June 28, 2017

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by Brenda Tan

ON LABOUR Day, I received a WhatsApp message from a friend whose daughter takes the same school bus as my 11-year-old girl. Her daughter had told her that Ah Girl was watching a clip from the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” – and was concerned.

“13 Reasons Why” is a television series based on a story written by Jay Asher, in which the teen protagonist who commits suicide leaves behind 13 tape recordings on why she ended her life. Each tape implicated a person whom she blamed for her choice to kill herself.

It seems an intriguing and well-constructed piece of fiction, except that when translated into a highly-publicised teen drama series, alarm bells begin ringing for parents and the international mental health community.  They understand how easily a Hollywood treatment of such a complex issue as suicide may glamorise suicide instead.

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A couple of days before receiving that WhatApp message about “13 Reasons Why”, a parent in my 9-year-old son’s class parents’ WhatsApp chat group shared a news article about the “Blue Whale Suicide Challenge”. The report, which was picked up by other major news media, linked the deaths of 130 teenagers in Russia to playing the “Blue Whale Challenge”, in which youths followed the commands of a game-master in ever-escalating acts of danger, culminating in their own suicide. Although fact-checking site Snopes.com said that the claims are unconfirmed, it’s nonetheless of concern that our young people may be susceptible to such sinister suggestions which put so little value on life.

The concerns of parents here were enough for the Education ministry to post a comprehensive advisory on schoolbag.sg regarding suicide games in the online media and how parents should handle it.

Of course, our concerns and fears for our children’s mental health is not new. No one doubts that our high-stress and exam-oriented school culture can easily create a tragic situation where failing to meet parents’ and the school’s expectations may cause yet another student to contemplate suicide. It only remains for parents and school counsellors to be vigilant when dealing with our children, to take note of their behaviour and well-being, and to create an environment where our children can feel safe enough to share their feelings of insecurity with us.

I read the news about the Blue Whale Challenge, I immediately shared the story with the kids and we had a chat about the implications of this challenge. I asked them what they thought of the challenge and how similar or different this challenge was to other internet viral challenges like the ALS ‘Ice Bucket’ Challenge and the more dangerous ‘Cinnamon’ Challenge. We talked about our responses to such challenges and dares, and what separates cowardice and bravery.

For my 18-year-old son, however, I had to be a little more subtle and a whole lot more ‘clueless’. “What’s this Blue Whale Challenge hah?” I asked him – and had him explain it to me. My “Why are they like that?” question encouraged him to give his views on the people who participated in the challenge and the game convener. It’s really good to know that he’s up-to-date with current affairs and, more importantly, to be assured that he places a high value on life.

I had to be a bit careful about talking about “13 Reasons Why” with Ah Girl though, because I didn’t want it to affect her relationship which her friend who had told her mother about her viewing the clip.

It turned out Ah Girl was watching a YouTube video on a friend’s smartphone (because her mobile doesn’t have data roaming), and the Netflix video ad for the series had to play in full before she could watch her TED-Ed video.

I asked her what she knew about “13 Reasons Why” and she shared that she knew it was an M18 show about a girl’s suicide, but she wasn’t interested to watch a show like that. Her younger Di-di, aged 9, chimed in to say that he also saw the ad for the series when he surfed YouTube, but won’t watch it “because it doesn’t have a funny part!”.

“Is there a difference between watching ’13 Reasons Why’ and ‘Star Wars’?” I asked.

“One is real, but the other is not,” the boy replied.

“Actually, both are not real,” I corrected, even though I knew what he meant. “They are both stories written by people and made into movies.”

I felt that it was important for my kids to see the difference between fact and fiction. If they mistook a fantasy for reality, it would create the basis for their behaviours and actions. This is why it is highly unlikely that playing ‘Counterstrike’ would turn Kor Kor into a terrorist, or watching ‘Star Wars’ would turn Di-di into a Sith Lord, even if we did encounter quite a number of these cosplay characters over the Star Wars Weekend at Gardens by the Bay.

However, if my kids believed that Hannah Baker’s suicide story is real, they may just simplify suicide as an option for revenge and justice from beyond the grave, and an action worth carrying out when they encounter difficult times.

Therein lies the true danger of headline news like the unverified ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ and the concerns about ’13 Reasons Why’. Both suicide-focussed stories cut too close to the divide between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy. For vulnerable youths seeking attention or help, these stories may provide an unanticipated call to action that we are not prepared for.

We can’t stop them from watching such videos and clips all the time, but we can start talking to them about the value of life and steer them into healthy pursuits. This is in the hope that the suicide option will never cross their minds as a way to overcome what problems they face. They must know that life is very much worth living whatever the fantasy or fiction might portray.

 

 

Featured image by Google user Pixabay. CCO.

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earth by Kevin Gill

DEEPAVALI is finally here to wrap up the month of October.

The Hindus, Sikhs and Jains around the world will come together for this festival of lights to mark the victory of good over evil, and light over darkness.

In some countries, most notably India, Deepavali goes on for as long as five days, but in Singapore, most celebrate for only a single day. And that’s today. The date moves since it is based on the Hindu Calendar, but it generally comes between mid-October and mid-November. Next year (2017), it will fall on Oct 19. You’ll get to see many families decked in their beautifully designed traditional costumes around your neighbourhood. Even our female MPs ditched their formal work suits to don saris.

Roads along Burmah Road and Birch Road were closed to vehicular traffic for the Deepavali fair from 4pm on Friday (Oct 28) to 4am this morning (Oct 29). Use the map below to see which other countries are celebrating Deepavali and what they prepared for the occasion. Then, check out our selection of quotes pertaining to other world news.

 

 

 

Calais “Jungle” children are homeless

“We were begging the French authorities to actually do something about the refugee children and nothing was done.”

— Caroline Gregory, member of Calais Action, a British charity

Dozens of unaccompanied minors were left stranded at the Calais camp overnight despite French officials declaring the camp now empty. Aid workers have reported that about 100 children who were left in the camp. Volunteers found shelter for the children in a warehouse where many of the migrants were being processed, but some youths had to sleep on the ground outside one of the centres that were used to register migrants for relocation.  Nearly 5,600 people have been moved to reception centres since Monday (Oct 24), said the French government.

 

Trump says he should be handed victory in the presidential election

“We should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump, right?”  

— Donald Trump, United States presidential candidate

US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has criticised Mrs Hillary Clinton’s trade policies, claiming that she would handle economic deals so badly that the country should cancel the election and declare him the victor. Mr Trump highlighted the North American Free Trade Agreement – which was signed by Mr Bill Clinton, the husband of Mrs Clinton and former president of the US – as resulting in the outsourcing of thousands of jobs to Mexico. His remarks came as he struggles to steady rocky poll numbers.

 

Marriage equality in Taiwan?

“The LGBT group were very angry. It has put a lot of pressure on our party and on other parties.”  

— Yu Mei-nu, member of the Democratic Progressive party

The death of a gay professor, Jacques Picoux, may propel Taiwan to be the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage. Professor Picoux, a 67-year-old French professor at the National Taiwan University, fell to his death from the 10th floor of his Taipei apartment block. Friends blamed Mr Picoux’s depression after his Taiwanese partner of 35 years died from cancer. Mr Picoux’s lack of legal status denied him the right to participate in crucial medical decisions. Pride Watch Taiwan has reported that there are about 66 legislators who will probably vote yes on marriage equality. Recent polls have also shown a public majority in support of same-sex marriage.

 

Brisbane bus driver burnt alive by passenger

“A bus driver, going about, doing his business, supporting the community, has had his life taken from him in what is a senseless and needless act.”  

— Jim Keogh, police superintendent

A bus driver in Brisbane was doused with inflammable liquid by his passenger and burnt to death in front of horrified passengers on Friday (Oct 28). There was no apparent motive for killing the 29-year-old Manmeet Alisher, who was a well-known singer within the Indian Punjabi community. A 48-year-old suspect has been arrested.

President Duterte: God told me to stop swearing

“I heard a voice telling me to stop swearing or the plane will crash in mid-air, and so I promised to stop.”  

— Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has told reporters that he has promised God he will clean up his vulgar language. Mr Duterte’s profanities have often been directed at the West, such as calling US president Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and the European Union “hypocritical”.  These insults were responses to criticisms over Mr Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. But Mr Duterte made it clear that his promise might have limits which will “depend on timing”.

 

Vine app owned by Twitter is shutting down

“We value you, your Vines, and are going to do this the right way.”  

— Twitter, on closing down the video app

Vine, the six-second video app, is closing down completely, Twitter has announced. The social media company has not given a reason for the shutdown. It said it will be keeping the website open so that people can access past vines. But there will be no way to upload new videos.

 

Gambia is the lastest African country to leave the International Criminal Court 

“The African continent still suffers from too many wars and conflicts, all of which result in too many atrocities.”  

— Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court

Gambia has announced its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, the third African nation to leave the court in two weeks. Last week, Burundi announced its intention to leave the court and on last Friday (Oct 21), South Africa did the same. Speaking on Tuesday (Oct 25), Gambia’s Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said his country was pulling out as the court is “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans.” There are worries that this might be the start of an African exodus from the court. Many African nations have accused the court of being biased against African leaders – nine of its 10 current investigations involve African countries.

 

Compiled by Iffah Nadhirah Osman and Li Shan Teo. 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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by Yen Feng

“YOU need a very small space to have sex.”

F*** me, is the G giving us advice about sex now? I suppose after decades of asking everyone to make more babies, we should have seen the sex talk, ahem, coming.

Unsurprising, that it came from Mrs Josephine Teo – even if it did come up unexpectedly in Parliament yesterday (Oct 11). The Senior Minister of State for Transport and Foreign Affairs, who heads the National Population and Talent Division, is nothing if not committed to the job.

The matchmaker-in-chief is known for her naked style of talking about boy-girl relationships. Think back to earlier this year, when she urged Singaporeans to be more, well, hands-on.

This was after a trip she made to Seoul, where singles were more open to dating, she said on Facebook.

“Proactively reaching out to meet new friends, openness to getting help… Seem to be the essential ingredients to enjoyable and successful dating. Can this style of dating help more Singaporean singles, perhaps?”

That was in March. For those of you who took her advice 10 months ago, I guess there’s no sexy time like the present to take it to a “very small space” the next level to consummate the relationship – if you haven’t already.

And by that, I mean have really uncomfortable, do-it-for-your-country sex.

I’m queasy just thinking about it. Having Mrs Teo, a Senior Minister of State and Member of Parliament, remind me that sex in Economy Class accommodations is as good for child-bearing purposes feels too much like my own mother haranguing me to give her a grandchild.

She has good intentions but aww, come on, Mom! Butt out!

And where exactly was Mrs Teo thinking this “very small space” could be?

The most obvious option would be in a car. But since we’re trying to be a car-lite society… Maybe in one of those new driverless taxis?

Not the void deck or HDB lift, of course. CCTV everywhere!

To be fair, she wasn’t trying to be “too kaypoh”, which was what she said the G should not be doing – sticking their noses where they don’t belong.

She was responding in Parliament to how couples preferred to have a flat before having a child. This meant they would not be eligible for the Parenthood Priority Scheme, which gives first-time married couples dibs on choosing a flat if they have a child or if one’s on the way.

You don’t need to have a flat to make a baby, she said, quipping: “You need a very small space to have sex.”

Mrs Teo is not only stumping for humping in small spaces. In a separate interview with The Straits Times last week, she seemed to be egging on couples to have premarital sex.

“In France, in the UK, in the Nordic countries, man meets woman, tonight they can make a baby already. They love each other… They don’t have to worry about marriage – that comes later,” she said. 

There’s a practical benefit to this, she added: Trying to have a baby earlier means you’ll also know earlier if you need help getting pregnant.

“You never really know that you’re not fertile until you try. Unfortunately, it is one of those things,” she said.

Have a baby before you get married, try it first in case you can’t conceive… It makes you wonder how much of this is the politician, the mother, or the woman speaking.

Singapore needs more babies – more so now than ever as the nation is one of the fastest ageing societies in the world. That’s the politician. But is that what she will tell her own three teenage children when they become sexually curious adults?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how pragmatic and Singaporean she is about all this. But surely, as a woman, she also wants the romance, the excitement, the fun?

I know I do. Because having sex in a tight spot is really not that fun. It’s all arms and legs and you stop feeling aroused once the novelty wears off. I’d want a big, comfy bed – even if that’s not where I end up.

In any case, it’s not for me to judge. Which seemed to also be Mrs Teo’s preferred position when it came to people who choose to go childless and be on their own.

On the topic of whether single people were “doing their part for society”, she said: “There are many reasons why people remain single. Sometimes, for very good reasons. Why should we pass judgment on them?”

So go ahead, have sex wherever you like, married or not. Have a child, don’t have a child, it’s up to you – as it should be. There’s enough room to live and let live.

As for Mrs Teo’s advice to have sex in “a very small space”, I think I’ll pass. For me, size still matters.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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It's not just an exam: scores matter

by Brenda Tan

IT’S that time of the year again. Parents will be working furiously to ensure their children work hard to ace their exams. The more anxious may even take leave from work, or up the number of tuition sessions for mock exam papers to be completed, marked, and corrected. The goal: to get their kids’ scores within the 90-mark zones.

But there’s something a little different this time round.

This exam season, there are more calls for parents to look beyond their children’s grades. There’s even a viral post that started from a school in Kolkata, that has been re-attributed to “a school principal in Singapore”, reminding anxious parents that while they want their children to do well, their children have talents and dreams that may not correlate to scoring well in a school subject that they show little interest in.

It reminds parents that “if your child does get top marks, that’s great! But, if he or she doesn’t, please don’t take away their self-confidence and dignity from them. Tell them it’s OK, it’s just an exam!” That “no matter what they score, you love them and will not judge them”, “One exam or a low mark won’t take away their dreams and talent.”

While I agree with the sentiments of the post in principle, I do not think simply telling our kids that their scores don’t matter is the right way to go.

Realistically, if the scores don’t matter, then how would we know that the child has mastered the subject? If the scores don’t matter, then how would we know where the issue is in learning, and where to improve? That the scores matter enough to decide which class, and in the case of the PSLE, which school to go to, it’s disingenuous to tell our children that their scores don’t matter.

That said, it’s important that we help our children to put their scores in context.

If we know our kids have been working hard and have been consistent in getting good grades in school, a one-time bad score would already cause our children distress — it’s not helpful to add our disappointment to theirs by focussing on the grade. How would getting angry with our kids help the situation?

Besides, this is the best opportunity for a lesson in resilience!

 

1. Help our children talk about how they feel about their result.

Helping our children identify and articulate their emotions is one step forward to helping them take control of their emotions and dealing with disappointments.

They may be feeling guilty in not doing well and disappointing us. They could be feeling angry that the paper was “tricky” and all their hard work was “wasted”. They could be feeling that they are simply stupid and that there’s no point in working hard since they cannot make the grade. Or they might be feeling fear that they’ve lost all hope to go to a “good” class or school.

On our part, we need to help our kids accept that what’s done is done, and while their emotions are natural when we don’t do as well as we expect, we can choose to accept the situation and do something more constructive instead.

 

2. Help our children review the situation.

What caused that bad grade? Was it a particularly tough question or two? Did he or she misunderstand the question? Was it a situation of bad time management?

Working through that exam paper calmly with our kids and helping them master the areas that they did not get right teaches them that resilience is a matter of review, correction, and being prepared to show mastery the next time they face that same issue.

 

3. Encourage our children to see where they have done well.

At the Parent-Teacher-Child meeting for my son in primary one last year, his teacher and I didn’t focus on his grades, but we celebrated with my son that he could finally write sentences that consistently had space breaks between words. This fed his confidence to feel that he was doing something right in English, and his attitude towards the subject remained positive.

What could be points of celebration for our children in spite of the poor score? Could it be that they have shown mastery in topics that frustrated them during revision, but they did well for in the exams? Could it be a particularly good phrase they used in their composition? Or for doing consistently well in their Spelling tests throughout the term?

Acknowledging their negative emotions; reviewing the situation and rectifying it; and taking stock of the positives in the bad situation are three steps that can help our kids to build up a lifelong habit in dealing with any failure or disappointment.

I’m reminded of PM Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech this year (Aug 21), where he concluded that his wish for Singapore is to have a “divine discontent” – being not quite satisfied with what we have, always driven to do better – and the “wisdom to count our blessings”.

I already see plenty of both “divine discontent” and “wisdom to count our blessings” in Singaporeans in our wish to better our lives, while counting our blessings.

We just need real opportunities to teach our next generation to follow suit.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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A small boy's survival technique

by Bertha Henson

AH SING was cornered. The bigger boy loomed over him, blowing cigarette smoke into his face. Ah Sing knew Indra wanted him to hand over his pocket money – willingly. Ah Sing waved the smoke from his face. He was asthmatic and had left his inhaler in the classroom. He made a mental note not to be so careless next time.

Indra bellowed: “So little boy, want to give me your money or not!’’ deliberately, he exhaled through his mouth. Ah Sing quietly cursed the wind direction. Why wouldn’t it just rain, he thought.

The expected shoving came. Ah Sing stood upright. Two years of training in the kids’ gym had made him slightly more muscled, even if still small-sized. He blamed his genes; his whole family was smallish. Ah Sing, as is in his nature, kept silent. He had learnt the art of walking softly while carrying a big stick, although he didn’t have a stick with him. Or was it a carrot or stick? But he had no carrots either.

Indra rifled through the small boy’s pockets and pulled out a $2 note. He couldn’t believe that the geeky kid in glasses who lived in a three-story bungalow had only $2 on him. “Where’s the rest?’’.

No response from Ah Sing, who pulled the note back.

Inwardly, Ah Sing cheered. What a brainwave to lock the other $8 in a secret compartment in his school bag. Indra would need the form teacher to open the lock. But it seemed that Indra had found his precious football cards.

Ah Sing shouted: “Give them back!’’

Indra replied coolly: “But you stole this from me. So it’s actually mine.’’

Ah Sing contemplated making a fuss but decided not to. Let him have them if it would buy a few days of trouble-free recess, he thought.

Indra wasn’t satisfied. He needed to cajole or shame Ah Sing.

So, at first, he said that Ah Sing should be more generous and be a better friend to a friend in need. After all, Ah Sing owned expensive designer track shoes.

Then, he made fun of Ah Sing’s small family, which only had Pa, Ma, Ah Girl, Ah Ma, Mary the maid and Timmy the dog.

Finally, he pointed out that he had siblings and cousins by the dozen who could drown him simply be peeing on him.

Ah Sing had heard this many times before. He had looked up the word “envy’’ on Wikipedia. He wished his father wouldn’t drive him to school in his Merc but Pa didn’t believe in going car-lite. Then Ma wouldn’t let him take the MRT because it might make him late for school. He suggested cycling to school, but Ah Ma got into a fit talking about how dangerous pedestrians on pavements could be.

Ah Sing sighed. He was the top boy in the class but it didn’t make him popular. He was especially good in mathematics and spent plenty of time in front of the computer without parental guidance, so that he could learn everything he could about the world. He realised what a dangerous place the world is, especially to the small-sized.

This was why he tried to make a lot of friends; you don’t know when you might need their help. This was why he liked rules. Rules are meant to be obeyed and to protect both big and small. But there was no teacher around to watch him being shaken down by Indra – or to catch Indra smoking.

Indra was getting tired of haranguing Ah Sing, whom he had described to his relatives as a smug, sneaky and self-righteous piece of s***. He disliked the small boy who always seemed to be one up on him. Those designer track shoes should have been his, Indra thought. Somehow Ah Sing had managed to get them by some sort of bomoh magic, he thought.

He was thinking of letting Ah Sing go when the other boys came up.

Indra sighed. He knew the lecture that was coming, about how as the biggest boy in the class, he was expected to be nice to everyone, especially little ones.

He saw Ah Sing looking hopefully at Amal. He knew that Ah Sing and Amal had decided to pool their pocket money to buy a really fancy toy train set. Doubtless, Ah Sing was expecting Amal’s support. But, Indra knew that Amal had his own troubles and was in danger of getting kicked out of his own home because of money problems.

Ah Sing knew this too. No help from that quarter, he thought.

He caught sight of Camby, standing outside the circle with arms akimbo. Camby can’t be relied on, Ah Sing thought. Camby only does what that even bigger boy in the upper class wants. That big fellow wasn’t afraid of anyone, not even the school principal.

The circle of boys, all 10 of them, usually played together at recess time. But increasingly, those times were getting more and more infrequent. Ah Sing wanted them all to be part of a community, even if it was impossible to be best friends forever. It was what he had learnt from Pa and the family. When you are rich, but small, you need to be part of something bigger or at least have friends who are also rich but big.

He thought of his family and how his Pa had rigged up a new security system for the house. Pa was even rearing carrier pigeons for emergency use in case the Internet broke down. That had led to a law suit from the neighbour who said his pigeons were a nuisance and an environmental hazard.

Ah Sing looked around him. He knew that it was best to depend on no one but himself.

He farted.

All the boys looked at him and laughed.

Tragedy averted for the day.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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A combination picture shows boys holding banners depicting Pokemon characters in these handouts pictures provided on July 22, 2016 by the Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office. The banners read: (Top-R) "I am from Kafr Naboudah, save me". (Top-L) "I am trapped in Douma in Eastern Ghouta, Help me." (Bottom-R) "I am in Kafr Nabl in rural Idlib, come and save me!" (Bottom-L) "I am in Eastern Ghouta in Syria, come and get me!". Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office/Handout via REUTERS

Video by Reuters

POKEMON Go is “played” a little differently in war-torn Syria.

Syrian opposition groups have taken advantage of the global Pokemon craze to draw the world’s attention to the plight of children caught up in the country’s five-year civil war. Photographs of children in besieged Syrian towns holding pictures of Pokemon characters and appealing for help were published by the Syrian National Coalition, an alliance of Western-backed activist and rebel groups.

Their release is an attempt to capitalise on the success of Pokemon GO, which challenges players on smartphones to go to real-world locations to capture the cuddly monsters using the phone’s camera.

“If you are looking for a Pokemon, you can find it in Syria,” the coalition said on Twitter through their communications arm – the Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office.

Many Syrians feel the world is ignoring a conflict that has killed more than a quarter of a million people, displaced half the population, and left hundreds of thousands trapped by either government or rebel forces.

One photograph of a child with the Pokemon character Pikachu reads, “I am trapped in Douma in East Ghouta. Help me.”

Douma is a suburb of the capital Damascus, which is besieged by government forces. Bombardments are a daily occurrence there and in the surrounding neighbourhoods, which hold thousands of civilians according to the United Nations.

Rebel fighters have also besieged government-held towns in the north of the country, and have fired rockets and mortars into government-controlled neighborhoods of Aleppo and Damascus.

(Reporting by Reuters TV)

 

Featured image and video by REUTERS.

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Holidays Kids

by Brenda Tan

IT’S now mid-June and we’re firmly in the second half of the June school holidays.

For those of us who have planned a family trip overseas for the later part of the June holidays, good for you! Enjoy your family getaway! For those of us who have returned from our overseas holidays earlier, you may not be feeling so fantastic, as you may now be saddled with your kids saying to you: “I’m soooooooo bored!”

By now you may be battling with the children over their screen-time consumption. Or having to preside over the umpteenth argument about how the elder sibling is bullying the younger sibling or how the younger sibling is annoying the elder sibling.

So what can we parents possibly do to ensure that there is peace in the house, and that our kids are engaged in more meaningful activities until the night we have to re-set our alarm clocks? And what can we do to ensure that our sanity lasts until the little monsters angels get back onto the school routine?

1..Get kids to own their routine

For the first half of the holidays, I sent my 10-year-old Ah Girl and 8-year-old Di-di to two kids’ camps, each lasting three days in the first and second week of June. Camp activities were highly structured with games, crafts, and stories – unlike the rest of their holidays. Therefore, I suggested to Ah Girl and Di-di to think about what they want to do each day, and create a daily time table for what they wanted to do for the remaining holidays by week. Being older, Ah Girl’s time table was more detailed (some activities were even down-to-the-minute!), while Di-di’s activities went by the hour.  I reminded them to include “screen time” in their plan, “open time” for unscheduled “anything” activity (but would not include extra screen time), and long periods of “reading time”. Their time table also included revisions for English, Math, and Mother Tongue. After all, as an ex-primary school teacher, it’s just kindness on my part (and better than any Teachers’ Day gift) to return them to their teachers, still having some semblance of literacy and numeracy skills. Also, I had the kids slot in “household chores”, so that they can create some order in their universe, mainly by leavening out their bookshelves, toy chests, and wardrobes of treasures that they have outgrown. Through this exercise, Ah Girl observed that: “Planning is so hard! How do our schools plan our teachers’ time tables so they know when and where to go?” Good point, kid. Glad you noticed that.

The beauty of this activity, my fellow long-suffering parents, is that not only are our kids engaged for a few hours in drawing up their time table, and typing it into your computer to print it out, but that they are more likely to follow this time table that they created! I no longer have to tell them to get off the screen, but ask them, “Eh, what’s on your time table now?” And they get going onto the activity they planned! I don’t even mind the acronym Ah Girl made (bless her Singapore soul) for post-dinner activity to fit into the tiny space in her time table: “HOWMAD” for Hanging Out With Mum And Dad.

2..Read… and do

The holiday is a fantastic time for the kids to engage in long uninterrupted reading. I envy my kids’ range of really good books to pick and choose from – and many of these are from local writers too! I bought 2 book series for my kids, which are also available in the national libraries – the “Sherlock Sam” and the “Danger Dan” series. I love them because they are gender neutral reads, and excellent for sharing between my kids! There are also a lot of good children’s books and series from local writers like the Amos Lee books and Ellie Belly books. We have some reviews of these children’s books that you may like to check out too. Besides fiction, we also enjoy non-fiction such as kid’s cookbooks, paper folding, drawing and craft books. These books engage the kids and provide them hours of fun in developing a new skill or idea. My kids look forward to “open time” to experiment and try out activities from these books.

3..Games and Toys

I’ve invested in a few world-map floor jigsaw puzzles when I was homeschooling Kor-kor, and these are “toys” that the young’uns now get to play with. We also have board games and card games that we pick up to play during our more active HOWMAD. The holidays are when the LEGO bricks get a workout during “open time”. And the Playmobil sets. And their costume box. And when all else fails, their imagination, to come up with some quite hair-raising hijinks… But I’m fine with what they do, as long as my house remains intact. Remember when I allow my kids to schedule “screen time” for their time table? I was merciful and allowed them to schedule a “touch typing time” too – dance mat touch typing has been my go-to site for all my kids to learn to type as it’s not only free, but it’s really, really well-made. Technically, this is the only digital game they can play outside of ”screen time”.

4..Daydream

I refrain from having the kids creating a “down-to-the-minute” schedule simply because they need pocket time to synthesis their activities by simply day-dreaming. Allowing them free time — time to be “bored” — helps them not to be afraid of empty time or find it needful for an adult to entertain them or fill it with yet another busy activity. Lepaking well is an art that has to be practiced. Our HOWMADs sometimes resemble nothing more than the kids lounging around us talking nonsense in meandering topics, often starting with a “why” question leading to a “How would you do that?” leading to another “why” question and so on. And these questions are not always directed to the kids. It does help when Dad is a professional process facilitator, but giving time to divergent “silly” brainstorming sometimes develops into something that can bring a delight.

5..Go outside

No, I don’t mean head out to the museums, the mall, the many June holiday kids-centric exhibits, or the more expensive children entertainments centres like Kidszania or the theme parks. I don’t even mean bringing them out to the parks or go cycling on the PCN. While these outings are excellent places to entertain and engage the kids in interesting, educational, and healthy fun, just merely getting the kids outside the house into the corridor would be a quick break from being cooped up in the house. A pail of water and a couple of sponges and super soakers on a hot day is fun enough. (Just ensure that the neighbours along the corridors are in on the activity.) Getting the kids to start a herb garden in the corridor might help the kids enjoy eating the food with herbs they harvested.

Or just make them sit at the corridor with a pair of binoculars to do some birdwatching and recording, or cloud sketching.

While they’re safe just outside the gate, the noise level in the house goes down, and you can almost feel like the kids are back in school again.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Noah Lim

MY NAME is Noah Lim and I’m 10 years old.

My favourite character from a Singapore writer is Amos Lee, from ‘The Diary of Amos Lee’ series of books written by Adeline Foo.

I like Amos Lee because he is funny, and like me, he also has a younger sister, who is called Whoopie Lee. Once, Amos saved Whoopie from drowning. After that, he bought a soft toy for her to cheer her up. Amos’s mother was happy and relieved that Amos had saved Whoopie from drowning. I think that it was heroic of Amos to save Whoopie from drowning.

Amos Lee’s favourite hobby is playing video games. And he writes his diary in the toilet!

Amos Lee’s books have also been made into television series.

 

Amos Lee is a series of diaries by Amos, chronicling his life as he attempts to navigate school, friends, and family. In “I’m Twelve, I’m Tough, I Tweet”, Amos joins the Tween Idol contest in his school and attempts to use Twitter to gain more supporters. He is furious when he realises that his rival, Michael, is also attempting to do the same and is determined to outsmart him.

 

On Monday, Felix shared tips on how to nurture a reading child. Today, four young contributors share their favourite characters. This is the second of four contributions. Click the links below to read the rest. 

This is part of a month-long series of articles in support of the National Reading Movement, which kicked off on Friday, June 3. It will culminate in the first ever National Reading Day on July 30. 

Click on the following links to find out more:

  1. So you’ve seen the movie, have you read the book?
  2. So you’ve seen the movie, have you read the book? An overview of books referenced.
  3. Why Reading Matters, by Felix Cheong
  4. 5 books that’ll drive you crazy – & leave you wanting more
  5. Bringing Up a Reader
  6. Hungry for Singapore literature? Press B4
  7. My Favourite Character from a Singapore Writer: Ellie Belly
  8. My Favourite Character from a Singapore writer: Watson the Robot
  9. My Favourite Character from a Singapore writer: Tessie

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Lee Wien Tze

MY NAME is Lee Wien Tze and I’m 10 years old.

My favourite character from a Singapore writer is Ellie Belly, from the Ellie Belly series of books written by Eliza Teoh.

My favourite book in the series so far is Ellie Belly: Huffy Puffy Panda.

I like Ellie Belly because she has a family complete with a father, mother, an elder sister, Gabby, and 3 pets – a dog, rabbit, and a hamster. She also has a secret talent: She can talk to animals!

Ellie’s imagination is limitless! For instance, in her child-like thinking, she tried to make a pop star out of her hamster and painted its head purple to help it fulfill its ‘ambitions’! Ellie speaks her mind without thinking, but does not offend people.

Although Ellie is gifted with a secret talent to talk to animals, she wondered if pandas speak English or Mandarin, since the pair of pandas she would meet came from China. Ellie’s understanding of the animals’ thoughts moves her into action, and she attempts to fix their problems to the best of her abilities – even if they were pandas in the zoo!

 

Ellie Belly is a series of children’s stories about a seven-year-old girl Ellie who can talk to animals. She has a best friend, Cammie, and a (sometimes) annoying older sister called Gabby. In Huffy Puffy Panda, Ellie and Cammie investigate a mysterious sound that’s distressing the pandas, Wan Wan and En En.

 

On Monday, Felix shared tips on how to nurture a reading child. Today, four young contributors share their favourite characters. This is the first of four contributions. Click the links below to read the rest. 

This is part of a month-long series of articles in support of the National Reading Movement, which kicked off on Friday, June 3. It will culminate in the first ever National Reading Day on July 30. 

Click on the following links to find out more:

  1. So you’ve seen the movie, have you read the book?
  2. So you’ve seen the movie, have you read the book? An overview of books referenced.
  3. Why Reading Matters, by Felix Cheong
  4. 5 books that’ll drive you crazy – & leave you wanting more
  5. Bringing Up a Reader
  6. Hungry for Singapore literature? Press B4
  7. My Favourite Character from a Singapore writer: Amos Lee
  8. My Favourite Character from a Singapore writer: Watson the Robot
  9. My Favourite Character from a Singapore writer: Tessie

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

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THE defence and home affairs ministries may have stepped up measures in response to a “clear and present” terror threat, but increasing vigilance of the community – under the national SGSecure programme, for instance – is no less important. “The aim of terrorists is to divide us,” Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said, “and it becomes more fertile ground for them to recruit people. We need to come together and say that this is an isolated incident by some radicalised elements.” Should terror attacks happen, as they did in Brussels and Jakarta earlier this year and Paris last year, the minister added that Singaporeans must learn how to cope, and then to move on thereafter.

Some endeavours to improve community vigilance and preparedness will include: simulated terror attacks, basic first-aid skills, and other practical lessons as part of the revamped Emergency Preparedness Day.

And community leaders should be central to these endeavours, especially in the communication of news and information. Echoing earlier remarks made by Mr Shanmugam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister for Culture, Community, and Youth Grace Fu – at an Inter-racial and Religious Confidence Circle workshop – said: “We must be mentally prepared that an act of terrorism in Singapore is no longer a matter of if, but when.” It is, however, not clear what kind of training the community leaders received, and whether it will tangibly yield dividends in the future.

Perhaps inter-faith dialogue, “in promoting harmony between different communities”, should improve community vigilance and preparedness too, when the likelihood of conflicts decreases and the likelihood of cooperation, anchored by better understanding of one another, increases. In addition to discussions about socio-political developments in South East Asia, President Tony Tan Keng Yam – the first Singapore head of state to visit the Holy See – brought up “the importance of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.”

Pope Francis also said he would be pleased to accept Dr Tan’s invitation to visit Singapore.

And finally in other news, more children have been diagnosed with developmental problems, with the Ministry of Health (MOH) reporting that the number of cases diagnosed by the Child Development Programme at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the National University Hospital has increased by 60 per cent from 2010 to 2015, from 2,500 to 4,000 new cases. Speech and language delays, autism spectrum disorders, behavioural problems, and global developmental delay made by 90 per cent of the 4,000 new cases last year, and the overall increase has been attributed by the MOH to “a greater awareness of developmental problems and an improved system of screening,” coupled with better early-intervention programmes too.

 

Featured image by CY Kong.

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For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.