Let the Christmas decorations begin!

It’s a yearly tradition in our home to put up some Christmas decor around the house. We don’t usually make a huge deal out of it, and we try to keep it simple, easy, and fuss-free.

Here is the daddy tying up silver balls to the curtain railing, with curling ribbon. Men are usually better at these things…(Okay, in our house anyway!)

Of course, little boy wants to lend a hand too! Especially by helping to fish out these pretty shiny balls. We got him to be the ball-passer to daddy, and he did a pretty good job doing that!

Here is what we did to the entrance of our study-cum-play area. Similar to the balcony but with assorted decorative items like bells, stars and angels.

Personally, I think the silver beads make the place look a little too elegant, but still, it does add a festive touch to our home. Plus, the kids like to reach out and try to make a grab for the beads.

We are almost ready for Christmas – a most wonderful time of the year! I can’t believe that it’s just two weeks away!

Have you decorated your home too?¬†ūüôā

Let our children play! 20 easy ways to play at home

Play is a non-negotiable for kids. It’s a need, not a want. It’s the first thing on their minds when they wake up – even before breakfast – and probably also the last thing on their minds before they fall asleep.

As Prime Minister Lee himself also acknowledged in his recent National Day rally speech, we can and should let our children play during these precious preschool years.

However, due to the hurried lives we lead today, the odds seem to stand against play. The increasing attention being paid to academic development and enrichment activities goes against the grain of free and easy child-centered play.

All of that sounds pretty gloomy, but here is the good news. In spite of the competitive environment, you can make a choice to let your kids play. It’s easy and there are so many psychological, cognitive and social benefits to play. As psychologist Lawrence Cohen points out, play is a child‚Äôs way of exploring the world, communicating feelings, bonding with their care-givers, and dealing with stress and anxiety.

Most of all, I think play is a child’s special love language, so the more you play with them, the more love they’re receiving!

You don’t need state-of-the-art toys or the latest gadgets. You don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars. All you need is to put on your play-hat. Here are some ideas to get you started…

1. Alphabet workout! – Get your child to do the alphabet using their body. Allow them to use other props if necessary or even an accomplice, especially for letters like “H” (two people standing facing each other and joining hands). Easy fun for the family!

2. Play bowling with recycled drink bottles and a soft ball.

home bowling with recycled bottles

3.¬†Pitch a tent in the living room and pretend you’re going camping.

4. Take out an old muffin tray and let your toddler have fun scooping pebbles from one part to another. Can also try sorting by colours.

5. Put on some fun music and dance with the kids. (Have you tried the Rhinoceros Tap? Hilarious fun!)

6. Make funny faces in the mirror and see who’s the funniest. (Capture these on camera and recap for a good laugh afterwards.)

7. Create a colourful “sand pit” with a large plastic container, some rice grains and food colouring, and give the kids scoops and pails. You can easily turn this into a craft session with some glue and drawing paper, but you may want to lay newspaper on the floor before doing this, or do this at the balcony or outdoors. (Tip: go easy on the food colouring, as a little goes a long way. Let the coloured rice dry first before playing.)

8. Play dress-up!

9. Explore nostalgic games with your kids such as five stones. Adjust the rules of the game according to your child’s age. For example, you can place a small hoop or draw a square on a paper, and ask your child to throw as many stones into the hoop / square as possible!

10. Bedtime silliness! Daddy or mummy gets to piggyback the kids to bed. Alternatively, you can try making a bedtime sandwich – where kids take turns getting squashed in between mummy and daddy. (Caution: Only try this with preschoolers and not infants okay?)

11. Concoct-a-potion using flour, water, food colouring. Try mixing in shaving cream or other gooey stuff lying in your house, just so you can see what happens. Bonus: Put on a wizard’s hat, and pretend you’re mixing a magic potion.

12. Pillow fight!

13. Read a book and act it out. This was actually an idea suggested by a reader on my recent post, We’re going on a bear hunt. The best part about this is that any good book can be inspiration for dramatic play, and you can improvise any way you like using whatever materials or “obstacles” you can find in the home. Great for building the imagination. Alternatively, do some craft-work inspired by the book. For instance, if your child loves The Hungry Caterpillar, you can try out these caterpillar crafts.

14. Peek-a-boo¬†sensory play – this game is good for younger children and infants. Put different materials of different textures into a bag and let your child reach his hand in to touch. Use words to describe each specific material, such as “soft”, “tickly”, “rough”, and “furry”.

15. Name hopscotch – use crayon or chalk to draw boxes, and write each letter of your child’s name on each box, starting with the first box.

16. Crayon rocks – this was quite an accidental discovery. Fellow mum-blogger Evelyn was the one who introduced crayon rocks to me. Besides being easy for little hands to handle, I found that they were good for counting as well. You can also divide the colourful rocks into little groups like we’ve done below, to get a bit of math action. If you’d like to purchase some, you can find them from SG baby mall or FoxySales.

crayon rocks

17. Tear paper and guess the animal – Have you ever imagined clouds looking like animals? Well, this is simply that. Give your child different coloured pieces of paper and ask her to randomly tear them into different shapes. Guess what animal or object each piece looks like. You can further build on this game by turning it into a craft session – add on the different parts of the animal’s body onto it using crayons or whatever you have at home.

18. Puppet play – Puppets are fun props to have around the home. You can make them dance to music or better still, rope in the kids and create your own little puppet drama!

19. Pack a picnic and sit around the balcony to enjoy it. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a picnic than in the great outdoors, so this comes a close second. The best part? Get everyone to close their eyes and make-believe they’re at a beautiful garden in a country of your choice. ūüėČ

20.¬†Make goopMix¬†1/2 cup of corn flour and 1/4 cup of water in a bowl, and add 2 to 3 drops of food colouring. It’s like ¬†half dough, half body paint. Let the kids play and make a mess just before bath-time.

There! I’ve tried my best to keep these ideas simple and either costing nothing or next to nothing. And I really hope you guys have fun with them!

PS. Let your kids explore and use their imagination. You’ll be surprised to see how they build on a game or reinvent the rules. By all means, let them try different ways to play, and take their cue when they’re tired or want to do something else.

On going green – an interview with the founders of Green Living

I had the pleasure of catching up with Delphinia Tam-Lower and Militza Maury, the founders of Green Living, a workshop designed to share the simplest tools, tips and tricks to start us all leading greener, simpler and healthier lives.

Here are snippets of our conversation. If you’re thinking about going green, read on to find out why you should get started, and how.¬†

~~~

Q) How did you guys get started on this green project?

Del: My “green consciousness” really only started when my daughter developed eczema as a baby. That made me a lot more aware of what was going into the food, skincare and other products we use around her. My mum-in-law, who lives on a farm in S.E. Queensland in Australia, was always a natural remedies advocate and when she began making all-natural skin care products for my daughter, that was how Four Cow Farm came about.

Militza: Del was already holding natural skincare workshops at Four Cow Farm. We got to know each other through Little Green Dot, and we decided to collaborate because we shared similar ideals. We thought it’d be great to organize workshops on different green topics, and that was how Green Living was born.

Q) Why should parents take the natural route?

Del: Going natural saves money, time, keeps our families safer and saves the planet! Learning the details and science behind the conventional options makes you realise that the natural route really is best. And more studies are backing that up in many different areas, from cleaning to food to skincare.

Militza:¬†Going natural is about ridding yourself of excesses and¬†simplifying¬†your life. There are thousands of products aimed at parents, shouting for our attention and half of it we don’t even really need. For me, choosing to shut out the noise has been incredibly liberating. And learning to make your own products, realising that you can make it simpler and better than most of what’s being sold out there, is incredibly empowering!

Q) Going natural seems so overwhelming. Where should I start?

Del:¬†Household cleaning is a good place to start. It’s so key because it touches every part of your house, and yet it’s simple too. It’s about being aware and intentionally reducing the amount of chemicals that you bring into your home.

Militza: The reason why we clean is to keep our families healthy and safe. Once you get started, you really start to see the kind of things that goes into the stuff you use on a daily basis, and then you can take small steps to change the things that you use, and build new habits.

Q) There seems to be a great deal to learn and do. Is it really worth the effort?

Del: Detoxing the home is totally worth the effort. Start with one thing, and you’ll soon find that this isn’t difficult at all. ¬†

Militza: For a start, we really need to re-think the entire idea of cleaning. You don’t need a sterile environment in the home, I mean, you’re not doing surgery in the kitchen!

Take it one step at a time. For general cleaning, use vinegar. It has natural antimicrobial properties, and it basically can replace the disinfectants that you use. Once you get going, it can actually be quite fun. And you can start experimenting with different herbs, and use their natural properties to create the effects that you need. For example, lemon helps to cut grease, so lemon juice can be added to a vinegar solution to make a de-greasing solution. And for anything that you need to scrub, just mix vinegar and baking soda, which is effective for removing soap scum and stains.

The best part is, these are all food-grade items, and you no longer need to worry about what happens if your child gets in contact with them.

Q) How do we know that these natural methods work?

Del: We do a lot of research into the methods we recommend (quite a number of natural methods have actually been tested and researched by scientists) and we test these out in our own homes! There’s a science behind these natural methods that make them work, and that’s what we try to explain to those who attend our workshops.

Militza: We are about finding real and practical solutions to our everyday needs…these are not old wives’ tales! The methods and the ingredients that we talk about have been used throughout time and are shown to be effective by modern scientific testing. So we do the research, we use these methods in our own homes, and we believe in them! ¬†¬†

Here’s a study done which tested vinegar against e-coli¬†and found vinegar to effectively¬†inhibit its¬†growth. What’s interesting too is that they found that adding table salt to the solution made it even more effective for the prevention of bacterial food poisoning. We will definitely be showing parents how to clean with vinegar and table salt to maintain a healthy home.

Q) Will going natural burn a hole in my pocket?

Militza: Not really. On the contrary, it might help you save a bit in the long run. Because as you get used to DIY and using things like baking soda and vinegar (which are cheap when you buy in bulk), you might realise that you no longer need a different product for each area of your home. You also spend less time shopping. So with the money that you save, you can think about investing them in really quality products that you believe in.

Q) I’m game to try this out, but how do I convince my mum to go natural too?

Del: I think you can start with an area which she uses frequently, for example the kitchen top, and try showing her what she can use in place of her usual cleaner. Once she sees that it works, it gets easier to move on from that specific area to other areas. It all begins with simple steps!

~~~

Thanks, Militza and Del, for sharing your experience on going green with us!

If you want to find out more about going green, do check out their Green Living Facebook page for more updates on upcoming workshops. You can also read about what I learnt from their ‘Non-toxic homes’ workshop.

Non-toxic homes, healthier families

green - cleaner's basket

What do you use to clean your house? Have you ever thought about what goes into your common bottle of household cleaner? If you’re anything like me, chances are it’s never really crossed your mind.

I attended a Green Living workshop conducted by Militza Maury and Delphinia Tam-Lower today.¬†Militza is the founder and author of¬†Little Green Dot, an online guide to the best ideas, brands and places to living an eco-friendly lifestyle, and Del’s family is behind¬†Four Cow Farm, a range of all-natural baby skincare made right on the family farm in Australia.

Together, they taught us how to detox our home. For starters, they introduced us to a few potent and toxic ingredients that are commonly found in everyday household cleaners, such as:

  • Bleach (which releases poisonous fumes when mixed with certain chemicals, like those in toilet bowl cleaners)
  • Phthalates (linked to asthma and allergies in children, birth defects in male children, and reduced sperm count in adult males)
  • Fragrances (primary emitters of Volatile Organic Compounds, many of which have carcinogenic potential)
  • Silica (known to be cancer-causing when inhaled. Found in many abrasive cleaners.)

Then they taught us to use these common kitchen ingredients:

  • Baking soda (great for absorbing odors and neutralizing the pH of water, which helps detergents to work better)
  • Vinegar (great for breaking down minerals found in water, which is the cause of water sans. Also a disinfectant, shown to kill viruses, germs and bacteria. Do not use on marble as it is acidic.)
  • Olive oil (great for hydrating and adding shine to wood and leather)
  • Herbs & Spices (many contain natural antimicrobial properties, can also be used to add a natural scent to your cleaning solutions)
  • Lemon (helps to cut grease, bleach and disinfect)

Okay, so now we know what’s good and what’s not. Then what? If you’re a beginner like me, it’s better to take it one step at a time.¬†Here’s where the action plan they provided comes in handy.

1. Review your products at home

Scrutinize your household cleaning products; read the ingredients and look for warnings. Consider chucking those with bad ingredients away.

2. Find safer alternatives

You can either buy products that do not contain any bad ingredients. Or simply make your own.

3. Keep questioning, keep researching

Make it a point to read the label of what you are buying. Develop a critical mind, and don’t be fooled by clever marketing language. (For example, I discovered today that “organic” vegetables does not mean no pesticide, it just means certain approved pesticides are used instead.)

Lastly, I would like to say this: information is power, but it is people and relationships that empower.¬†Get connected with like-minded people and share ideas and solutions with one another. (This is where I’m thankful for the opportunity to meet Del and Militza, and for friends who have inspired me to think green.)

Although I went home with a lot of information, what’s more important is that a new window in my mind has been opened. I’m going to be far more critical and wary of products and labels from now on.

Oh yes, before I forget, I also got to take home some DIY cleaning agents that we made on the spot. (What’s pretty amazing is that these were so simple to make! Tip: You just need to keep lots of glass bottles to hold your concoctions with.)

Here is the grease-remover, made of two parts water and 1 part vinegar, plus a good measure of lemon juice. (I was quite excited to try it out, so I used some to wipe down the sink, and it helped to get rid of some of the water stains quite effectively.)

green greasecutter

And this is the deodorizer – mainly baking soda with your choice of tea leaves or dried herbs, which can be used to replace common cleaners such as Febreze. I chose to add a mix of chamomile, lime, flowers, lavender, and rose petals, which our hosts kindly provided us with. We are supposed to just sprinkle the mixture onto our upholstery or mattresses, leave them for a few hours, and then vacuum it up.

green deodoriser

Don’t they look quite pretty too? You can even give them away as gifts to inspire others. It was quite thoughtful of our hosts to provide us with pens, ribbons, ready-made stickers and stuff!

green - pretty things

All in all, I give the workshop two thumbs up. We had loads of fun learning about cleaning (I mean, I seriously never thought I would get this excited over housework. Like, seriously?)

I was also happy to bring home stuff that I can actually use!

I must confess I felt a little heavy-hearted though, because I wish I had been aware of these things earlier. I keep kicking myself to stop thinking of the toxins that we’ve been inhaling all this while.

Still, better late than never…

Here are some of the recipes we took home. Do give it a try, or if you need more information, feel free to get in touch with Militza or Del, or find out when their next Green Living workshop will be held.¬†If you’d like to stay informed on the latest¬†knowledge, tips and tools to help make our lives greener, simpler, and healthier, do check out their¬†Facebook page.

I’m so happy to be kick-starting a green project for our home. Will¬†update you guys when I make progress. Please let me know if you’re going to embark on this mission too ya? And yes, please share whatever ideas you may have. Would love to hear em!

PS. I met a lovely mom blogger called Jayne at the workshop. Do also read about her green experience here.

PPS. Ruth did a pretty cool summary of the different uses of baking soda, and Delphine also shares about her experience with the Green Living workshop. Be sure to check out their posts for more details!

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