Staccato! music school review

Yesterday I brought Sophia to a trial at Staccato!.

Sophia on the piano

What do I like about it? It seems rather serious about classical music. Teacher Chin Yee plays the piano and her profile is available on the school website so I shall not repeat it here. The founder is Dr Lee Pei Ming, assistant professor at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. Which really is as good as music schools get in Singapore. I like that the school focuses on classical pieces but tries to make it fun for the children. For example, this term’s theme is The Carnival of the Animals, based on the musical suite of the same title by Saint-Saens. The teacher played (I think) the third movement and told the children that’s a horse, showed a flashcard of a horse and got everyone to gallop around to the tune. She then played a contrasting slow piece, the fourth movement, and showed a flashcard of a tortoise. Everyone was supposed to crawl around. There were also attempts to get the children to play twinkle twinkle little star on the keyboard and a toy piano. They all loved the little red toy piano though I thought the pitching was clearly off. Not that children cared, they just want to bang on the keys. The teacher was very patient and gentle with the children. Sophia was clinging on to a Dora doll that she found in the waiting area (which, by the way, was nicely filled with toys and books for the children) and she allowed Sophia to bring in the doll. The other girl at the trial brought her own blanket pal and the teacher included “Medan” in many of her activities too.

Moreover, if you arrive a bit earlier you can get more bang for your buck by hanging out at the waiting area which is filled with as much toys and books as some commercial play gyms (minus the slides and stairs of course). Sophia enjoyed the toys, especially the Dora doll at the background of the photo below.

Having fun with toys at the waiting area

What I didn’t like. The only real gripe was the use of star stamps and stickers to reward the babies. I think its good for slightly older kids but for the below 18 months olds they are really not old enough to like these things all that much and more importantly, they don’t know these are not meant to be eaten or rubbed into their eyes. A star was stamped onto each of Sophia’s hands which she of course proceeded to lick at some point in time I’m sure. And the star sticker that was on her shirt ended up in her mouth while she was on the car. I guess the teacher could potentially be more cheery but still she’s the most qualified music teacher (both in terms of paper qualification and her performance at the trial) I’ve seen so far when all factors are taken into account so one really shouldn’t be under the illusion that there is such a thing as a perfect teacher.

Will I be back? Maybe when Sophia is older but for now I don’t really think she is gaining much from the sessions and I’ll be better off playing classical music to her more often at home.

Leap Schoolhouse Review

Not too bad at all. At the door Sophia’s temperature was checked and she was given some hand sanitizer. One small thing there though was that the lady was also supposed to check her mouth for ulcers but when Sophia didn’t open her mouth when asked the lady didn’t persist. I would have thought she should have tried harder and if it was really impossible at least checked Sophia’s hands and feet. But maybe I’m asking too much. After all Julia Gabriel only check hands and feet and didn’t check temperature.

The class started with free play, just like most other classes. There were only toy keys, not all that much to play with but babies don’t need much to entertain themselves. Somehow the 3 babies don’t seem very interested in the toys or each other. Sophia moved around the most but that was only because I moved around to attract her to crawl towards me.

During free play I decided to show off a little and gathered 1 each of all the various colored keys – red, blue, green, yellow and orange and asked Sophia to pick out the green key, which she did at which point the teacher’s jaw just dropped. But shhhh… I’ll let you in on a secret. I cheated a little. I knew green was one of her favorite colors. When I lay out her color flashcards, about 50% of the time she would pick green if it was one of the options. I am not too sure whether she knows her colors. She gets it right enough times for me to doubt its luck but yet she does get it wrong quite often too so I’m confused. Or she knows but is just irritated by my constant questioning so deliberately picks the wrong answer. Or she knows some colors but not others. I’m not sure.

Free Play

After free play was science experiment time, which I thought was a bit bizarre as babies that age are still in the information gathering stage and they wouldn’t appreciate that the science experiment being conducted is quite amazing. I’m perhaps being a bit vague here so I’ll elaborate. The experiment involves inflating a balloon over a glass of water such that part of the balloon is stuck in the opening of the cup and as pressure builds up there will be enough friction to lift the cup. Babies wouldn’t have basic knowledge such as how heavy the cup is and how balls normally don’t “stick” to the cup like the balloon did so I’m not quite sure what was the point of showing them that experiment. Older kids would appreciate this of course, but not babies.

After the experiment was a hello song which the teacher sang to a CD. Teacher’s singing wasn’t as loud and strong as the JG teachers but I’ll cut her some slack. She’s a one woman show while JG has 3 backing each other up. Since we’re on the topic of teachers, the leap teacher is pretty good. Her pronunciation is quite accurate. I found the exaggerated kiddy tone a bit irritating but I suppose children shows also adopt that tone and kids love it. The only part I cringed was when she showed the cover of the book she was going to read and said “How many people are there? One, two, three… three people!” It should have been “persons” not “people”.

Anyway, after the hello song there was another action song involving jumping (i.e. mummies carrying babies) then it was gym time. Since Sophia was already standing up from the jumping session I just held her hand and walked into the gym. I think that was another jaw dropping feat to the teacher and other parents because the daddy of a boy who was a few days older referred to Sophia as his boy’s “jie jie” (big sister) even though his boy was bigger in size. i.e. he just assumed she was older.

The children were allowed free play at the gym which Sophia enjoyed. If this is the same place Samuel plays in, I’m not quite sure how playing here gives him the ability to commando crawl down normal playground slides (as Samuel’s mummy alleges) though, the slopes here are so gentle, which is good for babies. Its def not the training here, its samuel’s adventurous genes! I’m mildly disappointed since I was hoping leap will be good training ground for Sophia after seeing Samuel’s performance at the playground.

Gym

After free gym time it was routine gym time. Unfortunately for some reason they started with the lease mobile baby and ended with Sophia, the most mobile baby, so baby number 2 had to keep waiting for baby no 1 and I had to keep telling Sophia to wait for gor gor (big brother) in front of her. At this point the last baby who was trapped in the rain earlier arrived. Just in time for returning to the classroom. Sophia walked back again.

First thing the teacher did was blow lots of bubbles, which the babies enjoyed playing.

Bubbles

Then it was story time. The book looked self made by the school, which was impressive. The storyline was simple. It was a bunch of kids sitting at a table saying “we see xxx”. And with each item that the book mentioned, the teacher took the same item out of a sack. Sophia seemed again to be the only baby who knew how to return the items to the sack when I tell her to. Again JG cleaning up training.

Storytime

After story time was craft time and craft was the same item that the kids in the book made – a monster. The monster was basically already made, the babies just had to stick a couple of boxes together and the teacher went around to stick the feelers and mouth on with scotch tape and asked the kids to tap them tight. I can’t decide whether this is good because the craft is clearly not really made by the babies. Yet they contribute in tangible ways like tearing off the double sided tape which trains fine motor skills and at the end of the day there is a very nice craft product. Which does seem like a good thing. My dad will also like the fact that its not at all messy.

Craft time

 

After craft time the teacher produced a container full of green things and handed them out to the children one by one such that each child had 2. She then went to them one by one and showed them the 2 items, saying out the names loudly. She then asked them to pick one of the items. Sophia picked correctly as I knew she would. The 2 babies younger than Sophia, 1 by a few days and another by 3 months couldn’t. That is the reason why I am not a fan of this testing babies method. I could just feel the tension in the air as the teacher asks the question. I’m sure the babies feel the stress too and they really don’t need the stress at a few months old. After this was flashcards and it was a bit odd cos babies were supposed to pick monster out of pictures of box and monster. According to Glenn Domann’s ideas flashcards should be unambiguous and indisputable. i.e. if the flashcard teachers guitar, it should be a clear picture of a guitar against a white background with nothing else on it and it should be a real guitar, not a toy or a drawing so that the child knows exactly what a guitar is. But monster is not indisputable, it can take many form and is not even real. So I’m not convinced its something that can and/or should be taught via a flashcard.

All in all, although I’m not completely convinced about everything they do, its not too bad a class. The one last thing I would say is it seems a bit clinical, not quite lively. But I appreciate the well thought out class with books that link to craft etc.

 

Last day of school in 2011

Yes, November marks the end of school holidays and I was glad I managed to accompany Sophia for her last class of the year. The last class of each term is always party time and everyone is extra gay. Or at least the parents are. The children also get to eat all sorts of forbidden food, like sweetened yoghurt (Sophia only gets Paul’s natural yoghurt at home) and nuggets. And erm… I guess that’s all the forbidden foods I make an exception on. She still isn’t allowed the sweet drinks and cakes and fried noodles/rice. The other food she’s allowed is sandwich – all the other parents were shocked that I let Sophia bite off chunks of omelette sandwich but she’s well trained from sharing my breakfast sandwich everyday.
 
Even on the last day of school Sophia had to go dangerously close to the keyboard at music time. Learning from the last experience where she pressed some button changing the output to pipe organ mode or something strange like that, I pulled her away before she has a chance to get up to any mischief again. I must say kudos to the JG teachers on that experience because no one made a fuss at all when the keyboard went haywire. The musician just calmly pressed the button rectifying the issue and continued playing and the main teacher, Safina, just calmly pulled Sophia away and carried her for a while.
 

Trying to reach for the keyboard yet again

 Santa Clause came to class so I guess you know what is the theme for the end of term party this time. It was complete with gift exchange with a cost guideline – $15. That seemed a bit steep for a random gift for a baby classmate. I think up to even my university days gift exchange guidelines remained at $10. Guess that’s how a premium school functions and I better get used to it if I were to end up sending Sophia to the likes of Pat’s Schoolhouse or Chiltern House in future.

I was very surprised to discover that many kids are afraid of Santa Clause! The moment Santa stepped in, at least 3 babies cried. Sophia didn’t cry even when she went up to collect her gift so I thought she was a brave girl and let her sit on Santa’s lap, which she protested about. I should have known, she was scared of teacher Sean (aka teacher acting as Santa Clause) as his real self last week so why would she allow herself to be carried by him just because he had a jolly outfit on?

Santa Clause is coming to class

I think Sophia enjoyed class that day despite not having enough sleep. She climbed up and down a lot.

Excited about last class

Next term Sophia will definitely not be the baby of the class anymore. As it is, there is already one girl younger than her (though bigger sized). My baby is growing up!

JWT Kids’ Gym review

Five January 2011 mummies headed down to UE square for a trial at JWT kids gym. I had high expectations because the website seemed to be quite professionally done and gave a feel that they are people who know what kids need at this age – lots of opportunity to have fun and play. Alas, this was not the case.
 
The class started with free play time while waiting for the children who are late. The photo below shows all the toys that are provided. Yes, just some miserable rattles, nothing like the colourful collection that is always strewn around Julia Gabriel’s class (perhaps I’m spoilt by the good work the JG people are doing).

See Lucas putting the rattle in his mouth the way all babies do?

 
There also seems to be little regard for hygiene/health. The babies are given a disinfectant hand rub before entering but they’re not required to wear socks and neither are parents. Babies and parents are also not checked for hand foot and mouth disease or fever. At JG, teachers will tell us to keep toys that the children have mouthed aside so they can be washed. Here no one seems to care about children mouthing the toys. I shudder to think how many babies saliva Sophia is holding. Good thing she doesn’t put things into her mouth much. After free play was a short music session lead by a teacher who spoke with a distinct accent. I’m hearing things like “clup” (clap), “dis-truck-ted” (distracted) and “couver” (cover) which caused me (and from discussions later, the other mummies too) to write off the gym as a place to consider going regularly. The songs were also difficult to follow because they were recorded pieces where the singing was not clear and distinct. No wonder research shows that babies recognise human voices and prefer it from a  young age. The singing with live accompaniment at Julia Gabriel just felt so much more lively.
 
Then some stations were set up for the kids to play, basically a mini slide, a parachute and a horizontal laddar that they can hold on to as cruising aid. Sophia didn’t much enjoy any of them and I had to bring her to some of the other items round the sides like an upward slope for her to crawl on. I brought her over to the cruising station when it was empty and placed her standing on one end while I encouraged her to come over to me on the other. The Philippino teacher had to come over at this point to spoil everything. First of all, she positioned herself opposite Sophia ie perpendicular to the direction she was supposed to be walking, completely distracting her from the walking. Then instead of allowing Sophia to cruise on her own which she is perfectly capable of, she proceeded to move Sophia’s hands step by step along the ladder, as if she was eager for Sophia to just get the station over and done with.
 
Next, they brought out some rocking horses, 2 of which were makeshift C shaped foam blocks that babies would not be able to balance on and hence unused, leaving 2 babies without anything to do for a while. baby swings were then set up. That’s probably parents and babies’ favourite part of the session but Sophia was quite neutral to being swung to and fro.
 

The kids' favorite part of the program

 
To round off the session they brought out a ball pit, which is usually the favourite of kids but as you can see, its really way too small.
 

Just enough space for about 4

When 4 were inside it was ok but the moment the fifth baby was added in, the babies started getting claustrophobic and wanting to get out one by one.
 

I'm getting outta here

Bibinogs review

Went for a Bibinogs trial. It was not too bad. The english portion was run by an indian lady and a malay lady, both of whom speak good english and were very animated. Like playnest, it started with playing of toys, then a song and dance session which was quite lively. The teachers then read a book. It was a normal sized board book unlike those extra large books meant for teaching at JG but its probably fine since there are so few children (just 4). The storytelling was very animated. After the story was the art session. The teacher produced a carrot cutout and actually pretended to be upset that the carrot was white, the other teacher comforted her and they started talking about painting it, then was dismayed there was no orange paint but no worries, there was red (squirted some on carrot) and yellow (squirt) and they started mixing it up with their fingers singing “when you mix red and yellow you get orange” to the tune of “If You’re Happy”. Children then wore aprons provided by the school and mixed the paint on their individual carrots. At the end of it there was a pretty decent piece of work, unlike the popcorn on the letter p from Playdays which never came together for any of the children or even the teacher. The carrot was then dried on a rack and would be returned next week as I saw the teachers giving out last week’s artwork – some butterfly with swirls of paint. Sophia got hers back in a plastic bag since she was there for a trial.

After art was snack time. The puffs given out look like gerber star shaped puff and had a banana flavour. The brochure said snack time was “organic” so I assume it wasn’t really gerber because I don’t feed my girl those rubbish. But I suppose a treat once in a while is ok. She ate it all up when she sometimes even reject things like waffles which I think is delicious.

Thereafter there was a numbers and phonics session where they went through a to z chanting calsie camel c c c etc, the teacher pulled out cup, cat, camel from a clown’s bag and quite a bit of other fun but educational stuff. How much the children absorbed is another matter. After this they counted to 10 and called for laoshi. 2 PRC chinese teachers came in. More sing and dance, this time in mandarin. They also read a chinese story and this time I did have an issue with the size of the book / words – too small!

The session ended there. All in all pretty good. All teachers were animated and seemed to genuinely like children.

The other parents there were generous and friendly though, surprisingly given the location, very local. Parents at JG seem more sophisticated but somewhat less friendly. Bibinogs allow both parents to be in the class while JG was quite strict about allowing only 1 parent, though they did make an exception for Kenny during the trial. I guess there are plusses and minuses of both.

The student to teacher ratio is much better at Bibinogs (at any time 2 teacher to 4 students for this particular class while JG was 2 teachers to about 10 students) and its billingual. Bibinogs’ art also seems more thoughtful in that they provide apron and at the end of the day the art work is something presentable. JG’s advantage stems from it being twice a week which works out well for Sophia, nicely breaks up her week into alternate days of activity (tues and thurs school, weekends daddy and mummy bring her out). Also there is priority entry into Chiltern House which is another consideration.

One last trial at GUG before finally settling on one of the 3 – Bibinogs, JG or GUG.

Julia Gabriel review

I finally managed to attend one JG class with Sophia and I must say indeed it was very similar to Playdays and both were pretty good, but because JG is more accomodating to grandparents with not very good english bringing Sophia, I’m more inclined to go with it. On weekends we can always find activities to do with Sophia but I would like grandpa to bring her somewhere to be stimulated on a couple of weekdays if possible. Grandparents are more inclined to go with Playdays because they think its cheaper and its once a week (so even cheaper).  The husband and I also feel that lead teacher on both sides both speak good english, with the Playdays teacher being slightly better but the JG teachers seem to genuinely love children more. And at the end of the day we placed more weight on the genuine show of love than the other factors going for Playdays.

As grandpa told me many times, the session started with free play among toys laid out and when most parents have arrived, the toys are put away while singing the “everybody do your share” song. Thereafter, I can’t remember the sequence but they did things like song and dance, bring out a monkey puppet and letting the monkey go round playing with the babies, hand out homemade playdough for the babies to pat and squash then add coffee in to smell and feel the grains, cornflour play, snacktime (teddy puffs) and ended with a music session where babies lie down and look for stars to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star and sing bye bye bubbles.

All in all quite enjoyeable. There was a lot of queueing for hand washing which wasted a lot of time (once after playdough and once after cornflour). The cornflour play was not very suitable for Sophia as she was still too short to reach. The other babies can stand on the side and play as they are all over 1 (ok, they’re not babies, they’re toddlers). The teachers were well trained and hence generally spoke good english but once in a while lapsed into singlish (very very occasionally, not a big problem at all). I would have much preferred it if they could include a mandarin portion too. So all in all not perfect but nevertheless good for Sophia I would think.

Next up time to try Bibinogs and GUG, both have the advantage of being bilingual programmes but JG has the advantage of priority entry into Chiltern and, for Evans road, outdoor play. Hmmm…

Playgroups

I finally managed to make an appointment for a Julia Gabriel trial class, after being told numerous times to call again. Silly me meant to call Evans Road branch but dialed the Forum branch number instead. That said, the forum branch timing seems more suitable for Sophia though so perhaps it was a good mistake to have made. Unfortunately it was not possible to do the trial on a sunday so I won’t be able to personally see how good or bad the class is. But the good thing is, my dad will then be forced to bring her and we can have a real trial of how the english session will work with my dad who doesn’t speak much of the language.

Conclusion was the JG was good! Even Kenny approves, which is rare because he’s always saying these enrichment classes are useless.

Not sure what about Playdays then. I was quite keen on it too. May still keep to the original plan of mandarin JG Playnest on weekdays and Playdays on weekends. For the time being signed up for JG English and looking forward to Playdays trial! I wish my dad was less protective so Sophia can get more out of the JG class. I hear when all the kids were getting dirty in paint, grandpa wanted to put paint on just Sophia’s little finger, and it was upon daddy’s insistance that Sophia got to put her foot in paint.