K2 with Mommy

This year marks the last of the preschool year for the Big Nona. Come January, she is starting her first year of elementary education. I get a mixture of excitement and slight sadness in welcoming the “Primary-1 with Mommy” — excited because we are embarking on a new level in the pursuit of knowledge, a little sad because it felt like only yesterday I was holding my first newborn and now she is a preschooler no more!

Being mindful of that, we made it a point to spend this year with plenty of outdoor play and nature exploration. I hope the Big Nona will remember her preschool years as nothing but full of play and wonder from observing God’s awesome creation.

What follows in this post is our K2 lesson plan based on the specific focus of the year mentioned above. I document the teaching/learning materials in this blog for future use with the younger siblings.

Lesson Overview

Similar to last year’s K1 with Mommy, our learning subjects consist of:

  • Memory training
  • Mathematics
  • Literacy

The aim was that at the end of the year, the child would master:

  • fluency in counting 1 to 100,
  • addition and subtraction of numbers up to 20,
  • analog clock reading,
  • the 26 alphabet letters in manuscript, and
  • reading and writing simple sentences using manuscript.

Following Singapore’s January to November school calendar, our school-time began at 8.30 and ended at 10 in the morning, four days a week (we have weekly community day with our Classical Conversations’ homeschooling community every one of the weekdays). We started with marking the calendar, followed by morning devotion and then the lesson.

picsart_12-30-105988874694809586958.png

The calendar included shape-pattern and weather graph.

The Subjects

1. Memory Training

I shared in last year’s post that we believe memory training is crucial to developing the mind of the child in order for it to be capable of higher thinking. We did this by memorizing one hymn and one Bible verse every week, and by reciting certain works of literature. This year we continued with the second paragraph of the 三字经 (Three Characters Classic) and two poems by 白居易.

2. Mathematics

For numeracy, we did not do anything new this year but continued to hone the child’s fluency in counting from 1 to 100. However, the frequency of this exercise was reduced to once a week. She seemed to have picked up a few tricks to make the otherwise boring exercise interesting by filling up the boxes in random order with the correct numbers. I believe the child has gained a better sense of numbers too through this kind of game.

Similarly for basic arithmetic, we continued with the addition and subtraction of numbers up to 20, and then slowly moving up to 30. We also continued doing addition/subtraction of three numbers to strengthen the concept of number bonds. The exercise was done every school-day for the first semester, then two days a week in the following semester. The goal, again, was for the child to over-practice the basic arithmetic so much that it became intuitive.

This year we also added Saxon Math 1 into our curriculum. It provided daily guide for homeschooling parents to teach grade-1 mathematics and daily assignments for the students. The Big Nona was required to complete two assignments every school-day.

On clock reading, we moved to identifying the clock and the minute that each number represents. We did so first in Mandarin (because Mandarin goes by the number itself i.e. 一个字, 两个字, 三个字, and so forth) and then in English. She was also taught how to identify “a quarter past…” on the clock.

3. Literacy

Picking up from where we left last year, we carried on with writing a-z in manuscript (cursive). Once the child was fluent in these letters, we practiced writing (Indonesian) words from words starting with “a” all the way to those starting with “z”. The writing exercise was done every school-day until the end of the school year. Towards the end of the year, having been done with the last z-letter word, we practiced writing simple sentences. The objective for all these exercises was to train the muscle memory of writing in manuscript.

As for reading, we routinely had story-time when all the children were being read to before naptime and at bedtime. We would pick books of different types and levels, from manga such as Doraemon to chapter books such as The Chronicles of Narnia, or from baby’s picture books to encyclopedias. The Big Nona also practiced her reading-aloud by reading to her younger siblings. And when they were napping, she would read on her own.

That’s it!

Now it looks like I can tick off all the objectives we jotted down at the beginning of the year. But looking back, I am made to see that the true learning that has taken place was so much more than just a list that I could tick off. This is true not only for the Big Nona, but especially for me and all of us in the family.

Earlier this May, we welcomed a new baby into our home. And the arrival of a new member has undoubtedly changed the dynamics of the family in significant ways. Sticking to the normal schedule was harder and school-time often got disrupted. With a newborn clamoring for most of Mommy and Daddy’s attention, the girls couldn’t help feeling left out and we began to have discipline issues, and often. Ticking off a list of lesson objectives seemed like the most impossible thing to do.

That was the moment when God convicted me and helped me regain my focus on what we believe was the purpose of education: to pursue wisdom and virtue, to the glory of God. Until then I had always rushed through our morning devotion in order to finish the lesson on time and keep up with the day’s demands, even as the children asked for longer Bible time. But God through His Word in Luke 10:38-42 showed me how I, like Martha, was anxiously preoccupied by the wrong things.

It’s not that the academics are not important, it’s just that they are not the most important. I had to learn again and again that, indeed, the beginning of wisdom is to know and to fear God. I also had to learn to put my trust in Him instead of in my own ability, to get my peace and rest from Him and then teach with that peace and restfulness.

We had since spent longer time for the morning devotion and shifted some parts of the schooling to the afternoon. We also reserved one school-day solely for reviewing our weekly growth in character, giving encouragement for any virtue we saw in each other and addressing the vices we needed to repent of. We called it Hari Ngobrol (Heart-to-heart Day), the girls were loving it so it is here to stay! And did we get plenty of time to play outdoor and explore the nature? You bet! 😉

In the end, alongside her soon-to-be first grader, this momma, too, has learned many things this year. Thanks be to God for His faithful and loving hands which have guided and upheld us year after year. May His mercy and grace continue to shadow us as we embark on yet another year of homeschooling.

Me Time

metime

Dear husband and the girls are off to Jakarta for a week while I, with my ever growing belly, am staying behind. As I kissed them and waved goodbye from behind the departure glass door, I thought to myself, “I am officially on leave! (Hooray!)”

I love my family, I love having my “me time” too.

We all need a little time off once in a while. It is healthy, it is necessary. As a young mom with young children to care for, things can get overwhelming, and very fast. So fast that I don’t get to pause and “figure out where I am now.” There is always the next thing to do: toys to pick up, meals to cook, dishes to wash, school-work to guide, playground trip to make, books to read to, and on the list goes. It’s no wonder that many mothers reported they started having difficulty falling asleep after becoming mothers. We just don’t have the time to think our own thinking throughout the busy day, and then and only then, when everyone else is asleep, our ticking brains keep us awake. So yes, having a break where we can rest and rejuvenate, think and reorient, is important.

Having said that, I would readily admit that often I misplace my need for “me time” in the similar way we may misplace our need for food and recreation. We know the axiom “Man eats to live, not lives to eat,” yet how often we behave as if we live the latter. And in this sense, I think, I need to guard myself. Because it is scarily easy to look at the kids and think,

“It is their fault I am so tired and undone!” or
“I used to be so free and fruitful, but now they take and take and take from me I have nothing left for anything else!” or
“These people rob me off my real identity — my hobby, my career, my ‘thingy.’ I can’t wait for the day I am finally myself again!”

It is scarily easy to let resentment sip in. It is scarily easy to look forward to “me time” as the time I can find and be myself again, uncontaminated by and away from these “little nuisances.”

Yet, is the real me to be found somewhere out there? Have I lost it in the trenches of motherhood?

To the mothers struggling with and searching for the same thing, I want to share some words of wisdom from Rachel Jankovic. She wrote in her book (at which time of publication she had five kids under five):

“…The world has a very muddled perception of “self.” They think and tell us to think that we are all little separate entities who might need to go off somewhere to get to know “ourselves,” or that a mother needs to get back to her corporate job to be herself again. Marriages break up because people don’t know who they are anymore. They need to find themselves.

But the Christian view of self is very different, and you need to make sure that it is the one you have. We are like characters in a story. Our essential self is not back in the intro, waiting to be rediscovered. Who you are is where you are. When you are married, your essential self is married. As the story grows, so does your character. Your children change you into a different person. If you suddenly panic because it all happened so fast and now you don’t recognize yourself, what you need is not time alone. What you need is your people. Look out-look at the people who made you what you are—your husband and your children…if you want to know yourself, concentrate on them.

Those women who try to find themselves by stripping away the “others” will find that they are a very broken thing. This will lead them to resent the people who they think made them that way. She may say, “I used to be so energetic, but all these people take, take, take from me and now I have no time to just be me!” And the world gathers around and comforts her and says she needs some time to follow her dreams.

But the Christian woman needs to see, “I used to be so boring! Now my character has some depth, some people to love, some hardships to bear. Now I have some materials to work with.” A Christian’s woman view is always forward and never back….As married Christian women, our identity is in our husbands. We are their helpmeets. Our calling is people-oriented. It follows that you cannot know what your calling is until you know who your calling is. Until you are married, you are not tied to a specific person. Marriage reorients you entirely. Children do even more. Then it is your calling to help your husband by raising these little people. People, people everywhere and no time for yourself. But remember that this is your calling. It belongs to you. They belong to you.

If you want some quality “me time,” make a date with your husband. Do something special with your children. These people are you. Your identity is supposed to be intertwined—that is the way God wrote the story, and it is the way He intends us to read it.”

Loving the Little Years, pp. 60-62.

“Me time” is important, but not in the sense that I need it to rediscover my true self. The real me is right here, she is a mother to two lovely little girls and a baby boy due in May, a wife to a great husband, she is a daughter, she is a friend, she is a part of her church community, she is someone to somebody, she is a sinner saved by God. She is blessed and called to bless others with her life. And she is given “me time”s as a means to rest, rejuvenate and reflect in order to serve others more effectively.

Knowing this, I can look forward to “me time” eagerly, enjoy it thankfully, and go back to serving joyfully.

K1 with Mommy

We have always believed that early childhood is the period of life when children should explore and experience their world in ways that make the most sense to them, that is through lots of play and hands-on experiences. The first six years of childhood are meant to be playful and carefree rather than filled with hours of sitting at desk doing academics. In fact, the playful years are crucial in preparing the children for the journey of academic learning which comes later. These short but essential moments, once gone are no longer retrievable. After all, it is called the preschool years for a reason.

As much as I wanted to spend my children’s preschool years playing in parks, watching birds and smelling flowers, we know that we are living in the part of the world where schooling normally starts at three. So it was understandable when the grandparents asked more questions and more often around the topic.

To accommodate their concerns, last year we started our formal academic learning with our eldest daughter at home, then turning five years old. We kept the “school-time” short so we had plenty of time for play and other non-academic activities daily.

In this post, I am compiling the lessons that we have done for the past year for future use with the younger siblings. The materials are derived largely from my memory of what were taught to me during my own Kindy years. If you are teaching your preschooler(s) and find the materials useful, please feel free to take anything that could be of any use for you.

First Things First

Before the school year began, Husband and I sat down and planned an overview of the year’s lessons. We reminded ourselves again what the definition of education is and what kind of education philosophy we believe in. For us, education is the pursuit of wisdom and virtue, to the glory of God. The approach we take is the classical model of education. Once we got that settled, we moved on to the practical e.g. lesson sets and their objectives.

Lesson Overview

For K1, we focused on four academic subjects:

  1. Memory training
  2. Numeracy
  3. Mathematics
  4. Literacy

Here is my scribble of the year’s lesson overview (written in Indonesian). The aim was that at the end of the year, the child would be able to:

  1. Recognize and write the 26 alphabet capital letters,
  2. Recognize and write (count) from 1 to 100,
  3. Read simple words (in Indonesian),
  4. Counting objects.

lesson-overview

Following Singapore’s January to November school calendar, our school-time began at 9 and ended at 10 in the morning, every Monday to Thursday (we have community day with our Classical Conversations’ homeschooling community every Friday).

The Subjects

1. Memory Training

The classical model of education puts a lot of emphasis on the training of memory. I used to question why my teachers would make us memorize things every day, regardless of our understanding them. It wasn’t just the school teachers, my Mandarin tuition teacher, Sunday School teachers, tuition teachers would all drill their students with rote memorization. In fact, memorization made up a huge part of my education from preschool all the way to high school. So, how important is memory training actually? The successful founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, among many others, has proposed that we do away with teaching children what machines can do better. In the age of the mighty Google, are we to do away with memorization? We believe no.

“That is because a developed memory is a wondrous and terrible storehouse of things seen and heard and done. It can do what no mere search engine on the internet can do. It can call up apparently unrelated things at once, molding them into a whole impression, or a new thought. The poet T. S. Eliot understood this creative, associative, dynamic function of a strong memory. The developed imagination remembers a strain from Bach, and smells spinach cooking in the kitchen, and these impressions are not separate but part of a unified whole, and are the essence of creative play. Without the library of the memory…the imagination simply does not have much to think about, or to play with.” – Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, p. 9.

So we started every lesson with prayer, memorized a hymn of the week and a Bible memory verse of the week.

We ended every lesson with recitation of a particular work of literature. For the year we worked with 木蘭詞 (The Ballad of Mulan) and the first paragraph of  三字經 (The Three Character Classic).

sanzijing

2. Numeracy

We started with number 1 (one), working our way progressively one number a day. We stopped periodically to review and reinforce the numerals previously learned (1-10, 1-20, 1-30, 1-50, 1-70, 1-100).

3. Mathematics

Once the child was fluent with numbers, we began doing math by counting objects in small quantities, and then moving on slowly to larger quantities following the progress of the child’s numeracy.

math_apr

In our initial lesson plan for the year, we only expected our daughter to master counting objects. But since she progressed rather quickly we moved on to the next math’s lesson. One of the things we love best about homeschooling is we can tailor-make the learning to suit a specific child’s progress. It is, however, important to note that it is necessary for the child to over-master a lesson before moving on to the subsequent lessons. So we took our time and refrained from rushing even when she seemed ready.

After object counting is mastered well, we introduced the concept of “more than, less than, equals to.” And when this has been over-practiced, we moved to simple additions, working with number bonds within 5, and then moving slowly to 10, 15 and 20. We did the same with subtraction, but only after she mastered the corresponding addition well. This addition and subtraction exercises were done every school-day until the end of the school year (and even to K2 the following year). The goal is for the child to over-practice the basic arithmetic so much that it becomes intuitive.

Apart from arithmetic, basic clock-reading was also taught this year.

clock-may2018

4. Literacy

We chose to start our literacy lesson in Indonesian language. It is a phonetic language and therefore possesses simpler and more consistent phonetic rules. There are only 27 distinct sounds (phonemes) to its 26 alphabet letters (graphemes). Once these correspondings are memorized, they can be paired up to sound out words using very consistent and logical rules. We figured that it would be far more beneficial as the same rules can be applied to learning Mandarin’s hanyu pinyin, Japanese and Korean romaji, Latin and other phonetic languages. We also presumed that with ample exposure to spoken English (through conversations and being read-to daily) the child would be able to decode English with the phonetic rules learned in Indonesian language. Happily, this has been the case, our eldest daughter was able to read in all the languages mentioned above by end of the year.

We started with capital letter A, moving progressively to Z one letter a day. We stopped periodically and did dictation to review and reinforce the letters previously learned (A-J, A-T and A-Z).

Once the child was fluent with A-Z, we moved on to basic phonics, starting with two letter combinations:

BA-BE-BI-BO-BU to ZA-ZE-ZI-ZO-ZU and

AB-EB-IB-OB-UB to AZ-EZ-IZ-OZ-UZ,

then three letter combinations:

ANG-ENG-ING-ONG-UNG,

NGA-NGE-NGI-NGO-NGU,

NYA-NYE-NYI-NYO-NYU.

We read simple (and interesting) words with short syllables for reading exercise, working our way to more complicated words with longer syllables.

simplereading

The end goal for the year’s literacy was the ability to read words in capital letters. But since we achieved this earlier, we continued with introduction to lowercase letters in cursive. Why cursive? Because that was what I was taught, I never learned print letters from my teachers, they were picked up from textbooks (which I thought was just another style of writing because of the lack of ‘tails’). Now that I am teaching my own child, I did some research to find out why cursive, and let me just persuade you to do the same because there are just so many benefits to this way of writing which has been neglected by our modern education.

As was the case with capital letters, we stopped periodically and did dictation to review and reinforce the letters learned previously. This “a-z in cursive” exercise was done until the end of the school year and is still continued into the current year of K2.

literacy_oct-nov

That’s it, Kindy 1 with Mommy! Looking back, both Mommy and Big Nona have learned so much in one year, an hour for four days a week! Academics aside, we have also learned about each other’s character, temperament, about discipline and a lot more. It has especially been a tough training ground for me to practice patience, gentleness and kindness. Education, after all, is not just about transmitting knowledge and skills but also about how to bring those involved to higher wisdom and nobler virtue. We thank God for His sustaining grace throughout the past year and pray for His favor and blessings for the new year’s journey of learning.

7 Years

7years

This picture is among our favorites because of its humor. It’s one of the many exaggerated snippets of how we thought our marriage drama might play out. But thank goodness, throughout our real seven years of marriage, that scenario has never once materialized. In fact, it is he who always comes home with hands full of shopping bags, NTUC FairPrice bags, that is.

Joke asides, we believe that physical maintenance (within our means) does have a part to play in a healthy marriage. One of the many valuable marital advices I am blessed to receive is: wives need to stay attractive for their husbands. And vice versa. I love that it says “to stay attractive” instead of “to be attractive,” meaning it affirms that there already was something attractive about his bride that delighted a husband from the beginning, and this quality is what a wife works on to maintain. May be it’s her being an interesting conversation partner, which she maintains by keeping herself enriched through good reads, or her outlook, which she maintains by taking care of herself and keeping a healthy lifestyle.

I also love that it says “for their husbands” for therein lies their reason and standard for being attractive. It’s not meant for other men nor is it meant for their own vanity. And because such beauty is relational, as she grows her loving relationship with her husband, so also will her beauty in the eyes of his.

Now, we may think it superficial, after all marriage vow is a vow of regardless. Regardless of financial situation, regardless of physical condition. So why the talk of staying attractive?

I know of many busy young moms who don’t even have the luxury of taking a decent shower daily, been there done that myself. And in all honesty, with two young children and another baby joining us soon, staying attractive is not easy—at all. But like all good things, marriage needs working out, working hard. Staying attractive needs effort, a lot of effort for many, but it tells our spouses that they are well worth the effort, regardless.

Remember what once made your spouse’s heart skip a beat? Let’s work on keeping that beat skipped, every once in while (please note that it’s clinically advisable to keep it steady for almost all the time). 😉

Blessed seven years, love! Low or high, you are the main reason for all the maintenance. May the good Lord grant us many, many more years of delighting in each other. ❤

Our First Year with Classical Conversations

We had always been entertaining the idea of homeschooling our children, but only last year did we seriously ponder over it.

On one side, there was our extrovert four-year-old who constantly craved for friends to play with, yet unfortunately more and more peers of hers could no longer be found at the playgrounds as they were getting busier with schools and homeworks. On the other side, we wanted her preschool years to be filled with plenty of play and free time instead of academic schooling – as is healthy for a four-year-old, but the preschools that shared our philosophy were just beyond expensive. And then, there were also the reasonable inquiries from the grandparents if their eldest granddaughter would be starting any formal education soon.

The carefree and playful preschool years.

Considering all the above, we concluded that if we were to continue with our education philosophy for our eldest daughter, we would need to find a community of people to do this homeschooling thing together. This we hoped would provide healthy peer interactions for her and also assure our own parents that we were not queerly doing this alone, that we had a community that supported us and a community we were accountable to.

That was how we decided to join a Classical Conversations (CC) community, a Christian homeschooling community that pursues a Christian classical model of education. If I could summarize it simply, classical education is a philosophy of education in which the goal is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue in its students, using the greatest ideas and thinkings of the wise men past as its main resources, learned by its students through three major stages called the Trivium:

1. Grammar stage (where students train their minds to hold huge amount of information by memorization);
2. Dialectic stage (where students learn to make connections between what they have memorized, to build understanding of what they have learned, and to critically question what they learn); and
3. Rhetoric stage (where students learn to synthesize ideas based on what they have learned and present their case in the most persuasive way possible). 

I like to think of these three steps as the steps I take in making a meal: get the ingredients, cook, present. And I think, in essence, almost everything naturally goes through the trivium process, like how my preschooler and toddler memorize my vocabularies, internalize them, and spit them out back at me to their advantage, can you relate? 😒 Anyway, if you’d like to find out more about classical education, you can start here.

So, back to the community, we were really blessed to have found a CC community nearby (with a toddler in tow, I could only do minimum traveling). We met once a week with several families from 9 AM to 12 PM. Our community day always started with prayer, scripture memorization, and national pledge, after which a tutor (CC engages one mother of the families as tutor) would guide the class through:

1. A set of new grammars to memorize (consisting of History timeline, a particular History sentence, Science, Math, Geography, English, and Latin);
2. Fine arts;
3. Presentation;
4. Science experiment;
5. Review of the previous 6 weeks’ grammars.

With so many things going on and so many facts to memorize, it seems rather hefty, doesn’t it? Thankfully, it was not as intimidating as it seemed to be. Points 2 to 5 involved a lot of moving around, games and hands-on moments so they were engaging. Now, for the new grammars memory work, although we used many creative ways to aid the memorization process, I have to admit that the amount of informations needed soaking up were not few. However, we were really impressed with how the children did it quite effortlessly! It’s not mere hear-say, children truly have amazing minds and memorizing comes naturally to them. (Think how our toddlers just copy whatever they hear from their surroundings.) And I was not less surprised to find that old brains like ours – the parents’, could keep up too when re-trained!

Singing and dancing while memorizing the world’s history timeline.

Hands-on science experiment.

One of the Fine Arts sessions – Andrew Wyeth (copying the great master’s painting style).

Science project – Anatomy.

Presentation, a show and tell session for the younger ones.

A CC year spans across 24 weeks, usually with a break every 6 weeks, following the U.S. school year it starts in September and ends in April before the summer break. We have just finished one cycle last April and are loving the long break, but we also miss the weekly meet-ups, especially the fellowship over lunch and the playground time afterwards.

For now, we are keeping the academic side of the learning light for our eldest, and we intend to keep it that way throughout her preschool years (after all, it’s called pre-school for a reason). To us, most importantly her needs for meaningful and extended interactions with peers were met through the CC community. When asked what she liked most about CC, she replied “My friends, of course!” And we are glad for her.

“My Friends”

As for me, I am thankful for a community of very supportive and gracious Christian families. Homeschooling can be a lonely journey, it is tough and is often full of doubts. Having a group of committed people to journey together is truly a blessing.

Looking back, we thank God for a blessed and fruitful year. Looking forward, we can’t wait for September to come!

Learn more about Classical Conversations here.

“You Are Not My Friend!”

She will say, fold her arms and pout her lips. Other similar phrases she may hurl at me are “I don’t like Mommy!”, “You don’t love me!” and, my favorite, “You are not my favorite person!” The reason? Sometimes, because I do not agree to giving her what she wants, often, because I need to discipline her over a particular offense.

I like this anecdote about parents my generation (those born in the ’80s and ’90s): we are the last generation who listened to their parents and the first generation who has to listen to their children. While it is so relatable it’s hilarious, I do wonder what happened in between. My parents never bothered themselves with whether or not their kids would put them on the top list for their best friends and I am glad they didn’t. Because they were, after all, my parents. They knew that and were secure in that knowledge.

“It’s easy for me to make you like Mommy,” I always say, “I just let you do as you wish and I’ll instantly be your favorite person, your BFF.” And she will look at me with a “then why don’t you do just that?” look. To which both she and I already know the answer.

“I am your mother. My biggest care is not whether you would like me, my biggest concern is whether you know and are doing what’s right.” Of course it’s never pleasant to play the bad cop, of course all moms would love to please their children. But as her mother, I need to do what a mother should do and that is not something that a friend can do for her. “If I let you do as you wish just because I want you to like me now, that is not love,” I add, at the same time horrified by the thought of such parenting with its inevitable consequence, “then you will grow up hating me.”

There will come the day when children will mature (God help us) into the responsible and sensible adults they need to be. There will come the day these children will be capable of a loving and meaningful friendship with their parents. Until then, we need to be their parents. Precisely because of that prospect, we must be the parents who know their role and carry out their duty faithfully. The duty to love and also to discipline, to nurture yet never neglect to train.

I am not your friend, daughter. I am your mother. In due time, I pray you will see that I love you. And when you know what it means to be a true human, one with wisdom and virtues, I pray for your friendship.

Raising Happy Eaters

First of all, I am not writing this as a trained nutritionist, nor am I any expert in pediatrics. I am certainly not the know-it-all parent. Children’s eating habit is a HUGE concern for almost all modern parents, one that leaves them (me included) scratching their heads and pulling their hair. Despite being told multiple times “Wow, your kids eat so well!” I have had my share of pleading, bribing, threatening, and shoveling food down their throats, trust me.

So, back to the title. I am sharing a compilation of what I think have worked for our family in our attempt to raise the girls into happy eaters who enjoy mealtime around the table. All of these are wisdom from the past generations (the seniors we consulted with) and cultural observations documented in books.

1. Food is relational, it is not merely nutritional.

The table has a special place in community. It is general knowledge that food is associated with fellowship in any culture. A shared mealtime is when people come together sharing not only food but also their time and lives. There is a reason to why it is said “Food tastes better when shared” and “Family that eats together stays together.” Some of my fondest memories are those that happened during shared mealtimes with families and loved ones, I believe this is not singular to my experience. Make effort to create that wonderful association. Eat together as a family.

2. Food is a blessing, eat with gratitude.

I spent a big chunk of my childhood eating with my late paternal grandma whom I dearly called Ah Po. Being a tough woman who had single-handedly raised eight children through the hard times, she would make sure we all understood how privileged we were to have food to eat. Not a single grain of rice was to waste. The same expectation was enforced by my father, and so it was the kind of tables we grew up with. How, you may ask, did they instill such attitude in the children? They guarded against the sense of entitlement. The mantra was always “Ai ciak ciak, mai ciak suak.” A Hokkien remark for “eat if you want and starve if you won’t.” And so they never hesitated to let us go hungry.

When the kids refuse to eat 😛

3. There must be a time for play/work, and a time for meal.

Common sense has it that when one is hungry, one will eat. And a reasonable and good way of how that maxim operates is seen in a healthy cycle of energy exertion and energy re-fuelling. In our home this is translated into a routine of starting the day with breakfast, letting the children play and exert their energy, eating again only at lunchtime, napping for the youngest and quiet activities for the eldest, followed by snack time in the afternoon, outdoor playtime, and finally dinnertime. We do not snack around the clock nor eat apart from the four appointed mealtimes. This way, the children are hungry when they do eat. They will not not eat.

4. Food is pleasure, enjoy it.

I had the other big chunk of my childhood spent around the table of my late maternal grandma whom I dearly called Ah Ma. The opposite of my Ah Po, she doted on her grandchildren very much, to the point of indulging them. I cannot recall any memory of her raising her voice at us. She would cook our favorite foods all the time, always whipping up whatever dish we asked of her. She did not make much fuss on nutritions, and from her kitchen we learned that food is pleasurable. Indulge your children sometimes, whip up tasty meals if you could. Also, a dash of MSG and an occasional plate of deep fried processed food will not kill them. Let them taste that food IS delicious.

5. Food is nutrition, eat healthily.

When it comes to food, nutritional value is normally what parents are most concerned about, and rightly so. After all, who wouldn’t want their children to grow up healthy? Our parents believed that there needs to be a wide variety of food served for meals. There were always rice, 2 meat dishes, 1 leafy vegetable dish, and 1 soup dish for lunch and dinner. This, they believed, provides a balance and complete nutrition for the body. The rule was, “You don’t have to eat much of all but you must try all.” In the words of my father, eat more of those you like and less of those you dislike. It is unsurprising to find that the Japanese and the South Koreans, the two cultures with non-picky eating population that boast the lowest obesity rate in the world – at 4 percent (Christine Gross-Loh, “Parenting Without Borders” p. 62), share the same meal philosophy, both in their emphasis on dish variety and their insistence that children should try at least one bite of all the dishes served. Now, I am not saying we must prepare 4 different dishes for every mealtime, I can’t. But we can encourage the children to try out a wide variety of different foods. Children love what they know. And they can know only what they try.

And finally, I have to acknowledge that we Asians often associate a chubby child with a good eater. The logic is a child that eats well must eat a lot and therefore must be chubby. This. Is. Not. True.

Many moms have endured the unnecessary pressure to pump-feed their kids in an attempt to fatten them up and felt like a failure when their kids stay lean. We don’t have to, we should not. The goal is not to produce the most plump little Michelin’s mascots. If they are healthy, are thankful for and enjoy their food, and have a warm table fellowship, they will be happy eaters. And you’ve done well, Momma! 🙂