Sunday, April 29, 2012


I have to admit. I am panicking a little bit because Sonshine's spoken and written English is still below average. It baffles me that he can read, understand the context, has a wide vocabulary but has problems composing a structurally correct sentence!
The Complete Writer: Writing with Ease:

So, i am going do whatever i can to help him. I am using Susan Wise Bauer's Writing with Ease curriculum (I was introduced to this book while reading Adventures of bear). I am not following strictly just using it as a guideline. It's quite technical & involves alot of copywork and narration.

I used to think copywork is a boring way to teach a kid to write. But now i think otherwise! I realised while one can read it does not mean one can write. There are many writing rules that a reader tend to overlook. For instance, capital letters, punctuation marks etc. Copywork is one great way to highlight these writing rules to a young writer. Like most kids, sonshine missed out the capital letters & punctuation marks on his first copywork which affirms that reading and writing are not one and the same. I feel copywork helps to drill into the child the correct sentence structure more deeply than reading.

I also like the narration exercise recommended by the author. It involves reading a short passage or a book with the child and then have the child answer (verbal) in full to questions relating to the passage. I think this is a great activity to help Sonshine speak/answer in proper sentences which will eventually help him in his Comprehension work.

Overall, i like the curriculum because the suggested activities are very short and simple. It doesn't require an hour or even 30 minutes of the child's time, just 5-15 minutes will do. However, i choose to use my own choice of book titles rather than her recommended books. I am using mostly books that we borrow from the library. 

Mouse Was Mad

This week, i've had sonshine copy short sentences (no pictures, too lazy to take) from the kumon reading book and this book, Mouse was Mad (a book we adore!). I'm just grateful he didn't, hasn't resisted and has been quite receptive to copywork. As for narration, i use the library books we've been reading each night. After reading a page, i'd ask a simple question and have him answer me in complete, grammatically correct sentences.

How i interest my baby to read

This is the number of books babydoll reads in a sitting. I try to read to her 3 times a day and usually she would sit on my lap & look at the books attentively while i read this amount of books aloud to her. And then, after i am done reading with the stack of books, she would fuss for more books or insist i read some books again.

Of course, babydoll, like any other babies, started off with limited attention span. She would either look or crawl away.Same goes for sonshine. But i adhere to some tips and gradually both my kids developed the interest & (*had to scoot off halfway while typing this because the girl was yelling for me to read a book to her!*) longer attention span for books.

1) Choose books with one word or short phrases.
Babies have short attention span, hence it would be too ambitious to expect them to sit through a storybook.
 I usually start reading books with one word on a page.
Gradually choose books with more words, longer phrases as the baby's interest & attention grows longer.

2) When i first introduce reading books, I'll read very fast (that's another reason why i choose very short books) again due to their short attention span. Once she shows more interest, I'll read at a slower pace.

3) I'll start off with just one or two books then gradually increase according to her ability to focus.

4) Start reading at a very very young age, at best 6 months when the baby can sit up. The idea is to introduce this routine and make it the baby's habit to read daily. At this age, they are not so mobile, so you've got a captive audience. They have no choice but listen to you read! Make it a habit such that even when they grow independent, they will still accept reading as part of their daily routine. Also, be very consistent & do it at a regular time in the day so that the baby will grow to expect it (& enjoy).

5) Be a role model. Read in front of your kids. Be it the newspaper, a magazine etc. I like to read and sometimes have a book at hand that i would dive into. Whenever i can, i'd read in front of Sonshine who upon seeing me would then pick a book himself and read quietly next to me. AH, bliss!

Of course, these are not fail proof tips. I think it is also very much dependent on the child's personality and every household have their own personal tips. If you are not successful when the baby is at 6 months, try again at 10 months, if not, try again at 12 months, try & try again. Vary your approach & keep trying. I believe the child will eventually pick up the love of reading.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chinese readers

It was not until i was sourcing out for good Chinese readers for my nephew that i realised i actually bought quite a number myself. It occured to me that  we own more Chinese books than English! Goes to show how much importance i place on learning mandarin- i think. Nah, it's because it is really difficult to look for a Chinese book that suit our style at the local library that i figured it's better to buy, saves time!

Here is a list of the Chinese readers we have. We don't just have one book in a series, we have the entire set at home!

This was the first Mandarin book i bought for sonshine. I liked the big fonts, minimal words and that it is written in a nursery rhyme format. I read these books to sonshine when he was a toddler.

I think Pelangi Mandarin books get too little exposure, considering that they are really, really good books. I love that the words are simple, fonts are relatively big and there's only one sentence per page. It makes reading (aloud) very easy, the illustrations are attractive too! Plus, the story is usually very short so for those kids who get impatient with Mandarin books, this should fit into their short attention span. Sonshine loved these books when he was a toddler but i am going to pull them out of the shelf again. I think these books are also great to use for teaching the child simple sentence structures.

I think every Singaporean household has a set of Scroll readers! I bought 60 scroll books in a breath! Again, words are huge, story is short. But unlike the Pelangi books, the stories are usually shorter. The purpose of these books is to teach the child new words not so much of giving a great storyline.

I bought a set of this guessed it! The words are simple and fonts are big! LOL. But the great thing about these books is that the sentences get repeated throughout the book. It is so repetitive that it is impossible for the child not know how to read the words! LOL

I love Beany's Mandarin books! I was a tad dissapointed that it comes in only 4-5 (?) books. I wish they published more books! I love that these books are localised. Sonshine loves our transportation system so the above book which shows all our local transport, are right up his alley!

And this is our latest addition! I shunned from this series during sonny's time because i felt it was way too costly. Moreover, sonshine was learning mandarin very well through our flashcards session that i didn't see the need to purchase them.
But i felt the need to get it for babydoll this time round. She prefers to read than to look at the flashcards. She is especially receptive to books that show a word on one page and picture on the other- which is exactly how this book is designed.

Apart from these books, there are also other books that i bought still sitting very nicely on our shelf. I bought a stack of storyline based and small fonts type of Mandarin books. Unfortunately, sonshine is not liking them. He much prefers simple readers like those books above. He's one of 'em kids who has very short patience for Mandarin books!

And not forgetting the other supplementary tools that i bought such as 四五快读 and other learning materials (which i'll share in later posts).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

To prepare or not to prepare?

Kei's Bay posted a question on her blog about whether it is necessary to send our preschoolers for preparatory classes and why we can't just rely on the kindergartens to transit them into Primary school. Although, it was a general question, i took it upon myself and asked myself if it was needful for me to prepare Sonshine for Primary school and why couldn't i just let him learn at his preschool's pace? Wow, did i think hard, i even re-evaluated the objectives of my home teaching.

So is it necessary? After much thought and a chat with a mom who has a Primary school going kid, i think it's necessary and unnecessary- classic answer ain't it?

I think necessary because there are certain skill set & knowledge the child must posses before entering Primary school. That friend said it is a must for the child to know how to read- at the very least. She pointed out that everything, except for Mandarin of course, is taught in English. If the kid can't read, it is virtually impossible for him to keep up. I reckon this applies to Mandarin as well. Looking at the current curriculum,  the child must already know how to read in Mandarin. Otherwise, there is no way he can survive even the first lesson. I concluded, it IS necessary to send the preschooler for preparatory classes if he does not have those (& some others like hand-writing etc) basic skills.

I think not necessary because there's really no need for the child to be ahead of the school's syllabus. It doesn't mean that the child would not be able to keep up if he follows the class syllabus. A child with a head start may not necessarily mean he will do very well in school. That said, some say it is necessary (and even a MUST) for students attending 'top' schools to attend tuition classes. Apparently, such schools EXPECT the students to be ahead of the school's curriculum. Boy, am i glad that i am NOT sending my children to any of these schools. I will run to the far end, far far away from these schools.

This brings me to my next question (to myself). Why am i home teaching my son, and teaching him in advance? To answer this, i had to back track to the beginning of my homeschooling with sonny.

I remember my primary objective was to teach him to read, that was all. I never started out with an elaborate plan for him to learn Primary 1 syllabus by the age of 5. It was never my intention. In fact, i thought i would be back to the workforce by the time he's 5! 

I recall when he showed signs that he could read, i was motivated to teach him to read more words. So i kept teaching him words from across subjects, Food, transportation, animals, geography and i inevitably was led to numbers. To my delight, he learnt numbers and counting very well too. I then accidentally found out he could add & subtract simple sums. And then, i thought, hey maybe he could also multiply- & he could! So, i figured, i might as well teach him division- which he learnt quite quickly too! Then i thought, alright, since we have come this far, let's just move on to problem sums. And all of a sudden, i look back and wonder how on earth did we come this far, this fast?

What i am trying to say is, it was never my purpose to teach sonshine so that he gets a head start in Primary school- although that is the result of my home teaching (but I'm not complaining). I was led entirely by his interest and willingness to learn. He learns very well at home neither does he resist my teaching (i like to think he enjoys it too), so i just kept moving forward based on HIS own learning pace not my own, not our local school's, just his own unique schedule. Yes, i do teach so to prepare him for Primary school but that's not my primary (ha! what a PUN!) reason for teaching- it is a by result of my teaching- if that makes any sense. It's like, since i am teaching him, i might as well teach to prepare him for Primary school right?

I teach because i enjoy, because sonshine enjoys. I am quite certain that i would have given up long ago if he had showed resistance or no interest. So for me, it is not so much of whether it is important to give him a headstart for Primary school. It's more of how fast he wants to and can learn. At one point, i did feel that he was learning way too fast and wondered if i should slow down. But i decided that i will be short changing him if i insist to impose on him what i think is the 'right' pace instead of following his lead. I do not want to short change him in this aspect, i want to respect his learning style and pace. So, while i am fine with him learning at the preschool's pace but it might be too slow for him & i much prefer that we match up to his own rhythm.

But to each their own. I think it is a personal question and very much depends on the individual parents goals & values. So what's yours? Do you think its necessary to send YOUR kids for preparatory classes? Why? A food for thought!

Friday, April 20, 2012


Since sonshine is comfortable with writing English letters, i thought i should move on to teaching him to write in Mandarin.

But i discovered that he already knew how to write a few mandarin characters, some learnt from school and some he was able to write out by recalling the words i taught him. He could recite the strokes as he wrote and could accurately count the strokes of each word. All credit to the school! I'm so relieved that he seems to enjoy writing and reciting the chinese strokes. PHEW!

But since i already bought a book for him to practise his writing, i decided to teach him alongside with the school.

I started with the simplest of words thinking he would be averse to writing Mandarin!

But since he didn't resist, i got him to write words involving more strokes.

When i don't have the time, i would just ask him to raise his fingers in the air & we would practise writing a few words. Just this morning, i taught him to write ‘头’ by writing it 'in the air' with our fingers. Fun stuff!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Simply writing

I'm getting sonshine to practise lots on his handwriting (he's improved much-whoop!) and writing in short phrases/sentences.

He wrote 'Small dog' and 'big dog'. This is adapted from the Kumon Sentences book i purchased. I made my own because i didn't like the writting space given on the book. Still, i'm using the Kumon book as my guide to teach sonshine writing. I felt that this was a good way to teach him on adjectives.

He copied two sentences using the short phrases he worked on previously.

In line with the copy work he did, i also taught him Simple Present Tense using one of the assesment books i bought.

More practice

A simple work combining what he learnt on adjectives and simple present tense, applying them in a sentence form. He had to copy the sentence and choose the correct tense applicable to the statement.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Revising Mandarin words

When it comes to Mandarin, i prefer sonshine to not just recognise the words but also know how to pair the individual words. I think it is fundamental to composing simple sentences.

That's why i did this activity with sonny. To revise the words sonshine learn from 四五快读, i took out some word cards and lay them randomly on the mat.

Sonshine had to pair the individual cards to make up meaningful words. It was a quick activity, i mean we had to, babydoll was crawling all over ready to destroy the cards- you can see her skinny fingers in the photo above!

A few of her favourite things...

Home teaching babydoll isn't going on much. I have to juggle between chauffeuring the boy to and from school, her naps and running errands and my erm, own personal shopping. But then again, at this age, it's all about feeding her curiosity and lots of exploring.

Still, there are a few activities i do with her daily- or at least i try my hardest to.

One of her all time favourite things: reading books. At times, i can find her sitting contentedly flipping her books. I am very pleased that she can sit through as i read 5-6 infant books to her. In fact, she often get upset when i stop reading, just like sonshine! Also like her brother, she would often pick a book from a room and attempt to crawl to me with the book in her hand. It's very endearing sight to behold.

Her all time favourite book!
Each time her eyes lay on this book, she would immediately pick it up, cruise or crawl up to one of us and look us with all eagerness and say 'EH!" translated as 'read!'. She is not satisfied if we just read once through. We would have to read at least 3 times over consecutively before she allows us to put the book down.

Another all time favourite book, Barnyard Banter by Denis Fleming.
Thanks to my mom, who first started reading this book to her. Since then she cannot get enough of this book. I had thought the book text was too long for baby her age given their short attention span. But she surprise me by sitting through the entire book and still ask us to read another round for her.

Oh gosh, you don't know how i have to stop myself from rolling my eyes or sigh whenever she hands me these two books. I'm so tempted to hide the books to keep my sanity but i really should celebrate her love for books.

I've been doing Glenn Doman flashcards with her. I think i've been quite successful with her. Or at least she is now sitting and focusing on the cards as i flash without fidgeting. She seems to enjoy the session more and more too. But i haven't been consistent because we've had numerous interruptions such as illness (i had mastitis, she had viral fever right after). I am hoping things would pick up again this week.

The other flashcards i am doing with her is Photographic speed memory. I used sets of pictures cards and flash at her at high speed. Seriously, i do not know if it really helps with memory. But my niece and sonshine went through it and their memory is..well like photographic. I honestly do not know if its nature or nurture. If anything, at least the flashcards help to train her ability to focus and up her attention span. Oh well, there's no harm, there's nothing to lose, so why not?

So this week, I'm showing her cards on different types of balls.

And sea animal cards.

I don't have time or inspiration to set up toys for her to practise fine motor skills. I read somewhere that there's no need to deliberately buy or set up toys for the baby because the natural environment is full of opportunities for them to explore with their fingers. From my observation, i tend to agree. Babydoll has been creating her own activities like taking things out/ putting things in boxes, Sonshine's school bag, containers etc.

Just the other day, i was sorting out Chinese wooden dominoes for sonshine, putting one block at a time back in its box. Babydoll was watching me and began to imitate me. She picked up the dominoes and put them into the box one at a time. Just like that, an activity was created for her!

But above all, she enjoys ransacking her brother's toys especially the Tomica carpark set. It keeps her entertain for awhile. A few days ago, she discovered a small compartment in the toy and attempted to slot toy cars in and watch them pop out. How cute.

And these are a few of her favourite things! Oh and not forgetting calling me 'MAMA!' awwww....

Home teaching Quickie

Although it has been really hard to do any home teaching these days especially with a baby to care for, but i still manage to squeeze in a thing or two in the week- albeit not alot. Still, it is quite an accomplishment if i may say so myself. Here's how i do it.

1) Ditch the chores & tolerate the mess.

I don't have a live-in helper so we have to do some chores ourselves, hold the fort until our part time help comes. Till then, i do minimal or no chores. The most i do is to dump our laundry in the machine & the husbster hangs them when he gets home. Oh yes, our house is constantly in a state of a Tsunami- no thanks to babydoll. I am usually too poop to clean by the end of each day, so we've kinda trained ourselves to bear with it..until i can no longer stand it. We are just thankful we are not living in a pigsty.

2) Minimise Preparations.

If i am making my own materials, i usually take the easiest & most hassle free way. Forget about cutting, pasting, coloring, painting etc. Normally, i would use the computer, print, cut & laminate. But before i hit the computer, i usually plan how and what i am going to make. I even plan ahead my design, what clipart to use, what text i will be using. The minute i've the time, i go to the computer and just regurgitate what is already in my head, i waste no time planning or deciding at the computer. Otherwise, i spend money on ready-made materials to save me some time. Or i just rely on assessment books.

3) Plan ahead

I plan ahead on what i want sonshine to learn. For instance, i have planned for him to learn 'Simple present tense' this week. I've bookmarked all the pages i want to use to teach him. So that once i have the time, all i've to do is to pick the books up and flip to the pages. For Mandarin, i've planned what are the new words to teach him this week and i've the word cards ready to be pulled out anytime.

4) Lower expectations

I don't expect us to do a whole lot in a week. If i can manage even 10 minutes of home teaching in a week, i would be over the moon. This way, i don't get too disappointed or upset with ourselves if we don't even do any home learning. In addition, i don't expect us to learn alot in a week. I am already more than happy even if sonshine learns just one new mandarin word in a week!

4) Have learning materials ready on 'standby' mode

I have a pile of assessments lying in my living room- where we spent most of our time. The moment i see that i've got a good 10 minutes with him, i would quickly grab a book, have him sit with me & we'll quickly go through a page or two. To make it even quicker, i only ask that he gives me the answers verbally- writing would take too long. I also have the Basic 500 Chinese books in the living room and once my hands are free, i turn to a page and have the boy read aloud to me.

5) Plan activities that are short, quick yet concise

If i want to make an activity for sonshine, i try to create it such that we can be done with it in 5-10 minutes yet at the same time it is clear enough for him to understand the concept. There are no hype, no balloons, no confetti popping, just straight to the point. I am thankful that it doesn't take much to get sonshine interested in doing an activity. Even with just plain paper he gets entice to do it. I am also grateful that it doesn't take much for him to understand and learn a concept. A quick 5 minutes explanation will do the job. I sure hope babydoll will be like that too...*cross fingers*.

There! I've let you in on my secret- or not. This is just how i scrape by home teaching each day. Gone are the days where i could spend a good 30 minutes with the boy! Our home learning are usually made up of 5 minutes of reading this, 5 minutes of doing that etc and all with interruptions from the babydoll, no doubt! Above all, I am very glad that i made the decision to teach him early when i could afford to give him all my attention. Now, although i can't do much with him but thanks to the early home teaching, he's learnt all the basics in time for Primary school and i can take my time to teach him the remaining. That's call planning ahead, y'all! :P

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Basic Chinese 500, the book & app

Since we started 四五快读 book 2, i found the words more and more difficult to teach sonshine. Some of the words have no specific meaning (think words like 'the') and it is really tough to explain to him how to use the words-especially when we don't speak Mandarin regularly.

I decided (again) that the best way to do it is to read Mandarin books.That's when i went on another hunt for Mandarin books. This time, i wasn't looking for a good story line just a book with huge fonts and simple words, preferably words that sonshine has just learnt from 四五快读. I wanted a book that sonshine can read aloud to me.

The book i found is the Basic Chinese 500. Actually, I bought our first book long ago, way before it was popular, when it just made its way to the book store. I didn't like it, though sonshine did, so i left it aside until recently.

The book is about right for the boy because the words are not only huge but they are simple enough for him to read & understand. He tends to get put off with too many and too small mandarin words in one page- i mean, who doesn't?

What is really great about this book is that it focuses on one new word in each chapter such that the reader gets to read & see that new word repeatedly. I use the book to compliment our 四五快读 lessons. For instance, now we are learning '还' which is not easy word to explain. So i took this book and turn to the chapter that feature the same word & have sonshine read out loud to me. Hopefully this way he learns how to read and use the new word.

But i really wish it would do away with the Hanyu Pinyin. Sonshine seems to be relying on it to read words that he has forgotten.

I also purchased the app on my ipad after reading a mom's review. But i am disappointed. I do not like the app, although it is much cheaper than the books itself. It is not design to be like a book. In fact, each page is like a new chapter. One word, one sentence is shown on a page. To move on, one would have to return to the main menu to select the next page or lesson. It disrupts the reading. I regret purchasing the app which is not cheap USD$2.99. I do not recommend it.

Lastly, before you scoot off to buy this book do be aware that it is not meant to be a story book. The chapters are not in relation to each other and sometimes the context can be quite silly. The idea of the book is not to give a beautiful story but to help kids to learn new words.

Assessment Books Galore

It has been really hard to do any home activity with the son and i blame it entirely on the school! I realised i have been busy preparing & sending the boy up & down, to & fro school that it disrupts any home learning- even for baby doll. In the morn, we rush to get his breakfast done, then off to school, i run errands in between school, off to pick the boy up, rush to have his snack & finally his nap. There's simply no breather in between for us to do any learning! What irony! I am in half a mind to pull him out of school and home school him entirely!

At times like this, i turn to assessment books! I used to shake my head at moms who purchase piles & piles of assessment books. Turns out, i am just like them! So don't you scorn at me! Nowadays, i turn to anything that is ready made so to save me time from all the planning and preparing.

Assessment books are my best friends-now. I use them mainly as a guide, it gives me a good idea which areas sonny needs to work on. I don't do the sit-down-for-an-hour-and-finish-5-pages thing. Instead, i pick a page, find an appropriate time, grab the boy and have him give me the answers verbally. We usually do a page or 2 and are done in 10 minutes. After which, i shoo him off to play while i make a mental note on what he needs to work on. I don't believe in making such a young child sit at the table and finish pages after pages of work. I think it is a sure way of killing any interest in learning.

Kumon books are my latest assessment craze. I used to wonder why Kumon books are so popular. I didn't get the cut & paste books and wonder why anyone would want to buy a book full of just addition sums when one can easily create that at home. Actually, i still don't get it. But i recently took a liking to Kumon Word Problems series because i was looking for an assessment book with just word problems, topic by topic. Strangely, this type of books are really a rare find in the book store. Also, i bought 3 books for sonny to work on his Writing and Comprehension. I felt Kumon Writing series is a great way to help sonshine start off simple writing (note not handwriting but writing in simple sentences).

On another note, i recently went on a frenzy, purchasing English assessment books! No thanks to a friend (a male) who casually told me that students in Primary 1 are expected to do Composition. It immediately set me on panic mode! Because sonshine's weakest area is composing sentences- let alone Composition! So, i went on to buy alot more than i should English assessment books., mostly on grammar & writing. Actually, no regrets, because it serves as a good guide for me on what & how i should teach the boy otherwise i would have no clue.

Anyway, i later found out from a mother (the wife of the very same friend who told me about Primary 1 composition) that Primary 1 students are just starting to learn grammar and are being taught to write in sentences. Composition is just but a small part of the lesson and it is actually very simple sentence composition. In her view, if the child can read and knows phonics, he is more than prepared for Primary 1 English.

For a moment, I turned into a headless chicken, worrying for sonny especially since he's only got 1.5 years to go to Primary school. I even contemplated sending him to Creative writing class-yes me! Well, i am glad that he is not expected to write paragraphs after paragraphs in Primary 1 because i know for sure he needs more than 1.5 years to work on that (especially now that i have no time to teach). Till then, i'm still going to resist enrichment class. Instead i'll continue to read alot of books with him & use these assesment books as a guide to help sonshine in writing. Hope it is a good decision, hope i can do it, hope i won't be ruining his English! *cross Fingers*
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