Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Learning made easier

I recently discovered a site that would definitely get kids interested in learning about what they might consider boring in the classroom. DNA? Can't see it or feel it, they might say. But BrainPop makes it easier to understand.  According to the site, BrainPop was conceived by Dr. Avraham Kadar, MD, an immunologist and pediatrician, as a creative way to explain difficult concepts to his young patients.

With colourful and animated graphics and two rather cool characters Tim and Moby the robot presenting you the facts, your child will be hooked to clicking non-stop to discover the various sections like Science, Math, Health, Social Studies, Engineering & Tech and Arts & Music.

After watching, listening and reading, there are activities and quizzes you can take too.

What's good about this site is that it allows you to register for a free trial before you decide to subscribe. To subscribe, you can choose from the different packages available according to age groups or how you plan to use the programme - homeschool, family, media lab, or virtual school for instance.

It does not require any downloading, installation or special hardware. It is fully compatible with interactive whiteboards, learner response systems, projectors, Macs, and PCs.

You can take a tour of the child-friendly site here as well as see their full list of topics here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

For the love of noodles

My son loves noodles - be it flat rice noodles or yellow wheat noodles. However, trying to get those long wormy strands into his tiny-sized mouth is always challenging. Until recently, if we're dining at a proper restaurant (versus at a self-served food court) I would request for his noodles to be cut before they are served.

But this is no longer necessary as we're now prepared and ready for noodles of any kind. The solution: a noodle cutter set by Combi. I did not even realize that something like this exists until I stumbled upon it at an obscure baby shop near our place. It may not look like it would do a good job but it works great and we have yet to come across any type of noodles that the gadget can't snip up. Conveniently packed in a small case which fits a spoon as well, we never leave home without it nowadays as who knows what life would serve up! Check out the product here: Combi. It costs around S$6.90 at most children retail stores.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ritz Carlton Naples Golf Resort

Work took us as a family to Florida last week. While there we were housed at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort in Naples. The resort is beautiful in so many ways - the rooms, the golf course. The jazz trio that plays in the lobby deserves more than a mention. Their pools are salt-water pools and hence very swimmer-friendly.

However, in keeping with the focus of this blog, I must admit that the children's menu was very disappointing. Thinking that we would be at a 5-star resort and therefore must at least have decent food for kids, I decided that my son will just eat the kids' fare they serve. But upon arrival, I found that the only healthy and appetizing main item they had for the little ones was the mac and cheese. As we were there for almost a week, my 20-month old son had mac and cheese for almost every meal the first few days. Finally on the third day, he retaliated. So I decided that perhaps he will like the chicken fingers with fries. After all, which kid does not like fries. And fries it was. The kiddo wanted nothing to do with the tough and oily chicken strips and just wanted the fries which I greatly disapprove of - they were very greasy and extremely salty.

Ritz Carlton has another resort nearby - the Ritz Carlton Beach Resort; and the Golf Resort shuttles its patrons over for free. Desperate and in search of food for my son, I shuttled over in hopes of finding more palatable meals. I was disappointed. They do have a slightly more diverse menu at the coffee house and I decided to try the fail-proof chicken noodle soup. After his first spoonful, my son rejected it like bad medicine. I tasted it and realized why - it was SO salty. I could barely finish the leftover. So the poor boy ended up having cereal for most of his meals. By the time our conference was over, I was thrilled that we'd be moving to a service-apartment where I can cook again for the tyke.
Beautiful rooms, but...
The skinny: If you have kids, Ritz Carlton Golf Resort Naples is perhaps not a place where you'd want to stay if you plan to dine at its F&B outlet during your time there. On second thought, even if it were just an adult-only holiday, I would suggest you eat out and give the restaurants at the Resort a miss. Seriously.

Friday, October 8, 2010

iPhone apps toddlers love

I loved my Blackberry. Very much. But recently I had to give that up for an iPhone. There are many reasons for that but one main factor that contributed to the conversion is the fact that in less than 3 weeks' my husband and I would be going on a 26-hour plane ride across continents for both work and visit with family. This means we will have to keep our 20-month old boy occupied for half of that time (considering snooze hours). Sure, we're packing Duplos, books, matchbox vehicles but we all know how fast kids that age get tired of things. So we want to be prepared - with fun and educational applications on our mobile devices.

So here are some which my son (and we) approves of:

  1. Talking Tom (who doesn't have Talking Tom on their phone???) - a cat that mimics your speech in kitty pitch
  2. Peekaboo Barn - lets the little one guess the animal based on the sound it makes. The free version features 4 barn animals
  3. Animals 360 - we love this one! It features real life pictures of wild animals with the sound they make
For purchase:
  1. Old MacDonald by Duck Duck Moose ($1.99) - interactive features to the tune of, well, Old MacDonald.
  2. Wheels on the Bus by Duck Duck Moose ($1.99) - interactive fun to the tune of song of the same name
  3. Dr Seuss' selected books (we have Green Eggs and Ham) - interactive with narration option. The price ranges from $2.99 - 3.99
This is what I've on my phone right now and if you know of any that you'd like to share with us, leave us a note on the comment section.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

If the shoe fits...

Firstly, I must admit that this post is slightly off-focus from what our Two Skinny Moms blog is about. I'm not sharing the skinny on any particular shoes for kids or adults but I had just read a fellow mommy's latest post in her blog where she shared this video from YouTube and I thought it'd be good to share it here.

YouTube is one great source for tips, information, and other how-to and hands-on demos on various things. Of course there are millions of other less positive, unhelpful, destructive and junk in that site too but that's not for discussion here.

This video is helpful for all parents when buying shoes for their children (and themselves too!). Many a time, we end up buying shoes that are too tight or narrow thinking that a tighter fit would prevent our precious ones from tripping. Or we buy them one size larger because we think that they will grow into them very quickly and thus last longer.

Watch this and learn:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Holiday in Kuantan, Malaysia

If you're looking to get away from city life for some R & R with your kids, and not deal with airline ticketing, long haul flights and packing large suitcases of stuff, a place like Kuantan could be one destination you might want to consider.

For those of us living in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, Kuantan, the capital of the state of Pahang, Malaysia would be just about a very manageable three to four hours' drive via expressways, or scenic coastal roads if you choose. Kuantan is well known for its beaches in Teluk Cempedak, Batu Hitam, Balok and other nearby beaches such as Beserah and Cherating.

According to Wikipedia, Kuantan has the most beaches compared to other cities in Malaysia. It has quite a number of hotels too, ranging from basic ones to resort types.

During the school holidays earlier this year in March, my family and I made a trip to Kuantan and stayed at the Swiss Garden Resort. It is a popular resort among families as they have quite affordable packages. The hotel amenities are reasonably good with the usual F&B places one would find in a resort, adults and kids swimming pools, gym and sauna, spa, jacuzzi and a pretty decent beach.

The seaview rooms

The swimming pool area

However, I found their ability to cope with a full-house situation a little lacking. You can make reservations online through their website or by calling them. Since it was peak period, checking in and checking out took some time. There were many Malaysian and Singaporean families at the resort since it was school holidays then for both countries.

The complimentary breakfast spread was satisfactory like most hotel breakfast buffets. The only problem we faced was the overwhelming crowd. There were not enough tables to cater to the full-house crowd at the Garden Terrace where breakfast was served so the queue at the entrance could get long if you arrived at the peak breakfast time. As the place overlooked the pool and featured a partially open concept, it was fully drenched by the morning sun, giving you a rather hot and humid start to your day if you happen to get seated at unstrategic spots. They have an outdoor deck section and a fully glass-walled indoor section so you can imagine how much sunlight the place was getting. It however, transformed into a very nice restaurant in the evening with a warm, cozy ambience created by clever design and location of water feature and lighting.

Recreational facilities are good as long as you are not expecting six-star luxury. I would rate this resort as a four-star place that meets general requirements of everyday middle-class families. They have their Tupai Kids' Club and Games room that offer various activities to keep kids occupied in a fun way. And there's the beach where you and your kids can spend hours playing in the sand or sea.

For mommies who need some pampering, do check out their Samsara Spa. Their treatments are totally relaxing and rejuvenating! Unless you're the type who can afford the time and money to visit a spa regularly, the couple of hundred bucks you cough up here is a worthwhile once-in-a-blue-moon treat.

Getting to Swiss Garden at Balok Beach from Kuantan is not difficult as the hotel website offers directions (about 9 km distance). The carpark is not covered so you'd need to drive up to the lobby to drop off your passengers and baggage especially if it rains.

If you wish to dine outside your hotel, there are quite a number of options in nearby places. Kuantan is known for its seafood and you can pick and choose from various restaurants lining the main roads leading to popular hotels and the town center. To name a few, they are Pak Su, Alor Akar and Muhibbah Seafood Restaurant. I'm not able to comment on these restaurants as I didn't get the opportunity to eat at any of these places. But judging from the crowd and some with tour buses parked outside when we passed by these places at night, I would think they would be reasonably good.

One place we did eat at was a western food restaurant called East Grill Steakhouse. The skinny on this place: good service, good food, reasonable price, comfortable, air-conditioned, fairly good menu. May be a bit hard to locate if you're not familiar with Kuantan but a GPS or a phone call to them for directions(we did both) would get you there.

Steak at East Grill

If spending your time at the resort is not enough, there are a few things you could do venturing out. Here's what we did:

Drive up north towards Cherating and Kemaman (about half to one hour's drive). You could visit the turtle sanctuary located beside Club Med Cherating. The turtle sanctuary is a simple, functional place although it is open to visitors. Admission is free (they welcome donations). They have a small exhibition room detailing info about turtles and conservation, and a small pond with some turtles swimming in it. You'd be done within half an hour there. Good initial exposure for kids on turtles, the danger they're in and how to help, although I spotted some bad English on their posters and brochure.

Driving along the coastal road towards Cherating and Kemaman gives you sights of 'kampungs' and cottage industries. You can stop by the roadside at one of the many stalls selling dried 'keropok' which you need to deep fry. You can buy them loose by weight or pre-packed in sealed plastic bags. They come in various flavours such as fish (various types), prawn, and lobster. They also have a 'wet' version that is dough-like called 'keropok lekor'. They have a fishier taste and you can dip it in chilly sauce. You might also want to try 'satar', a local delicacy made from fish paste, spices and coconut, wrapped in banana leaf, skewered and grilled over fire.

After Cherating, you'll come to a town called Chukai in Kemaman. You'ved basically crossed over to the neighbouring state of Trengganu. There's nothing much to see in Chukai (it's a small town) but if you're a foodie like me, there's food to check out there! Holidays and weekends will require you to queue outside Kedai Kopi (Coffeeshop) Hai Peng for its much-touted tasty Kemaman coffee and Hainanese coffeeshop fare. Then you can try Chukai's famous stuffed crabs and other local seafood dishes at one of the restaurants on Jalan Sulaimani. To name a few: Restoran Malaysia and Restoran Tong Juan.

Stuffed crab at Tong Juan

What's good about going to Kuantan:
- relatively short journey, can self-drive if you're going from Singapore or Malaysia
- convenient, numerous comfortable resorts to choose from
- see, learn, experience: local sights and culture, turtle conservation, local food
- relaxing and fun time with family by the beach and in the resort, away from hustle and bustle of the city
- relatively affordable short holiday compared to overseas trips
- Kuantan is within easy driving distance to other places of interest in the east coast of Malaysia, good place for halfway stop if you're driving further up north to Kuala Trengganu

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nasal aspirations

When one has a head cold, the most challenging time of the day is at night when the stuffed up nose finds little reprieve for a decent night's sleep. This is especially frustrating for a little one who has yet to learn the skill of blowing the nose. I remember when I was a child, my mother would rub Vicks Vaporub on my philtrum (just under the nose) which ended up being a nuisance rather than an aid to my breathing as the balm would burn my skin.

However, such affairs are of the past for kids today as we now have many other options available for the same purpose. When I need some help to clear out my nasal passages, I would turn to either eucalyptus or peppermint oil. But these oils in their pure form may be too strong for little bodies. While an aspirator may be helpful when the tyke is awake, it is difficult to aspirate when he is asleep.

That's where Karvol Decongestant Capsules come in. These oil capsules have a vapor action that helps relieve blocked noses for children from 3 months old on. Click Karvol for more information. They are easy to use - simply snip the top off of the capsule and dab the content onto a handkerchief tied securely near to but out of reach of the child. What I do is I dab it onto my baby's pajama collar and onto his pillow.As it is made of a unique combination of aromatic oils including pine, cinnamon and menthol, it smells pretty good!
Karvol is retailed at most major pharmacies at around S$9 and they come in a box of 12 capsules.