Thursday, November 26, 2015

Our DIY outdoor chalkboard

Today’s entry is not so much a post as it is just a way to showcase the latest addition to our outdoor play area…

Our new mega sized outdoor chalkboard!


It started out when I was cracking my head to think of a project for my sustainability practices assignment. (As some of you know, I am currently back at ‘school’ studying Early Childhood Education as part of my big venture into setting up my family day care). One of the projects in the assignment was to create an outdoor play space made from recycled materials.

Thanks to the labour of love from my dearest hubby…


And my ‘expert’ painting skills…


We converted an unused wooden door (we happened to have sitting around in our garage gathering dust) into this fantastic new play space in our outdoor area…


The children absolutely loved it!

They were so excited to see it when they headed outside the first day after it was set up. And I had half the morning ticking away smoothly with all very busy and fully engaged children, drawing, doodling, and scribbling away to their hearts’ content.


And I love it too because I can breathe easily while I let the children loose with the chalk. No more worrying about cleaning up the chalk dust afterwards or cringing over broken up pieces of chalk that get scattered about or trampled and crushed on the floor.


Here is my super simple tutorial for making the chalkboard which I extracted straight out of my assignment to share with you here…

How to make an outdoor chalkboard from a wooden door

Old or used wooden door
Measuring tape, pencil, saw
Chalkboard paint
Paint roller
Tarp/old sheet or newspapers
Brackets or anchors
Drill and screws

Step 1 - Saw and cut down door to fit area
Measure door according to size of wall area and saw to trim off excess wood to fit.
If your door is hollow, you will need to cover the open end with a piece of wood to ‘close it up’. You can use a strip plywood or any wooden piece trimmed to fit. Secure it on with wood glue and/or nails and fill in any gaps with wood-filler.

Step 2 - Paint door with chalkboard paint
Smoothen and rough spots with sandpaper. Wash and clean door thoroughly with water and allow to dry completely. Place tarp/sheet or newspapers on floor. Use paint roller to paint two coats of chalkboard paint. Allow to dry between each coat.
You can buy chalkboard paint online or from most large craft/DIY shops. Otherwise you can make your own by mixing one cup of paint with two tablespoons of non-sanded tile grout. I used exterior house paint to make the chalkboard weatherproof for outdoor use.

Step 3 - Position and hang chalkboard
Mark anchor points for hanging chalkboard on wall. Drill anchor points and attach brackets or anchors with screws. Position and hang chalkboard in place.
Hubby drilled on galvanised ‘L’ shape brackets near each corner of the door to mount it up on the wall. He also added a couple of bricks underneath for additional support.

Apart from just drawing or doodling on the chalkboard with chalk, here are a few other ‘play’ ideas you can try with your outdoor chalkboard…

  • Use chalkboard for story telling in outdoor area
  • Play drawing games using chalkboard (e.g. knots and crosses, ‘Win, Lose or Draw’ or ‘Guess what I’m drawing’ game, ‘Copy my drawing’ game)
  • Mix leftover chalk pieces with water to make ‘chalk paint’ for children to explore and experiment with on the chalkboard
  • Give children spray bottles and rags to ‘clean’ the chalkboard with
  • Let children try ‘painting’ with water and paintbrushes on the chalkboard


Here are a couple of links I found helpful for this DIY chalkboard project…


>> More learning and play ideas here

Friday, November 20, 2015

Learning about snails

This past week has been all about snails.

The children are always fascinated by the snails in our garden and ask endless questions about them.

A couple of weeks back, one of my boys stumbled across a snail crawling along the ground. He excitedly announced his discovery to the rest of the kids. Everyone hurried over and spent ages watching it slowly moving across the ground. Then one of them picked up a small rock and placed it right by the snail. Grace followed suit and picked up another small rock and placed it next to the first rock. “I feed the snail!” she declared proudly. “Hmmm…Snails don’t eat rocks… they eat plants” I gently told the children. “Oh! This one?” said one of the kids, plucking a blade of grass and then attempting to feed it to the poor snail.

I decided it was probably a good idea to focus on snails in our next learning plan to set some snaily facts straight with my kiddos.

We started off by reading a few books about snails….

  • Where Do You Live Snail by Petr Horáček (who also wrote another one of our favourite books, Jonathan & Martha)
  • Snail and Turtle are Friends by Stephen Michael King (shortlisted Children’s Book Council Australia Children’s Book of the Year Award 2015)
  • Cecil’s Breakfast by Roger Smith


I also told the children a traditional Korean folktale about ‘The Snail Lady’ using our felt board characters, with the addition of a felt crown for the bad king, a magic ring and of course the snail.



We got busy with our hands making some snail crafts…



We enjoyed some yummy snail snacks…



And the pièce de résistance for our snail week: Our very own DIY snail home with a real life snail pet.

The weather turned suddenly very hot and dry recently so we had a lot more trouble than usual tracking down live snails. We found plenty of dried up empty snail shells, but no snails in the usual popular hiding spots for snails in our garden. Finally one of the boys found a tiny one wedged in the corner of our front porch. I was sure that it was already dead. But they children insisted that it wasn’t. So gently picked it up, placed it in an empty container. sprinkled some water over it and set it aside. Ten minutes later, I went to check on it and found a small bit of grey slimy flesh emerging with two antennas peeking out from the little shell.


We made a home for it using a large plastic strawberry container which had some holes on the lid for ventilation. The children helped to fill the box with various natural materials like pebbles, rocks, bits of wood mulch and a few fresh leaves. I filled a small plastic container with water and placed a rock inside it to weigh it down and also for the snail to access the water without accidentally falling in and drowning. I added an empty abalone shell as a sort of ‘food bowl’ to place any fruit and vegetable scraps in.


The children have been eagerly observing our pet snail daily. Though most of the time throughout the day it doesn’t move much. But snails are supposed to be nocturnal creatures anyway. And we always notice a few extra nibbles in the vegetable scraps every morning and the snail nestled in new spot.

So far we’ve tried feeding it apple and potato peelings. lettuce, and strawberry tops. Lettuce seems to be the most popular item on the menu. From time to time I gave the box a little watery mist with a spray bottle. And I added a small damp sponge inside as well to help keep the atmosphere in the container moist.

Here are some interesting snail facts I’ve learnt as I was putting together this project…

  • Snails sleep during the day and are most active at night.
  • Snails belong to the mollusk animal family.  They are related to oysters, clams and other shellfish.
  • Snails can live up to 5 to 10 years. Some have been known to live up to 15 years.
  • The snail has two pairs of tentacles on its head. The longer pair are the eye stalks and the shorter pair are for smelling and feeling its way around.
  • Snails are hermaphrodites which means that they have both male and female reproductive organs.

  • Snails cannot hear.

And here are some links I found helpful in setting up our snail home:


>> More learning and play ideas here

Monday, November 09, 2015

Five things they will remember

A few nights ago after saying goodnight to the kids and tucking them into bed, I settled in for a solid evening of working on my assignment. It had been a long day and I was feeling kind of moody and headachy. But I knew I had to keep ploughing through my assignments if I was ever going to get through them all in time.

After a few minutes of typing, I heard the soft padding of little feet coming up through the hallway. A little face peered through the door and the little person tip toed up to me.

“Mummy, just now I was thinking about the monster”

“Which monster?”

“The one on Winnie the Pooh”

“You mean The Backson?”

“Yes. That one.”

“I thought he was a funny monster. And it was a pretend one, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t like it.”

“Okay. We won’t watch that Winnie the Pooh show again, then.”


(Silent pause)



“Can you come to my room and put the medicine for the monster in my room?”

“We did that already, didn’t we? And I think it’s time you went to bed. Maybe you and Quack-Quack can put the medicine together. Mummy really needs to finish her work.”

“Okay. Can you give me a hug and kiss? A really big one?”

“Sure, okay.”

“Goodnight, mummy.”

“Goodnight, Nathan.”

Later on that evening, I was hit with deep remorse agonising over how I should have been a better mother. Putting on some monster medicine was no big deal after all. Had I etched yet another scarred memory of a mother who was too busy to help protect her son from monsters? Hubby dismissed the whole episode and just shrugged it off. I tossed and turned over it in bed for ages afterwards over all my should-haves and could-haves.

My dad recently shared this poem ‘We’d wish our kids were small again’…

If we were granted any wish, I'll tell you what we'd do,
We'd wish our kids were small again, for just a month or two.
To hear their squeals of laughter, to watch them while they play.
And when they ask us to join in, we wouldn't say, "Not today."

To hug again their chubby frames, to kiss away their tears,
and cherish childhood innocence that washed away the years.
Then when it's story time again, we'd stay a little longer,
to answer questions, sing the songs, so memories would be stronger.

But time is callous, wishes, myth, yet God in all his wisdom,
has given us another chance before we join his kingdom.
Your faces may not be just the same, your names are changed, 'tis true,
but yet the smile that radiates, reminds us so much of you.

God must have known that grandparents would need a chance or two.
For many little happy things we hadn't time to do.
So God gave love to grandparents to equal that before, that,
in effect embraces those little lives they bore.


Evidently my dad and mum too sometimes agonise over their should-haves and could-haves. Even decades after we have filed away all our childhood memories in the deep archives right at the back of our mind.

According to this article on TIME Magazine, there are FIVE things your kids will always remember about you. So I decided to perform the test on myself. And I thought about these five things I remember about my own parents.

#1. The times they made me feel safe
Growing up, I remember every night without fail, very late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, my dad would tip toe into our bedrooms to check on my brothers and I. He would adjust the blankets, turn down the air conditioning or switched it off if it was getting to cold and open then windows to let some fresh air in. I was usually lying in bed quietly thinking a million thoughts in my head. But when I heard him come in, I would shut my eyes tight and lay very still as he moved around the dark room. It was reassuring to know he was checking on us to make sure we were all okay.

#2. The times they gave me their undivided attention
My mother dabbled a little bit in sewing from time to time. Although my dad was the official ‘tailor’ in the house who looked after the mending and sewing of pillowcases and sheets, my mother was the one who took the time to indulge us in sewing little things for our toys. One time I asked her to make a dress for my Barbie doll. I explained to her in detail what I wanted the dress to look like. I  remember specifically asking for a ruffled hem on the dress. We looked through the box of fabric scraps together to choose a suitable piece to use. I sat next to her and watched her as she cut and sewed the pieces together to make the dress.

#3. The way they interacted with their spouse
There are a number of somewhat intimate details I’d better not share here for the sake of my parents’ privacy. But I do recall asking my dad one time who his best friend was. “Your mummy” he answered in a matter-of-fact manner. I remember thinking what a weird answer it was and pressed him further, insisting that he must have a boy best friend like him. But he steadfastly kept to his answer: “My best friend is my wife!”

#4. Their words of affirmation or criticisms
My dad was a pretty big believer in what I could do. I remember writing an essay or article for the school magazine. I showed it to my dad and he enthusiastically declared “You should be a writer!”. As a child I don’t think I was a big all rounder or had many major achievements. But whatever little thing I seemed to be a little bit good at, my dad was always the cheerleader.

Mum was a bit different. The moments I remember more were about what she didn’t say, rather than what she did. She could certainly give an earful whenever I deserved it. But I will always remember this incident from my childhood when I dropped a mug onto the floor and broke it. I was so certain I was going to get into big trouble. I tearfully told her what happened and braced myself for a scolding. Instead she just gently told me “It’s okay. It was an accident.” I was completely stunned.

Another incident with my mother I remembered was in secondary school. I had just received my final exam results and found out I had not made the marks to progress to the higher level science stream as I had aspired. I was distraught and teary as I got into the car after school. I broke the grave news to my mother and was expecting a big lecture from her. But she held back her words and instead prompted me to share how I felt and just listened. Somehow this memory always stands out so clearly in my mind.

#5. Our family traditions
Interestingly, the so called ‘traditions’ I remember most are not the big celebrations centred around some annual event or festivity. The images that come to mind are things like…

Sitting in the family room after dinner, enjoying a sitcom on TV. My mum would bring out a big platter of fruit for everyone to share. It was always something different. Sometimes the usual apples, pears and oranges. Or sometimes big triangles of watermelon. Or pineapple pieces. Or honeydew lemon. My favourite was always the long slices of papaya we’d eat with a spoon, scooping the flesh out of it like a bowl.

And snuggling up together in the ‘big bed’ in mum and dad’s room in the evenings. Once a week we’d have a family devotion night. Sometimes my brothers and I would take turns to lie down on the floor with our head in my mum’s lap as she ‘cleaned’ our ear with a Q-tip. Lots and lots of talk, talk, talk in between. On weekends we’d watch a movie together. Sometimes we’d beg our parents to let us ‘camp out’ the night in their room. We’d drag our mattresses from our room and set them up on the floor and snuggle down together.


I wonder what will the five things turn out to be for my own children? It can be hard to predict. Sometimes the things we remember most are the little, most unexpected things. But looking at my own list of five things I remember most about my childhood and my parents, things may not be so bad after all.

Now to restock on some monster medicine.


P.S. Another thing to add about family traditions: one of my parents’ favourite games with my brothers and I since we were babies was to swaddle us up tightly in a blanket to test our strength. The aim of the game was to see how quickly we could free ourselves from our swaddle bonds. I’m passing on the tradition to the next generation.



Monday, November 02, 2015

Seven weeks to go and preserving my sanity

This is yet another ‘sorry’ post.

Sorry for the lack of updates and proper wordy posts sharing the deepest thoughts in my soul.

I am literally knee deep in my final batch of assignments to complete my Early Childhood Education studies. It’s been such a marathon year keeping up with all my assessments and projects for this course. These past few of weeks have been pretty intensive. Lots of writing and typing and squeezing of brain juices. By the end of it, I have barely any words or comprehensible thoughts left to spare for anything else.

Also, it recently hit me that there are only seven weeks until Christmas. SEVEN WEEKS!!! That’s seven weeks until the end of the year. Seven weeks until everything on my 2015 ‘To Do’ list needs to be checked off.

When should I start panicking?

There’s the Christmas shopping to do of course. Gifts for my day care kids. My own kids. School teachers. Some close friends and family members.  Various Christmas party Secret Santa gift exchanges. From a big picture perspective, I loathe the commercialism of the whole thing. But the underlying important thing for me is an opportunity to show my love and appreciation to the people that matter in my life. And whether I buy it or make it myself, it’s still stuff I need to get done.

Then there’s Nathan’s birthday party. I always prefer to keep our celebrations fairly casual and low key. But Nathan has a long list of friends he wants to invite. So I’m still trying figure this one out.

And I think it would be nice to have a simple Christmas get-together thing for the families of the children I look after. The children are in close proximity with each other almost every day, but the parents rarely have an opportunity to connect or chat due to their different drop-off and pick-up times each day.

Also, hubby’s folks are flying over for a visit and to attend a wedding. So we’ll be playing host to them while they are here. So that’s another week.

Not forgetting getting through my final assignments before the end of the year. Can’t dodge this one for sure. I still have a big project to make an outdoor play space featuring use of recycled materials.

Some of the things that are helping to preserve my sanity at this present time

A regular dose of chocolate on the side…DSC07726

Heaps and heaps and oodles of cuddles…DSC07816 (2)

Deeply important and serious discussions about Lego…DSC07796

Revisiting photos of favourite memories with loved ones…


And random funnies from the little humans under my care like this one…

H: Airplane!
Grace: Where?
H: Airplane in sky.
Serene: Yes, I see the airplane.
J: Oh! Alien!
Serene: Where is the alien?
J: Up in the sky!
Grace: YA!!! Alien!!!
Serene: Oh, I wonder what do aliens like to play?
J: Alien like play football!
Serene: Football? Really?
Grace: Ya! They kick the ball! Like this!
(demonstrates alien kick)
Serene: And what would you tell the alien?
Grace: I give alien the ticket!
Serene: What will the alien do with the ticket?
Grace: He give the money!
Serene: Oh I see. And what do you think aliens like to eat?
Grace: Alien like to eat carrots!
J: Alien eat pasta!
Grace: And chocolates! And sweets!
Serene: Wow, this alien is very hungry.
J and Grace: YA!!! Alien so hungry! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!


Funny how sometimes it’s the insane stuff that keeps us feeling sane.