Learning goes on at home

Parents use candies, balloons and other items to create fun activities at home for their children to widen their knowledge beyond school

For some parents, sending their young children to pre-school is not enough. For them, learning continues at home almost daily - after their children return from school and before they go to bed.

Parents here who are proponents of home learning say the practice has been growing in recent years, as more people document their activities on social media platforms.

While home-learning parents have their detractors, who view what they do as being "kiasu", they say their objective is not to make their children smarter, but to expose them to a sensory-rich learning environment where they learn through play and learning is fun.

To facilitate such an environment, these parents consider their children's interests, which could range from nature to construction, and spend time and effort coming up with interesting, hands-on activities based on a chosen theme.

At times, they choose topics and create activities that help to build confidence in their children. This could be in areas that the young ones are observed to be weak in, or matters that their children are fearful of, such as dentistry (ahead of the child's first trip to the dentist).

Home-learning parents also say they enjoy the process of planning the activities, as well as doing the activities with their children.

Here are some families who actively engage in home learning.


Former teacher sees her kids as students

Sensory bin play is one of the home-learning activities housewife Jacinth Liew devises for her children - Charlotte Chua, 18 months, and Daryl Chua, four.
Sensory bin play is one of the home-learning activities housewife Jacinth Liew devises for her children - Charlotte Chua, 18 months, and Daryl Chua, four. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Housewife Jacinth Liew's home-learning activities with her two young children are fun and colourful, and could engage even adults because of how interesting they are.

The best part? They do not cost much, says the 31-year-old.

Her learning tools are everyday items such as paints, beans, trays and scoops, many of which are bought either online from sites such as Taobao and Amazon or from shops such as Daiso and Ikea. The items generally cost less than $10 each and some of them have lasted her for years, she says.

The mother of two started home-learning activities shortly after her first child was born in 2014. But what she did then was "very random", she confesses.

"At that time, there was no learning objective, theme ororganisation to what we did. "

With the growth of social media platforms in recent years, however, she got to know other like-minded parents, who were either based here or overseas. Through their posts and her own research, she started to learn how to structure activities for pre-schoolers.

These days, her activities are grouped by themes, each of which covers areas including literacy, craft, sensory play and Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning.

Under Stem, she enjoys conducting visually engaging experiments with her children - Daryl, four, and Charlotte, 18 months. Her husband, 32, is a bank employee.

One example of such an experiment that is also simple to execute is the "Skittles Experiment", which involves pouring warm water over the hard sweets after they have been arranged in a circle.

Within minutes, the colour runs from the candies and the result is a beautiful pinwheel of colours, thanks to diffusion.

Another example is the "Magic Milk Experiment", where drops of food colouring are added into a tray awash with milk. Then, she asks her children to use cotton buds - which have been dipped in dishwashing liquid - to gently touch the surface of the milk. Because of the chemical reaction between the soap and milk fat, the colours begin to separate and swirl outwards.

Ms Liew says: "Both experiments will not fail to amaze children. It's all about science, but to them, it's magic."

In 2016, she set up Instagram and Facebook accounts, @ourlittleplaynest, to document her ideas and activities. Over time, the account has developed from a personal log to one that is now focused on sharing with parents how they can connect with their children through play.

"I want to let parents know that what I do is not rocket science. It's what every parent can do," says Ms Liew. "The activities don't cost a lot and don't require a lot of preparation time."

While she spends about an hour or so daily reading up on what to do and creating her lesson plans, the actual activities can each be executed in just five to 10 minutes.

The former secondary school teacher says she misses her teaching days.

"My children are my students now," she says. "I don't need them to be smart, but I do these activities in the hope that they will love learning and always ask questions about everything."


Fun, bonding time for family

Mother of two Lim Sing Yun with some items used in her home-learning activities for her two sons, aged four and two.
Mother of two Lim Sing Yun with some items used in her home-learning activities for her two sons, aged four and two. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIM SING YUN

To any parent who thinks preparing home-learning activities is tiresome and difficult, Ms Lim Sing Yun, 37, has this to say: It is not.

The mother of two sons aged four and two would know, having done it for close to a year.

By trawling through the Internet and social media platforms, she has found free printables on myriad topics from the solar system to dinosaurs, which appeal to her children.

"There are a lot of people creating these materials who are happy to offer them online for free," says Ms Lim, who works as an in-house legal counsel.

She simply prints what she wants to use, which saves her the effort of creating her own materials.

She usually comes up with a learning theme for her children, so that it gives her a focal point when searching for materials. She also supplements the planned activities with library books on her desired theme.

The family usually does these activities after dinner. "It's part of family bonding," says Ms Lim, whose 38-year-old husband works in a German chemicals company.

She puts together her ideas after her children go to bed. The preparation process is fun for her and it gives her something meaningful to do "rather than surfing social media aimlessly" after the kids are asleep.

Last April, she started an Instagram account, @playfull.sg, to document her home-learning activities with her children. "It's a form of memory keeping. It's nice to look back on what we've done together and to communicate with a community of like-minded parents," she says.

"Dinosaur Egg" is an activity she says is a hit with her children. She learnt about it from another home-learning parent's Instagram account.

The activity entails stuffing a plastic dinosaur figurine into a deflated balloon and then filling up the balloon with water. After this is done, the balloon is tied up and put in a freezer. When the water turns to ice, the parent can cut away the balloon skin and what is left is a dinosaur "trapped" in an "ice egg".

The child is presented with the frozen egg and his objective is to melt the ice and "rescue" the dinosaur.

To keep her children occupied with the same activity for a longer duration, Ms Lim usually freezes several such eggs at one go.

"I'm happy to see that such simple activities can keep my children purposefully engaged," she says. "I feel that I'm giving them new toys each time, without actually having to buy something new."


Activities a way to gauge interest, skills

Housewife Sylvia Lye (far left) and teacher Tiffany Lim (left) prepare varied home-learning activities for their children - (second from far left) Alison Lye, three, Chloe Lim, four, and Joash Lim, two.
Housewife Sylvia Lye (far left) and teacher Tiffany Lim (left) prepare varied home-learning activities for their children - (second from far left) Alison Lye, three, Chloe Lim, four, and Joash Lim, two. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The home-learning lesson plans for their children may sound intimidating, with learning objectives that encompass everything from literature and mathematics to personal and physical development, as well as expressive arts, design and understanding the world.

But mothers Tiffany Lim, 29, and Sylvia Lye, 31, say it is all about engaging the senses and having fun in the process.

Mrs Lim, a secondary school teacher, says some parents have asked her: “Why do you try to teach your children so much?”

To which she replies: “It’s not about being kiasu (the fear of losing out), but about learning through play and having fun.”

Mrs Lye, a housewife, agrees. “I wish I were my own child, getting to do all these activities when I was growing up.”

She adds that planning the homelearning activities helps make her time as a stay-home mother “fruitful and meaningful”.

“My daughter is learning things in school, but it’s easy to just let the days go by. In this way, I am spending meaningful time with her, helping to scaffold her learning.”

Beneath the mothers’ academicsounding, broad-based learning objectives is also a belief that whatever they do should engage their children’s five senses.

For instance, they are working on a Chinese New Year theme, which will kick in next month. Some ideas they are toying with include reading books to their children on the festival, teaching them about zodiac signs, letting them smell and peel oranges, crafting their own Chinese drum as well as baking cookies.

Mrs Lim adds that to encourage sensory play, she runs sensory baths for her children.

Apart from toys, slices of fruit, flower petals and pandan leaves are sometimes thrown into the mix, depending on the learning theme.

She encourages her children to smell, touch and play with the items as they bathe.

The two friends, who met when they were students at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, have three children aged from two to four between them and are behind the home-learning Instagram account @2mamas4kids, which they set up in March 2016 and where they share their activities.

They try to be authentic in their posts by showcasing not only activities they did successfully, but also those that did not work.

Mrs Lim says: “We don’t want parents to have a ‘try once and must succeed’ kind of mentality.

“Sometimes, the child is not interested or not ready to do a certain activity and that’s fine. Wait and try again some time later.”

In the process of executing their activities, they are able to see what their children are good at and what they enjoy – or do not enjoy – doing.

From there, they try to change or tweak activities to encourage their children to tackle activities that may not play to their strengths.

The two mothers are committed to home learning for now, noting that children’s interests will change and develop as they grow.

Mrs Lye says: “This period is but for a season. I want to make the best use of my time to learn alongside her in her early years, while I have the energy to do so.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 14, 2018, with the headline 'Learning goes on at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe