Kindergarten & G1 teachers’ favourite Halloween stories

Being part of a community of teachers has great perks, one main one being we can share our teaching ideas and resources. I am recently part of a Facebook group called “Kinder & 1st Grade Teaching ideas” and posted the following question: Any recommendations of must-read Halloween books?

So below is a list of some teachers’ favourite Halloween stories with links to videos. You may watch the videos under each title and decide whether these books are some that you’d like to invest in to start your own family tradition for Halloween!

Stumpkin

Little Blue Truck Halloween

Snowmen at Halloween

There was an old lady who swallowed a bat

Spookley

The Little Old Lady who was not Afraid of Anything

Room on the Broom

Big Pumpkin

Stellaluna

Little Boo

Pumpkin Soup

Creep Pair of Underwear

Pumpkin Circle

Goergie and the Robbers

Pumpkin Jack

The Biggest Pumpkin Ever

Boo!

The Witch who was Afraid of Witches

Piggie Pie

Too Many Pumpkins

The Hallo-Winner

Go away big, green monster

The Scarecrow (Beth Ferry)

The Halloweiner 

Froggy’s Halloween

Spookly the Square Pumpkin

Big Pumpkin 

Too Many Pumpkins

Where’s my mummy

It’s Pumpkin Day Mouse

Trick or Treat little critter

Clifford’s Halloween

A Dark Dark Tale

Arthur Halloween

Funnybones

Would love to hear from you and connect!

A review of 2 major Chinese learning platforms- “Lingobus” and “KoalaKnow” PART 1

If there is anything positive from COVID-19, one might be that parents are starting to be more open-minded about online learning options.  While parents used to question the effectiveness and necessity of e-learning, they have now resorted to actively search for online platforms that could support their child’s learning at home.  Online piano lessons, art classes, writing tutorials, language learning courses… parents are now discovering a wide array of educational opportunities they never paid attention to before.

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During Singapore’s ‘circuit breaker’ when schools and learning centres were closed for 3 months, I tested and trialed a few online platforms that opened my eyes to how e-learning has evolved.  I even purchased separate packages from two major Chinese learning platforms:  Lingobus and KoalaKnow, in the hopes that Kai can keep up with his Chinese during the lockdown.  The results of having Kai gone online to learn Chinese are beyond what I had expected.

In this blog post, I will describe my experience with LINGOBUS and what I like about it:

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Lingobus’ theme-based units provide a fun and meaningful way to learn about the world in Chinese!  Each theme is designed so that it focuses on core vocabulary, key phrases and expressions that are emphasised throughout the unit.

Kai first started Lingobus on the “Go Camping” unit where he learned, through Lingbus’ interactive animations and teacher’s storytelling, everything from what to pack for a camping trip to things like starting a fire with a magnifying glass!   It was precisely a fun unit because Kai has never gone camping  before, so he was fascinated by the world he was immersed in during the 30 min lesson.

Although it was a ‘camping themed unit’, it was still flexible enough in that basic words, expressions and structures could be taught. With the new vocabulary, Kai learned to to describe a sequence of events using “先。。。然后。。。最后 ” which was very useful.

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The lesson begins with a short greeting, and a catchy theme song that covers vocabulary  covered in the unit.  The theme song is a fun way to encourage Kai to sing using the target vocabulary and sentence structure, without realizing that he is ‘practicing Chinese’.

In this. video, Kai sings the “Go Camping” theme song where the focus of the unit was on sequence words such as 先。。。然后。。。最后。

In a different unit, Kai learned the structure 太。。。了 which is also reflected in the theme song.

During the next 45 minutes, the interactive nature of the lesson is thoughtfully designed to encourage students to listen and speak.  In every lesson, there are always some elements of the screen where Kai either needs to draw, or click and drag into place.  These interactive elements help Kai to show his understanding of the content.

In this part of the lesson, Kai had to listen to the name of the clothing item, and drag the right item on the laundry line.

In this other lesson, Kai needed to count the number of groceries items, and write the number in the box!

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So far on Lingobus, Kai has had 3 ‘frequently used’ teachers for his lessons:  Lulu, Lily and June and they have been instrumental in bringing the online lessons to life.  Each teacher naturally has different personalities and bring their own uniqueness, with slight variations in accents, and different incidental language.  The rotation of teachers is a great way to make Kai feel comfortable interacting with different people.

Far more than speaking and listening skills, Kai also picked up communication skills through his one-on-one interactions with the experienced instructors.  He enjoys talking with them, telling jokes, asking questions and even showcasing his toys to which his instructors patiently listens and responds.  I also appreciate that they constantly remind Kai to speak in full-sentences.  The teachers are familiar with the lesson content, facilitates and goes at a pace that Kai can follow easily.  They take time to interact with Kai informally, laughing at his jokes, and asking him questions. This personal touch reminds us that language is used to communicate and build relationships, and in real-life, does not follow a plan or a script.

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Lingobus’ curriculum is well designed, and each unit establishes clear learning goals for parents to see.

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Each unit also comes with downloadable resources to support Kai’s learning.  The “Words & Grammar List” includes target vocabulary, sentence structures, expressions, as well as Chinese characters to be learned.

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We always preview the content of a new lesson to prepare for class, and review using the study resources to optimize the lesson.

Lingobus also gives users access to their library where Kai enjoys listening to the books categorised by themes and levels!

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And that’s not all! There is one section on Lingobus that I particular like, which is the collection of animated Chinese characters!  When drawing flashcards for Kai and Kei, I now refer to this section to see whether I can copy their pictures!

Some other questions parents have:

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Kai speaks and understands Chinese well in casual conversations, but the language that he uses is not sophisticated, and he probably lacks the kind of Chinese vocabulary that his peers have in a home whose primary language is Chinese.  Therefore, Lingobus is perfect for him because it encourages him to speak and interact with the support of visuals and feedback from a Chinese native speaker.  However, if your child is a native Chinese speaker who already converse proficiently, you may what to consider KOALAKNOW which focuses on Chinese idioms, legends and vocabulary.

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The last part of each lesson is dedicated to teaching a new Chinese character, and as mentioned earlier there are certainly resources to support learning it, but I’d say the focus is still on vocabulary, expressions and sentence structures (through listening and speaking).

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I personally think exposing children to both traditional and simplified doesn’t do any harm, and you can even take it as an opportunity to point out the differences between the two.  Lingobus lessons just serve as a way to introduce children to the Chinese language, which include Chinese characters, and not necessarily the only tool to teach your child one form or the other.

All in all, LINGOBUS has been an amazing find for me, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every lesson that Kai takes.  For the price of US$20 for 30 minutes, it shouldn’t even be set as a ‘last minute’ option for kids who are stuck at home with school closure.  It should be part of your child’s daily Chinese-learning routine.  Even for an experienced Mandarin teacher, it would take years of experience and hours of thoughtful preparation of materials to encourage listening and speaking in such a fun and interactive way.  If you already have a Mandarin teacher with your child, online, I am pretty sure they do not have songs and animations that would wow you and your child to the point that they sing and learn in Chinese without reluctance!

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If you’d like to give LINGOBUS a try, you can reach out to me on Instagram @msclaudia331 or email me for a referral link clutzia.lee@gmail.com 

For a limited time, you get 5 extra lessons when you purchase a package of 10 or more!!!

Would love to connect!

Ways to encourage your toddler to write stories at home

Many parents have come and talked to me about their chid’s writing,  “How can they be a better writer?”  Apart from lessons at school, I think the other 50% of the “how” can be and SHOULD be done at home. Just like reading which can be encouraged, writing can be too.  Children can only be better writers if they write.  If we expect children to read, we should also expect them to write.  However,  the importance of writing at home is often overlooked because there are always other priorities: Kumon, Spelling homework, tennis lesson, piano practice… and writing often requires ‘more effort’ on the parents’ part.  Parents find it difficult to motivate their child to write, unlike reading that it is more pleasantly associated with bedtime stories and parent-child bonding. Simply put, you cannot outsource writing to anyone.

One question you may already have is, “What if my toddler can’t write yet”?  There are still many ways you can help them develop the habit of writing.  For my 4 year old, as soon as he started showing an interest in drawing pictures, we started “writing” together.

Does it matter if your child can’t write? No. Just look at some of our earlier “stories”. Initially,  I dictated Kai’s stories in order to model what a story looks like with capital letters, finger space and period, etc.  Eventually, Kai started writing a word here and there.  Then, when he started writing the full story, I sat beside him to guide him.

There is no easy solution to having your toddler write, especially when your child is just starting to learn how to write. It DOES require effort from you.  But writing at home will help strengthen your child’s skills, and with time, writing will develop into a habit and hobby. 

Below are 9 tips on how to raise a toddler who does love to write at home:

1

Even experienced writers sometimes need beautiful scenery, a song or a photo for inspiration. This could be true for a 4 year old.  I find that books and toys are concrete objects that really motivate Kai to write.  To encourage, I always ask, “Wow this is so cool! Do you want to write a story about it?” Then, we’d take our writing supplies out and start hatching out some ideas … in the form of drawing (Tip #2).

2

I find this extremely helpful as Kai can first express his ideas in pictures, and while he is drawing, he is also thinking of details and processing what the picture ‘is about’. This helps him come up with ideas later when writing.  A common theme in Kai’s writing is “ocean” and “pirates”.  We spend a significant amount of time drawing and discussing his ideas, and so when it comes to the ‘story’, he already knows what to write about.

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3

Have basic supplies which as pencil that is not too sharp nor dull, good quality eraser… and I find having crayons with different shades of the same colours help add details in the drawing.

I also keep felt pens standing up, and crayons in a long wooden box (which comes from an IKEA arts & craft storage box (link here)

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I like hearing Kai’s story first, then discussing how the ‘story’ goes before proceeding to the writing part. You can also give suggestions on better word choice, or transition words like “first, then, next” during this time

5

If the focus of the writing is for them to express creativity and their ideas, then I find it helpful that the child doesn’t sit for 10 minutes trying to figure out how to spell a word, and then forgetting what to write next.  I like using the word book or a word wall because it provides reference support during the writing process.  The more they use the word, the better they will be able to remember it (along with phonics practice, of course to reinforce the spelling pattern)

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I love that Kai can practice his drawing first on the whiteboard before he puts his ideas down in his sketchbook.  We also use the whiteboard for Kai to sound out difficult words, or for me to grasp any teachable moments to point out spelling pattern or tricky words.

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I love using this IKEA bed tray (link here)because it is less formal than using a desk, and we can move the tray anywhere in the room.  For now at his height, Kai is able to sit comfortably on the floor while using it.  He also has a separate desk that can be adjusted to his height as he grows taller.

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It is a huge accomplishment whenever a child completes a story!  Take the opportunity to celebrate and share! Encourage them to present the work that they have done.  We often do this during at the dining table where his brothers all look at Kai’s picture and listen to his story.

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I find that this gives Kai a sense of ownership to have a book that stores all his work.  Adding a date also helps to track progress.

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Stamp

Date stamps for Kai’s work

Children will flourish and develop an interest in writing when parents are heavily involved such as by creating a conducive writing environment.  This entails organising writing supplies and learning tools.  Most importantly, by being there and listening to their ideas, you are encouraging them to express their creativity.  it will just be a matter of time before your child starts enjoying the writing experience.

More updates from August 2020 and onwards:

My personal IG is @msclaudia331

Would love to connect!

A mother’s takeaways from- “Teach your child to read it in 100 Easy Lesson”

When I started teaching Kai how to read, I taught him all the letter and sounds simply by using the Starfall app (here).  I did not intentionally teach phonics. There were no desks, no papers, and no instructions.  But what ‘phonics instruction’ looks like to a 2-3 year old is very different from what you might find in the classroom.  A lot of it comes from reading books, watching videos, playing games, and in my case, learning from a well-designed app.  However, when my 3 year-old has already mastered the letter sounds of a-z, I did not know what I should do next. I mean, should I teach him how to write, or should I focus on reading? Should I teach him how to blend words or should I teach long and short vowel sounds? Lightning struck when a mom recommended this book to me:  “Teach your child to read it in 100 Easy Lesson”

Link on Amazon US (here)

Link on Book Depository (here)

Book

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you have already read a few things about this book and you’d like a second opinion.  You are probably asking yourself, “Should I buy this book?” “When should I start exactly?” “How should I start?”  “How closely should I follow it?” and ultimately, “Will it teach my child to read?”  I will address all of these questions, as well as life lessons that I learned about ‘learning’ from working with Kai.

This is also the second part to my previous blog “Teaching my child to read using traditional VS technology-based resource (PART 1)  where I described how I used other (digital) resources to support Kai’s reading.  Please note that Kai only receives ONE English instructions class a week at school since he attends full Japanese school

“Should I buy this book?”

Yes.  This book works for me because it is very structured, and shows me exactly what I have to say, or what to show on which day.  This works for me also because, as a teacher, I can use my experience to guide me on which parts to skip. I can also pretty much improvise my lesson at a glance of the book.  For most moms/dads, the detailed script could be stressful to follow.  However, I do believe that after a few lessons, most should get the flow of how the lessons go, and might not need to follow everything as highlighted to a tee.  It is also better to have a script a.k.a. lesson plan, rather than not, because you can always re-word or simplify it in a way that works for you and your child.

This is an example of the script from the first lesson.

Lesson 1

I did start supplementing the lessons with Jolly Phonics from around Lesson 70 and onwards when the symbols (initially designed to help pronounce silent letters, long and short vowels), are removed.

Altered Orthography2The book refers this as altered orthography.

Symbols

For me, it just made more sense to introduce certain sounds rather than the altered version.  For instance, I felt that recognising diphthongs such as  au, ie, oo, oy, ew as a chunk would be helpful.  That is why I paused at lesson 70, and went back to it after Kai thoroughly learned them through Jolly Phonics as circled below.  Here is a link to my post that is related to Jolly Phonics (here)

JP groups

Jolly Phonics Group 1-7

There is no reason why you should not give this book a try.   If you are open-minded, and flexible enough to modify the lessons according to your child’s need and development, this book provides a great guide to begin the journey of understanding phonics instruction.

“When should I start?”

 

I started when Kai was exactly 3.5 years old.  I read that most parents start using this book for children from age 5.  Because I started Kai at such an early age, I did stop at around Lesson 50 and repeated the lessons from Lesson 1. Reinforcing was important to retain what he learned previously. I also paused at around Lesson 70 and introduced Jolly Phonics.

As mentioned earlier, I started after Kai had learned all the names of the alphabets as well as his letter-sounds. I imagine it might be challenging to depend solely on ONE resource to teach all the alphabet names and letter-sounds.

“How should I start?”

Take your time to read through the PARENT’S GUIDE which will guide you through the Distar program, which is what this book is based on.  The following two sections from the guide were also helpful for me.  One is an illustration and the other a pronunciation guide.  I also found this blog helpful if you want an overview on teaching letters and letter-sounds (Tips for teaching letters and letter-sounds)

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“How closely should I follow the book?”

I did not follow this book closely partly because I started woking on this with Kai when he was only 3.5 years old. So developmentally,  I had to make tailored adjustments to suit Kai.  Here is a list of the things that I did NOT follow:

  1. did not spend 20 minutes on each lesson (it was more like 5-10 minutes)
  2. rarely did the entire lesson in one go.
  3. did not finish 100 lessons in 100 days. It took me one full year to finish the book!
  4. did not have Kai write the letters of the alphabet until he turned 4.
  5. did not introduce rhymes AT ALL using the book.
  6. made my own reading comprehension questions rather than using the ones set by the books.

Here are the things I DID do:

  1. followed my finger on the lines and dots as suggested.
  2. only did one lesson a day at most.
  3. did not skip any lessons although I skipped certain tasks.
  4. previewed the lesson before teaching it.
  5. always always always re-read the entire story to Kai so he can listen and understand it better.
  6. I reviewed regularly.
  7. I wrote the target words in a separate notebook so I can carry it with me on the plane,  in the car, and on our vacations, etc.

“Will it teach my child to read?”

Here is a video of Kai at 4 and a half years old reading his Lesson 89 passage:

So the answer is … YES!

But did I use this book entirely to teach Kai to read?  No. This book provided a good framework for me to get started on phonics instructions beyond teaching letter-sounds.  It motivated me to allocate a time of the day to teach reading explicitly (apart from reading books to Kai).  It allowed me to explore other multi-sensory techniques to reinforce words the had already learned since the book did not provide any.  We started this book in April 2019.  We finished this book in June 2020 when Kai was 4.5 years old.  This means, it has taken us an entire year to complete!

(I’d like to mention here as well that although some parents might not like how there is only one small illustration to support the story, I personally like it.  This is how I  knew that Kai can read.  He relies on blending the letter-sounds to figure out the words rather than rely on pictures.  And most importantly, I use this as an instructional tool so I feel justified that little-to-no illustrations is ok!  For all other books that he reads for pleasure, there are plenty of illustrations that go with the stories!)

What important lessons have I learned from this book?

I felt a little emotional as Kai and I are finishing the last 10 lessons of this book.  I have been teaching for over 15 years, but never have I taught a child to read right from the start.  This book has become part of our routines, quality time, and has accompanied us to numerous family trips around the world.  I thought I should take the time to reflect on the important lessons that I learned from my experience:

Lesson 1:  Once you set to do something, finish it

There is a Chinese saying that I found to be inspirational while working through this book:  做事要有始有終。When you start something it is important to complete it.  Once I have made up my mind to use this book, I stuck with it until the very last page.   Even when I felt that the lessons were too difficult for Kai halfway through the book, I used other lessons to supplement the program, and then went back to the book. This is the philosophy that I wanted to show Kai as well.  Although we don’t always finish the entire lesson every time, Kai needs to finish the sentence that he promised he’d do.  And then, we always always always finish the lesson even at another time.  Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, lesson by lesson…although it has taken us one full year, we have worked step-by-step to the end of the program!

Lesson 2: Push yourself just a little bit more

There are times when Kai initiates, “Mama, I want to practice,” yet there are other times when Kai expresses reluctance.  There are also times when Kai is so distracted he cannot sound out any words in the sentence (as you can imagine, this requires a lot of concentration).  When this happens, I always encourage him to “do a little bit more” just to show that he could finish the entire sentence if he pushed himself a little harder.

Lesson 3: Trust research, but also trust your understanding of your child 

Yes, the book suggests spending 20 minutes on each lesson.  The book suggests doing things a certain way, and I’m sure there is enough research to back up the methodology that the book uses, BUT ultimately, I know my child the best.  So if you feel that some parts of book do not work for your child, do try to figure out a way to make it work!

Lesson 4: Celebrate success, big and small 

We make a huge deal every time he finishes his target (sometimes it could just be a few sentences if Kai isn’t in the mood, but it is whatever he has promised to do), or the ENTIRE STORY!  We also had a small celebration when he reached Lesson 50 of the book.  Every milestone is important, and I wanted to take every opportunity to tell Kai how hard he’s worked, how he didn’t give up, and how proud he should be.

Lesson 50!

Lesson 5: Process is just as important as the outcome 

It has been such a humbling and rewarding experience to be able to work with my child, guiding him step-by-step to learn this very complex skill called READING.   Through this process, Kai learned how to persevere, and figure out problems on his own before rushing to get help.  He learned to be tolerant of mistakes he makes, and sentences that he doesn’t finish.  He learned that by being consistent, patient and motivated, he will one day see success.

To Kai:  I’m so happy for you Kai Kai! You are my inspiration to write this blog.  I hope one day, you will look back to this day and realize how hard you have worked.  Once you learn to read, you can never un-do this skill! I am so extremely proud of you and I love you!

This is the last page of the book. We had a small celebration after!

Last story!

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You may also follow me on Instagram @msclaudia331 for more literacy ideas (My account is private).

Collage of IG activities

I can also be reached by email clutzia.lee@gmail.com . I’d love to connect!

Helping my kids learn Chinese, English and Japanese through picture and sound associations

 

Supporting our children in learning 4 languages is no easy task. It doesn’t make it easier that I am so selective in the resources that I use. Either I research for hours just to find one specific item, or I end up creating my own teaching materials from scratch.  From the process of searching to creating, we have come to the realization that mnemonic associations have helped both kids learn everything from English letter-sounds, Japanese Hiragana to Chinese characters and music notes.  The mnemonic method is one that involves linking visual cues, sounds or images to characters, letters, words or concepts you are trying to learn.  This blog will briefly explain how I have incorporated this strategy (mnemonic associations) into our children’s learning at home.

Learning through Images

Japanese Hiragana

Hiragana is the phonetic alphabet that is usually the first writing system you learn as a child. It consists of 46 sounds. On the Internet, you can find website after website that detail the fastest and most effective ways to learn hiragana.  Unfortunately, most child-friendly hiragana charts I came across were poorly designed for a non-Japanese speaker.

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Yes, there is an illustration for each hiragana so it is clearly trying to use an illustration to help remember its sound.  For instance, for “あ” pronounced “ah”, there is a picture of an ant or “ari”  However, this is equivalent to me drawing an “apple” next to the letter A.  Unless you are looking at the chart, there is no way anyone would be able to remember that association.  On top of that, Kai does not know half of the Japanese vocabulary on that chart!  These online resources were not helpful for Kai.

In the end,  I wanted to create cards that involve image-based mnemonics which is appropriate for memorising Hiragana. I wanted the Hiragana to actually LOOK like the illustration that it is trying to portray. 

For example: 

On the right:  The hiragana “mu” looks like the cow that “moo!”

On the left: The hiragana “no” looks like “nostrils”

For the more challenging sounds, I even used Cantonese and Mandarin words to support.

On the right:  The hiragana “u” sounds like “u gui” 乌龟 or turtle in Mandarin

On the left:  The hiragana “te” sounds like “tek” 踢 or kick in Cantonese

Get the idea?  So in the end, I planned and drew one memorable picture for each Hiragana character that involves English, Cantonese and English.

Hiragana1

Kai’s Hiragana Chart

Hiragana2

Kai’s Hiragana Chart (2)

Kai knew all 46 of the hiragana characters well before he turned 4 and although my husband wants to claim credit for this, I think this is because of my artistic ability and creativity. HAHA (Husband was proofreading my blog)

Here is another simple activity we did on the sketchbook where Kai had to connect the Hiragana in order:

Hiragana in order

This recognition of the characters all started from seeing and learning each image.  It is amazing what you are able to memorise when using mnemonic methods!

Chinese Characters  

When I started teaching Kai Chinese characters, I did not have any particular methods. Just like how most people learn it, I first introduced the most basic characters which are 一二三 and then proceeded to other characters that could somehow be easily represented in pictures or actions.  For instance, the character 大 can simply be depicted when one spreads his/her arms out and legs apart.  Since a small proportion of Chinese characters are pictographs, an appropriate approach is through a pictorial method.

You can see some of these Chinese characters below that depict what they name:

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Initially, Kai learned many of his first Chinese characters from random flashcards that I drew and the amazing Magikids app which I have blogged about (here).  However, to support his learning, I wanted a more systematic mnemonic method for Kai to learn Chinese.   I searched on Taobao, and came across this fabulous set of cards (here). 

Chinese QR coded cards

There are 502 cards in the set, and each card is printed on the front and back.

The front shows the Chinese character, pinyin and stroke order.

The back shows an image that looks like the character, as well as words that contain that character.

Another cool feature is the QR code that links to a video that voices all the information on the card:

These cards are creatively designed and although some pictures only remotely resemble the characters, they are memorable enough for children to associate the two.

Here is a little game I invented in order for Kai to get acquainted with the illustrations:

 

And here is our practice after:

In just a few days, Kai was able to learn many Chinese characters, with the support of other resources I am currently using.  For the cards he has already mastered, I stick them on his word wall with the illustration-side showing so he or I can refer to them when reading Chinese books.

Chinese QR code cards

As for Kei who is just turning 3 this month, I’ve come up with simple pictures for the following Chinese characters.

Chinese DIY cards

And this was the practice we did the other day to reinforce what the Chinese characters are.  Kei then had to read out the words.

Chinese-picture matching

Having pictures on the back of the Chinese characters really works as Kei has picked up so many new characters this way.  He just turned 3 when this video was taken.

This is another set I drew for Kai who is 4.5 years old:

cards

 

Learning through Sounds

Japanese Hiragana

As explained previously, Hiragana is the basic Japanese phonetic script that represents every sound in the Japanese language.  Some sounds do not exist in English nor Chinese, so to help Kai pronounce the Hiragana characters, I found a very cute song that sings out the Hiragana system in order.

You can click on the YouTube link here

A E U I O

Chinese Pinyin 

Part of mastering any languages involves building a strong foundation in pronunciation.  This is especially true for Chinese. Hanyu Pinyin 汉语拼音 is a system of ‘spelling out’ Chinese characters.  Pinyin forms the basis of Chinese pronunciation, and just like English, it can be divided into consonants and vowels

Chinese Pinyin can be divided into vowels and consonants as follow : ɑ, o, e, i, u, ǖ, b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, ɡ, k, h, j, q, x, z, c, s, r, y, w.

Some of these pinyins are difficult to pronounce accurately, so each sound should ideally be practiced many times.

I did not develop this Hanyu Pinyin method but rather re-created it from Kai and Kei’s neighbourhood Chinese school called Bibinog from memory.  I have heard that other schools have similar methods to reinforce the pronunciations of pinyin.  This Hanyu Pinyu song is basically a chant that the teachers sing at the end of every class.  The purpose of this is for children to know the order of vowels and constants (which apparently is important), and pronounce the sounds accurately through repetition.

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Here is a video of Kai reading out the pinyin:

 

English Phonics

If you are unfamiliar with Jolly Phonics or Letterland, they are both programs that take a synthetic phonics approach to teaching literacy.  This is a method which first teaches the letter sounds and then builds up to blending these sound together in order to pronounce the whole word.  Letterland mainly uses its own characters and stories while Jolly Phonics use songs and actions.  (Here is more information about Letterland and Jolly Phonics.)

Both programs are effective because children can rely on characters, stories, songs and actions to recall letter-sounds.  Here is a comparison of how Letterland (top) teaches the letter A compared with Jolly Phonics (bottom)

Letterland a

Letterland Letter A

Jollyphonics A

Jolly Phonics Letter A

I prefer Jolly Phonics because of its songs and intuitive actions.  I followed the program closely, introducing the letter-sounds in the order that is specified.  Here is a YouTube video that features all 42 Jolly Phonics songs that teach the sounds (here).

By learning the songs with its associated actions and singing/playing the songs throughout the day, my boys were able to recall the letter-sounds easily.  As they progress and become familiar with the songs, the reinforcing mechanism allowed them to simply point to the letters, and the actions proved no longer necessary.  (If you’d like to read about how I taught literacy at home using Jolly Phonics, please visit my other post  “Teaching my child to read using traditional VS technology-based resources”(here)

Here is a video of Kei practicing his phonics. Notice how he uses the actions with the songs.

Here is a video of Kai moving on from individual phonics sounds to blending English words:

There are so many different methods to help with learning, and mnemonics devices serve as a shortcut to reading difficult Chinese characters, pronouncing Pinyin and learning the alphabets and their sounds. When concepts, words or characters are presented in a way thats easily recognizable, it can fuel the children’s self-confidence and motivation to learn.

My personal IG is @msclaudia331

Would love to connect to share ideas!

Teaching my child to read using traditional VS technology-based resources (PART 1)

Long before Kai and Kei were born,  my husband and I knew that we play an important role in fostering a love of reading and writing in our children.  Teaching literacy also happens be our passion, and we longed to share my passion with my kids.  My goal is not to ensure they learn to read before ‘everybody else’, but rather to build a strong foundation in reading and writing that will help them later on in life.

I read research papers, followed preschool/kindergarten teachers on Instagram, and look for ideas on Pinterest, all to get some inspirations and ways on how I could get started.  I have taught kindergarten before:  Following a school curriculum that assumes a child is at a certain level when they enter school is very different from supporting literacy at home.  Working with your own child gives you so much more flexibility to speed up or slow down when there is a need to in their learning journey.  It also allows you to personalise your child’s lesson to sure they have fun and are appropriately challenged,  Kai was our first child, and I experimented many different strategies with him.  Most of the activities I did with Kai, I also did with my second child Kei, but I had the benefit of incorporating other strategies because they are, after all, different individuals.

Time has passed. Kai is now 4, and Kei is turning 3 I’d like to highlight a few resources (traditional and technology-based)  that I used to get me where I am today.

This blog will focus only on READING.

There are many articles and personal blogs that detail how to support early literacy so I will not cover topics that most parents already know or can easily research online.  Here are some offline activities that I have done with my boys on which I will not elaborate. These activities support and reinforce learning.

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My own philosophy on teaching is that learning happens when the process is fun and engaging, and that it involves repetition. I am not the kind of mother who would create 10 different activities in order for my child to learn the letter ‘a’.  I taught letter-sounds to Kai and Kei relying on 2 main online resources.  I cannot stress enough that repetition helps us learn. Using the same resource not only provides predictability and structure, but every time the child does that same task, they get a new level of mastery and revel in the comfort that comes with that achievement.

STARFALL

One of the three resources that I have used consistently, religiously, regularly with Kai AND Kei  is… STARFALL.  I started using this when both kids turned 2.  This website and later turned app is phenomenal.  The approach that “At Starfall, children have fun while they learn,” is consciously embedded in the activities and games throughout the app.  I especially like the layout of the app (apart from the clashing colours), which shows Starfall’s emphasis on teaching phonemic awareness, systematic sequential phonics and common sight words.

Just watch this video and you can see that this app is clear and simple.  You pick a letter of the alphabet and click on it to hear its sound, examples and usage.

The app’s layout and features are uncomplicated and effective.

Initially when I use this app, I started by first introducing the letters which, in my opinion, are easier to recognize than others.  These are letters a, b, c (since they are always found in book titles), s, o, t, h, w and then followed by the rest of the alphabets.  I use it for a few minutes a day, introducing no more than one alphabet a day while reviewing a maximum of two previous ones, simply by watching the animations and imitating the sounds.  I do this on and off, not so too systematically but whenever we have a moment of iPad time.  I didn’t test them on what they know, I didn’t create any other activities to reinforce for the first 6 months. I just let them watch, and learn.   Somehow when they were by around 2 years plus,  I felt they understood these letters of which we sing the Alphabet Song, have their own sounds.

The Starfall app provides a springboard for Kai and Kei to learn other aspects of phonics. I have known this app for 10 years, and still would recommend it to anyone teaching their child to read.

Starfall with scrabble tiles

JOLLY PHONICS APPS

I did not need to use Jolly Phonics to teach Kai his letter-sounds. He learned them through casual browsing of the Starfall app. With Kei though, I wanted a more kinesthetic approach (involving movements) to learning his alphabet sounds.  He used Starfall app to get acquainted with letter sounds just like Kai, but I decided to follow a phonics program loosely.  And so, I chose Jolly Phonics because of its intuitive actions, catchy songs, and the many resources to support the program.  It is ideal for Kei who is the more active child. I started by borrowing a few books from a teacher-friend accompanied by a Spotify list of all the Jolly Phonics song (link here).  (Do note that for Jolly Phonics, you must teach the letter and sounds in a specific order, not alphabetically). Here is a YouTube video that features all 42 sounds and actions (here)

However, it became cumbersome to go through the Jolly Phonics books while scrolling through Spotify to play the right song. I also needed reminders on the lyrics and action for each letter. Therefore, I did some research and decided to download 2 Jolly Phonics apps:

  1. Jolly Phonics SONGS app (here):

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The layout of each letter is exactly like the book.  The alphabet/sounds are categorised into Group 1-7.

Here are the sounds in each group:

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On the app, you see the pictures, you see the letter, and you hear the song.   I now use this app mainly for Kei (my second child).  I love it because Kei can click on the letter, and then it takes you right to the song page.  Simple as that! As a parent, I’d download this to be familiar with all the songs.

This is a cute video of Kei who is turning 3, performing the Letter W.   He has already learned the sounds from a-z all from home!

 

 

     2.  Jolly Phonics app (here):

This app’s interface is also simple (as shown the left of the photo grid below). However, there are more functions on this app than the previous one.  As you click on the letter, you see the same layout for each alphabet: Revision, Story, Action, Sound, Formation (for writing), Word Bank, Sounding, Writing and Song.

I use this app mainly for Kai. I find the Formation, Word Bank and Flash Card features especially useful.  Formation shows an animation that teaches you how to write the alphabet, and Word Bank lists out examples of the words with that sound.

Since I did not purchase the entire set Jolly phonics books, I used the app ‘s WORD BANK feature for reference to create these ‘offline’ cards with which we can practice.

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For most those who who might not be familiar with Jolly Phonics, you can visit the official website to download a cheatsheet which shows all the actions for the 42 sounds (here).  You may also want to watch the following videos created by a Thai teacher and his students to decide whether Jolly Phonics is right for you and your child:

Group 1 (here) Group 2 (here) Group 3 (here) Group 4 (here)

Group 5 (here) Group 6 (here) Group 7 (here)

Here is a video of Kai using his knowledge of the “ou” to read the word “found”

Finally…

One last resource I used to teach my older child to read, is this book that was recommended by another mom:  Teaching your child

This is Kai’s latest lesson. He does well for a 4 and a half years old:

I will write a review of this book, and how I have incorporated with digital resources, in another post.

For now, you can see how technology plays an important role in my literacy journey for my children.  The apps which I have used provide structure and consistency, which complements my own teaching appropriately.   If technology is used effectively with a purpose in mind, it can be integrated with traditional methods of learning reading and writing, and enhances the learning experience of both parents and children.

Updated June 1st, 2020

I have since then finished this book “Teach your Child to read in 100 Easy Lesson” with Kai.  The second part to this blog is (here)

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Apps to reinforce Chinese learning that kids enjoy

There are many parents who are opposed to children using any kind of apps for entertainment or learning.  This is understandable considering there are many studies that have proven how ineffective and addicting iPad apps can be.  From an educator’s perspective, most apps place the child into a passive mode of learning- even the  interactive apps have the child passively sitting in front of a digital device answering questions or swiping left to right.  There are literally tens of thousands of ‘educational apps’ out there.  If parents decide to select an app for their child’s learning, they must be clear on what their goal is in having their child use that particular app.
I have some reservations about letting my children use apps to learn.  However, there are currently 2 apps that I have been using with benefits that I have witnessed so far.  One of which is a Chinese character learning app called MagikidChinese

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At home, my child’s experience with learning Chinese is a positive one.  Learning Chinese characters is always associated with playing games, spending time together and having fun.  my son is an active child who responds well to kinesthetic learning, so one of his favorite games is using flashcards to make highways.  As his car passes by the cards, he reads out each character.

 

However, as his vocabulary increases, the characters get more complicated, and I need other ways to deepen his impression of new Chinese characters, and to enhance his visual memory.  That is when I decided to look into Chinese learning apps. I downloaded around 5 apps but there was only one that I kept and paid for.
There are 4 modes of learning:  Flashcards, Story, Games and Song, all of which help reinforce the learning of new vocabulary.
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Here are some reason why I like this app:

FLASHCARDS

  • The Chinese characters are NOT presented as theme-based word list, but rather, as commonly-use words.  For instance, 火 (fire),星 (star),口 (mouth),它 (it),气 (air),空 (empty) are not chosen by theme, and not related to each other.  They are, though, commonly found in children’s stories.

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  • The Chinese characters are presented as collocations 固定搭配.  Collocations refer to a group of words that habitually appear together.  For example, the character 口 (mouth) is followed by the word 窗口 (window)

STORY

  • A story is read out to the child with the key vocabulary highlighted so the child gets to learn how it is used in context.
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GAMES (There are 3 sets of mini-games)

  • It starts with a simplest VISUAL recognition game where the child drags the character to the box that is read out, with pinyin on top (for those who can already read)  It gives hint when the wait time is too long.
  • In the next game, child must drag the same set of characters to a box where it is used in context.  They must LISTEN for the right word (there is no pinyin)
  • It like how it progresses to the 3rd game where the child has to drag the entire phrase (with the key character embedded) up to the box.  The child learns to listen to the pronunciation, as well as identify the Chinese character in a new context.

 

Karaoke

  • The target characters are sung in a song. This again put the words in a slightly different context that is both authentic and interesting for children.
  • Update as of April 2020:  This karaoke aspect of this app is probably anticipated part of the night!  My son and I have SO much fun singing those Chinese songs (well, me singing, he trying to sing the lyrics).  Some are such a hit that we have gone back to listen and sing them many many times until my son has memorised the song!

 

Some suggestions when using this app to learn Chinese:

  • I taught the words before letting my son use the app.  The reason for that is, I don’t think practicing each exercise once will enable a child to learn the characters.  You would have to at least repeat each game several times, which is not ideal because of the amount of screentime that would be required to master the set of characters.  I pre-teach by making real flashcards, and using them in games.  Here is a great post on 15 Simple Flashcards Games
  • I only do one module every few days, so 6 characters are introduced in every module, and I repeat the mini-games until Kai is familiar.  Sometimes, I go back to previous games to see whether he still remembers
  • This app is more suitable for children who already understand some Chinese.  Otherwise, the songs, the stories would not be helpful!
  • This app is probably best for ages 3 and up

 

Language learning is a long journey, and it helps when it is fun and interactive.  If you are open-minded to let your child use iPad apps, do give this a try.

 

Updates: I have actually explored several more Chinese learning apps that are definitely worth an App store visit.  Will post soon and link it here.

My personal IG is @msclaudia331 

Would love to connect and share ideas.

Teaching Reinforces Learning: how Common Craft Video Enhances Subject Knowledge

Digital storytelling  allows students to tell a story that usually revolves around a specific theme or topic.   It is channeled through medium such a video, text, pictures, music or recorded audio.  Digital storytelling is a great way to have students make sense of what they have learned, and re-present their knowledge in a personal and creative way.

In my current Unit of Inquiry, I wanted my students to demonstrate their understanding of natural disasters, and be able to articulate how they work as one of their lines of inquiry.  Students researched on their chosen natural disaster, and after a few mini-lessons on note-taking strategies, they hand wrote their research notes, and then turned them into sentences and paragraphs onto Google Slides.

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Now, just because my students have read books and articles, and then took notes on their topic, does NOT necessarily mean they understand how natural disasters happen! I knew at this point that if I give students the opportunity to “teach”, they will deepen their own understanding of the key concepts. There is where I decided to have them create common craft videos.

In a nutshell, common craft videos look like this:

Common craft videos are effective in offering students a different way to present their work.  Students do not have to worry about traditional forms of presentation skills such as making eye contacts, worrying about good posture, and memorizing their lines.  Rather, they can rely on other factors such as art, technology, teamwork and communication!   Common craft videos provide learners ample time to articulate their ideas and thoughts:  They can practice their content over and over again until they are completely satisfied.

Other benefits of common craft videos are listed below:

– allows students to make sense of their notes and TEACH others

– gives opportunities for students to EXPLAIN a difficult concept

– provides room for CREATIVITY in the way they draw and manipulate their props

– requires only basic apps like Camera and iMovie

The whole process of creating common craft videos is simple and straight forward if students have already prepared their “script”. This could very much be their research notes!

My students were very excited after I introduced common craft videos to them.  We watched different examples of common craft videos, and together developed a simple criteria for an effective common craft video.

Criteria for Common Craft Videos

Following this criteria, students observed as I created a common craft video on the spot using picture props that I prepared in advance.

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Then, students were off to work individually or in groups to plan their own videos!

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Students were very engaged during the process. They referred frequently to their notes for reference.

Here a my student’s explanation on drought:

Here is another common craft video on avalanche:

One last one on hurricane:

They were so focused that by the time they completed their videos, I could tell they were much more familiar with their topics.  They have not only successfully taught others about their natural disaster, but also, deepened their own understanding through the process.

Would love to connect if you have any questions!

Trialed & Tested & Solution found: Thanks to “OurPact”

One of the main source of conflicts between parents and teenagers these days is the excessive use of cellphone.  And this conflict often leads to other issues such as:  high data plan bill, cyberbullying and sexting, or lack of communication with family members.

This WAS (yes…used to be) very true in our household with a 15 year old teenager.

There were constant battles over:

  • convincing my stepson to put his phone aside during homework time
  • making sure the phone is charged in OUR room before bedtime
  • discussing issues with friends that arise on social media

And more…

Does this sound familiar to any of you?

At one point, I was fed up with the constant power struggle over technology.  I needed some kind of parent control app that enables me to guide my teenager to more responsible technology use.  I need an app that helps HIM take a break from device use so he can explore other activity options during his downtime.  This app would ideally involve controlling his phone remotely without physically taking it away.  Perhaps, it’d involve locking his phone during bedtime or homework time? Does such an app exist!?

After looking into several options, I decided to try out “OurPact”  From the start, I knew I needed the Premium version where I have access to features that were more specific.

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In a nutshell, Ourpact manages devices in three ways:

1.  Schedules

I use “Schedule” to check off times during the day when certain apps should be allowed or blocked.  For instance, during homework hours, only educational tools or apps such as Calculator, Google Classroom, Quizlet, Calendar are activated. During bedtime, only Spotify and Alarm are on.

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 9.20.47 PM.pngI know my stepson is at an age when he should really be self-regulating rather than relying on an app to block distractions for him, but this is another discussion worth a post of its own.  Long story short, there are some kids who are ready to self-regulate, and there are others who need a little bit more help to get ‘self-regulation’ into a habit.

The “Schedule” function on OurPact has really helped our family because I no longer need to pry the phone away during homework time, or lock up the phone in our room at 11:30pm sharp (bedtime).  It’s a game changer because I can now go to bed early with the comfort of knowing OurPact will shut off the apps after I fall asleep.

 

2.  Grant

“Grant” is another handy function.  I use it when, for example, my stepson is scheduled to have 3 hour study time during exams period (when all social media apps are shut off), but he comes to me and wants a 15 minute break.  With the “Grant” function, I could allowa 15 min – 8 hours break without affecting his scheduled apps time.

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3.  Block

“Block” works in a similar way as “Grant”.  If my stepson is scheduled to have his freeapps time, but he has forgotten to do his mountain of

 

laundry, I can quickly block his apps for a specific time frame without affecting his daily scheduled technology time.

One other extremely function on OurPact for my younger stepsons is…

4.  Allowance

This “Screentime allowance” function works very well with my younger stepsons (twin boys) who are in 6th grade.  Setting a daily technology limit is a great way to teach time management.  Each day, I allot 3 hours of “iPad time” to them, and it’s up to them how they want to budget their time. To start the timer, they just need to press PLAY on the OurPact Junior app, and if they want to save the remaining minutes for later, they press “PAUSE.”  Once the 3 hour allowance is used up, their apps will once again be blocked.

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What’s also great is that each day can have its own allowance.  For example, I can give them a 5 hour allowance on weekends.

The “Allowance” function has been extremely useful because I no longer need to set the timer on my own watch, and supervise them during their free time.  The app does the work for me counting how much time they have spent on their device, and blocking the apps when their allowance time expires.

 

Finally, what’s great about the functions on OurPact is that the setting of each function can be different for each child.  I have three boys at home, and their schedule, and allowance are all tailored to their routines and needs (OurPact can manage up to 20 devices!)

You can read more about OurPact on their website here.  The visuals and step-by-step instructions and online tutorials are very clear, and the online support is quick to reply and offer assistance.  I am aware that there are other similar apps out there, but it did take some time to figure OurPact, and try out all the functions for my three stepkids.  I decided to stick with OurPact.  It’s been 4 months since I started using it, and besides a few issues here and there (for instance, kids trying to unpair their devices from Ourpact), this parental control app has trained my boys toward more responsible iPad use.

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REVIEW: Why a busy mom can’t live without her Apple Watch (Series 3)

I didn’t think I’d ever need to get a watch.  Who needs a watch these days when there is an iPad and iPhone to tell time, with much more interesting information and entertainment?  That is… until I got myself an Apple Watch Series 3!
Here are some reasons why everyone, especially busy moms need an Apple Watch:

Camera Remote

  • One problem for many moms is they never have time to take photos of themselves WITH their babies, and if they rely on their husbands, the result isn’t always desirable.
  • Although the Apple Watch doesn’t have a camera, it has a Camera Remote app that connects to the iPhone’s camera.
  • This means I can set my phone on the side, and remotely take photos or videos using my watch.
  • For moms who are always behind the camera, capturing images of your family, the Camera Remote is especially handy for taking photos of yourself and your kids
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Answering phone calls, Text Messaging / Whatsapp

  • The Apple Watch IS a phone on your wrist: an eSIM can be embedded so phone calls can be received and made without your iPhone close by.   It even has a built-in speaker and microphone so you can talk directly to your watch.
  • Here is a very good post on how this can be done:  https://www.macworld.co.uk/how-to/apple/guide-phone-calls-on-apple-watch-3607555/
  • The Series 3 also lets you reply incoming message notifications (WhatsApp, WeChat, iMessage) by dictating your message or scribbling your reply.

Water Resistance

  • Because of this reason, I keep my watch on the whole day!

Siri

  • I never got into the habit of using Siri on my phone.  However, with a watch on my wrist, it’s easier using Siri to ask for today’s weather, setting the timer for your cooking, etc.

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Pop Up Notifications

  • When you are juggling different things and multitasking, you don’t always have an extra hand to hold onto your phone.
  • Whatever pops up on your phone will show up on your watch: Google Calendar events, text messages, Uber car arrival, news headlines, and much more.  This, again, makes it easier to put down my phone and focus on my kids, or my lessons while being instantaneously connected with what is happening.
  • I ran into the problem of NOT being able to see my notifications initially, so here is a good post on some of the reasons why:  https://support.apple.com/en-sg/HT204791

Exercise / Workout

Playing with my two boys, picking up and dropping them off at school and running after them technically count as working out, so I know I am active enough to stay healthy, but having an actual workout app on your Apple Watch just makes me more conscious of how active I am throughout the day.  I get ‘rewarded’ by the everyday hustle and bustle when I see all my ‘activity rings’ close, an indication that I have met my calories burn goal.  These rings are reminders that I am on target, and that I should continue to stay active.   However, what really motivated me to start exercising was the Activity Sharing feature on my watch.  When I take my boys for stroll in the neighbourhood or swim with them in the pool, I now consciously check the appropriate exercise option in the built-in Workout App.  Once the exercise is complete, a notification will be sent to people whom I have connected with, as a reminder that “Hey I have finished my workout, have you?” This just adds a bit of competitive element to exercising, which apparently is a stronger motivator. Another bonus is because the watch is waterproof, I can wear it while swimming and it will calculate how many laps I’ve done based on the length of the pool.

Here is a great post that explains how both apps work:  Apple Watch Activity and Workout App- Explored and Explained 

 

Would love to connect with you!