Saturday, 15 April 2017

DIY #4 - Origami Wall

 Our only daring ventures into paper craft in the past were restricted to Samurai hat, which Anouk was very fond of, around July'16 and some paper Xmas stars(which include paper cutting). Fast forward to present, having made a friend at university who happened to be an origami expert, the idea of trying out some origami models slowly returned to parents' conversations. Purchased the origami paper two months back and we were slowly warming up to the idea :)

So one late evening, we made our first design together (was difficult for us to attempt individually 😄 ) - the angel fish, and needless to say, were hugely motivated by how it turned out. And since then, it became a hobby for the parents and the kid simply adored each of the models, be the innumerable simple ones - animal faces, aeroplanes or moving to intermediate levels - baby, sitting penguin, owl etc. Having done a decent range of background reading, we made use of different books for different models, depending on our comfort level and the ease of instructions. Traditional Origami does not involve any paper cutting, and we have followed the same in our attempts.

After so many models simply lying around, we just thought of pasting them (at least those remaining and in decent shape) to a chart in the wall.. Was easy that way, logistic wise. Also updating the wall and snaps with some intermediate models and the references, as and when we finish the models.

Materials used 
  1. Origami paper - purchased set of 180 (15cm) sheets from Daiso store, IMM, Jurong East
  2. Double side tape - to paste it on the wall-chart.
Snaps - The snaps are updated from time to time, with a rough time frame in the caption, to create a single repository for our beginner origami creations. The five-legged star as shown below was the first one we tried with multiple sheets. Rest all the designs were done in a single 15cm (or less) Origami sheet,

Intermediate level models - Mar '17

  1. Robert J. Lang and Stephen Weiss, "Origami zoo : an amazing collection of folded paper animals".
  2. John Montroll, "Origami for the enthusiast : step-by-step instructions in over 700 diagrams : 25 original projects".

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Sri Lanka - May '16

The first family vacation after Anouk was born. Destination Sri Lanka 22-29 May, 2016.

Day 1  (22 May 2016) - Travel, travel, unpack

Outside airport, waiting for bus
15-month old Anouk and her parents boarded the 50 min Srilankan airlines flight from Trivandrum to Colombo at 0900. Finished immigration and came out of the Bandaranayake airport at 1030. The non-crowded public transport bus from just out of the airport to Colombo Fort took around 45 minutes. Instead of catching the Unawatuna bound train from Colombo Fort rly station, we caught a tuk-tuk to Maradana ( 1 rly station away and starting point for the Una' bound 2pm train), to beat the rush at Colombo Fort.

Unawatuna Railway station

2nd class train journey
2nd class train journey to Unawatuna was a relaxing one on a Sunday afternoon except for the last-minute rush at Una' station after realizing that the station platform is a short affair and had to dash full pace with kid and backpacks, inside the train to get to the platform. Thanks to kind fellow passengers who signaled the station master that a gang of 3 is still running inside the train to find the platform to alight; he stalled his green flag wave till he saw the three of us safely in the platform. The hotel was just a km from the rly station and a short tuk-tuk ride took us there. And finally checked in at Gloria Grand Unawatuna, which was to be our home for the next 6 days. Unpacked, refreshed and had a wind down evening, to get charged for the week before us.

Day 2  (23 May 2016) - Yatagala


Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya

Going back from temple

After the sumptuous "Srilankan" (have to order previous night, else you'll be served Western cuisine) breakfast, with stringhoopers (similar to Idiyappam), appam, and a wide variety of side dishes, veg and non-veg, we were ready to start exploring the place, by ~9am. Took a tuk-tuk(< 4km) to Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya, an old, built-in-boulder-Budhist-temple. Not crowded at all, peaceful and kid loved all the climbing up and down the stairs. Had a very calm feel to the place. Back to hotel by lunch time, bought lunch takeaway from "Mati Gedara", a small eat out, a few buildings away from the our hotel. Was surprise to see food, very similar to Kerala cuisine, (like chakka-puzhukku. thoran, chammanthi, fish curry) and equally tasty. After lunch and a long naptime for Anouk, it was time to hit the beach. Unawatuna beach was a mere 5 min walk from the hotel, at the end of Welle Dewalaya road. Anouk had such a grand time in the beach, and like with most toddlers, had a hard time ushering her back an hour later, when it started drizzling.

Day 3  (24 May 2016) - Galle

After breakfast, set out for the old town of Galle. Boarded a Matara-Galle bus, from the main road for a 15 min crowded journey with all school going kids and office going flock. The Galle Fort was right across the main road from the crowded Bus depot. The sun was blazing and had a sweaty walk around the Old Galle town,
Old Galle Town entrance

Galle old town - Inside a 17th century Dutch church
the paved streets, old Dutch churches, the light house, archaelogical museums, and finally the ramparts. Originally built in the 16th century, and later fortified by the Dutch, Galle Fort is a UNESCO cultural heritage site. The walk on the ramparts along the ocean looked very inviting barring the blazing sun and we had to stop trail after half an hour. Anouk was fed a quick brunch and we came back to our room(another bus ride, with a napping child) with a lunch takeaway, from the restaurant in the main road, near the bus stop.

Una' beach -Welle Dewalaya in the long background

Unawatuna beach
 (We resorted to this restaurant for the rest oflunch/dinner during the stay, it was 4x less expensive than Mati Gedara at same quality of food). Anouk was pretty tired after the all-out-morning in the sun and dozed soon after lunch. We decided to spend a nice evening in the Unawatuna beach and recovering for the next day. Btw, we decided to come back to Galle on another day, possibly in evening.

Day 4  (25 May 2016) - Ahangama - White tea plantation

Tea-tasting zone
Walk in the park :)
Inside the tea factory- withering leaves
Ahangama railway station
  The weather forecast proved accurate, and it was raining till around 11:30 am. No complaints, as Anouk had decided to take a deep nap after another heavy and delicious 8am breakfast, which also let the parents catch up with planning for the day and next as well as arrange the laundry without having to worry about folded clothes found lying in a heap under the bed, with a mere 5 min of unsupervised time. After lunch, we boarded the train (Rly station was a km away) to Ahangama, for a visit to Handunugoda white tea plantation. The tuk-tuk ride from Ahangama railway station to the tea plantation took around 25 minutes. It was a first time for us, to visit a tea estate, and their guide gave a full round tour around the plantation, explained the plucking process, especially for the white tea variety(claimed to be untouched by hand),showed us different varieties of tea, took us to the tea processing factory, explained different machines, served us tea with cake and finally the grand bonanza -the tea tasting session, where around 100 different tea has been brewed and kept for tasting. Tried a few of them and bought a variety which we both liked, to take home as a souvenir to parents. Spent the entire afternoon in the outing and was back in the hotel after a relaxing train journey. The train journey between Ahangama and Unawatuna took around 45 min, one way. 

Day 5  (26 May 2016) - Galle, again

International Cricket stadium behind
Finished the rampart walks
Sunset at Galle Fort and photographer's pride :)

Light house - Galle
  Like the previous day, it was drizzling in the morning till noon. Colombo was badly affected by flood the previous week, but the south was staying normal. Anyway, it felt so vacation-like in the
Leading the way :) - Galle Fort
coziness of the bed after a heavy and yummy-as-usual-but-getting-into-routine breakfast. So, since it felt nice and cool in the afternoon, we decided to target our hit-and-missed Galle Fort again, for the day. Decided to forego on the bus ride, chanced to see the previous day's tuk-tuk guy and took a tuk-tuk ride to Galle Fort. A quick note on the auto guy : he turned out to be our trusted-to-turn-up driver for any rides from the hotel,
Peace Pagoda(white) in faraway background
till the day we left for Colombo; he was interested in Tamil Nadu politics and aired his criticisms for Jayalalitha's reforms. Browsed the art galleries near Galle Fort for a while, waiting for the sun to be kid-friendly. Had a long amazing walk above the ramparts starting from the light house. Anouk loved the walk (refused to be carried in the baby seat for long) and the view of the ocean. The evening sun was a beautiful sight behind the lovely sea. The Galle International Cricket Stadium is right opposite to the old town of Galle. Caught another tuk-tuk back to the hotel by around 7pm and settled in for dinner and a cool evening.

 Day 6  (27 May 2016) - Mirissa 

Mirissa Railway station
Achacha, look...I can walk in the beach sand :)
Castle time

  The day, yet again, started with the drizzling rain, and we made good use of the time to start preps  for the next morning's train travel to Colombo, in preparation for the return flight from Colombo. Spent the morning with the arrangements (Anouk seemed to make it a habit to hit bed after a full tummy of yummy breakfast) and were done with lunch just in time the drizzle stopped. Set out immediately after lunch to catch the afternoon train to Mirissa.

Mirissa Beach

A very relaxed train journey, beautiful and scenic rly station backdrop and the village ways, and ever-needed-hike to even spot a tuk-tuk filled up the onward journey to Mirissa. The beach is stunningly beautiful (the second time I felt so about a beach, after Bondi) to the core and very clean, with much whiter sand unlike the Unawatuna beach. The waves were simply awesome and the beach was almost empty. Anouk had a gala time in the beach. The return journey to the railway station was with another tuk-tuk, having checked the train timings before. Back to hotel in the evening and the rest of the late evening went in packing up for the next day's morning train back to Colombo.

Day 7  (28 May 2016) - Back to Colombo

 We had just finished checking out, said good byes and thank you-s, by the time our tuk-tuk driver arrived punctually at 9am.
At Galle Fort Railway station- in front of time table
Took 10 min to reach the Galle railway station. Another round of bye-bye and thankyou and caught the train back to Colombo. At Colombo, further caught a local train and a tuk tuk to reach Airport villa (at Katunayake, ~2km from airport), by around 3 pm to settle in for the night. They agreed to arrange the cab for early next morning trip to airport. Got refreshed, went out to get dinner, browsed the super market over there and settled in for an early night after a long day's train journey.

Day 8  (29 May 2016) - Home, sweet home.

 Caught the fully crowded Sri Lankan airlines flight, which got delayed almost by an hour, and eventually took off at 10am. Reached Tvm airport by 11, brother came to pick us up and were back home 10 minutes later, as a group of tanned kid and happy parents.

More on the place (area) of stay
 Gloria Grand hotel is situated in  Welle Dewalaya road, leading to Unawatuna beach and the Welle Dewalaya. The hotel room rent was ~SGD 54 per day with complimentary breakfast. The room was cozy with a balcony, and a mere 5 min walk to the beach.The Welle Dewalaya road was crowded with homestays, a few hotels, lot of and infinite possibilities of eateries at different price range(med-high-insanely high) owing to the tourist population. We accidentally realized during one of our walks from the bus stop, just at the entry to the main road that, the eateries in the main road, serve equally good, 10x cheaper food at non-fancy restaurants. In fact, we saw a lot of tourist customers in those shops. From then on, we just resorted to those restaurants for the lunch/dinner take away. The staff at Gloria Grand had accommodated our request for the brown rice-porridge for (then) 15 month old Anouk's dinner, every night, and that was extremely nice of them.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

DIY# 3 - The Alphabets and Numerals Wall

We had pondered over a few gift ideas for Anouk's first birthday and after a few rounds of brainstorming, decided to come up with an alphabet and numeral wall, thanks to really big white walls in the hall.

Materials used

  1. Stencil - Took the vanilla printout of numerals and upper letter alphabets, each stencil size was on an average 11cm (height) X 10cm (width)
  2. Thermocol (polystyrene) - loads of plain ones, Didn't have any problem procuring; the computers in the university lab were getting a re-haul, and was available aplenty J 
  3. Water colour - as our preferred medium of coloring the stencil
  4. Ruler - for ease of cutting/marking
  5. Paper cutter
  6. Glue - to paste the stencil printout to the thermocol
  7. Double sided tape -Way better than glue. to paste the stencil cutouts on the wall, as it leaves zero marks, at the time of eventual removal from the wall. (sigh of relief)
Activity went like : stencil printout - pasting on thermocol - coloring (I like outlining with black sketch-pen) - cut out - pasting on the wall - hoping that the lowest row doesn't get pried upon very often by the kid on top of the sofa.

This turned out to be a month long (night) activity owing to inhuman schedules at work and studies for both parents (a high-five on completion). Over a long period of time, kid managed to pull away the color paper covering of couple of numerals and we were too lazy/busy to redo it :)
The finished "Alphabet and Numeral Wall" (Early 2016)
The finished wall look is snapped and if I didn't mention it explicitly, kiddo(and even her nanny) adored(s) them (frankly, adoring came a few months too late, when she started to learn alphabets) J 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Early reading - our take.


      We began reading to Anouk when she was 3 months old (no other reason than the fact that we happened to purchase the first board books only by then) and the first 3 books still remain among her favorites 20 months and 200+ books later. We used to read to her when she was simply lying on the bed, and after a while, during meal times, when she's perched on her high chair, before naps, and at different times a day, each spanning over 5-10 min, and even 20 min on rare occasions, back then and a common thing, now at 22 months. Around the time she was 14 months old, we started researching on how to teach her to read. After a really inspiring and thought-provoking essay[1] from Larry Sanger and  quite innumerable articles on early reading together with some friends that promote early reading with their kids, we were convinced of the relevance of teaching the phonics sounds in addition to the name of the alphabets. Our approach is based on a collective knowledge from all of them - rather than sticking to any particular norm, and we did bend the methods to suit the child and household and not something completely innovative. 

Setting the ground work - learning the alphabets and sounds

 Now, some would argue that introducing the name of the alphabet itself is unnecessary and that only the alphabet sound matters in the beginning. But, we felt that it'd be extra effort for the parents as we'll have to revisit the sounds and teach her the names once she has mastered the sounds. So we set out on the following plan.

1. Parents learnt all the phonic sounds based on [2]. Trust us when we say that we did not learn the phonics in our respective school system. :)

2. DIY flash cards - this requires a bit of elaboration and so I have captured it as a separate post altogether[3]. Essentially, these flash cards helped to teach her all the 26 alphabets, both upper and lower cases, as well as the phonics sounds. The most interesting part of the flash cards was the flexibility it allowed when to use, be it meal time, in between general reading, a quick 1-2 minute revision later in the day etc.

3. Videos - At this time, we also started active search for good videos, which teach the alphabet sounds and names, in an interesting way. After a VAST search, involving parents vetoing out each other on different videos, we narrowed on readingbear[4], (again from Larry Sanger) which we found extremely helpful. The methodology, the step-by-step approach to introduce kids to the world of reading and the videos themselves were quite impressive, given the fact that our child loved them, and having rejected some videos before.

4. Last, but not the least, we had made an alphabet and numerals wall [6] for her, when she turned one. This, though was more of a DIY project accomplishment for the parents at the time and not very appreciated by the kid at that time, she started to use it very frequently around the time, she started learning the alphabets, together with a range of library-borrowed alphabet books

The below list captures the videos we used at different stages of her learning, from different sources, mainly from A learning progress checklist[5] that we found here, was quite helpful in understanding where our child stood in terms of learning and in figuring out the nature of the videos we should be searching for the next step.

1. Listening to, practicing and singing alphabet song (in that order, ideally :) )
ChuChu TV ABC - Slightly more advanced and more loved.

2. Learning, practicing and singing the letter sounds (though a few in the first list will also help)
Jolly Phonics   - was an interesting pick, thanks to 26 different songs in familiar rhyme tunes.

3. Saying the letter sound (and name) when pointed to. 
This is one step where we spend most of the time, as we wanted to make it quite sure that the child is absolutely fluent and comfortable with the letter names and more importantly, the letter sounds, as we felt there should be no setbacks on this account, when we start learning the blending.

We were always very keen not to teach the alphabets/sounds in any particular order, even after learning to sing the ABC song. No particular reason, other than seeing some kids struggle to identify the letters and trying to remember from the sequence, which we felt was not the right way for learning alphabets, though good for numerals. At all times, we continuously kept reading to her. Reading together is one of the important, frequent and the baby-loved-and-led activities that keeps happening at home all the time owing partially to both parents' love for reading. And we believe, this has been the most important aid and most singular motivation for her to learn the alphabets/sounds.

Moving on... Blending the sounds and read words

 We started showing her the videos and flash cards when she was around 18 months, and after 5 weeks, she appeared to have learnt all the phonic sounds together with the upper and lower case letters. The learning sessions were strictly informal and never lasted more than 10-15 minutes everyday, including a 5-6 minute video time during dinner, the only time of the day when these videos were shown. Most importantly, the learning activities were(and are, still) pure fun for the three of us. Anouk grew quite excited when she realized that she could actually read the letters and sounds aloud from her books' title, parents' badminton racquet covers, her shampoo bottle, to cite a few real-life examples and it was more like, it hit her (in her head :D ) that she could find a correlation between her learning exercise and the practical applications. 

At 21 months, we started introducing the blending techniques. Again, is proving to be highly successful with its no-nonsense, non-flashy, aesthetic and interesting (for children and adults) way of learning. This is where we are right now, and it mostly involves, the parents pointing and sounding out the letters, with the kid jumping eagerly to form the word, correctly or otherwise :D And the learning goes on...And we still enjoy reading together everyday.



DIY #2 - Phonics Flash cards

We had browsed for a few phonics/alphabet flash cards available at store, but found some difficulties with respect to following points

  1. Font - The type of font normally used was comic sans, but most of the books we read, used Times New Roman, so we felt that some letters, for eg: "a" might be confusing for the child.
  2. Pictures - We felt difficulty explaining some pictures - for eg : Unicorn, which is a mythological animal. We wanted a picture that the child was already familiar with and felt she could relate to the alphabet better that way.
  3. Layout - Some of them had only the word explaining the picture ( which we felt, would lead to simple memorizing of the word) or only the alphabets together with picture. The con, we felt was that, the kid will associate the alphabet with the picture and just memorize the picture connection and not memorise the alphabet. We wanted one side with just alphabets.
  4. Letter cases - Some of them printed only upper and some of them only lower, while we wanted the child to learn both together. We felt the initial struggle is simply worth while and explained to the kid as upper and lower case itself. ( A daycare we had initially planned to send our child to, was teaching them as mommy "A" and the baby "a"!! Wonder why adults often underestimate the clarity and ability of young minds to absorb straightforward thoughts)
  5. Alphabet names/ phonics sounds - As mentioned before, we planned to teach her all the phonics sounds [1], so a mere 26 letter flashcard were not sufficient enough.
So, bearing all this in mind, we set out to create our customised phonic flash cards. A quick overview of the flashcard specs :

  • Size : Each were around 10cm x 14cm (4 cards printed on one A4 size sheet, minus margin to trim off the borders)
  • Layout : One side had just the alphabets (both upper and lower) and other side had alphabets together with a picture, whose name started with a short sound of that letter (eg : c-cat, i-ink, e-egg) (a few exception eg : x-box). 
  • Software used : Inkscape [2]
  • Materials used
    • Photoprint paper
    • 2-3mm thick chart paper
    • Scissors, Ruler and pencil (to mark and cut)
    • Transparent/clear tape (Taped out all the 4 edges, thanks to a kid who really likes to pry on edges)
  • Outcome : Snaps are taken a few months too late, so some of them will appear pretty "loved".
Front view


Foot notes :  Kiddo took to these flashcards quite instantly. We used this as one of the tools (among a lot of songs, books and a few(3-4) videos) while teaching alphabets and phonics. Proved to be very handy for any time of the day, be it meal time, general book reading time or during bedtime routine. The phonics learning process took around 1.5 months, when Anouk was around 18-20 months ( Mid 2016) to learn the set completely and still being used from time to time for revision, or out of pure pleasure for her. 


Friday, 9 December 2016

Pre-primary Education - in a nutshell

I was checking for the kindergarten curriculum from MoE and realized that MoE provides a range of reading to enable parents and teachers of KG students, get a good perspective about the key aspects of pre-primary education, be it structured or non-structured. Below points are a cheat sheet from my reading. A full reading is encouraged, and can make use of the reference section.

Six Learning Areas [1]

1. Aesthetics and Creative Expression
2. Discovery of the World
3. Language and Literacy
4. Motor Skills Development
5. Numeracy
6. Social and Emotional Development

Fig 1. Overview of the Kindergarten Curriculum Framework [2]

Learning Dispositions [2]
1. Perseverance
2. Reflectiveness
3. Appreciation
4. Inventiveness
5. Sense of wonder and curiosity
6. Engagement

iTEACH principles [2]
1. integrated approach to learning
2. Teachers as facilitators of learning
3. Engaging children in learning through purposeful play
4. Authentic learning through quality interactions
5. Children as constructors of knowledge
6. Holistic development

Learning Goals [2]

  1. Language and Literacy
    1. Listen for information and enjoyment
    2. Speak to convey meaning and communicate with others
    3. Read with understanding and for enjoyment
    4. Use drawing, mark making, symbols and writing with invented and conventional spelling to communicate ideas and information
  2. Motor Skills Development
    1. Enjoy through participation in a variety of physical activities
    2. Demonstrate control, coordination and balance in gross motor tasks
    3. Demonstrate control and coordination in fine motor tasks
    4. Develop healthy habits and safety awareness at home, in school and at public places
  3. Aesthetics and Creative Expression
    1. Enjoy art and music and movement activities
    2. Express ideas and feelings through art and music and movement
    3. Create art and music and movement using experimentation and imagination
    4. Share ideas and feelings about art and music and movement
  4. Discovery of the World
    1. Show an interest in the world they live in
    2. Find out why things happen and how things work through simple investigations
    3. Develop a positive attitude towards the world around them
  5. Numeracy
    1. Recognise and use simple relationships and patterns
    2. Use numbers in daily experiences
    3. Recognise and use basic shapes and simple spatial concepts in daily experiences
  6. Social and Emotional Development
    1. Develop an awareness of personal identity
    2. Manage their own emotions and behaviours
    3. Show respect for diversity
    4. Communicate, interact and build relationships with others
    5. Take responsibility for their actions


Friday, 5 August 2016

DIY #1 Christmas Star(s)

This was our first DIY project for Anouk, who was ~10 months old at Xmas. It was quite a fun and feel good activity for the parents. The templates for the Christmas star we used, are available here.

Equipment we used
  1. A4 sheet paper for each leg of the star
  2. Glue
  3. Scissor
  4. Double sided tape - which I found was useful than glue, when joining legs of the star together
  5. Coloured paper (we got 3 sheets, since we made 3 stars, 40 cents a piece
  6. Time - Around 45 min for each star. :)
I referred this site for a detailed description of How-to.

We went for the simplest form - no light bulbs inside and hence no perforations on the paper too, to let the light out. The product was super neat and we used a needle and thread to hung it from the spot light bulb stand. 

Time line : e/o 2015

Bonus points :
  • Kiddo loved it
  • Learnt star ( not to pronounce, but always looked up at the stars to our "Where are our stars?" :) - # Edit - learnt to say star after another couple of months :D
  • Learnt to show a somewhat curled three fingers to our constant "Three stars" with the sign.
  • Loves to get a raise-me-up-and-make-my-head-bang-against-them .. A sure shot solution to a cranky child situation.