, and in godly wisdom.

You’re becoming more expressive with words. Over the last year, you’ve sprouted so many funny but true things from your mouth. Like this one…

JJ: Mummy can you guess whose “sayang” I like most?
Me: Nai Nai (granny)? Ah gong (grandpa)?
JJ: No, no, no. Okay, you guess whether it is mummy or papa?
Me: Papa?
JJ: No!
Me: Oh! Me??
JJ: Yes, it’s mummy!
Me: (grinning ear to ear) But why do you like my sayang the most?
JJ: Because it’s very nice. It’s very…kind.
Me: (Laughing so hard I could cry) Ok, that’s good to know. I sayang you more ok?
JJ: (also grinning) Yes I would like that.

It strikes me that somewhere within you lies a sensitive and compassionate young man. So I take this conversation as a hint that I need to “sayang” (love) you more.

You’re growing in artistic expression.

You did this painting out of the blue one day and said, “This is Jesus on the cross (pointing to the cross in the middle.) He died for our sins because He loves us. When I asked you where is the ‘e’ in “Love” you explained that you ran out of space for it. (Haha!)

Watching you grow in faith and the expression of faith really makes me glad.

child's art about Jesus dying on the cross

We see your caring and sensitive side more often now. Occasionally I see you taking your brother’s hand and helping him with something, or lending him one of your toys. Granted, the rivalry runs high most days and you’re often squabbling with him over something or other. These, we accept, are things we will need to work on, perhaps for the rest of your growing up years…

brothers playing happily on a slide

Being highly sensitive also means that you have your fair share of bad days where you morph into the Incredible Hulk. When it happens, we have to stay by your side and work with you to return back to normal again.

wearing the incredible hulk mask

Do you know your Chinese name means “joy?” Some days, I think God has a sense of humour when he gave me that prompting to incorporate joy into your name. Don’t get me wrong, you do have your joyful days and moments, but…I still believe the best of it is still to come.

One important thing I’ve learnt from parenting you is to Keep It Simple Silly. (KISS for short)

That means to take the time to listen to you, play with you, explore places with you, and deal lots of hugs and kisses and prayers (not so much lectures and consequences, though we must of course have a few of those.)

JJ_boy blowing candle

You don’t need complex and over-planned schedules. You just need our pure and simple presence — our just being there.

We love you, our dearest JJ.

And I repeat, we will never ever trade you for anything else in the world. God has a beautiful and special plan for your life. I can’t wait to see it unfold, and I pray you will stick by Him, and let Him lead you each step of the way.

xoxo, mummy

JJ with his happy family

Every Child Should Learn To Code, Says Co-founder of Tink Tank

Can you believe that kids as young as 7 can code some bananas to make music? Here is Vera and Dana (Life’s Tiny Miracles) playing on their banana piano!

How did they do it?

Well the teachers from Tink Tank first demonstrated to the kids how to code a virtual piano in Scratch, and then got them to do it on their own in pairs. They got to choose the characters that they liked and followed some basic steps to code their own piano.

The first code is to detect which arrow key is pressed, the second code is to tell the computer to play a certain piano note and the third code is the animation that they chose for their character, be it to change costume or colour or position, etc. Subsequently we connect the laptop to makey makey, which is an invention kit that turns everyday objects into touchpads.

 

But how does learning to code really benefit kids?  Deddy Setiadi, co-founder of Tink Tank shares more in this exclusive interview…

I believe that there has been a lot of buzz in recent times about how coding is the new literacy and phrases like “digital literacy” is becoming more commonplace. While our current world is shaped fundamentally by subjects likes math and science that we learn in school, the current and future world that we live in will be very much a digital world, where our lives are also fundamentally shaped by computers and connected devices.

A lack of literacy of programming may be crippling in future as it is undesirable to merely be passive consumers of technology. That’s why we at Tink Tank feel that every child should learn to code or at least have some exposure to it.

While not every child wants a career as a programmer, coding is a valuable life skill for everyone.

 

No matter what path you choose as your career in future, computer science skills will prove valuable. For instance, a personnel in marketing will benefit as marketing has gone digital. Crucial components of marketing such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will likely involve HTML coding and using tools like Google Analytics. Of course, if your child is going to work in the IT sector, he/she will likely have excellent job prospects because with Singapore working towards becoming a “smart nation”, the Ministry of Communications and Information has announced recently that an additional 30,000 ICT jobs will need to be filled by 2020.

In addition, attending programming classes will help build up important life skills such as problem solving and computational thinking skills. Coding is very sequential – you need to know what to write and why one code comes after another. One will be able to make logical connections that can help him learn to analyse different situations and look at the big picture before drilling down to the smaller steps to reach the goal. Computational thinking also allows kids to grasp concepts like algorithms, variables and arithmetic operators. Also, whenever they do hands on coding activities and face errors, kids will learn to identify the problem and debug the programme.

 

What is the optimal age to begin learning coding?

I think 8 years old onwards would be appropriate as children of this age would have developed an adequate level of logical maturity, while still be very open to learning new concepts and have a strong curiosity about their environment.

 

What do beginners coding programmes involve?

There has been a growing amount of free online coding tutorials that are popular among both kids and adults, such as Hour of Code. Depending on age group and interest, people normally start off by learning app creation or basic website design/development. It may sound daunting, but it’s actually really easy to get started! For kids, essentially what they need is to be fairly familiar with simple typing and the use of the laptop and be able to grasp simple instructions in English and follow them.

 

We live in a gadget-filled world. How can parents manage children’s use of computers and gadgets, even while exposing them to interesting programmes such as coding?

Yes, this is a concern that many of us have as it is not easy to strike a good balance. I believe that the way to best of managing also differs depending on how old the child is and how much prior exposure he/she already has to devices.  Perhaps when first starting to introduce the kids to such devices, parents can let kids use devices that have pre-installed coding / learn-to-code apps or games, but restrict the use of internet – either by blocking the internet entirely, or blocking certain websites like Facebook, 9gag etc.

Before the device reaches the hands of their kids, it should already be prepared for its use – educational purposes only.

Of course it will help if parents also have some knowledge on coding, or other relevant technical knowledge to further guide the kids along.

As the kids grow, I think the focus transitions to teaching children about responsible use of their devices, which isn’t limited to not losing it or breaking it, but also using it for the right purposes. It is best not to be too restrictive and to give the kid some freedom and trust because you do not want them to be doing things out of spite or defiance. However, I think it would be good to be transparent about checking their use of the device, because doing it behind their backs will just make them take the undesirable surfing elsewhere.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Deddy!

Exclusive offer for readers for Tink Tank holiday coding workshops

Tink Tank is offering a special promotion price of $25 (original price: $150) for readers who want to sign up for their upcoming First Line Of Code workshops in June. Tailored for children between 8-12 years old.  Just enter the code “JUNEDISCOUNT” when booking your slot!

Through this workshop, your kids will:

1) Be exposed to basic computer science concepts using Lightbot, an educational video game and Coding Farmers, a fun board game.

2) Write their first line of codes and create computer games using Scratch.

Workshop details:

  • Date: 05 June 2016 OR 12 June 2016 OR 19 June 2016
  • Time: 8.30am-12.30pm OR 1.30pm-5.30pm
  • Price: Special price of $25 for readers. Just enter “JUNEDISCOUNT” when booking your slot! (Original price is $150)
  • Venue Singapore Shopping Centre, 190 Clemenceau Ave, 239924 (Beside Parkmall), nearest MRT station: Dhoby Ghaut 
  • Things to bring along: Fully charged laptop and stationery. (Let us know if you are unable to do so, and we will make arrangements for a spare laptop.)
  • Note: Parents are invited to join the kids at 12noon or 5pm respectively for parents’ presentation.

Workshops are kept to a cosy 8-10 kids per session so seats tend to run out pretty quickly. Sign up now!

**Thanks, Tink Tank, for the special offer, and for having us learn to code with you guys!

Let your kids develop resilience through adventure camps (exclusive offer in post)

Vera and JJ were invited to attend one of Insight N Access’ resilience camps last year. And they had a really fun and fruitful time.

The beauty of the camp lay in the great outdoors. The kids had the freedom to run and explore, climb grassy hills and cross drains. They learnt a lot about teamwork and looking out for others.

resilience camp, exploring nature

Exploring nature and collecting bags filled with curiosities

 

I don’t know about you, but we don’t often get the chance to wade in calf-high mud…This was definitely outside of most Singaporean children’s comfort zone. But I think these experiences help to build a greater confidence, an appreciation of nature, and an appetite for adventure. (Think OBS but tailored for young kids!)

resilience camp, exploring the outdoors

Getting their hands (and feet) dirty, and soaring high under watchful eyes

resilience camps by Insight N Access, children having fun playing sports

Working up a sweat playing a variety of outdoor games

build resilience through camps

The best part is probably shooting one of your coaches with a water gun!

 

The kids also got involved in cooking and planning their own lunches, and learnt how to cooperate as a team to design and spruce up their own festive tree (using only recycled materials) for a competition.

making pizza and crafting with recycled materials

Making their own pizza dough and crafting a festive tree with recycled materials in a team

camping in tents by night

Lights out, but still kept safe and warm

These camps are designed to let your child explore and discover themselves in nature, awaken their senses, harness their intuitive powers and gratify their curiosity.

Run by experienced sports coaches and with a high coach-to-child ratio, the camps aim to develop essential life skills like resilience, collaboration, independence and empathy in your child.

If you’re looking for a fun and unforgettable camp experience for your child, do check these out!

CAMP ADVENTURE II

  • Date: 13 – 17 June
  • Duration: 5 days (9am – 5pm)
  • Recommended for 6-10 yr olds. Investment: $700
  • Open to 20 campers only, this 5 day non-residential camp will empower campers’ creativity through making and tinkering. It teaches using simple parts and tools to realise ideas. The activities offers opportunities to realise their creative potential. The experience leads to improved self esteem and confidence.

Emphasis: Creativity, Resilience, Critical Thinking.

Sign up here.

CAMP DISCOVER II

  • Date: 20 – 22 June
  • Duration: 3 days / 2 nights
  • Recommended for 8-12 yr olds. Investment: $600
  • Open to 20 campers only, this is a camp that will allow children to discover their innate gifts in life. The itinerary includes sleeping under the stars, night trekking and outdoor cooking.

Emphasis: Assertiveness,Empathy,Independence, Collaboration, Resilience and Leadership.

Sign up here.

EXCLUSIVE OFFER TO READERS

The wonderful team at Insight N Access is offering our readers $50 off their camp fee. Just enter promo code “ILOVEJUNECAMP” on the sign-up form. Enjoy this special offer!

For more details, please email insightNaccess@gmail.com. You can view their latest Youtube camp highlights video here. You can also keep updated by liking Insight N Access Facebook page.

9 Ways To Build Emotional Intelligence in Children

Ways to build emotional intelligence in children

According to this article, emotion coaching is one of the most important parenting practices of all time. Kids can be awfully emotional, particularly around the ages of 2-5 years. My middle child, JJ, had one dark day last week. A day when everything fell apart, laying on the ground like dejected pieces of uncooperative Lego.

He wanted his Lego fixed in a particular way. But frustration got the better of him. (You know how it is when we get frustrated right? Nothing works, and everything seems to be pitted against us.)

He melted into a boiling mess. I was also getting frustrated, but I stood by and tried to console and encourage him, offering my help whenever his fingers struggled.

“This can be hard sometimes,” I offered, “the pieces keep falling off.”

“They just don’t act the way we want them to, don’t they?”

“How frustrating.”

I tried to use empathy and acknowledge his feelings.

At some points, he kept quiet, which I took as a good sign. But as he kept going and new struggles emerged, he would start up again.

As you can probably tell, we’ve experienced our fair share of bad days. But I’ve learnt some very valuable lessons along the way, and here are nine of them.

1. Focus on the problem. Don’t view the child as the problem.

Trust me, I know it’s so easy to look at your kid and start thinking, “you’re being a pain in the a** again.” But the moment we do this, we start to see our child as being the problem, instead of having a need that needs to be resolved. It takes our attention away from the problem at hand and curbs our ability to solve it.

2. Try not to get angry

Over-reacting comes easy when you’re already irritable or just had it up to here on any given day. But take some breaths and keep calm, and things usually take a turn for the better. At the very least, they will learn to eventually calm down because you are.

If you do react, try to regain composure by leaving the scene for a couple of minutes – drink some water or just look at the sky – whatever that helps you refocus. Then head in there and press rewind. It doesn’t always need to go downhill, you’re capable of turning around and trudging uphill. The same goes for your child.

It isn’t easy, especially in the heat of the moment. But this encourages me:

Try thinking this way: ‘You know, I don’t want my child behaving like this, but right at the moment he is. I can handle this. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, I give him permission to do this right now. In time, we’ll learn something new.’ When in your heart and mind you give him permission to be the way he is, your stress level goes down and you feel more in control. It works.

- Helping Your Kids Deal with Anger, Fear, and Sadness, H. Norman Wright

3. Involve them in problem-solving

Tell yourself, there are at least 10 ways to resolve this peacefully. Verbalize your thought process. Let your child see first-hand how problem-solving is done and you’ll see him following your example down the road. “Hmm, you want your skate-scooter now but mummy forgot to bring it out for you today. What can we do about it?” If it’s the first few times you’re problem-solving together, maybe give some prompts or suggestions as starters. (“Hmm, shall we race home and see who gets to the scooter first?)

You’ll be surprised. Sometimes your child will come up with his own creative solution; at the very least it will distract him from his overflowing emotions and start thinking, which is exactly what you want.

4. Label their feelings.

Give him the words to express his frustration. Eg., Are you feeling sad or mad? The funny thing is many emotions get expressed through (or covered up by) anger. When someone feels hurt or rejected or scared, it’s common to see them lashing out in anger. But it’s good for us to be able to recognise the actual emotion that’s going on and be able to process it in a healthy way.

The book I quoted above has this to say in relation to identifying feelings:

Repeat out loud what you think is occurring. If your child was hurt, let him experience hurt. If your child was afraid, let him experience fear. If your child was frustrated, let him experience frustration.

5. Give them avenues to express their emotions

We all need healthy ways to express our emotions, especially when they are overwhelming and negative. One way is  to talk about them with someone you trust. Now as much as you may find it unnatural to share about your feelings with your kids (especially when you’re feeling cranky or upset yourself), it actually helps them to see you model how it’s done.

After that unhappy episode with his lego, we started to play with some chalk. I suggested to JJ to draw out his feelings when his lego wouldn’t cooperate, and he drew an angry face on the ground. (See below) The next time, he gets unhappy with his toys or siblings, I’ll remember to ask him to DRAW his emotions out. Or maybe suggest that he release the negative energy by cycling up and down the block really fast. (I know going for a walk/run certainly helps to lift my mood!)

chalk drawing of angry face

6. Give opportunities for social and peer to peer interaction

Plan play dates. Or just head down to the playground regularly so he is able to make new friends, or play with existing ones. To be honest, sometimes I’m tempted to stay away from such play dates because of the 101 possibly negative things that could happen. But I realise that kids just need practice, and the more he socialises, the more he gets to learn about coping with another person’s demands or needs, and negotiating with others.

7. Use games as a tool

If you have simple boardgames that are age-appropriate for your kids, play with them. There are so many things that you can learn through games, such as how to be a gracious winner or loser, turn-taking, and being patient while waiting for the others to make their moves.

8 . The aftermath

This is an important stage of building emotional awareness. Take advantage of it; if you don’t, it’s like having a quarrel with your spouse and then sweeping it under the carpet. No one learns anything from it, and the incident is very likely to repeat itself.

The aftermath is where you are both calm and able to think back to the incident and explore questions like, “How did you feel when [incident] happened?” and “What can we do differently next time?”

9. Seize teachable moments

Teachable moments crop up every day, and the best way to impart emotion skills is to seize these moments.

Our children are constantly showing us how they feel through their facial expressions, how tightly they hold our hands, or by their tentative walk. We can take these precious times to talk with them how they feel and to listen and share our own feelings. Parents and teachers often don’t take the time to talk about feelings, and yet when we do, we get enormous rewards. We give our children a vocabulary that will help them navigate through the difficult moments and celebrate the great moments with others. These are the children who will be there and to say “Love you.” – Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn

What are some strategies that you employ at home to train your kids emotionally? Please share them with us in the comments below.

If this article has been helpful, do share them with your friends.

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