Saturday, 28 September 2013

Ham in the middle

#2 found this recipe online and prepared this for our breakfast. Fun to make and yummy to eat.
Try it!

She also wrote this post.


1) Cut a square out of the bread
2) Flatten the inner square
3) Break the egg into a bowl
4) Cut a piece of ham to fit the hole
5) Put oil in a pan and spread it around.
6) Put the outer square of bread into the pan
7) Pour the egg into the hole in the bread.
8) Put the ham onto the egg before it solidifies entirely
9) Place the cheese on top of the ham
10) After roughly a minute, put the inner square of bread into the hole and press it down so that it does not bulge out
11) After twenty seconds, flip the bread
12) After a minute, you can serve. It should be golden brown
13) Enjoy your breakfast!

Sane tip: It's great when your kids can cook. It not only makes them independent, but it's a life skill. It's really wonderful when your kids can cook a proper meal for you :)

Save tip: They love eating this for weekend breakfasts. Besides, it's cheap and yummy!

~  mummywee - parenting 6 kids without going mad or broke  ~

Beaba Babycook Rice Cooker

Now that Kate is 11 months old, she is eating carbohydrates along with her vegetables, fruits and meat. Her portions are really small and I have been cooking them in our smallest pot, which is still too big. On many occasions I leave it on the stove to cook, then promptly forget about it and by the time I check on it, the water would have evaporated and the porridge is either too dry and lumpy or her pasta is over-cooked. What I really need is an auto turn off function. Beaba kindly sponsored me their Babycook Rice-Cooker to use with my Babycook.
Not only can this be used to cook rice, but it can also cook porridge and pasta. This can be done by varying the amount of water used and the time used to cook it. As Kate is 11 months old, she is still eating porridge instead of rice.
Besides the normal porridge using white rice grain, I like to vary the grains used. Learn about why we should vary our baby's food in 6 Food Rules for babies (and children). I alternate between millet, quinoa or brown rice as they are more nutritious than white rice.
Today's lunch is millet with green beans
There are many other types of grains which you can find in the supermarkets like NTUC or Cold Storage.
Fill the water to Level 3 (which will be about 15 minutes of cooking time) and pour it into the heating reservoir of your Babycook.
Put the millet, soup stock and vegetable or meat into the central compartment. When we make soup for the family, I will put aside a portion for Kate before adding salt. I then freeze them into individual portions which I can take out to make her porridge. 
This pot fits into the Babycook and you just turn it on. When it is ready, it will turn off automatically. I find this feature absolutely helpful to me. On days when only 1 child is back for lunch, I cook a maximum amount of porridge in this and it is enough to feed both Kate and a school-going child.
This is the Beaba Babycook

I used 1 part grain to 8 parts soup to get this consistency (10g millet with 80ml soup). It is a little bit watery but Kate likes it this way. If your baby prefers it a little less watery, you can use 1 part grain to 5 parts soup. Just experiment and see what your baby prefers.
Besides porridge, this can also be used to cook pasta. I also like to give Kate a variety of pasta. Besides the usual pasta which is made from wheat, I give her those made of spelt, buckwheat or corn. 
Today she is having spelt pasta
Put both the pasta and water into the centre of the Beaba rice cooker. I use 10g of pasta for her per meal, and add about 100ml of water in to cook it. I pour in Level 3 of water into the heating reservoir as it takes about 15 minutes to cook it. For bigger pasta (when she is older) you would need to run the cycle twice to cook it fully.
Once it's done it will shut off automatically and I just drain the water away.
I still freeze portions of puree which I prepare using the Babycook. Every morning I will take 1 portion down into the fridge to defrost for her pasta meal.
Carrot and broccoli puree sauce

I use the babycook to heat up her sauce. It is so convenient, everything can be done with one appliance. It is especially useful when you travel with your baby or toddler.
I put her sauce into a dish and heat it up for about 5 minutes in the Babycook. The puree sauce goes over her pasta and her dinner is ready!
Somedays she finishes the whole portion but somedays she will shake her head when she's had enough. Don't fret and don't force your baby to finish everything. They have to learn to listen to their body and know when they are full. This will go a long way towards teaching them to have a positive attitude towards food.
What a yummy meal. She's all full and contented now!
Sane tip: This rice cooker insert has really made my life easier! I don't have to run to the kitchen when I'm in the middle of something else just to turn off the fire on the stove. And when I forget about it (don't ask me why, but it happened to me so many times it's not funny) I don't get overcooked or almost burnt food that Kate refuses to eat. I really love this adorable little appliance. It cooks her porridge and her pasta, steams and blends her purée sauces, heats it up and even defrosts it.. What more can I ask for!

Save tip: Although these grains are more expensive (as they are usually organic) but I prefer to cook her smaller portions and ensure she eats all or most of it as I know she is getting more nutrients out of it. In the long run, her health and immunity will also be better which means that she will fall ill less. I also don't spend on vitamins or supplements for Kate. I believe that nutrients can be better absorbed from food than from supplements (not forgetting the sugar content in most vitamin supplements for kids).

The Beaba Babycook Rice Cooker costs $20.60 and is available at Takashimaya, Isetan, Motherswork (a few outlets) or First Few years (Paragon). It has to be used together with the Beaba Babycook.

For measurements on cooking porridge, please look under Comments below.

Related posts on feeding baby in the first year:

Feeding baby: 6 - 8 months (The Why behind weaning), click here.
Feeding baby: 8 - 10 months (Introducing new foods), click here.
Feeding baby: 10 - 12 months (Baby's menu), click here.

Disclaimer: This item has been sponsored. All opinions are my own.

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Friday, 27 September 2013

A comment by a former teacher in the Straits Times forum page

Yesterday, I posted that 1 of the biggest problems in the education system is the way teachers are incentivised wrongly, leading to teaching being relegated to the back burner. This article in the Straits Times forum page today, contributed by Ms Anne Chia, a former teacher and HOD (head of department) of a Secondary school echoes this point.

She is urging the MOE to give teachers sufficient time to teach, mark, and provide feedback to the students. Only then will proper learning take place.

She also mentioned the second problem that I have unearthed. The Ministry is coming up with very good initiatives but the implementation is at best slip-shod, and I feel, at worst, skewed or manipulated beyond its real purpose.

If MOE can seriously tackle these 2 problems:

1) Let teachers focus on teaching (with the correct monetary benefits to reflect that)

2) Implementation of initiatives to be carried out properly (from principals, to teachers, to parents)

Then, we should be able see a huge difference in our education system within 5 years.

For "Why parents are forced to spend on tuition", click here.

For 6 things to do in the PSLE year, click here.

For 6 tips to choose a secondary school that is right for your child, click here.

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Why parents are forced to spend on tuition

I wrote this article 3 years ago, which appeared in the Straits Times Forum page. This past week, the tuition issue is still raging on, especially after Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah said that tuition is unnecessary for most children in Singapore as the education system is more than sufficient to provide them with the tools and information that they require. I'm not sure about her family situation, but I can safely guess that she does not have a child currently in either a Primary or Secondary school. This is my experience with the education system:

Why parents are forced to spend on tuition

My three older children are in Primary 6, Primary 4 and Primary 2 in a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school. Having put them in such a well sought-after school, I thought they would be in good hands.

All three of them were getting average grades. However, to my utter shock and dismay, my eldest came home with red marks in all her subjects for her Primary 5 year end exams, and she was the last in class. Her concerned form teacher called me to find out what happened. She told me that my daughter was attentive in class and was, in fact, chosen as the role model student for that year.

After speaking to me, the teacher was surprised that she had no tuition and that I did not coach her myself. She was even more surprised that I had not bought any 10-year series or guidebooks for her. (As she was my eldest, I didn't know that just sending her to school and buying all the requisite textbooks were not enough to get by). I, in turn, asked her what was happening. She was the one teaching my daughter 3 out of the 4 subjects in school, so I should be querying her about her poor grades, not the other way around! She then explained to me that due to time constraints, teachers could only cover the basics, so the child needed to do a lot more extra work at home or to get tuition.

That seems to be the reality, as I have found out from parents of children in other schools as well. She was put into a different class in her P6 year. Subsequently, I enrolled her for tuition for all four subjects and for her mid-year exam, she achieved the first position in her class. In the end, thanks to tuition, she managed to get 4As for her PSLE. (I shudder to think what her grades would be like if I had not sent her for tuition in her P6 year). I can now understand why the majority of parents are willing to spend so much money on tuition. The system is just not delivering.

Tuition centres, on the other hand, are able to produce many students with As. Why is that so? The class size is about 10. The tutors are motivated to get the students to do well as there are incentives to do so. More than that, they are not bogged down with many other responsibilities that distract them from teaching. Many good tutors I spoke to are former teachers.

If we could give our teachers a good environment, and not burden them with umpteen other responsibilities, they would have more time and energy left to prepare well for lessons.

The sad truth is that parents are focusing all their energies on academic achievement, thereby neglecting more important matters like character building and family bonding, which are so crucial in today's fast-paced and changing world. It may be a good idea to set up a forum with parents, students, teachers, tutors and the Ministry of Education to analyse the situation. Singapore has a world-class education system. Perhaps, that is in part due to a world-class tuition system.
That was my article published 3 years ago. I have since spoken to more teachers and tutors and I have identified the biggest problem. If we can solve this 1 problem, I think we are half-way there. 

The problem is the incentive of the teachers. Currently, all schools have an annual review by the MOE. The principal's performance is pegged to this review. To get a better review, the principal has to show more initiatives and programs they have achieved that year, besides teaching. So in turn, the principal will push the teachers to be involved in more initiatives, activities and competitions to pump up the annual review. The teachers are willing to do this because the more extra initiatives they take on, the better their EPMS, the better their bonuses. So in fact, the whole system encourages teachers to spend time on other areas besides teaching. As a result, where is the motivation to teach well? In fact, teaching is considered low level work. Honestly, I couldn't believe my ears when I first discovered that fact. How can teaching be considered low level work when teaching is the primary role of a teacher? Once I made that discovery, it all made sense to me why teachers were behaving the way they were behaving. They actually benefit monetarily by doing all this extra CCAs, competitions, sports festivals, etc. 

I am really curious about what MOE thinks. Do they know that it is already a full time job for teachers just to be teaching? Do they think it is really possible for a person to be handling so many other responsibilities yet be able to teach passionately and effectively? Can we instead, incentivise teachers who teach well? Peg the bonuses to the delivery of good lessons. I remember reading one article in the Straits Times about a history teacher in a secondary school. He even went to the trouble to dress like a Japanese soldier when he was doing a lesson on the Japanese occupation. He brought the lesson alive to his students and I think he even used role-play to get them involved. Ideas like that should be complimented and taken into consideration in their performance review. I think herein lies the crux of our solution. Raise teaching to High Level work with the subsequent monetary benefits and we will probably see a reduction in the need for tuition.

On a brighter note, I am very excited to read in today's papers about the bold plans to move away from the single focus of exams to develop a more rounded education for our students. This is exactly what I have been saying in my past post. Education minister Heng Swee Keat announced that there will be an applied learning programme and a learning-for-life programme in all secondary schools by 2017. These programs will help students use what they learn to solve real-life problems and they will also discover their strengths and interests. I have also proposed this in my previous blog "so who's smarter?" I think these 2 programmes are right on the mark. 

I am really keen to find out more about the details of these 2 schemes in the dialogue session which I am attending next week at the MOE. I just hope that the delivery and execution of these schemes will always retain the right focus and purpose. Somehow, our system seems to warp all the best plans and initiatives formulated by the Ministry. I don't know if it's the principals, the teachers or the parents who drive everything into a competition. 

Now that the Ministry is being so supportive in nurturing our children to find their individual strengths and talents, I hope all parents can take on this liberating mindset, that each and every child is different and we are not competing against one another. We should instead focus our energy in teaching our children to challenge themselves to be the best that they can be.

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

6 Food Rules for babies (and children)

Food is always a topic of discussion amongst new moms. What to feed baby, when to feed baby, how to feed baby. When it comes to eating, the most difficult child is #5. This is partly due to his allergies when he was younger. As a result, we limited his diet to rice and noodles and a little bit of fish and meat because we didn't know what would trigger it. Now that he is 7, he still has a very limited repertoire of foods which he likes. He only eats noodles that are yellow or green (with no foreign stuff in there i.e. spring onions or bean sprouts) and only certain types of meat. Here are some food rules I try to establish when it comes to Kate's diet so that she will have a more pleasurable food journey as she grows up.

1) Variety, variety, variety

Introduce as much variety as possible into their diet. Between the ages of 6 months and 15 months, they are most receptive to try new foods. This is a window of opportunity to get them used to the different tastes. If they do not like a particular type of food, don't give up. It has been found that it takes about 10 times for a child to accept a new food.

Why is it so important to get them to eat a variety of food?
  • Balanced diet: They will be more likely to get most of the needed vitamins from different foods.
  • To avoid mealtime battles: If your child is used to eating a wide variety of food, it will avoid mealtime battles as they grow into toddlers. And if you have more than 1 child, it will be easier for you to prepare the meals. Imagine if each child will only eat a particular type of food, you will have a headache preparing every meal.
  • Outings / Parties: It will be much easier when you take them out for meals as there will be something on the menu which they like. When they go for parties, you won't have to worry if there will be food that will suit their taste. 
2) Eat everything in moderation

Research comes up with new information all the time. One moment, they say that fish is good. The next moment, they say not to eat too much fish as there are high levels of mercury in fish (the bigger the fish, the higher the mercury level). Other research say that certain vegetables like beetroot and carrots are high in nitrate. So the best thing to do is to eat everything in moderation. In this way, the child's body will not be overly exposed in any case.

Ok, this is definitely not a good example of eating in moderation! This photo must have been taken about 13 years ago. Well, I have come a long way in improving their diets over the years. You can guess who gave her this bag of chips. I think #1 must have been around 18 months.  But actually, I think the hubs had almost finished eating it and left her just a little bit.
Oh boy, this IS good!
3) Drinks should be drank between meals

Imagine our stomach is like a cement mixer. There is acid in there to help to digest our food. If you pour a lot of water in, it will not only dilute the stomach acid, but it will make it much harder to churn and digest your food. Give baby sips of water if the food is dry. Otherwise, let her drink water throughout the day instead of during meals.

4) Eat together as a family

Eating should be a pleasurable social activity. Many studies have shown a host of benefits for children and teenagers who eat together with the family on most days of the week. These include family cohesion, increased language acquisition, and even success in school. I try to let Kate eat with us as much as possible. Our dinners are at 6pm everyday which suits her. She has her breakfast at 8am, her lunch at 12noon, some fruits for tea at 3, and dinner at 6pm. Her milk feeds will be interspersed between her mealtimes. Also, once they pass 18 months, they will start to be more picky, especially with foods they have never tasted before. By eating together, when they see mom and dad (and many other siblings) eating the same foods, they may be more willing to try it.

When #1 was a toddler, we were busy studying and we left her to eat by herself while I kept an eye on her. I also read that they should be taught to feed themselves, and not to mind the mess. This is what happened!
Maybe some rice should go here, here and here...
5) Proteins earlier in the day

Protein-rich foods take longer to digest, therefore they should be eaten at breakfast and lunch, not at dinner. You don't want it to sit heavily in your stomach while you sleep.

6) Have the right attitude

Don't let your child see that you are trying to convince her to eat her vegetables. On the other hand, don't go overboard praising or cheering her on when she eats her vegetables either. Aim for cheerful nonchalance. If she refuses to eat a particular food, you can put it on your own plate and pretend to give it to her reluctantly. Let her try at least 1 bite, and after a few times, she may come to accept the food. 

Sane tip: Of course, these are the ideals which I try to stick to as much as possible. But there will be times when it's not possible and things are not going well, but I don't fret about it. Just keep in mind the bigger picture.

Save tip: It is important to establish good eating habits from young. If not, your child may grow up to be a fussy eater and believe me, it will drive you nuts. Not only will you be wasting a lot of time and energy trying to get her to eat what you want her to eat, you will waste a lot of food which you have prepared.

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Armchair shopping - part 1

I have never shopped online as I thought it was just too complicated, and even if there was some savings to be had, it wouldn't be significant to warrant all that hassle. However, my sister-in-law (SIL) is an avid online shopper and she kept showing me her buys. I was surprised to find that even after shipping costs are factored in, some things are much cheaper than buying from the malls. And we haven't even factored in ERP, car park charges and petrol or cab fare. And of course, the time spent travelling there and back.
There is some further discount off these original prices
Let me give you an example. My SIL just received her latest shipment of clothes for her 18-month old daughter. She bought 6 items from Ralph Lauren, and they cost her about S$165, inclusive of shipping charges (she bought several other items as well to ship back together, as shipping charges is a tiered system - more about that in tips later). That works out to be about $27 per item. It would have easily cost her a few hundred dollars at the mall. Kate can look forward to new hand-me-downs :)

Ok, that sounded pretty good. But I wasn't intending to buy Ralph Lauren anytime soon. Besides RL, she also shops from Carter's, Gap and Oshkosh as you can get the latest collection at reduced prices, and even more savings during their seasonal sales. She also looks out for promo codes to get further discounts. Other than clothes, what else did she buy? She showed me this item from Munchkin which she felt is her best buy so far. It is the Munchkin Nursery Projector and Sound System. 

When her daughter refuses to lie down in her crib, she turns the projector on and her daughter will lie quietly and watch the images on the ceiling. Besides the projections, this machine also emits sounds including lullabies, Mozart music, white noise, heartbeat sound etc. You can set it on timer for 15, 30 or 60 minutes.
The images can either be projected on the ceiling or walls
It also has a voice activation option whereby it will turn itself on when the baby cries! It also has a night light if you need to change your baby's diaper. This oh-so-practical little machine costs just US$25! Amazing. (You do need an adaptor for this). I was hunting high and low for a white noise machine for Kate as her room is right next to the stairs and she gets woken up easily with all the noise. The only thing I managed to find was a bear toy that emitted white noise and lullaby sounds (which was much too soft to mask the outside noise especially when we have friends over) and it cost more than $50, so I didn't buy it. This multi-tasker is such a bargain!
This is the top view of the projector cum sound machine
I was sold on the idea of online shopping and this is going to be my first buy. My SIL instructed me to set up an account with comGateway which she uses. It is a local freight company which will help you ship your shopping back here. When you sign up with them, you will get a US address (much like a locker in their US warehouse). 

Why do we need to use a freight company?
  1. This allows you to buy from sites which only allow shipping within the US. 
  2. Even with sites which does international shipping, using a freight company is usually much cheaper than their in-house shipping charges (except on occasions where they have a promotion like '50% off international shipping').
  3. If you were going to buy from a few different shops, you can consolidate your buys and ship them all together via comGataway, which would be cheaper than shipping them back individually. They offer free storage of your packages up to 30 days while you wait for the other packages to arrive.
  4. If your items arrive in very big boxes, they will even help you repack your shopping. Or if you want to pack multiple items together into a single box, they will do it too, for a nominal charge. Just drop them an email.
So I got started. I created an account with comGateway, and was pleasantly surprised that they have a 'Welcome pack' whereby I will get 10% off my 1st shipping. They guide you through the steps, and I found it easy to follow. 

I went into Amazon (which is like a huge mall carrying all sorts of brands) and typed in Munchkin projector under 'Search'. They will list all the 'shops' which carry that item. There will be a slight price variation. Some will be more expensive but includes Free shipping within the U.S. I chose the one at $25 with Free shipping. I keyed in the U.S. address for the Shipping address and for the Billing address I put my Singapore home address. During payment, you will have an option of which currency to pay in. Your credit card will probably give you a better rate than the merchant, so I chose to shop in USD. That's it! Done! It will be shipped to my comGateway address in about a week.

Now that I had made my first purchase from a U.S. store, I was getting quite excited. I love this website called See Jane Work where I go to check out their products and admire their stylish workspaces. Their stuff is more high end and I never browsed with the intention of buying as I thought it couldn't be shipped here. Now, I can shop there! I bought myself a 'Pack This' pad at $7 (those who read my Family Command Centre post will know how much I love such pads). I also allowed myself to indulge in a set of 10 beautiful ocean blue pencils for $7. Well, my consolation was that I managed to restrain myself from buying many of the more expensive items. I will show you the other items I bought when they arrive :) 

My SIL always buys up to a maximum of S$400 at one go as there is no GST below that amount, and it would be the most cost effective for shipping. She suggested I buy some toiletries as they are much cheaper online. She uses Aveda products and literally buys them by the litre. I have also just started to use Aveda as I have finally realised that my hair is in need of some tender loving care. For the past 15 years, it was a quick shampoo (of the cheap supermarket kind) and that was it. I didn't even have time for conditioner or any other products. I'm going to give Aveda a go and see if it's going to make a difference. 
My SIL buys Aveda products by the litre
I went back into and searched under Aveda. The conditioner that I use costs me $46 here for a 200ml tube. In Amazon, it costs US$18 (S$24)! Even with shipping costs, it was a good 35% discount! The 1L bottle was an even better deal. It costs $150 here and in amazon it's about 45% cheaper, inclusive of shipping. I ended up buying both the shampoo and conditioner.
This tiny 200ml tube costs $46 here!
A friend shared that she likes Martha Stewart's organisational diaries and she intends to buy them on her trip to the U.S. I took a look at her website and was amazed that she does have a huge array of products to help moms keep everything in order. And they are much more affordable than See Jane Work. When I clicked on an item to start buying, they asked for my zip code. I keyed it in, and it said Free Shipping for orders above $19.99. I'm beginning to love this!!

Tips for online shopping:
  1. Set your country to U.S when you are in the store's website
  2. Shop in U.S. Dollars as your credit card usually offers you a better exchange rate than the merchant
  3. Check for the "https" or the padlock as these indicate that your details are secure
  4. Keep your credit card details secret in all email correspondence
  5. GST is payable when your total purchase + shipping exceeds S$400
  6. Shipping charges (standard): First 0.5kg US$11. Every additional 0.5kg US$2.85. It makes sense to consolidate all your packages up to S$400 before asking comGateway to ship it back together.
Sane tip: If we don't get carried away, I think online shopping is just wonderful. It really cuts down my time going down to town and searching for a particular item I need. Especially if Takashimaya doesn't have what I want, I have to run around to Motherswork, Robinsons or Isetan. In the websites, I can easily narrow down my search to - Kids: clothes 1-2 years girls, or Toys: toddlers. I can also get many products exclusive to the U.S.

Save tip: I contacted comGateway to see if they could do anything special for us, and I'm delighted to say that they are offering 5% off international shipping charges from now till 31 Dec 2013!* (Remember, there is 10% off your first shipping in your welcome pack when you sign up. From your 2nd shipping onwards, you get 5% off till the end of the year). The promo code can be found in mummywee facebook page. 'Like' us while you're there to receive future updates. Happy shopping! 

*Terms & conditions apply
(pls refer to mummywee facebook page for T&C)

Do share with us any other websites which you love! I will try to consolidate a list in Armchair shopping - part 2 for everyone to enjoy :)

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Mid-autumn festival

Mid-autumn festival is here again! Time for some yummy mooncakes. Nowadays they have such a wide variety of flavours, but we still prefer the traditional ones, and the snow skin ones.
Both their primary schools held their Mid-autumn celebrations on the same night so we had to do a school hop. We all went to #3's school first. There were lots of things going on there. Performances, competitions, game stalls, food stalls, etc. Sadly though, most things had to be paid for. We needed tickets to enter, and the games and food were not cheap.

Calligraphy booth where the children could try their hand at it
There was the traditional Lantern riddles, where the riddles were written on strips of paper and hung from the lanterns. It was authentic, but too high for the children to read, so the parents ended up playing the game!

We then adjourned to #4 and #5's school. There, they also had the riddles for the children to guess. In ancient China, riddles were used to hide words. They were initially used for the entertainment of the Lords, but were later used to mock the monarch.
Their school had a similar program, but with a more family focus. The competitions were multi-generational, and the performances even included the older folks dancing to a very hip Korean song! It was a much bigger event and the neighbours were also invited to join in the celebrations. There were performances by the students as well as professional performances such as the ancient Chinese dramatic art of "face changing" (bian lian). They provided mooncakes and drinks for everyone.

My kids found their friends and they ended up playing together, with all the various siblings joining in. After the performances ended, there was a Dragon dance performance and the dragon led the crowd for a lantern procession. It was truly a family and community event. 
Sane tip: Do you know that research has shown that people scored higher on their happiness level when they are on good terms with their neighbours and within their communities? I am impressed with this school in their efforts to engage and involve their neighbours, including those of different races.

Save tip: At #4 and #5's school, even though we didn't spend a cent, they had a great time just running around with their friends. During school days, it's just work, work and more work so they were thrilled to play with one another freely. It's really the simple things that give kids a lot of enjoyment.

~   mummywee - parenting 6 kids without going mad or broke  ~

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Please take care of your children's teeth

The National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS) has been reaching out to parents in a bid to educate them on the importance of good dental health. A survey showed that 7 in 10 parents polled had not taken their children to the dentist before. The number of children being treated at NDCS for early childhood caries has doubled in the last decade. Many of these childhood dental problems are a result of parent's ignorance in this area. I was one of those ignorant parent, and the state of my children's dental health was terrible. I am determined to inculcate good dental hygiene in Kate.
Kate loves brushing her own teeth
A couple of years back, #1 had a tooth infection. There was some swelling on her gums (like a bubble) and we took her to Pacific Healthcare at Paragon. As she was already about 11 years old, the dentist decided to extract her baby tooth. The swelling disappeared and the problem was solved. The dentist enquired about the other family members and asked us to check the other childrens' teeth. True enough, we found out that #4 suddenly had a cavity in one of her back tooth. We took her to NDCS and they said that the infection was most likely passed from one sibling to the next due to the sharing of food. As she was only about 5 years old at that time, they didn't want to extract the baby tooth as the space needed to be saved for the adult tooth which will appear a few years later. So she had to do a crown. She was scheduled for a crowning to be done under general anaesthesia (G.A.). Even though it was done at NDC, it cost me more than $2,000 to fix that tooth!

About 2 years ago, we noticed that #5 had 'rotten teeth'. Several of his teeth started getting discoloured and we could see that they were decayed. We took him to The Kids Dentist at Camden and Dr. Rashid shook his head after examining him. He said that many of his teeth had started to decay badly and he needed some pulpotomy treatment, 5 crowns and a couple of fillings. 5 crowns?! Wouldn't that cost me $10,000? This was a nicely set-up private clinic at Camden, so I was sure it would cost me an arm and a leg. As it turned out, Dr. Rashid said we had 2 choices. If #5 manages to be cooperative (meaning sit still in the chair for about 1 hour for 5-7 sessions and open his mouth big) he wouldn't need to be sedated. A big chunk of the cost for #4's crowning was for G.A.

Before Dr. Rashid could start, #5 needed to do an x-ray. He was very uncooperative and Dr. Rashid said that there was no way he could do any treatment without G.A. if he behaved like that. I knew I had to convince #5 to be a willing patient. He loves Lego, so I told him that if he did what he was told, we would go and buy 1 set of Lego after every session. That worked like magic! He cooperated fully and after every session, I would allow him to buy a $9.90 box of Lego of his choice. (That was a steal compared to paying more than a thousand bucks for G.A.). In the end, I paid about $3000+ to fix all his teeth.

After discussions with Dr. Rashid, we realised that the cause of his rotten teeth was a combination of factors. When he was young, he would go to bed with a bottle of milk and not brush his teeth prior to falling asleep. Our previous helper also used to give him a bottle of ribena several times a day as he lay on the couch watching TV. It was easy for her as there was no mess (compared to a cup) and he wouldn't bother her for a long time. His teeth was also not brushed properly and there were times when he was tired and I didn't insist on having him brush his teeth before he went to bed.
Baby gum cum tooth brush
That was indeed a very expensive and painful mistake to make. Now I am more careful with Kate. From the time she was 3 months old, I got her this tooth/gum brush. It's bristles are really soft. I instructed my helper to brush her teeth every evening and she replied rather incredulously, "Brush her teeth? But she has no teeth!" I explained to her that it was just to get her used to having her gums cleaned. I will definitely not let her drink any other sweet drinks out of her bottle besides milk. I will also try to wean her from her bottle when she turns 1... or maybe 2 ;) That's already a big improvement. The other 5 of them drank from their bottles till they were about 4 or 5! ( I seriously thought milk was meant to be drank out of a milk bottle).

Dr. Rashid also told us that if we really wanted to give the child a sweet drink, it was much better to drink it all up in one go, than to take sips of it over a prolonged period of time. It will just be a sugar bath in there. And although we all know that sweets are bad, the nasty ones to really watch out for are those sticky ones. One surprising thing we learnt was that rice, left on the teeth for a long time, will also break down into sugar!

Later on, I asked a dentist friend why #4 had to do her crown under G.A. at NDCS, when #5 could have an option of local anaesthesia if he was cooperative? She used to work in NDCS and told me that they were seeing patients back-to-back there and did not have time to cajole the child to be cooperative. It was more time efficient to just send them all through G.A. I personally will not choose the option of G.A. if I can avoid it, not only because of the cost, but because there is a slight risk in getting a G.A.

Sane tip: Start taking your child to the dentist when she is about 1 year old. It is more to get her used to the dentist and the environment so that she will not protest next time. Also, it is good to start getting their teeth checked from a young age as the dentist can point out any early problems, and it is much easier to prevent problems than to seek treatment. 

Save tip: Taking good care of your child's teeth will definitely save you a ton of money on dental treatment in future.

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A chat with Ms Sim Ann about the education system

I met with Minister of State Ms Sim Ann and took the opportunity to voice out my concerns about our education system. I shared with her that as a parent, I was disappointed in the new policy changes and that what we desperately need is real change. I was rather baffled as I have been following our Education Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat's, comments on the newspapers over the past year and I feel that he has got the fundamentals right, but why are we not seeing that filtered down to the policies?

I highlighted to her the problems and some suggestions from a parent's point of view. 

1. Students - They are getting so stressed that mental health issues like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self mutilation are all on the rise and it is very alarming.

Suggestion: Every time I speak to a child from an International School, be it a 6 year old or a 16 year old, they tell me that they love school. Why don't our children feel the same way about our schools? I found out that the way lessons are conducted there are vastly different from ours. We should perhaps study their system more closely and adopt those that would work for our framework. I know that the Ministry has previously sent teachers into International Schools. However, when they come back to their own schools and try to implement what they have witnessed, they are constrained by resources, time and support. To make anything work, the entire system has to follow through. 

2. Teachers - They are tremendously overworked with additional duties so much so that they can hardly cope with completing the syllabus, much less deliver inspiring lessons. The Enhanced Performance Management System (EPMS) has also been manipulated. Teachers realise that to get a better performance grade and hence a better bonus, they need to take on more initiatives and be more visible. This leaves them less time for their main role - teaching. Many good teachers end up leaving the service due to burn out or lack of work life balance, which leaves our children with new and inexperienced teachers. Sadly, many teachers start off very passionate, but the burden of the system leaves them drained and disenchanted.

Suggestion: We do not expect great chefs to do the administrative work and organise the parties. We let them concentrate on what they do best - cook. Can we do the same for our teachers? Let them have enough time and resources to come up with creative ideas to bring the lessons alive to the students. Let other people organise the fun fairs and sports festivals. Let CCAs be 100% outsourced to professionals. Instead, experienced teachers should mentor the new teachers, especially in the areas of keeping the class in order and handling difficult students. If the teacher can't even manage to get the students to sit attentively and listen, how can they teach effectively?

3. Tuition - Too much time and money are spent on tuition. I know of children who have back to back tuition on the weekends. There is practically no more time left for family bonding. Some teachers even blatantly tell their students to get tuition. 

Solution: We have to re-look our syllabus such that tuition should not be needed for the majority of students. It is unfortunate if new parents decide to stop at 1 or 2 children due to the high cost of raising kids these days, especially if much of the cost is contributed by tuition.

4. The 'teach less learn more' policy - it has not been implemented properly and now it seems to be a 'schools teach less, tutors teach more' reality.
Coincidentally, #3 had some homework on 'Our MP'
5. Parents - Because of the hierarchical system, whereby they are streamed from top down: IP, Express, Normal (academic), Normal (technical), ITE, etc, parents being parents will try to push their children to do as well as possible to go to the 'best' schools or to ensure they don't end up in the 'neighbourhood' schools, which leads to much of the stress faced by the children. I agree that there are now many pathways open to students. However, this top down system seems to suggest that "If you are not so smart, nevermind, you can go down this other path". How many parents would feel proud if their child went to 'Normal' stream or ITE? It is very hard to rid this 'labelling' mindset, so perhaps we should revamp the whole secondary education scene, into a horizontal system, recognising the different intelligences and the different ways children learn, and catering to them. 

Solution: Let us use the Primary years to sort them out. We can then stream them into different Talent schools in their Secondary years. We need to re-brand them, such that none of it is a 'second choice' school, but each a more suitable fit for the individual child. Examples could be:

1. Academia School
2. Entrepreneur School
3. Engineering School
4. Artistic School
5. Education School
6. Trades School
7. Culinary School
8. Design School
9. Technology School
10. Journalistic School

The core subjects such as English, Mother Tongue, Math, Sciences and Humanities should all be taught, but using different modalities and with different focuses. For example in the Design school, they can first study a product, research into the history of such products and various competitor's products, find out about the creators, learn about their countries of origin, and attempt to build a better design. We can easily incorporate all the elements of the different subjects into one project. When a child is motivated by his area of interest, learning is quicker and more dynamic. 

We have to challenge this basic assumption: Is academic intelligence the most superior of all intelligences? Will it get the child furthest in life? If we pursue this at all cost, will he have the happiest future? A career he loves? A family whom he cares about and who cares about him? Friends who will support him in times of need? One very worrying trend I am hearing from teachers is that students now have a 'each man for himself' mentality. They think that is the only way they can advance themselves and score higher marks than their peers. What has this system, and the parents' response, inadvertently done to our children?

We do not need mere robots which our system has been so successful in producing thus far. We need to prepare our next generation for the demands of our ever changing economic landscape. We need entrepreneurs, visionaries, innovators, leaders. We also need to realise that not everyone is academically inclined, and that there are multiple intelligences. And we need these different intelligences to shine if we are to push Singapore forward dynamically in this new era.

As it turned out, she was the right person I was speaking to as her portfolio is in the Ministry of Comms and Info, and Education. She briefed me on the direction they were heading towards and explained to me what a mammoth task it was, not only to craft the right policies but to move the whole system to align with their new direction. She said that the Ministry valued the opinion of parents and is trying to reach out more effectively. She also mentioned that the Ministry is serious about equipping teachers and schools to bring out the best in different students. However, it is a long journey and parents' feedback is most welcome.

After 9 years of being disappointed in our education system, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. (Although I can foresee it to be a very, very long tunnel) I will give Mr Heng and his team my full support and hopefully, all of us - ministers, principals, teachers, students, and especially parents do our part in forging the next chapter in our education landscape. I have been invited to a dialogue session on education with Minister of State Sim Ann. I am looking forward to it and I hope that we can all have open minds and do our part to craft a truly world class education system. If we can transform Singapore into a first world country in one generation, I don't see why we can't transform our education system in one decade. Let us all rally together to move this mountain.

~ - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Sunday, 15 September 2013

DIY Pizza

#2 invited her friends over for a study date and she made pizza for lunch. This recipe is take from "Cooking for Kids made easy" and the chef used to cook for Her Majesty the Queen! It is not hard to do but takes a lot of effort. It's best you make this with your child on a nice relaxing weekend. Or if you are game for a bit of a mess (read: a big mess, you can have a DIY pizza birthday party for your child! It won't cost much and they'll have lots of fun) Do allocate about 4 hours before you can eat your pizza as you have to wait a long time for the yeast to rise. It usually takes #2 about 3-4 hours to make this pizza, depending on how many helpers she has!

Ingredients (serves 5 people)

Pizza dough
200ml warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
7g dried yeast (baking section of supermarket)
1 teaspoon caster sugar
375g plain flour
2 tablespoons olive oil

Tomato sauce
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
4 ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
20g caster sugar
50g tomato puree

(we doubled the above ingredients as we had 10 people eating)

Toppings (of your choice)
We used:
200g sliced ham
4 sausages
1 packet bacon
1 packet salami
1 can of button mushroom
1) Put the warm water in a jug and add the salt, dried yeast and sugar
2) Whisk thoroughly to dissolve the yeast
3) Cover the jug with cling film and put in a warm place to prove - it will froth up and a foam will form on top of the yeast mixture. It will take about 15 minutes to prove.
2) Crush the garlic and remove the skin. Chop it finely
3) Peel the onion and chop it finely
4) Half the tomatoes, then quarter them. Cut them into small chunks. 
5) After 15 minutes, remove the jug from the warm place and take off the cling wrap. There should be foam on top.
6) Put the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle of the flour
7) Carefully pour in the yeast mixture
8) Add the olive oil
9) Mix it with your hands until it comes together
10) Turn the dough onto a clean work surface
11) Knead the dough continuously for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and firm
12) It may be a little tiring but keep going! You are doing great!
13) The dough should be firm and smooth.
14) Make it into a ball shape
15) Sprinkle a bit of flour into a large, clean mixing bowl

16) Put the dough into the bowl and press it down gently
17) Cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave it in a warm place to prove for an hour
18) It should rise and double in size

19) Drizzle the olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat
20) Add the garlic and onion and fry for a couple of minutes until translucent
21) Add the caster sugar
22) Add the chopped tomatoes
23) Add the tomato puree and stir well
24) Put the lid on and let the tomatoes simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally until the sauce thickens
25) Turn off the heat and pour the sauce into a blender
26) Hold a tea towel over the top to prevent the sauce from splashing out
27) Blend until smooth
28) Put it aside (any left overs can be kept in the fridge for 4 days and used in pasta dishes)
29) After an hour, remove the dough from the warm place and take off the cling wrap
30) Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and press it down to get some of the air out
31) Turn it out onto a floured work surface
32) Knead the dough for 30 seconds to knock the air out
33) Cut into a few pieces and roll them out separately into large circles
34) Sprinkle more flour if your dough is sticking onto the work surface
35) Roll it out as thin as you can
(this time, her dough didn't turn out very well as she did not have enough time to wait and she proved the yeast in the oven at 115C which is too hot)
36) Put each pizza base on a baking paper and add toppings of your choice. Finish off with mozzarella cheese
Her friends arrived in time to help roll out the dough
37) Cook the pizza in a pre-heated oven at 200C for about 15 minutes
It should be crispy and golden brown on the top
Looks ugly but it's really yummy!
By the time lunch was ready, everyone was starving and every time a piping hot pizza came out of the oven it was gobbled up in minutes!

Sane tip: Depending on how many people the child is cooking for (and the age of the child), they may run out of steam half way through. Do anticipate this and be prepared to help out or take over. Most of the time and effort actually comes from making the dough. For a simpler alternative (which is what I do if it was a weekday meal) I will use those ready made bases like Pita base or other alternatives which you can find at the bread section and just add the toppings.

Save tip: It is cheaper than eating at a pizza restaurant.. and it definitely tastes better!

~   mummywee - parenting 6 kids without going mad or broke  ~
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