How to have fun for free in Singapore (indoors)

As a follow up article to “How to have cheap fun in Singapore (outdoors)”, I now offer some ideas for indoor fun with kids in Singapore. This time round it is even better, because it’s for free! Generally, indoor fun is usually more expensive than outdoor fun, as very often admission charges prevail. However, there are still good and free offerings in Singapore for children. When this happens, must go have fun lah!

And the number one on my list is:

1. Museums of Singapore

Recently, 11 museums in Singapore has opened its doors to all Singaporeans and SPRs free of charge! I must say, this is the best family-friendly move from MCCY (previously known as MCYS) ever! And the museums often come up with fun activities for the whole family such as the Children’s Season to engage and educate the young and young at heart.

With this recent development, I brought my brood to the Singapore Art Museum, and I must say the children had fun interacting with the various installations:

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Interacting with light and rhythm.

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Pretending to lie on grass.

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Underscoring the real meaning to enlightenment…

2. In-house entertainment package deals from shopping malls

Our family’s next favourite indoor freebie activity is to go get the in-house entertainment for children from various shopping malls, especially during the June and December holidays. I don’t say free here, because very often you would have to spend a minimum sum to get a play pass. But it is a good freebie to have, and mummy can get to satisfy her shopping urges while the kiddos get a go at various activities. Truly value for money here. The pictures below are taken from the most recent activity organised by United Square, but many other malls also organises for the holidays, such as Compasspoint and Park Way Parade.

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Photo shoot with the cast ad crew of Treasure Island Adventure.

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Playacting as pirates.

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Having a go on the Viking.

3. Visit Ikea Smaaland

This is a childminding playground facility that took on a life on its own. We used to conveniently drop-off our children at Smaaland while we do our furniture shopping until the children requested to specially go Smaaland as part of their weekend activities. Good indoor fun plus an hour of worry free shopping for us adults. And yes, of course it is free. 🙂

4. Tampines Courts

Not to be outdone by Ikea Tampines, Courts Tampines has recently came up with a media lobby cum childminding service that is quite ingenious. Children can have their parents sign out ipads, Kinect, X-box game consoles, VCDs, DVDs and comic books for them, and there is no time limit at no cost. Though the temptation is great to shop longer, I only signed out an iPad for my boys for about thirty minutes, which is about the time it took for me to look for the wall fan I wanted. Well after all I don’t feel that good about entertaining them with gadgets.

5. The National Libraries

Actually this one should rank much higher in my rankings. Although we don’t go as often as we should compared to the options above, we would literally cart home one whole shelf of books after each visit and that would keep us intellectually satisfied for at least the next 3 weeks.

Our latest conquest!
Our latest conquest!

The National Libraries has really done a good job with self renewal. Firstly, the National Library at Bras Basah organises lots of activities for young children from time to time, ranging from fairs to skits to storytelling. The Children’s Library at the basement also has an impressive collection of children’s books arranged in attractive and interactive settings.

The community libraries has also done a great job at renewing its layout to make it really cool to read there. Take Sengkang Librry for example. Just looking at my girl curled up in one of these nooks make me smile.

Curled up with a book.
Curled up with a book.

NLB has really done something right! Check out their latest happenings here.

6. The Changi Airport

This one is really a no brainer. With its sprawling space and array of food choices, we could literally camp ourselves there the whole day. On normal days the children would just go to the great big slide or the children’s playground. The boys especially love the thrill of the slide, which is also free and they can go as many rounds as they want to get the adrenaline rush. They also love the fountain area and the wood print crayon rubbings they can make.

And then there would be the periodic tie ups that Changi Airport would do with fun stuff like Angry Birds. This would be when we would literally get the play passes and spend our whole day there.

Posing with Angry Bird
Posing with Angry Bird
Angry bird craft workshop
Angry bird craft workshop

7. Car Show Rooms

I kid you not. Car show rooms can be quite good fun for little children. Apart from ogling at gleaming new cars, the kids get to experience various features in new car models when we go for the test drives. And they get a kick out of trying out new gadgets found in certain makes like sunroof which we are not likely to get in real life. Sometimes as part of the promotional drive, car dealers even hold carnivals for children and adults alike, and of course it would be another great way to spend a fun afternoon.

Fun at Volkswagen
No prizes for guessing where we went  🙂

No more excuses to say that Singapore is no fun with kids right? :p

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10 fun things to do for young children at home (that doesn’t involve gadgets)

Although I was supposed to put up an article on how to have cheap fun in Singapore indoors, I was so irked by a phenomenon that was recently reported on Straits Times, that more and more children aged under 2 are using gadgets, and that more parents are using gadgets to babysit their children, that I wrote a commentary in response to that article. I suppose many newbie parents don’t really know what to do with their children indoors, so many resort to using gadgets to fill up their children’s time. However, research shows that too many hours of exposure to gadgets are linked to ADD and / or ADHD like symptoms, and withdrawal symptoms when they are not on it. It has also been linked to anti-social behaviour, poor concentration, aggressive behaviour,delay reading and writing, and any number of undesirable traits in children. So I really would like to share some ideas to engage young children, that doesn’t involve gadgets, while developing positive traits in young children at the same time.

1. Reading

The number one favourite activity in my family just has got to be reading. It cultivates many positive traits in children, from stretching the imagination to expanding their horizons, and needless to say develop literacy in kids. For parents who persevere with reading at least 30 minutes a day with their children, they may one day be rewarded with this sight:ImageMy eldest taking over my role as the story teller to his younger siblings at bedtime.

2. Bake or whip up some food

This activity is another perennial favourite. Whenever my kids are bored and languishing on the couch, I just need to ask: Do you want to bake cookies or cakes / make jelly or ice cream? Little eager hands will shoot into the air as they scurry into the kitchen waiting for instructions.   This definitely develops creativity and the ability to follow instructions at the same time. I still dream of the day they can whip up a meal on their own, but the eldest’s latest achievement is making his own healthy baked potato wedges and I am happy with that.

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Augustine whipping up a storm.

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The boys eager to start baking.

3. Clean up the house

You will be surprised at how willingly the children do this one. And they get to learn valuable life-skills. Just enlist their help in any housework you are currently doing. Little children love to copycat their parents anyway. So when my helper is away on home leave, all my children were enlisted and rostered to do housework. The older boys (7 and 5 at that time) wash the dishes and handwash baby clothes. This is a great excuse to play with water and bubbles. They love to work (or rather play with the vacuum cleaner as well, for all that noise it makes.  The younger girl (3 year old) fold clothes and dropped off clothes into the washer and the dryer and put toys away. Altogether we make our living space a little more liveable, and that gives the children a great sense of accomplishment.

4. Waterplay!

I must say that bathtime is a great time to have fun for little children. My children spend more time in the bathtub than me and my husband combined. On their own they spend countless hours whipping up bubbles in the bathtub and playing with their Barney and friends bubble making castle, while doing imaginative play. If all three manage to squuze into the bathtub at the same time, that is at least one hour of solid entertainment amongst themselves whilst I go about doing my own things or busy myself with the baby. Hey even the baby love to pom pom in his little baby tub! if you don’t have a bathtub, the shower room is a great place to blow bubbles on a rainy day without fear of messing up the house. And little children LOVE bubbles!

5. Plant a seed and watch it grow

This is really about teaching the kids how to take care of living things. This is also the testing ground to see if they are ready for taking care of a pet. Well if their plants can grow and bear fruit, it shows that they are caring and responsible enough to care for more living creatures!

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6. Paint

This is really a life saver when it comes to my girl Catherine. In fact this is part of her official homeschooling syllabus this year. That doesn’t mean I spend time coaching her what to do though. I just give her pots and pots of paint and these are what she came up with on her own:

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 7. From Lego blocks to Ikea boxes

This is another surefire pleaser when it comes to creative play, and I am sure it builds up spatial skills as well. When they are young they can build cars, trucks, planes etc.

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And when they are older they can actually build really useful stuff from Ikea:

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8. Playdough or any crafting dough

This allows for real creative play too. And for younger children, this helps build up their little finger muscles so that they can write well in the future. Yes the key to writing is not forcing them to hold a pencil before they are ready, but to build up the muscles that enable them to hold a pencil. And on days when I don’t really feel like cleaning up after real dough, play dough is a great substitute, and yes, it looks good enough to eat too!

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9. Macaroni Fun

You might be surprised at how many things children can do with macaroni that doesn’t involve cooking or eating, but fun nevertheless.

a) Use as counters: When the children are really small and learning the concept of numbers and counting, I used macaroni as counters. It is safe, guaranteed non-toxic, and even if they chew on them it will be fine with me. Just make sure the molars are already out before passing them the macaroni so that they don’t become a choking hazard.

b) Use as threading beads: This is great to train hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Trains concentration as well. Before the little pudgy fingers can thread real beads, I let them thread macaroni. Sometimes when we want a little bit extra fun, we paint the macaroni first in bright colours and make macaroni necklaces. When they get a little older I will use cut segments of straws, and finally, real beads.

c) Use as units of measurement: When my second one was learning the concept of length and units, I used macaroni as units of measurement for our hands. See below:

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10. Balloon Fun

This one is cheap and good and keeps them occupied at all ages. Who can resist the appeal of multi coloured balloons? First they have great fun blowing them up. Then they have great fun blowing them until they burst. Then they have great fun blowing the balloons up and letting the air go, making farting noises along the way. (Yes I know, I have three boys and they love such things). And sometimes they actually tie up a few and play the balloons properly, like volley the balloons, or kick them around like a ball. And the best part would be filling the balloons up with water and squirting the water bombs at each other (only allowed in the bathroom). Finally, when the boys exhaust their use of the balloons, the girl picks it up and uses it for pretend play:

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Guess who was she pretending to be? :p

Actually these are just ideas for starters. I am sure you can come up with better ideas once you figure out what your children like to do, or customise these ideas to suit your circumstance. Children really need very little to have endless fun, and it is great to discover fun together with them! Go try it with your kid/s!

How to have cheap fun in Singapore (outdoors)

In the land of the rising costs, how to have cheap (free even better) fun becomes paramount for a big family with 4 young kids. Below are our all-time favourites for outdoor fun in Singapore:

1. Parks with play facilities

Need I say more? It is free, full of wholesome goodness like sunlight, greeneries and fresh air, and some good ones are really well landscaped and designed. Our family’s favourites are: Punggol Park, Toa Payoh Park, Punggol Waterway, Ang Mo Kio Park, West Coast Park, East Coast Park (this one has the sun, the sand, and the sea!) , Singapore Botanic Gardens. The children especially love the sand play facilities and water features in the parks. And nothing works better than beautiful outdoor scenery and a good run to stimulate young appetites, so I love to pack lunch and / or dinner on our way out. This way I don’t even have to worry about the younger feeders dropping food crumbs on the floor…the ants and birds will take care of that for us!

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My little builders playing with sand. Better than watching TV or playing iPad.

2. Singapore Botanic Garden

I feel that SBG deserves a special mention here on its own, because apart from the sprawling grounds for children to run around and expend their energy, it periodically organises outdoor concerts that is really cool to watch. Just bring a picnic mat and lots of home prepared sandwiches and fruits and enjoy the cool late afternoon/evening breeze. Balls are optional because my boys run after other children’s balls anyway.

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My mum blowing bubbles with my girl while enjoying SCO performance on a picnic mat.

3. Tortoise and Turtle museum in Singapore Chinese Garden

This quirky little museum set in the idyllic setting of Chinese Garden is really a hidden gem not many people know about. Admission to the Chinese Garden is free, and admission into the museum is only $5 for an adult and $3 for children. The children get to see and feed one of the world’s largest collection of tortoises and turtles, and the guided tour is pretty interesting and informative. After the visit, the children get to further expend their energy in the beautiful oriental setting of Chinese Garden. Come on face it, it is a nostalgic icon of Singapore and most of us in this generation used to visit it every Mid Autumn Festival until it wasn’t cool to go out with our parents any more. So what better way to revisit this old childhood playground than to go with your own children? 🙂

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My children getting their hands on an eighty year old (or so I believe) tortoise. BTW, only the centre two are mine. The eldest and youngest are not in the picture.

4. The Singapore Zoo

This attraction needs little explanation, but many people will baulk at the admission cost, especially for the entire family. “What? Isn’t this post about cheap fun in Singapore?” you ask.  To which my answer is: Go get the family membership. For $210, you get unlimited entries for 2 adults and 3 children. Infants go in for free so I don’t have to worry about busting the family package limit until our number 4 turns 3 years old. And we go to the zoo at least 4 times a year (once every term, to be exact). So that works out to be $8.75 per person per admission. What’s more, the zoo often organises new children’s activities at regular intervals, so that makes each revisit a new adventure. And if you really want to go low budget, pack your own sandwich and you are ready to go!

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Ben gingerly feeding the giraffe.

5. Visit the SPCA

If your children really love animals, or if you would really love to develop a love for animals in your children, you would do them lots of good by bringing them to SPCA. Even better, sign up for their junior membership, which is only $5 a year, and in return you get SPCA’s lovingly prepared newsletter on responsible pet ownership and heartwarming pictures of cute animals. Or even better, volunteer on a regular basis! SPCA can always do with more help. This is truly a worthwhile cause that me and my family support.

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Augustine and Cat enjoying feeding the bunnies.

6.The neighbourhood outdoor exercise corner

Truly, I think the HDB planners have done something right in developing outdoor exercise corners alongside children’s playgrounds. My children love using these equipment, especially after the get sick of the normal children’s playground. And the slightly awkward movement caused by the adult sized equipment actually makes overcoming it more challenging and fun for the children. And it beats paying admission fees to gyms…wait, children aren’t even allowed in most gyms. And of course, anything done together with siblings outdoors is double the fun. Or triple. Or quadruple in my case. :p

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Ben hopping on the treadmill while Augustine waits his turn.

7. Outdoor play areas in shopping malls

This one is really cool. After some serious shopping, the adults actually get to sit down while the kids zip about in the outdoor play areas of the malls. Our favourites are: Vivocity, Nex mall,  Bugis Junction, in this sequence. But remember to go prepared with extra changes of clothings to maximise your fun!

Stay tuned for the follow-up instalment of this series: How to have cheap fun in Singapore (indoors)!

Parties, parties, more parties…

As a mother to four young children, the most entertaining and eagerly awaited event of the year has just got to be birthday parties.There’s everything to love about parties:1. children getting together having raucous fun, as this is the one day in their lives where they do not have to worry about getting dirty, messy, and noisy (as our parties are almost always all three rolled into one), 2. they get an avalanche of gifts from the one party we organise, as I don’t believe in buying them toys normally, and the only times they get toys are birthdays and Christmases; 3. they get to plan and execute their own party ideas, and gain new experiences with each passing birthday of themselves and their siblings. Not only are the celebrations eagerly anticipated and actively partcipated by the children, each party set a standard for the next to come. And as someone who likes to try out new things, I told myself never to repeat a theme for parties, unless the children requested for a rerun.

So a quick recap of the more memorable parties that we have done to date:

1. Garden party at Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden for Ben’s 2nd and Augustine’s 4th birthday, with magician and balloonist to boot.

Augustine 4th and Benedict 2nd birthday at Jacob Ballas Garden
Augustine 4th and Benedict 2nd birthday at Jacob Ballas Garden

2. Catherine’s 1st Birthday Party at HK Disneyland

Birthday princess with the Disney princess.
Birthday princess with the Disney princess.

3. Ben’s 4th Birthday Party at the Singapore Zoo, with him and his friend as junior zoo rangers, finishing off by a happy meal and birthday cake in KFC.

Ben the junior zoo ranger.
Ben the junior zoo ranger.

4. Ben’s 5th and Cat’s 3rd birthday party in their school, complete with cupcakes, bouncy castle, magician and balloonist. Special thank you to Pat’s Schoolhouse for allowing us to use their open area for setting up of bouncing castle.

Cat on Bouncing Castle
Cat on Bouncing Castle

5. Augustine’s 6th birthday party at Timezone. It was a total riot with 25 boys challenging each other in varous video games and climbing over each other when the pinata broke. It was so chaotic that we didn’t take any pictures.

6. Augustine’s 7th Mad Scientist party with bubble fun and glooey mess. He also requested for a supersized cake that looks like a burger.

Wet mad scientist in the making...
Wet mad scientist in the making…

The parties aren’t too expensive either, with the themed parties generally in the regions of $500-$600 for 20-30 kids. Actually I realised that the most expensive component of the party is the cake, especially if you go for cupcakes. Which is why most recently, we rolled all entertainment and food into one and had a baking party at KAAMP for Ben and Cat’s 6th and 4th birthdays. It was a ball, all children enjoyed themselves and were gainfully engaged, they learnt something useful from this, and it was the cheapest party we organised so far.

Junior bakers having a blast!
Junior bakers having a blast!

What we have learnt so far from all these party planning:

1. As much as possible, get the packaged deal instead of getting different components from different sources. This really gives big savings, unless your girl must have that princess multi-tiered cake fully decorated with flowers and frills. Look for extra frills in the packaged deal, like free invitation cards, free flow of drinks, free decorations, free goodie bags etc. Al these savings add up!

2. As much as possible, get more guests rather than less to maximise the value of the packaged deals.

3. Forget about hiring photographers. We did that for the first party we ever organized and we only looked at the complete set of photos once.

So if you have not organized a party for your kids before, or are thinking of new ideas for your kid’s party, go ahead, try it! You can only be limited by your own imagination.

Party on and have a ball while having kids!

Frolicking at the Art Musuem.
Frolicking at the Art Museum.

So many people tell me having kids is a chore. All the housework to do, meals to prepare, things to watch out for, costs to bear…and another set of nightmare comes when the children are at schooling age. Which is why I hear that many people choose not to have children when they tie the knot, and even if they have children, they stop at one or two.

Even worse, having children in Singapore is not easy. Singapore has one of the highest cost of living in the WORLD, and quality preschool and child care services, is not easy to come by (I have to queue for one centre while my baby, well, is still a baby), and even if you find one, it would cost you a bomb, or two, or three, depending on how many young children you have at an given point in time. Just to give an idea, the annual fees I pay for one of my children in a quality preschool cum childcare centre is more than the sum the of my annual local university fees plus accomodations in the hostel. And I haven’t counted the costs for enrichment programmes yet!

But while parenting is hard and costly, who says parenting is not the source of joy and happiness and pride? Why let difficulties in parenting and limitations in resources limit the infinite possibilities and most importantly, FUN one could have with little children? And the more children you have, the more fun and joy one can derive from your children! The joy simply multiplies!

So this blog will be all about having fun with children, the whys, the whats, and the hows of having fun. On and off I will throw in a few tips for saving costs too, for I have four children to feed and cheque books to balance. But who says you cannot have fun at the same time?

So come join us, and be entertained! 🙂