Our Wonderful Dad – Happy Father’s Day 2017

We have a wonderful dad
Whose shoulders we’ve always had
As a friend he is not bad
But don’t you dare make him mad!

He reads to us every night
He slides with us from the height;
He teaches us the Lord’s way
And joins us too in our play

Though he won’t listen as we say
“Daddy, please don’t go to work today!”
We are well fed and well cared for
What could daughters ask for more?

So Daddy, Happy Father’s Day!
Please know we love you everyday!

Love,
Your Little Nonas
18 June 2017

While They Are Illiterate

Making, and sticking to, the decision to not vigorously enforce reading and spelling during our children’s preschool years are definitely not easy. We have sometimes been a little bit anxious for our eldest, who turned four this year and does not know how to read yet, and write, for that matter. We have often second guessed ourselves and our decision in regards to her preschool years education. And we have gone back and forth between wanting to take things easy and slowly until the age of seven when children’s brains are deemed ready for reading, and responding to the pressure of the modern extra-young age literacy (in this part of the world we are living).

We agree that the ability to read and write is a wonderful skill, in fact it is the skill unique to human which sees to our species’ super fast advancement. But how early should this powerful skill be mastered by our little ones, scientists and education policy makers haven’t seemed to come to the same conclusion.

As my husband and I addressed our concerns over our daughter’s illiteracy at the moment, we eventually decided to pursue literacy less by enforcing the alphabet and phonics lessons, and more by reading to and cultivating appetite for good reads in her. There are two things which we consider as basic and important as we assess our approach to teaching a child to read: the purpose for literacy and the method to achieve that purpose.

It is a sad thing to hear fellow parents lamenting their preschoolers’ increasing lack of playtime as they need to go for their phonics lessons or English and writing classes. It is all the more saddening when the reasons for that are “so as to not be left behind in the primary school level” and “to be able to understand the questions asked in homeworks and tests when they go to Primary One.” The privilege of enlightenment is becoming a kindergarteners’ race and a banal requirement for first grader education system.

We believe the purpose of literacy is to enable one to understand other’s thoughts (this includes knowledges from informations to opinions), to express one’s own thoughts, and ultimately as people of faith, to understand the Scripture as God’s revelation and to share the Truth with others. As for the method, we are not convinced that it is more useful to train a child to read at the age of four than at a later age, say of seven, when studies suggest that children’s brains are more ready for literacy training. In his own words, the author of Math for Little Ones Alexander K. Zvonkin wrote, “Premature instruction is no more beneficial than premature birth.”

While waiting for the neurons to establish their pathways, we believe we can prepare the child for a lifetime love for reading – good reading, that is. It can be done by establishing a culture of reading in the family, where the parents read themselves and read to the child regularly. And just as is the case with putting a child into the habit of healthy eating, we should also ‘feed’ the child with good and worthy reads. As the famous writer C.S. Lewis said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.”

It is also beneficial to exercise a child’s memory, especially during the preschool years when it is at its strongest. Children are able to memorize stories read to them, word for word, and they do it quite effortlessly to our astonishment. Fill their memory banks then, with good books, poems and stories of excellent virtues, and with the sacred verses of the Scripture. The vast vocabularies, writing styles and the taste of literatures they have committed unto their memory will without a doubt bring them far when they can finally decode and compose strings of letters by themselves.

While the ability to read and write things down tend to excuse us from exercising our memory, we see this illiterate time window as an opportunity to train our daughter’s memory. Because she cannot read her story books, she memorizes them. Likewise, this time window affords us the control over what kind of reads is poured into the minds of our children and at the same time the opportunity to bond as we read to them. Few are things that a child cherishes more than to sit on her parent’s lap with a good book being read to her. We know it is one we will miss so dearly too, because soon she will be reading on her own.

Cherishing their illiterate moment.

Work Early

My late paternal grandma used to say, “Do not fear of having to work, fear when you have nothing for work, because then you will have nothing to eat.” She directed the admonition at me and my cousin sister as we were quietly grumbling at the sink full of dishes from our weekly big family dinner. My father seemed to inherit just the same philosophy, for every morning during school holidays, we would jump off our bed from his shouting from the shop downstairs.

“Get down here now! Time to work!” was his line which we hated so much. We would then be ordered around to write down the customers’ shopping lists, weigh the sugar or oil or coffee powder, carry packs of bee hoon and also bundle up a dozen bottled drinks into a neat 2-3-4-3 formation, among many other works common in a traditional ‘kedai kelontong’. Such a holiday spoiler.

But of course, now we will tell anyone what our senior generation ‘forced’ on us was the right and good thing. Even as kids, behind the murmurs and complaints, we knew it was for our good. And I shall not fail to mention about how good it felt to complete one customer’s shopping all by my own, or, my favorite, to bundle up bottled drinks all nice and tight! (It’s a skill that I’m proud of till today.)

I guess, it’s the same feeling when I managed to tidy up my toys cabinet, whip up a meal, or complete a project. It matters not whether it’s in my childhood, my professional years, or my current stay-at-home moments. The joy of doing meaningful work and the rewarding satisfaction are universal.

To quote Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft, the knowledge and experience of doing, making or fixing things with our hands not only affords us joys but also is essential to our well-being, to our flourishing. I can testify that one of my husband’s most joyful expressions is obviously seen when he is baking bread. Those who know him know how flat his default poker face is.

So, we are doing the same thing to our own children, and we start early; insisting that they dispose of their used diapers to the bin, make their beds and tidy up toys, help out with vegetables rinsing and cutting, help make the pizza, et cetera. Yes, the kids don’t always like it or do as told. Yes, we are hearing murmurs, protests and whines, and will still do for quite many years. But there are times when the littlest will clap having tossed her used diaper into the bin, and when the eldest will say with pride “Daddy, that veggies you are eating, I cut them this morning.”

That’s what it’s all about, passing down the gift of joy and satisfaction of doing meaningful work, and being useful and helpful in tangible ways to others around, as early as possible. As my father used to say very often, “If you don’t learn to work in your youth, what good will you be in your adulthood?”

What a Butterfly Boasts In

It is now midnight, I am watching an Autumn Leaf caterpillar in the midst of pupating itself as I write this in my notebook. Maybe it’s the coffee. My husband and kids were already sound asleep and I left my phone in the bedroom. I do not have any picture or video taken of the process so attached here is a video I took from the YouTube.

As I watch the caterpillar attaching itself to a stem; twitching, squeezing and shrinking itself into almost one third its original size some four hours ago, I cannot help but to contemplate on the meaning of its life.

What is the purpose of this little creature’s life? To be a beautiful butterfly. And then what? Be a bird’s prey, or die some 30 days after?

Ah, if only it could talk, the caterpillar would have protested! Why the hassle, why the painful process? For such a pathetic purpose, that cannot be!

But thanks be to GOD, as one watches the caterpillar’s journey from one ugly, creepy thing; molting itself into a pupa, and to finally emerging as a splendid butterfly, one cannot only learn about the life cycle of a biology subject, or contemplate on life’s meaning, without also raising to his lips praises to the magnificent GOD, the Creator of this little caterpillar, and of all living beings.

In fact, it is impossible for one to observe the Nature, and not be awed by its beauty, order and wisdom. And as one stands in awe of the wonder of all these, it is impossible not to acknowledge its Creator and lift up proper praises due Him.

No, I say so not because of an overly religious sentiment. Instead, it is the most making sense response. Just as one should naturally credit the artist behind a masterpiece, and applaud the composer behind a moving music, acknowledging the existence of a brilliant Mastermind behind the very existence of this caterpillar, and give Him glory for the awe-inspiring handiwork that the final beautiful butterfly is, is only the most natural, honest and logical thing to do.

The glorifying of GOD, and His enjoyment – which He graciously shares with man. This, is the purpose of the butterfly-caterpillar’s life. This, is what its gorgeous wings boast of.

Let man observe and take heed, in all their splendor let they give glory to their Maker, to whom all honor, praise and adoration are due. Lest they boast in their foolish arrogance, and end up a prey to worldly vanity and die after a meaningless life of 70 or 80 years.

The caterpillar is still twitching and contracting, but I am done with my notes. So I am turning in, both of us have our own lives to fulfill tomorrow.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Little Nonas’ Nature Finds: Rearing Autumn Leaf Caterpillars

Our little nonas are very much fascinated with butterflies; their beautiful wings, in amazing array of patterns and colors. But we have never been able to get close enough to admire the detail of arts they carry on their wings.

Yesterday morning, as we were chasing butterflies around, we thought why not try rearing caterpillar, that way we could have a chance to get up-close with the butterfly once it emerges. So we got ourselves some Autumn Leaf caterpillars as pets from the garden behind.

We have since been watching these creepy crawlies with amazement; their colors, their movement, the way and the speed with which they chomp down leaves, and how quickly these creatures excrete their frass too. We hope we’ll get the chance to see them metamorphe into the beautiful butterflies they are meant to be. (Just please don’t die on us.)

I am probably more excited than the nonas. It’s the first time I get this close with caterpillars, and while I still freak out a bit inside, I find it very exciting and I delight in observing them. I guess not only is it preschool with mommy but also preschool for mommy. Never mind I am in my late twenties, because learning never ends.

Singapore, 19 May 2017