Teaching Phonics (As a mum)

“Phonics”

This is a popular topic when we talk about enrichment class for young children. Is the word that seems to pop out once in a while in mummies’ WhatsApp chatgroups ever since M was 2 years old.

Before I go on, please note that this blog post is meant to target at Singapore parents, like me, who are as busy and a little bit Kiasu (怕输; scared to lose-out). I have been wanting to write about this for months but this requires a bit of brain power on how to break it down to address our kiasuism on getting our kids to read, with the hope that this post does not accidentally rob of any poor child’s precious childhood.

While I emphasised and advocate lots of unstructured play in the early years, the Singapore’s parenting culture doesn’t seem to sit well with play-all-the-way system. Over the past 5 years, the parents in our society has already set the benchmark for children to achieve reading skills at a younger age. It is stressful for me, as a mum, to see children who are not even 3 years reading simple books aloud or writing way neater than me.

So let’s get down to the basics of Phonics…

I learned to read without Phonics class when I was young. Why do kids need Phonics class today?

There are two types of way to read phonetically with two methods – Analytic and Synthetic phonics.

(1) Analytic

In a nutshell, analytic phonics is to learn the whole word by sight, and later it break down to individual sounds. A lot is stressed on the initial sound, probably followed by the ending sound or learning the word families e.g. cat, mat, fat, sat.

The issue I had when teaching this method donkey years ago was that the kids always missed out the vowel sounds, which is usually the middle sound.

Most of us (born ’70s, ’80s, ’90s) are taught with this method. Yes, we are able to read eventually. Along the way, we some how pick up the individual sound units ourselves, helping us to get more fluent in reading eventually.

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(2) Synthetic

Synthetic phonics is a systematic approach to introduce the smallest unit of sound, known as phonemes. Most synthetic phonics approach do not learn the letters names first, but jumps straight to introducing the sounds and usually taught in sets of letters. The sound is heard in different position of the words, like T in “tap” and “bat”.

  • There are 26 letters in the alphabet, and 42/44 phonemes
  • The more sounds you learn, the more words you can blend or form
  • the more familiar you are with the letters and the sounds, the more fluent your reading is

Jolly Phonics and Letterland, how different are they?

While both analytic and synthetic phonics teach children how to read, I still prefer to use synthetic phonics as it speeds up getting them to be more fluent readers and they actually learn to spell at the same time.

Okay, for the sake of convenience, I am just going to narrow down to the programmes I have tried teaching before. These are just my personal reflection after teaching with these programmes:

(1) Jolly Phonics

My toddler students enjoy singing the songs. The biggest plus point in Jolly Phonics is how they have grouped the letters in different sets, so the students actually get to learn to blend and segment the words immediately after learning the set. For example, the first set is S, A, T, I, P and N. You can now try writing down how many words you can form with these letters of their main sounds.

I am putting a HUGE question marks about using actions and songs to teach phonics. If you try to sound them out in different pitch you might accidentally produce the wrong sounds. Jolly Phonics believe in holistic learning, hence they accompanied the letter sounds with actions for little kinaesthetic learners. We learned some fun games with the actions but my own experience says that it does not encourage faster reading. When I show the letter to my students, some might be singing the song under their breath first or doing the action before they sound out the letter. I think phonics songs and actions are all right to use for those below 3 years. When a student starts learning phonics officially, the focus should be speed learning already.

Because the children learn to blend as soon as they learn a set of phonemes, you might see children as young as 3 years learning to read pretty well with this method (sadly, my 屁股有虫 son didn’t fall into this category). I have to say it also depends how good your trainer is because I didn’t get to fully understand how to teach blending efficiently when i was teaching using this programme.


(2) Letterland

When I was in the school that teaches Letterland, the students were BIG FANS of the characters in Letterland. The stories were fantastic, like when Harry Hat Man have to “shhhh” at Sally Snake because she is being noisy (/sh/). The stories help the children to remember the sounds and rules. I can say the kids love phonics because they love Letterland and learning was definitely fun.

As a teacher, there were too many stories to remember. I struggled with the blending and segmenting part again with this approach, even more so because Letterland teaches from A to Z in sequence in the first year. Personally, I felt that a bit of time is wasted on just learning individual letter and sounds weekly.

As you can see both methods have their pros and cons, and the efficiency of the teachers depend on how efficient the trainers are. Both have their advantages in teaching phonics.

(3) Rigby Star Phonics

When I was a teacher, I forked out my own money to purchase a set of Rigby Stars for my students. No regrets! Because I am using the method with my boy now. Similar to Jolly phonics, it teaches in sets of letters. The approach is very straight forward – learn the letter and the sounds, blend to read, segment to spell. That’s all.

So, which is the best method for teaching at home?

Honestly, if your child’s schools has such a phonics programme, you probably don’t need to do any additional teaching or enrol in enrichments. So if you are concern, speak with your child’s teacher about your child’s learning in class, and if any additional help is needed. Usually is about midway of K1 or beginning of K2 where teachers can tell if your child struggles with reading.

Before you choose a method to apply in your home-teaching, ask yourself if you can produce the 42/44 phonemes accurately and quickly – meaning when you see the letter(s) you can immediately tell me the sound. You need to be of that speed and accuracy then you can teach your child phonics at home. If you’re not confident, drop the idea of teaching your kids phonics and use analytic method instead.

It is important to teach the pure sounds, for example for /b/ . it is extremely wrong to add a “er” sound behind going “ber”. I hear a lot of “ber”, “der”, “mer” in phonics songs in Youtube.

So what age do I start?

To be honest, I wish I can say to start at 4 years old. I think that is a more appropriate age to start learning phonics formally. In Singapore context, I will say you can start teaching 3 year olds. I am not particular about what happens before 3; whether is it upper or lower case, whether is it learning the letter names or sounds. Because the year they are in N2 class, it starts from letter A again, or the first set of letters.

I strongly encourage you to just get your toddlers (1 to 3 years-old) engaged in language games, songs and rhymes and play with them to hone their language skills, and not jumping into phonics and getting them to read. Phonics is NOT EASY even for adults, so please, just have fun and play with kids below 3 years.

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I start teaching M Phonics when he was 3 years and 2 months old, only three months later he started to be aware that a word consists of letters and we have to string the sounds together to sound out the word. I also see value in learning the sequence of letters in letter names (ABC song). The beautiful thing about home-teaching is that I get to teach at my own pace. He is super active so whenever I can, I will spend 5 to 10 minutes of flashing the letters he learned and saying the sounds, then try to spell the words. It is progressing slowly as I don’t do it everyday. The only goal I aimed for is that he will at least say out the sounds of the letters and read set 1 and 2 of the decodable readers independently before he goes to K1 (well, I HOPE he does).

Okay, I have mastered all the 44 sounds. So what’s next?

  1. Plan your curriculum, teach the letter sounds in sets – I love how most synthetic phonics teach in sets of letters so children can learn to read and spell. Below is an example of how I grouped the letters for teaching M; this is part of my overview of what I am going to teach M this and next year. You can add in some sight words you want to teach along with the set, and probably write the phonics rules somewhere so you are aware of the rules. For K1 and K2 children, you can recite the rules with them.

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2. Speed – flash cards of the individual lowercase letters and digraphs. I am using the grapheme cards purchased from Edventure.

3. Segment to spell – lay out the letters you have taught, e.g. for my set 1 and 2. I stretch out words like “tap” and “sit”. Initially, I need to stretch so much that is almost like sounding out the three individual sounds.

Eg.

Can you spell “cat”, (raise three fingers), cccaaaaat (bend each finger at each sound, this gives the child a hint on how many sounds are there to listen out for). If the child spells with a K, you can ask what is the other letter with the same sound. (One phonics logic is that we usually use “k” before the vowels I and E.)

When revising again, I stretch the words lesser after each revision. I try not to use fanciful letter magnets, and I like those sets that comes in red for vowels.

4. Blend to Read – Write out the word and get the child to decode. You can also write short sentences comprising of the letters that the child has learned.

You can find decodable readers that complement with the curriculum you have come up with. The purpose of having decodable reader is that the child can decode the words on their own, by blending the letter sounds in a word and saying what word it is. It will be choppy at first but should get more fluent as they blend faster. I am putting readers off at the moment as M is still not able to decode fast enough to do reading. Since, I already have a Star Rigby Phonics set, I intend to use them. Decodable readers are purely to help a child to read the words, they are different from the children’s literature / storybooks.

Is learning Phonics sufficient for language development?

No, phonics is just a part of learning to read. Language skills consist of reading, writing, speaking, listening and vocabulary. Reading picture books and engaging in daily conversations are essential in building a good language foundation. There are many other fun language activities such as charade, story-creation and word games that you can play as a family to work on your child’s language skills.

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Playing Responsibly and Sustainably

This was supposed to be just a post on Facebook, but it got so lengthy I decided to do a blog post about it..

There are countless of ways you can do to save the earth as a parent; from using cloth diapers to buying organic products.

Here, I will share what we can do to be more mindful in how we provide play experience for our children:

1) Buy second-hand toys / borrow or exchange

I always shop at Carousell first. There are a lot of people letting go of their good condition or even new sets of Duplo that their kids already outgrow, so there are always good second-hand toys around.

We bought this box of random magnets from a garage sale for $2 and is now his current favourite travelling toy

I also do my best to keep our toys in good condition so we can pass on for other children to play with.

I used to rent toys when M was a baby, but it is putting a great hole in our wallets. Exchanging toys with relatives and friends can be an option to reduce purchasing new toys again and again.

2) Buy sustainable toys

Buy sustainable materials – Wood and cotton are great natural choices. Plus point if you can avoid those with artificial chemical dyes.

Buy sustainable-sourced toys – Wooden toys that are responsibly-sourced from managed forests are certified the Forest Stewardship certification (FSC).

Plan Toys is another famous brand that uses reclaimed rubber woods to make quality toys. The company is committed to promote sustainable play.

Another brand that came to my attention is Petit Collage, whereby their products are adhere to strict sustainability criteria.

There are also companies that make toys from sustainable plastics. It will be great if we can support such brands that put in effort to save the environment in ways they can.

We have local toy shops in SG that ship in sustainable toy brands, and they do away with plastic bags or use used shopping bags to deliver those toys 👏.

3) Repurpose everyday items and old toys

Repurpose materials and items – Do you have property agents pasting calendar magnets on your gate? We collect them to make our own learning aids. I cut slits on the cover of milk powder tins for my kids to slot things in, or use them as drums, or as big construction blocks.

I’m pretty weak in this area of making toys. I only do super-easy toys.

If you can spare a bit of time, you make your own toys and learning materials out of cardboards, containers and scrap materials! Take inspirations from Sophia Huang, who turns everyday items to really cool toys. You will see STEM learning taking place when you involve your child in the process.

I follow Instagram mamas, like Jun from Playmax and Larissa, to get really great ideas on how to make fun toys out of everyday items that promote learning too.

Repurpose old toys – Old toys and loose pieces can be repurposed, you can play with them in creative new ways, or use them as teaching aids (check out what this ex-teacher did). They make great additions to small world play! I saw someone using loose transportation puzzle pieces in their block play area. More reasons not to throw away puzzles that are incomplete 🙂

We bought over these letter puzzles from a friend. M has no interest in playing them as puzzles so we used them for phonics games and crafts,

4) Less is more; invest in good quality toys / open-ended toys

Living in a small HDB flat, it is important to live by this rule – less is more. I think twice about buying anything due to space constraints.

“Investing in good quality toys” is going to raise a lot of eyebrows for some parents. It took me some time to reason out if I want to even mention this. Well, maybe is optional but if you are going to buy toys, might as well invest one that can last a long time. I used to think it is useless to spend a lot of money on good quality toys. Turned out, I was spending way more because I had to keep throwing and replacing the toys. My son had mostly second-hand electronic toys then, which broke really fast and contribute little to his learning development.

Learning from my past mistake, I decide to include toys that can last longer and are as close to nature as possible. These toys are aesthetically pleasing and my kids are naturally drawn to them. I hope the sets are still complete down the years because I intend to pass them down to my grandkids and great grandkids!

A kitchen play set-up with blocks and food pouch caps as food

But remember, just select some good ones. Be careful of being sucked into the endless catalogue of beautiful toys in social media *cough, like I do, cough*. You can bring your kids to shops to sample the products first (or try out during play dates at friends’ homes). Open-ended toys, that are of your kid’s age appropriateness, promote creativity and lots of other benefits to their hoslistic development.

6) Start saving and collecting loose parts!

Linking to the previous point on open-ended toys, you will also find treasures in everyday items, scrape materials and basically things most people perceived as junks.

M comparing the heights of the cardboard tubes

The discovery of loose parts play led me to collect craft items that people do not need anymore, fabrics, buttons, pegs etc. They are inexpensive and wonderful materials to add to the children’s play and learning.

Organise them in boxes and containers and your home will not be in a mess. In fact, they can be quite inviting to use and play with.

7) Spend more on bonding time, not the physical items

If you are into RIE parenting, it focused a lot of building relationships and RIE parents believe in not using toys as a distraction. I added this point because of what my friend said:

“Focus on the experience, not on the material stuff…” – Jamie Jhang

Spend some time with your child doing science experiments together, painting and drawing (bonus eco-points: make your own paint and dough, source for eco-friendly art materials!), Even simple water play can have many learning opportunities .

Bring the kids out, to indoor playgrounds, visit museums, have nature play in parks and beaches.

Nature provides the best toys in the world, and those dirt are just going to build their immunity system 💪.

So let’s play the sustainable way, leaving a better world for the next generation

I learned a lot about zero-wastage through a Facebook group call “Zero-waste Parenting Singapore”. I admit it is still a super long way for me to get to zero-wastage, but I am taking baby steps, following examples from what parents share in that page.

I hope besides the usual saving-the-Earth 4Rs habits in our daily lives, we can pay attention to what we purchased and used for our kids’ toys and learning materials. Sometimes, we get too carried away with providing the best for our children’s cognitive development by buying lots of toys, and generating (and laminating) a lot of worksheets for them to work on (#guilty).

Maybe it is time for us parents to rethink our priorities; cultivating empathy in our children and leaving a healthy world behind for them are probably the most important tasks on our hands right now.

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Supporting the Schemas in Play

The past few months I have been trying to understand the reasons behind certain behaviours my children exhibit. I came across the term “Schematic Play” and I thought it gives me a clearer understanding why my children do the things they do. Schemas are pattern of behaviours that help young children to make sense of the world and understand the social rules; the process of forming and organising knowledge.

As we all know play comes very naturally for babies and children, is their way to explore and understand how things work and how people react to their actions.

So why do we need to know about Schemas in Play (natural urges)?

I like to see these play schemas as “natural urges” which make them exhibit certain behaviours which they are compelled to do; which on the surface they might seem like just-playing.

“…a fancy word for the urges that children have to do things like climb, throw things and hide in small places.” – Clare Caro

The reason why I want to share about these schemas on my blog is because I wished I had known them sooner as a teacher and a mum. I only know these as common play behaviours. Sometimes, we are so into planning activities for them with goals in mind, we sometimes failed to understand some behaviours we said “no” to are actually natural urges. When we suppressed these natural behaviours, the children might direct the urges to something not appropriate as they grow up (I think of it like they are trying to satisfy their curiosity).

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When we understand and recognise these natural urges in our children’s play, we can support and extend their play. We also learn to redirect “dangerous or inappropriate urges” to safer alternatives instead of stopping them completely (e.g. redirect M to throw bean bags into a box instead of throwing a big bouncy ball in the house)

Schemas of Play

  1. Connecting and Disconnecting
  2. Orientation
  3. Positioning
  4. Trajectory
  5. Rotation
  6. Transporting
  7. Transforming
  8. Enveloping
  9. Enclosing

1. Connecting and disconnecting

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Using a popsicle stick to slice to disconnect the hook-and-loop blocks

Connecting bricks together, stacking the magnetic tiles on top of one another, stacking items up vertically or horizontally, a common scene at home? Probably before all these, they enjoy knocking down towers.

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Exploring how to link the cardboard tubes together with the sticks

Putting things together and taking them apart help them to understand how the materials work. So before you keep insisting your child to construct something in the way you think he or she should, let them explore the toy first and build the way they want. Don’t be mad if the young ones keep destroying your structures.

Materials and play ideas: Wooden blocks, foam blocks, magnetic tiles (with a lot of supervision), connecting train tracks, Lego bricks, connecting toys, bowls and cups, plastic jars, ribbons, threading activities, tapes (older ones can connect the dots with paper and pencils).

2. Orientation

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“Who is that below me?”

Often catch your baby looking between their legs? Your child going down the slide on the tummy instead? Well, I was very puzzled why my babies will do those fancy yoga poses while I breastfeed them. Probably they have nothing else to do so this natural play urge kicks in.

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M likes to hang from a bar or rope and tilt his head back.

Seeing the world upside down can be very fun, it also teaches the child to take on different perspectives – the same object or scene can be seen in different ways. This will help greatly in the future when it comes to navigating around a new place (noticing prominent landmarks), reading maps, and even fitting in pieces of puzzles.

I love adding mirrors to extend on this schema, creating depth and new perspectives.

Materials and play ideas: Monkey bars, swings, higher platform furniture (I used chairs, Wobbel and foldable play mats). mirrors.

3. Positioning

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J lining up his (huge collection of) cars. While it might appear like a “random” action to us, he is building on his positioning schema.

Does your child arrange toys in lines too? This is the positioning schema. I think I am still building on this schema now myself; I like arranging items in a line, putting them in order of height or colours.

“My child is just lining things up!” is a feedback I hear so often when parents are asked about how their children play with toys. Putting objects in rows or forming a circle is NOT just lining things up – think about the amazing wonders in their minds as they are positioning objects. Probably thinking “let’s lay the cars along and see where will it end!” , or “how many different lines can I make with all these cars?” Well, we will never know whats going on in the minds of these fantastic toddlers.

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M laying the Playmags (magnetic tiles) in neat coloumns on the light pad.

When M is stacking or lining objects, he is also learning about the shapes, patterns, lines and sometimes even learning how to balance the objects or how to make sure the hand does not knock down the objects while he is lining them up.

Materials and play ideas: Variety of loose parts materials with a boundary to work on to create patterns, cars, twigs / sticks, provide variety of textile objects, vary in sizes and weight.

4. Trajectory

This is probably the schema that led me to research more about M’s behaviours.

When people tell me about “trajectory”, I usually think about ramps and getting an object move from one place to another. There is more to that. Throwing objects and jumping (moving own body) is also trajectory! It is all about movements and how we or the objects respond to the movement.

I said “NO” to him a few times without realising the behaviour he is exhibiting is part of the schema of trajectory. He throws things, jumped a lot and absolutely obsessed with ball runners and water walls / fountains.

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Throwing a ball

I thought these were misbehaviours of a very active toddler who loves water play. Being a teacher, I know I had to redirect his energy to appropriate activities. However, I have ignored addressing his urge to throw, move and interact with moving objects.

He now learns that he can throw bean bags in the house and the big ball is only for outside play. He now creates his own throwing game at home and almost everyday he will bring his ball along to throw and let it roll down the slide (he loves doing that with a friend, sharing the ball is his tool to make new friends).

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M and E exploring how the balls move on the Wobbel board

Do you experience the classic my-baby-likes-to-drop-things-down-from-the-highchair? Yes, that is the trajectory schema too. I like how these schemas are not formed based on physical experiences with the objects, but also how the babies will take note of our expressions and give that cheeky giggle when we picked up the items for them again and again.

Materials and play ideas: Ramps, slides, swings, balls, cars, ball / marble runner, water pipes, bean bags, containers (to throw or drop items into), cardboard tubes, paper aeroplane, chalk, tape or string as movement guidelines, roll on different surfaces and materials.

5. Rotation

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Rolling the tyre from one place to another (rotation and trajectory schemas are observed in this scene)

My boy is that child who is obsessed with wheels and anything that goes round. His favourite song on repeat mode was “The Wheels on the Bus”. Because he likes things that goes round, I used to buy a LOT of car and driving toys for him. However rotation schema goes beyond playing with cars.

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M exploring the lazy Susan at the Blue House atelier when he was a crawling infant

Spinning things around (e.g. top), rotating objects, and even scribbling round and round are part of the rotation schema.

Materials and play ideas: Spinning tops, spinner, windmill, twisting (large) bottle caps, doing activities on lazy susan, round bottles, drawing circles, hula-hoops, or sing songs that involves turning (eg. The Wheels on the Bus, Hokey-Pokey)

6. Transporting

N enjoys pushing her favourite toys in a wagon walker around the house.

Just a few days ago, I saw N trying to carry as many packets of wet wipes she can, then later trying to transfer three diapers from one cupboard to another. She cried in frustration when she failed to do it. I put her little bag next to her and she used it to put the diapers inside and she was a happy baby once again.

I strongly recommend having a wagon walker at home. Not only it helps toddling infants to learn to stand and walk independently at their own pace (note that those sitting baby-walkers are a big no-no for me), it supports their transporting schema. We bought ours from Ikea and she likes to put things on it and push around.

Using a pot to contain the blocks as she moves from one place to another

Placing items in containers to bring them another location is also transporting schema (sometimes overlapping with enclose).

Materials and play ideas: Wagon-walker / trolleys, baskets, containers of different sizes, bags, cardboard tubes, cars

7. Transforming

Observing changes in the baking soda experiment, learning about cause and effect.

I used to wonder why M likes to pour every basket of toys onto the floor and used his hands to swipe and mix them. I think his urge to mix things up is very strong. The daily dose of sensory and dough play is making mess at home more manageable.

I find transforming schema quite therapeutic for myself, hence i like to play with different types of dough.

Baby N mixing paint colours with her brush and fingers

The transforming schema has a strong link to learning about cause and effect.

Materials and play ideas: Cookery activities, painting with different colours, providing variety of loose parts and utensils, translucent colour materials and toys, dough play (try having more than one colour), ice and water play.

8. Enveloping

Hiding the buttons in the dough

My kids like to “bury” objects in their dough and I remember I always tell M not to push the objects too hard into the dough when we creating letters and Chinese words. He was actually having the urge to push them deep inside to see how far they can go. Even better, till they disappear from sight. N recently likes to wrap her biscuits in her hand into a tight fist and not let them go, I am suspecting it is the envelop schema at work.

N playing peek-a-boo with momma, covering herself with a play scarf

Envelop not only applies to objects, but also to one’s body. How about wrapping scarf and blanket around themselves? Hiding their faces with their hands? Playing peek-a-boo with you? Lots of giggles and fun when the play scarf is drape over the baby!

Colouring one colour over another is also building on the schema of enveloping. M is still doing this at 3 year-old.

Materials and play ideas: Play scarves, light shawl, light blanket / napkin, papers, pails, large hat, play Peek-a-Boo, wrap / unwrap objects with paper and scarf, tapes, crayons
Warning: Keep plastic bags and items that has the risk of suffocating away from young children!

9. Enclosing

Drawing in a carton box

Boxes can entertain my children for a pretty long period of time. Not only it provides imaginative play, the enclosed space serves an avenue for the children to build on their enclose schema. I remember when I was young, I am always drawn to tents and playhouses, going in and out, feeling the difference in the “spacial atmosphere”.

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Inserting popsicle sticks into the slit of a container

Do you lose things in the house with a toddler around? That’s them trying to insert our items into holes and container with this play urge. It took me days of searching for baby Jesus from our nativity play set, only to find N chewing on it with a cardboard tube beside her almost a week later.

Enclose can also be a form of drawing where the child draws an “enclosure” around her drawings. M has been drawing borders on his paper and now I know why.

Materials and play ideas: Boxes, tent, DIY fort with blankets, containers with holes, tugging and pulling ribbons from box or colander, inserting pom poms into narrow-opening bottles, stencils.

Understanding, Supporting and Extending Schematic Play

When we learned and recognise these natural play urges, we are better at extending their play experience, curating materials and toys for them, and redirecting inappropriate play behaviours to a safe activity that still allows them to build on the schema.

If your child is currently “obsessed” with some schema, it can get tiring and frustrating to deal with, but remember that they are growing their brain, and organizing their ways of thinking about the world as they explore this schema again and again. – Jangle Durham

Probably often, you don’t see a schema isolated in an activity. Sometimes a play activity can fall into two types of play schemas or more.

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When playing with cars and ramps, the child might learn about trajectory, transporting, rotation and transforming (push force).

As you can see from the examples, there are many opportunities for problem-solving, creative and imaginative thinking, critical-thinking, and development of social and emotional skills (e.g. perseverance). This is why play is an important part of the early years to discover about the world.

When you observe how your child plays the next round, see if you can match their behaviours and actions based on these schemas 🙂

#morethanjustplaying #schemasinplay

Creating the play space

This is how my house looked like five months ago. I had a play yard but no kid wanted to go inside. Just so you know, this picture was taken AFTER the decision to revamp the play area, so it was much messier before these pictures were taken.

In the Reggio education system, the environment is referred as the third teacher. Hence, the environment plays an important role in supporting exploration and learning. I wanted to improve the play space – in terms of aesthetic and functionality.

The play yard was there for only a month and I noticed it was not utilised.. then I told my husband “The play yard is taking up too much space. Our kids should have a larger play area! Let’s remove it!” He didn’t like the idea at all. But I have already made up my mind to make the whole living room as child-safe as possible, with toys and materials accessible for the children.

We removed that little safety barricaded zone… Next we needed to organise the books and toys.

I used a Khallex shelf to put their storybooks and toys. I hid more toys behind the books, and my place looked quite neat at first. Then, the clutter grew and grew on this shelf.

While one side of the living room was cluttered, the play area was more spacious. I only displayed a few toys at a time.

See the large Ikea box on the coffee table? It was Matty’s tinker zone where he goes in it to play all the little loose parts without his crawling sister disturbing him or mouthing those tiny objects. We removed the tinker zone two months later because Noey could reach it and climb onto tables. She practically can climb anywhere before learning to walk.

I was pretty happy with the above layout for awhile. Then, I started noticing “dead spaces” in the living room (no pun intended), especially the clutter at the Khallex shelf. It became like a storage area for books and toys. The table is only used when Matty wanted to do painting. I realised my children did not go over to that area to help themselves with the toys or books. Our mini library corner was just a book rack along the hallway with a small Parklon mat. Nobody sits there to read any book as well.

Singapore’s living space is just too expensive. I really don’t like the idea of kids not using those areas (hahahaha…). So we bought another shelf to put our books in the corner of the house. Then, we filled the Khallex shelf with some toys, storing the rest in the store room. I rotate the toys but not too often and not all at one shot because the kids still need familiarity to play comfortably.

I organised one container to contain one toy so the children are actually sorting when they keep the toys (I am still working on getting Matty to clean-up after playing).

I love the idea of loose-parts play with scrap materials so I have a box of cardboard tubes and containers for imaginative play. The shuttlecock tubes are a great hit with the kids! They have been playing with those every day.

Over here are more cardboards, hallow blocks and Grimm’s blocks. This table is where I display their sensory bottles because I like how the colours show when the sunlight passes through them. We create our small world play here too so the kids don’t need to clear and they can continue to play later.

Now that I’ve replaced the Ikea table and chair with the set with Liliewood, I have no idea where to put the IKEA set. So I temporary placed the set in a corner, and I leave an activity on the table which I will change periodically.

Remember the cluttered Khallex shelf area……?

I have now stacked the $12.90 Ikea shelves to create a mini art and craft area with paints and playdough and tools since Matty is crazy over dough play. I also put some jars of loose parts items in this area to use for math or pretend play. The shelf beside it is where I put puzzles and literacy activities (the green microphone is for him to repeat words after me, in case you are wondering what is that at the bottom shelf). I am still working on this area as I feel the materials are quite unorganised and I have no place to put his pencils and crayons safely where the sister cannot reach.

So here is book rack now, no longer forgotten and lonely at the hallway. I put a round mat there and the kids started “visiting” the library more often, picking the books on their own. I rotate the books according to their interests and what they are currently learning about.

I display artworks and interactive activities on the wall. The displayed artworks help Matty to recall what he has done and create a topic to talk about. Sometimes I see him sharing with his playdate friends what he did.

The mat is not only for reading, I used it when I am doing activities that require a contained space on the floor. So he has to work within the boundary, like a Montessori large mat. Maybe I will get proper Montessori mats soon.

To get here took me almost six months as I had to juggle the kids, projects and houseworks. It is still a work in progress and lots of areas to improves. Changes are inevitable as the kids grow.

Just like today, I removed the rainbow play mat as the kids have difficulty balancing blocks on it and the loud colours are giving me a headache…

I hope my journey to transform the play space will inspire you to start looking out for “dead spaces” in the house and remove clutters so children will play in an organised environment – easy to select toys, easy to clean-up!

Have fun playing in your new space:)

#playspace #thethirdteacher

Parenting Matty: From competitive to collaborative.

Ah… Being a mumma Matty… Where to begin?

A very, very active boy who don’t sleep and eat well.

I received a lot of feedbacks that he is a super active kid. Even taxi drivers were amazed (or maybe irritated) at his energy level.

You know a good health and a good sleep is beneficial in brain development. But what to do when your son doesn’t eat well? A well-deserved body is ready to learn more things the next day. But what to do when he doesn’t sleep through the night since newborn?

Then, I asked myself “Why did I do wrong?”

A dancer who was chased out of a class

The days leading him to turning 3year-old was quite nightmarish.

He loves dancing and requested for a dance class. However during the third lesson, he was sooooo out-of-control. The teacher had to pull him out of the class so she could continue the lesson. She is a lovely teacher and Matty likes her till now. Is just he cannot control his behaviour and only follows instructions only at the first 10minutes.

To have your son being the ONLY kid in class to not follow instruction is pretty embarrassing. To have your son being led out by the teacher in front of other parents is heartbreaking. I was close to tears that moment. All I had in mind was “what can’t he be like the other kids?”

A preschooler who doesn’t know his ABC or colour within the lines

The boy, whose mumma was an ex-preschool curriculum specialist who went through three different phonics trainings, is unable to recognise more than 3 letters of the alphabet.

I know the seed to cultivate a good reader is to read to the child right from the start. Matty loves to look at books and listen to stories since he was a baby. He was able to sit through the whole story of Stickman before he turned 1 year old. Initially, we read every day and many times a day. I blamed myself for putting work before him. When I got busier at work, he stayed in front of the TV for hours. When I was halfway in my pregnancy, it was close to zero reading and interaction from me. Fortunately, his class teachers read a lot to him. Just that back home he chose TV over books, unlike the past.

When I see other kids of his age spelling and reading. I asked “Why can’t Matty do that?”

How to be happy when I keep thinking I’m doing something wrong?

Let’s face it, we all compare, and we always want our child to excel. No, not just meeting milestones, we do want our child to exceed the average social expectations. We want to hear positive feedbacks from others how outstanding our kids are.

Me too. But it never happened to me. The only time he is faster than the average is that he learned to walk at 8.5mo.

I’m pretty relax and I don’t demand much from him. However there is this tiger mom inside me that wishes he is a fast learner and can speak eloquently and behave well with other kids.

If you are, like me, feeling the stress that your child will lose out in school , here are some things I want to share:

1. You are not doing wrong. Parenting is just “that hard”

A friend shared with me about this article and the words that echoed till now was “it is just that hard”. So when I catch myself asking if I did anything wrong, or when I feel angry for not providing the best I can for his learning. I will always remember what this author shared that parenting is not easy.

So this is the first thing I want you to know if you ever had that loser-mom feeling.

2. Focus on what you want to teach, instead of what you want your child to achieve like the other kids.

Okay, the 3 year-old kid can read a book. Wait, what?!!! On his own? Oh gosh, an 15 month-old can speak in complete sentence and spell APPLE? Don’t get me started on a girl who can speak fluently and carry a conversation with an adult before the age of 2, in English and mandarin!

Slow down…

The social media is bombarding us with information what other kids can do.

Please follow the child’s cues. Educate yourself on the milestones first. If you are not sure, refer to the health booklet. If your child doesn’t meet any of the milestone you can bring it up to the doctor.

Ask the teachers the skill required for the next term and work on improving it. You will want to build the majestic castle of knowledge on a firm ground with good foundation. You don’t want it to crumble just before PSLE right?

A certain famous speaker said to make sure the kids are well-equipped with the knowledge that the teachers are going to teach months later. Please do that if your kid is certified genius, or you have zero worries, or if you have too much time in the world. If your kid is gifted, I don’t think you will even need to force yourself to teach months before the child actually learns it in school. The reason why I am against such practice is because the child will get bored in class at first and eventually lags behind because they don’t have the stamina and attitude to listen through and learn. They might seem like a fast learner at first but will struggle as the learning gets more complex. Remember your beautiful castle needs a firm foundation!

He can’t trace very well yet, using a dough to form the lines and strengthen his fine motor skills at the same time

3. Never ever forget the emotional aspect of development. A resilient child is more likely to have a successful future than the one who is forced to do things according to instructions.

Open-ended play brings problem-solving opportunities. When your child is unable to stack the tower after many tries, do they have the space and materials to try alternatives? Is someone there to guide through?
Do make sure your play area provides such opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong. I still make Matty focus on desk tasks but I make sure such activities that requires drilling do not last more than 10mins. That’s why I started to post learn-through-play or sensory activities that I do with Matty on my IG. Those are usually super quick set-ups for people who are like me; forever busy! I realised he remembers the play experiences when talk about word taughy and that is more important to me.

Matty needed a lot of guidance to match the upper and lowercase. It might seem he did not learn new letters, but he definitely felt happy completing it. Just keep repeating and we will get there:)

4. Let them enjoy childhood. Let yourself enjoy the playful moments too

The dishes can soak a little longer, the pile of clothes don’t really need to be folded (just take and wear 😂).

Join in and let your child know you are always there (phone aside!). Even if it is just 5-10mins of watching or playing with your child. Trust me, you will find this beneficial 10 years later. When they reach puberty, they will know they can always go to you for help!

What I like to do as a teacher or parent is to observe the kids playing and analyse what is going through in their mind. That’s the beauty of play, there is always something going on in those little minds.

I like to wonder what are the questions running through their minds as they rotate the bottle, imagine what scene they are portaying with the materials. I find it joyful to just visualise the images that are going through in his mind, as if I’m watching a video through the way he plays. From there, it opens doorways for communication and extension of learning.

Thinking about what the children are thinking…😂

From competitive to collaborative

All of the above points (except the first) is about being in-tuned with your child, being in-the-moment together, working together and understanding each other better.

I hope this post will help you to feel less stressful, and hopefully, join me in stepping away from the toxic competitive mindsets that we parents tend to have.

Play = fun = happy = a holistic achiever

Beginning of a play-full journey…

What does play mean to you?

So many definition, so many theories, so many play advocators out there.

What does “learning through play” means to you then?

I started blogging in Children Love to Play years ago when I was a teacher, it was my journal to record what having fun with kids is like. Learning about play is the fundamental part in getting your diploma in early childhood studies. So you now know play is a big part in the early years. Play is something natural, it is wholesome; involving the senses, the muscles, the brain and even the social and emotional aspects of development.

I can practically see readers rolling their eyes or yawning so I shall stop talking about the theoretical part of play here.

I am here to share my journey about advocating play for my very own kids (3yo and 1yo).

Now from a parent’s perspective; it is difficult to stay sane, I won’t deny there are MATTYYYYY moments. As a mumma, it is very difficult to think about having fun all the time. Especially as a Singaporean mum!

So I am a mumma, staying in a HDB in Singapore. My job is to be a mum, a very busy mumma in fact. I have no idea why am I so busy when I am not employed. Maybe because I have two bosses (Matty & Noey) and it is tiring to fulfil the demands both bosses when you are the only employee at home.

I love to use stories to inspire play ideas, and I like the Reggio’s inquiry-based approach to learning. I also inject music, art and nature in learnings. I am mad over toys and I do love sharing reviews on toys and lesson materials. On one hand I do buy expensive toys, on another I am very very much in loose parts play and I collect tinkers and cardboards like a karang-guni.

You are very welcome to join me in a journey to make an enjoyable childhood for our child(ren).

IG: Childrenlovetoplay

FB: http://facebook.com/Childrenlovetoplay

Share your play ideas with my friends and I with the hashtag #sgplayhacks.