The Playful Parents

Love at Play

October 19, 2013
by theplayfulparents

What’s Wrong With The World’s Best Education System?

Even though I am a former education service officer with the Ministry of Education (Singapore) aka teacher, I find it most difficult to write about education in Singapore.

Why Talking About Education Is So Hard For Me

Perhaps, it is because I have an overwhelming number of thoughts and opinions and emotions related to the whole issue of education.  To try and condense those into pithy posts takes Herculean effort which I don’t have stamina to muscle up.

Perhaps, in more ways than one, I have found myself grappling with my own hang-ups and hangovers from being a product, and participating in the production, of the local education system for a large part of my life.

And perhaps, because I know that ANY, yes, any and every post written on this sensitive topic is likely to draw attention – positive or otherwise. Attention that I am not too sure if I am able nor keen to handle.

However, I read a post about education off the Facebook feed of a fellow mom blogger which kickstarted this whole long spiel of mine about education as it is now in Singapore. I made so many long comments there that I think I ought not waste all that effort commenting. So ta-dah, like it or not, here’s my take on the education system in Singapore.  Okay, not the WHOLE state of education. Just one aspect of it which is really, the corporatization of school management system in education, and its impact on students.

Unfortunately to get some sense out of what you’re about to read, you probably need to read this open letter to principals by a mom of 6, Mummy Wee.


So here’s my response to Mummy Wee’s letter.

The Onus Of The Matter Lies With…

I don’t think it’s so much the principals as much as a problem with the system –  how it selects, ranks and subjects principals to a whole set of performance criteria which I honestly don’t believe serve the whole education vision that well. (And then, we must consider the entire eco-system within which the system of education operates in – governance, politics, finance, economy, society, culture, global pressures etc and etc.)
However, I concede that the senior principals are perhaps more motivated by a more sincere altruistic set of values than the younger generation of school leaders.

Mummy Wee wrote: You are not the head of a corporation. You are a leader, with the power to inspire and garner the energies of a legion of teachers under your wing. Who in turn have the power to influence and shape the lives of thousands of young people, who will go on to shape our country. Take good care of your teachers, even if it may mean a smaller bonus or less accolades for your school. Lead your teachers with integrity, courage and wisdom. After all, isn’t that what we are trying to teach our children? 
BUT doesn’t dear Mummy Wee realise that the way the ministry runs its schools ARE very much corporate world-like?

The EPMS (Enhanced Performance Management System, I think it is. It’s a work review of sorts).
The various quality assurance awards like the SQC, ISO and all the whatever nots awards.
Our schools seem to have a WHOLE load of awards they garner, year in, year out.
What’s wrong with awards? Nothing much except I question just how much of a teacher’s time is spent on achieving these awards than on teaching.

Whatever They Say, Ranking Still Happens.

So as much as I will like to believe primary schools are not ranked, I cannot find myself believing in that because all education service officers in employment  from principals to  cluster superintendents to DDs (deputy directors) and Directors and all higher-ups are all ranked for their performance, are they not?

KPIs. Key Performance Indicators.
Evidences of achievement required to show KPIs are attained, no?
Else, how do we explain the calibration of annual performance bonuses?

By the way, if anyone wants to blog further about Principals and school leadership, I think reading Parker Palmer’s ‘Courage to Teach’ is a good place to start. In my rather distant past, in the early 2000s, this was THE buzz book amongst school leaders and the MOE HQ top brains. I greedily devoured every page, every idea noted in that book about education. I engaged in vigorous discourse with other more experienced educators. A decade later, I still find it ironic just how many of the things Mummy Wee and other parents have shared, echoed also by teachers themselves, have already been addressed.

And really, I don’t care what anyone says. 
I only care what I see being done, and its effect on people.

What My Greatest Issues With The State of Education Are…

Well, I don’t hate the education system. I believe there are merits to be found. And I also believe that there are many passionate, though maybe somewhat wearied, educators still inside doing good for our kids and society. And to some crazy optimistic degree, I do think that we may be just at the cusp of seeing a positive reformation in our education because of an increased willingness of parents and authority to engage with each other.

I left the system because of the fundamental crisis I faced in the values system and the dissonance between what’s professed and practised.

And here are just two of my biggest bugbears with our great system:

1. The deficits of having a performance ranking system of teachers.

2. Another is the seemingly depressed state of students and people we have in Singapore, in spite of us having life good here.

Why I Dislike The Performance Ranking System

Palmer in his book denounced the relevance of having ranking systems for teachers and in education. Alas, soon after this buzz book was read and discussed (to death), tadah! An enhanced performance work review programme was rolled out. No prizes for guessing that it was an EVEN more rigorous (read: more obtuse, IMO) performance ranking, work performance assessment system.
But never mind what someone else says, I just rely on my empirical knowledge of what happens in the system. I do not like what I’ve seen and still see happening in schools. I see a lot of awards a school plasters on the banners outside its gates, and my danger radar just starts bleeping non-stop. Because, with all those awards usually come a lot more administrative work and narrow-focused skill honing work with the students. And all these just really make me wonder how much real holistic development of every individual could be achieved whilst meeting the syllabus demands. Is it strip-mining talent? Or true talent of every individual developed?

Because you know, education like what Palmer wrote in ‘Courage to Teach’ is a long-drawn process where the fruits cannot be so easily known to be good or bad till perhaps, 20 years after.

But performance-based teacher assessment cannot wait that long, can it?

Why Should Education Affect A Person’s Sense of Worth & Happiness Negatively ? 

This leads me to my second issue with our education system – that breeding of an insecure people. Let me elaborate. I find that many of us who have gone through the system seem to find our security and identity in what WE can do/achieve, or in other words, our performance.  In other words, many of us seem to need that external validation to find our self-worth.

We also seem to be more extrinsically motivated to do things, rather than thrive on an intrinsic motivational drive. Maybe it’s my age that makes me feel that the youths these days really lack initiative, and they are even less willing to take the extra mile. They’ll go only as far as what is necessary to ‘get the job done’ and ‘get the pay’.

In principle, it doesn’t look like this is a great issue.

But I find that in life, it makes a WORLD of difference to the sort of individuals and society we become.

I believe that this external validation which is prevalent in our education system affects the way our children  develop their sense of identity and worth.

I find it ironic that education that should liberate and empower us to live life with the optimism of limitless possibilities and potential has seemed to produce the opposite effect. Recent research shows that almost as many as 1 in 5 children in Singapore suffer symptoms of depression (Woo et al, 2007).

In another study of over 600 children aged between 6-12 in Singapore, researchers found that 22% indicated that they harboured intentions to commit suicide or held suicidal tendencies (Liew et al, 2009).

The despair is what disturbs me most.

Depression and suicidal thoughts shouldn’t be something our children and youth should grapple with.

During PSLE week alone this year, I heard of two separate cases of attempted suicide by tweens.

Even in my early years as a primary school teacher, a decade or so ago, I’ve encountered pupils as young as 7 expressing thoughts like ‘ I want to die’. Another, a 10-year-old,  wrote to me in her English journal that she felt ‘useless’. She said she felt ‘useless’ because ‘no matter how hard I study, I only get band 2 for English. I help to cook and clean the house and look after my younger sister, but I’m useless.’

I believe the depressed state and unhappiness in our children is a reflection of the adults in the society too.

The failure to meet standards set by a system seems to drive people – children and adults- to despair of themselves.

By some fluke last month, I chanced upon a blog post written by a lecturer at Singapore’s teacher training institute.

From reading his blog, and poking around the blogosphere, it seems that he’s a really successful educator and educationist. On his birthday, this successful man wrote a hard-hitting, and for me – a heartbreaking one, titled ‘Failure’. He sits on national committees for education, creativity and innovation, trains school leaders and has also won national awards. But in spite of his successes and credentials, Mr Teaching Fellow listed 16 ways he was a failure, on his birthday.  (I’m not going to publicise his blog here because I pity this man for his own fear. See his F8 below.)

This is an excerpt of Mr Teaching Fellow’s birthday blog post to himself:

on my Bday, i think i am a failure …

F8. i exclaim that technology can transform the way digital natives learn and interact… but yet i kept editing and self-sensoring my own private thoughts for fear of backlash someday with my digital footprints;

F9. i tell others its important to help children know that its ok to be themselves  … but yet i dont even dare to share the contents of this entry for fear i stumble i others;

F10. i  give creative parenting talks to other parents … but yet i had to succumb using the cane to discipline my daughter;

F11. i long to carry my son the way i used to… but yet each morning he refuses even to say goodbye to daddy;

F12. i love my parents my deeply … but yet i do not have the courage to say “I love you”;

F14. i (used to) teach others the harm alcohol does to the liver as a bio teacher … but yet I drown my sorrows in wine;

F15. i lead worship in church … but yet my own relationship with God is…broken.

In short … i am a failure. F!

Isn’t that just heartbreaking to read?
It seems that I am not alone in that struggle to overcome the need for external validation.

And if a top educator who’s training teachers and principals can feel like this about himself, I really wonder how many more depressed and discouraged individuals we have in the system, and our society at large.

I’m not flogging these educators. I was one of those depressed, and depressed enough to be suicidal once before. And I’ve known teaching colleagues who have also broken down, and who had to also seek professional help.

I’m not saying that it’s all the fault of our education system. There is most definitely a lot more than education at play.

But I think for all its worth, our education system and the values it transmits through the way it’s been running does contribute significantly to how every child develops his sense of worth and identity.

So If You Were Education Minister, What Would You Change?

That was a question my friend, also an ex-teacher, threw at me last month.

I paused for one second before answering. And here is my answer: I don’t know.

Like I just said, it’s not just THE education ministry. It’s our entire society.

Our entire society and culture affects how we as a people respond to life.

If we are constantly made to feel we are just numbers or machines and our government focuses on numbers and KPIs, such  dehumanisation of us as a people and individual will naturally lead to a state of ennui that trickles down to even the children. And that ennui leads to many other complex psychological state of fear, angst, hopelessness in self and life.

I believe the spiritual state of our country and countrymen’s souls ( nothing to do with the religious but the state of the fullness of our emotional and mental/psychological state) are at peril of being quenched of life.

I don’t know what I will do if I were the Minister of Education.

But I can tell you what I can do as Sarah.

Laugh at me if you want. Here’s my simple 4-step response to the problems I see in our society:
1. Pray
2. Reframe
3. Play
4. Be the change I want to see

1. Prayer
This is my way of navigating life, and its many challenges. It’s about the constant need to find my centre and anchoring deep into the source of Faith, Hope and Love for me.  Because I believe that Life IS a spiritual journey, and prayer can move mountains.

2. Reframe
Now as as a parent, I am learning to reframe my battles. I believe I will not be able to fight the battle the way parents like Mummy Wee do. I’ve also come to the stage in my life where I don’t even want to engage in such battles much anymore because I feel they are often so arbitrary rather than activist. In many ways, I have also run out of words and energy to fight it the same way I did as a youthful, idealistic 20-something.

I have also chosen to take my children out of the usual school route due to a series of unfortunate, or fortunate, events that have led me to the epiphany that regardless of where they study, I have to bear sole responsibility for my children’s well-being. And if I have fundamental philosophical disagreements with the system, it would be terribly unethical of me to subject my children to those value systems and standards.
3. Play

So for me, I am fighting my battle for the education and upbringing of children using another stratagem – that of play, unconventional educational choices for my children and through grassroots activism.

I am trying whatever i can to push for more creativity and playfulness in education and family life in my own capacity.

4. Be the change I want to see

This then brings me to the next reason why I seem to some people ‘having a lot of time on my hands’ in organizing events like my recent ‘Voyage of Dreams’.

To some my event, I like to call it my ‘campaign’, may seem just pointless and frivolous as this refrain can sometimes overwhelm:
This is Singapore! Grades, paper, results are what parents care about.
Play is a nice idea. But we have to be realistic.

I get this refrain from parents who detest the system but feel powerless to go against it.
I hear this refrain from the teachers, the professionals, who believe in play but feel powerless against the sytem and parents to do much.
I read this refrain between the lines of media reports about changes being mooted and introduced for our education system.

But for me, I choose to believe that promoting creativity and playful family bonding can help counteract the kiasuism , ridiculous overemphasis on academic achievements (stripmining children’s talents) rather than personal development of talents and strengths. Having a playful attitude can help give us all the strength of mind and spirit to see the best in the worst of situations.

Yes, I will not deny that I am cynical about empty promises and lofty platitudes being dished out ever so often here.

But being the idealist and optimist and activist, I want to still do something to effect positive change on this society I grew up in and still living in, where I am raising my children.

My Current Life Motto: To Be The Change I Want To See

I refuse to be defeated because things have always been like this.

I refuse to accept the status quo and I refuse to be told there is little point in trying to buck the trend.

And My Hope For You & Your Family
When the going gets tough, may we, the tough, get creative and courageous in declaring and defending what we believe.
Woo, B.S.C., Ng, T.P., Fung, D.S.S., Chan, Y.H., Lee Y.P., Koh, J.B.K & Cai, Y. (2007).Emotional and behavioural problems in Singaporean children based on parent, teacher and child reports. Singapore Medical Journal 48, 1100-1106.

Liew, A., Choon, G.L., Fung, D. (2009) “Suicidal Behaviour in Children and Adolescents – Prevalence and Risk Factors”,  Singapore Institute of Mental Health

October 14, 2013
by theplayfulparents

Sir Stamford Raffles Had An Ark

If you were at Dreams on Parade held at My Tree House, Central Library (B1), at this year’s Voyage of Dreams, you would have seen our big cardboard ship – Voyager of Dreams.

This is the story behind why we chose to have a ship and animal crafts at the festival.

{Crafted by Roy Lee & Business Students from ITE College Central} 

The Inspiration For The Ship
The following story is extracted from the book,
‘Raffles’ Ark Redrawn’ by H.J. Noltie. ( SING 508.0222NOL)

Click on the highlighted words to see the original engraving of the boat and news clipping of the tragedy.

Sir Stamford Raffles was an avid patron of Natural Science.
In February 1824 Sir Raffles and his wife, Sophia, set sail for Britain on the H.C.C. Ship, Fame, with the collections made during his six years on Sumatra.

These included two to three thousand drawings, priceless Malay manuscripts and living animals including a tiger tamed for the voyage.  Sir Raffles nicknamed the ship a ‘perfect Noah’s ark’.

Tragically the ship caught fire due to a drunken sailor’s carelessness. All the collections onboard were lost.

Raffles’ devout Christianity allowed him to overcome this “overwhelming calamity”.
After the tragedy, Sir Raffles “publically returned thanks to God for having preserved the lives of all…”

The morning after his loss, Sir Raffles set to work immediately to make new drawings and collect new specimens. More living animals, including a tiger, two ‘tiger cats’, a clouded leopard, and other preserved specimens were collected in the ten weeks before sailing for a second time from Bencoolen on the Mariner on 10 April 1824.

October 14, 2013
by theplayfulparents

This Heart Is Bursting With Gratitude For You

A VERY BIG thank you to all of you who supported me on this Voyage Of Dreams in every way – sponsoring stuff, donating stuff, helping to prep things, volunteering at the event, praying, encouraging me, participating in the day’s festivities, helping me spread the word and praying for me. Please do forgive me if I didn’t have time to personally connect with you, and to thank you for being part of the festivities. Truly, without you, we wouldn’t have been able to spread the joy of play and to celebrate each other’s creativity, dreams and families.

As I was busy rushing about, I only managed to snap a few shots.
Here are some sneaks into some of the going-ons at Singapore’s Cardboard Creativity Festival for the Family.
More photos will be coming soon from our volunteer photographers. If you’ve snapped some shots and would like to share them, do #theplayfulparents, #cardboardchallenge, #voyage of dreams, #publiclibrariessingapore .

Our Only Family Shot at the Voyage


Just some of the people who made our Dreams On Parade a great hit


Our dream ship, Voyager Of Dreams, being constructed by our Chief ‘Cardboard’ Engineer & my favourite little apprentice.


The Voyager of Dreams now anchored @ My Tree House, Central Library.

ITE College Central students putting together the maze using Makedo kits.
Photo courtesy of A Juggling Mum.

I especially want to thank my family for their support in every single way because without my family I wouldn’t have been able to do this at all. My parents, Aileen and Maurice, for their sacrificial love in helping look after the kids, cooking and cleaning. My husband, Matthew Roy, for his patience with me (and the absence of a decent house), and his invaluable and generous support in making this dream come true. My two little boys who also generously gave their Mummy up for many days (and nights) to let her pursue her dreams, and for forgiving me for being a ‘Mum-ster’ to them.

My youthful, beautiful mum with my youngest.

Zee with his energetic ‘Superhero’ Grandpa

And above all, like Sir Stamford Raffles, whose life story inspired the cardboard ship & craft at Voyage of Dreams, I would like to return thanks to my Almighty God, for giving me this dream, for blessing me with the people and resources to make this dream come true.

Thank you, Daddy God, and thank you to all of you who are reading this. I have a lot more photos and thoughts to share… but do give me some time to organise them ( and to first, get my domestic life and duties back in order!)

I truly, truly am humbled by all the generosity and warmth of all of you who have supported me in this event.
Special thanks again to National Library Board-Public Libraries Singapore for being such a wonderful co-organiser.
Without whom, our Dreams wouldn’t even have been able to drop anchor.
Thank you. Have a wonderful week ahead… and keep playing and loving your family!
Stay tuned here as more photos from the event will be shared soon.

October 10, 2013
by theplayfulparents

Voyage of Dreams Talk @ ITE College Central

In what would seem like a last minute boon to our community event, Voyage of Dreams, a class of 32 business students from ITE College Central has come forward to volunteer their help in the project.

These students are currently doing a module in Project Management studies, and they will be supervised by their lecturer, Mr Benjamin Kwek.

Come this weekend, these youths will be involved in various aspects of the Festival – from creating cardboard sculpture, prepping for the big day, interacting with guests at our key event and other miscellaneous, but still important, things to ensure the event runs smoothly and succesfully.

I am just so excited to have these energetic youths on board because for one, they are Y.O.U.T.H.S. (Read: People with the energy I don’t have as much now. ) And as I told the class today, I see their participation as very significant in helping me pull closer to my vision of having the Festival as one that is truly about having a community-for-the-community. Youths have a very dear and important place in my appreciation of Life and the Future. They are critical not just to our country’s future but to my own future too. They are the ones who will influence the sort of world you and I live in.

Today, I was thankful to Mr. Kwek for giving me an hour-and-half to share with them about how I began my journey of kickstarting this community project, Voyage of Dreams.

I shared with them my vision and inspiration for Voyage of Dreams. To do so, I told them the amazing story of Caine, the 9-year-old who built that first awesome cardboard arcade. I also let them watch a short video by the filmmaker who first discovered Caine, Nirvan Mullick. As they watched that 8-minute clip, I could see smiles spread across their faces and eyes lighting up. I just hope watching that video would have sparked off something in them that could lead them to acting on their dreams.

ITE College Central Business students being inspired by Caine’s Arcade

I am not a project and event expert. The reality is, as I told the class, I have a great phobia of events and project management. And I’ve not EVER done any other project of such big scale. So who was I really to be championing such a cause and organising such a Festival of this scale?

To the seasoned project and events organiser, Voyage of Dreams is easy-peasy. For me, it’s a monumental task. Really it is because I am THAT bimbo who forgot to book rooms and inform the relevant personnel when I invited storytellers to my school while I was teaching. I am THAT bimbo who in my first job as an account servicing executive in an ad agency missed ad copy submission deadlines TWICE in a month, resulting in missed print runs in the papers for the same big clients.  (However, perhaps all that being a mother business has done me some good in terms of organisational skills and memory! It’s not ALL that bad, I’ve discovered.)

So, when I finally got the offer to run the event from NLB, I was totally excited yet petrified at the same time. Afterall, I am now a homemaker, with no live-in helper, and two young boys who do not go to daycare or school. But after much prayer, and much encouragement from my husband, I took the plunge.

Sharing about how Voyage Of Dreams first began under the name ‘Cardboard Dreams’

And so today, as I stood before the students, I told them exactly what I just shared with you – That I am standing proof that you should never be scared off your own dreams by your own fears.

From these short months organising this event, I believe I have learned quite a few important lessons which I would like to also share with you. Here are some of my preliminary thoughts as I review these past weeks.

I hope you will find some of these useful and relevant to your life, whether or not you’re thinking of running your own events.


#1. Don’t be afraid of your own fears.

#2. Don’t be afraid of obstacles. Even if you encounter obstacles as you pursue your dream, don’t let those put you off your course. When you hit a road-block, don’t waste time complaining or on negativity. Pick yourself up. Pull yourself together and focus on your BIG picture, and the task at hand. Perhaps it’s time to get creative in seeking alternative solutions. Or perhaps you have to reassess, regroup and re-strategise. But obstacles are NOT often meant to kill your dream. Rather they help you refine your dream and position you for success if you handle them right.

#3. You need others to support you on your journey. It’s not always easy to work with others, but the diversity of skills and talents of others can strengthen how you are able to realise your dreams. Look for the strengths in others that are able to help address your shortcomings.

#4. Build relationships with all you meet, work with and work for. You cannot underestimate the value of a person. It pays to treat others respectfully and kindly. Not because you want to get something out of them, but because everyone deserves to be treated decently and kindly. And you never know just how one kindness can lead to another.

#5. Keep sharing your dream with others. You don’t have to worry about others stealing your ideas. If someone does, then you know you have what it takes to find something bigger and better for you to do. The act of sharing your vision, your dream and ideas with others helps you to clarify your dreams and game plan for yourself. It also helps you begin your networking process with people – some of whom may just be the ones who share your vision, and believes in you enough to want to work with you to help make it a reality. This is the principle that led me to ITE College Central, and to them eventually sending a team of students to support our event.

#6. When one door closes, you can keep knocking on it or you can look for another door. Just don’t give up. Be creative. Be resourceful. Be persistent. I knocked on some doors more than 5 times in the span of 3 months. After which, I had to think of ways to getting in by looking for alternative doors. There are more than one door into the same house if you care to look hard enough.

#7. Believe that no one or no effort is too small to make a difference. You don’t a big fish to give you the vote of confidence in order for you or your event to succeed. Sometimes, many small fish working together to achieve a common goal can become a fish that is bigger than the original big fish. If you believe enough in your own dreams, just do whatever you can within your means to start making that a reality. You are NOT too small to make a difference to your community.

Just look at the many, many individuals who have helped to contribute to making the Voyage of Dreams possible. Homemakers who took time to come and help me cut egg crates for the craft activity. A working mom who sacrifices her nights to help paint signs for our photo booth. Friends who print out flyers for the event to distribute to others at their children’s schools. A little 8-year-old girl has been asking her mom to print flyers for her to invite friends to the Festival. These may seem like small efforts, but they bear a significant part of making this event closer to success.

#8. Choose your attitude. You ALWAYS have a choice even in situations where you seem to have no options. That choice is your attitude. Even when things seem to stink, and when meanies come you’re way to tell you how much they think YOU and what you’re doing stink ( yes, it happens),  choose to put on a good attitude and see everything as a learning opportunity, a chance for you to grow and do better. Yes, even when it isn’t your fault, you can still learn something about yourself and life.

#9.Finally, this is the principle that I am learning most now, and it’s got something to do with my journey of faith. I’m learning that when God calls us to do something, in spite of our fears and inadequacies, we must remember that He will always be able to provide all we need to do it well. All we need is to continually trust Him and obey Him.

Thanks again , Mr Kwek, for giving me this opportunity to share my journey with your students.

If would like to find out more about Voyage of Dreams, and how you could your own Voyage of Dreams event at your school or organisation, I would be most happy to discuss further with you. Just drop me an email:

With great thanks for volunteer support from ITE COLLEGE CENTRAL.

September 27, 2013
by theplayfulparents

Why Even Camera-Shy Moms Should Do Family Portraits

After having been a mom for 5 years, I have come to love being photographed with my children as much as photographing them.

Children just grow all too quickly. All too quickly out of their cherubic chubbiness. Though I must qualify that I cannot wish for those tantrums to fade away quicker.

No More A Camera-Shy Mom. Here’s Why.

My first month, and just about entire year, of being Mum saw me dodging the camera, especially when someone tried to snap a photograph of me holding my son. Now, it’s too late for regrets. But if I could just turn back time I would have allowed myself to be captured on film – disheveled hair, sloppy PJs and sleep still stuck on my eyebags. Because after 5 years, I have come to realize that every day as Mum isn’t the same and every moment past , even the horridest days, have become a treasured part of who I am today, and a priceless memory of Life with children who will never be little again.

So family portraits done by a professional photographer is something of an annual family tradition I hope to establish for ours. Before our shoot this year, which I’m about to share with you, we only did one other professional portrait two years ago.

My! How my babies have grown since then!

It was a really godsent gift that I was offered a complimentary outdoor shoot by Natsuki of Natsuki Photography just when I was thinking it was about time to have another professional portrait done.

How I Chose Our Shoot Location

As you may all know now, I’m quite an irrepressible energy ball and I adore the outdoors! And an outdoor shoot at Singapore Botanic Gardens sounded just perfect.

I made a special request that we held the shoot at Tanglin Core of the SBG as that place holds special memories from my growing up years.  In fact, it’s still very special to me that I do find as many opportunities as I can to still create memories there at the Gardens for myself and my little ones like last year’s Cardboard Dreams.

I want my family portraits to be visual story cues for me to reminiscence later on in life on how my life and life with children was like.

I like to think of my family portraits of being conversation starters with family and friends, especially with my own children. As such, I like to have our portraits that have significant emblems relative to our personality, journey or passion woven into them. I’ll share more of how I went about planning our shoot and share tips with you in another post.

Communication between the photographer and us, the client, is very key in helping achieve portraits that will be truly treasured by us. This is what I think sets taking family portraits apart from just taking nice shots.

Letting  Your Family Portraits Tell Your Special Family Story

For sure, my brief life spent as an advertising suit has left its indelible mark on me in the way I always approach shoots. I often tend to think of how to provide the photographer a client brief of the shoot I want.

But for this year’s shoot, I decided to toss out that urge to give the photographer a complete brief. While I most definitely did retain the same thinking frame of a ‘client brief’ and ‘artistic direction’ to help me plan our wardrobe, personal props and shoot locations, I just didn’t share  the photographer because I wanted to trust her professional eye and be surprised.

(Yes, even though I said I didn’t ‘say much’ to the photographer. I guess, I did more than subtly influence the end result.
In addition to planning the specific spots at the Garden, our wardrobe, I also packed some toys like balloons and fave drinks from my childhood and theirs! That explains the Ribena packet. Only thing is that little red plastic plane you spy in some shots aren’t ours, but the photographer’s.)

And so was I surprised?
Surprised would be an inaccurate term. I was genuinely pleased at the final photographs we received.

Truth be told, I wasn’t too sure what the results were during the shoot and I told myself to temper my expectations just in case.

Our photographer team comprised of Natsuki and her assistant, Francis.  While a very soft-spoken and gentle duo, they somehow managed to conjure up smiles and get my usually-frisky and camera-indifferent boys to look AT and INTO the camera.

Here are some of the shots I loved from our shoot.

Our typical ‘food wars’ captured on film

I really loved that Natsuki managed to capture different aspects of our family life:

  • Us as a whole family
  • Individual parent and child moments
  • The brothers together
  • Each child by himself

Special offer for TPP readers

$210 (up:$280) or $199 *

For a photography session (1-2 hours)
Outdoor location/Client’s home (choice to be made by clients)

For this price, you’ll get
a Disc Return that includes:
25-50 edited images (hi-res)
All collages and diptychs
All unedited other photos (hi-res)
Cover Soft Copy
Photo Slideshow

* If you’re a fan of  Natsuki Photography’s Facebook Page, you’ll enjoy an extra 5% off.
That means you pay only $199 after discount.

(Offer only valid  for 1 month from the date of this blog post. Ends October 27, 2013)

Disclaimer : Though we enjoyed a complimentary family shoot from Natsuki Photography, all opinions are 100% my own.

September 26, 2013
by theplayfulparents

Living With A Child Battling Cancer

In this post, I have invited Joanne Poon, the author of ‘Brave Maeve’ and the producer of ‘Brave Maeve: The Musical‘, to share with us her personal battle with her daughter’s cancer. Her daughter, Maeve, was diagnosed at 3 to have Stage 2 cancer just as Joanne had a newborn baby. During Maeve’s cancer battle, Joanne, kept a blog, Maevie Baby!

To date, there have been several media coverage you can find on the papers and online about the Poon Family’s hope-inspiring journey in battling, and overcoming, childhood cancer. Do watch this video feature of Joanne by Singaporean of the Day. You can find out more from the Brave Maeve Singapore Facebook page. Fellow Mom Blogger, Pamela, also has some great videos of the family on her blog post.

A Sunday Life Feature On The Poon’s Testimony of Miracles, Hope & Faith

But just for the readers of The Playful Parents, Joanne will be sharing what that battle with her child’s cancer has changed her as a parent. She will also share tips on how we can support families who are facing the cancer battle.

The Poon Family Celebrating Maeve’s 4th birthday even as she battled cancer

Q: Throughout the entire ordeal, what was the one thing that helped keep you going?

Faith in an almighty God, friends and family who did everything from the practical to the completely indulgent for us, a wonderful helper who was sole parent to my 4-month-old baby, Paige, for six months while we were in hospital with Maeve, a husband, who did everything from washing my breastpump in the middle of the night in hospital, to taking night shifts with me with Maeve on the potty every 2 hrs, to settling every financial/admin thing associated with treatment cost, insurance etc. Oh yes, and Earl Grey Tea every afternoon facing the wall and pretending I’m not in hospital for those few minutes!

Q. How has the battle with its tears and victories changed you as a parent, and your parenting views?

I’ve never been the kiasu parent type nor stressed over academic competencies, but I did worry about my daughter’s lack of Chinese ability, so I sent her to a chinese kindy for a couple of months, even hired a tutor for a month.

But after this battle, I really couldn’t give a toss! The fact that she’s alive, she’s happy, she is going to school like a regular kid, I just count my blessings that I’ve got my daughter back. I guess there is a tendency to be more indulgent of her, to be more careful, more protective, but we are constantly reminding ourselves that we do need to parent her in a loving, but firm fashion, so that she doesn’t become a menace to society next time! I guess many parents in Singapore would be pretty appalled by our lack of attention to her academic work and our focus on loving life and just nurturing her natural curiosity about our amazing world.

Q: To parents of children who are battling cancer or other critical illness, what would you like to say to them?

Throughout our journey, the one thing I’ve learnt is to be your child’s advocate. No doctor or nurse will know your child like you do (ie. what helps them to brave a finger prick, a lumbar puncture, consent to draw blood etc) and the truth is, in hospital, you need to help the medical workers get the job done easily.

So for example, with Maeve, we always brought along reward charts for various procedures and a bag of treats which she could dip into for braving various procedures! You might feel like you’re completely alone (and most times in hospitals, especially in isolation rooms, you are physically alone), but you are not. I hope Brave Maeve Singapore  will be able to connect various parents on this arduous journey and let them know, there are a whole lot of parents like myself, who will help see them through if ever the need someone with them.

Q. To all of us parents , what would you like to tell us?

Don’t sweat the small stuff! Give your child extra cuddles, look at your child in the eye when he talks to you (put that iphone down!), marvel over the things she tells you, encourage your child to do his best academically (but not at the expense of living life richly), and PSLE does not and should not determine what a wonderful child you have, so stop the 101 enrichment classes already! Spend the time (and money saved), enjoying precious hours with your child.

Q. What are some meaningful and helpful ways friends can support a parent whose child is battling with cancer or other illnesses?

Don’t say “let me know if you need help/if there’s anything I can do”. Chances are, we are too busy to call you and tell you how you can help us! so you can:

1. Visit (if you are not sick) and give the tired parent a bit of a respite. Play with the child, sing songs together, draw, bring a game along. most children look forward to visitors as the many months stuck in hosital is quite a royal pain.

2. Pack a treat box with little inexpensive treats for the child (maybe little encouraging notes for each day/week for children who can read, or small candies and other surprises, that they can do a lucky dip with, especially when the day has been particularly traumatic)

3. Cook the child’s favourite food. Most don’t like hospital food. So grilling some chicken wings or whatever the child likes and bringing it in for dinner is always welcome. (just check on diet restrictions first) Bring for the parents too!

4. See if other family members need help/care, especially for the well sibling left at home. Volunteer to babysit, take them out for the day, go over to supervise homework for a couple of hours. Siblings are often neglected and they act up and add to parental stress. (friends of mine and neighbours bought milk bottles, infant formula etc for my baby as I had none!)

5. Skype with the child (if the child is old enough). As the child can’t leave the hospital, if gets very lonely. (some friends of ours would skype with Maeve and entertain her when there were no visitors and I was too exhausted to do a song and dance for her!)

6. Bring a musical instrument over and play it. (guitar, harmonica, lap harp etc) Sometimes, they are in so much pain, just someone singing and/or playing an instrument is very soothing.

7. Send regular messages to the parents and child to remind them that you are thinking about them, praying for them, or just simply to tell them about anything really. Try not to call (texting is good) as it can get really busy what with holding a screaming child down for a procedure or emptying the potty or thwacking air bubbles from IV lines!

8. Plan an art and craft project for the kid and go and do it with them. Or bring a few nice books and read it to them. Bring Brave Maeve!

The Inspiring Poon Family Today

 All images courtesy of Joanne Poon 

September 26, 2013
by theplayfulparents

Brave Maeve: A Must-Watch Musical of Hope, Love & Faith

Brave Maeve – The INSPIRING MUSICAL event of the year.

In case you still haven’t heard of who ‘Brave Maeve’ is, and what ‘Brave Maeve: The Musical’ is about, let me tell you that you JUST MUST find out more about this little girl and her family’s journey in overcoming cancer.

Maeve is a little girl who at 3 was diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer. But by God’s loving kindness and grace, He sustained her and her family through the arduous battle to lead them into victory.

Now 7, Maeve is a healthy and happy girl whose is really very amazing. I know, because my eldest son and her were in the same school last year, and that was how I got to know Joanne too.

Maeve at the Brave Maeve Rehearsals

Joanne, a very brave and talented mother, wrote a story to help her then cancer-stricken daughter, Maeve, make sense of all the various medical procedures she had to endure. That story has since been published under the title, Brave Maeve. This book has in turned inspired the production of the musical. It first ran last December in the auditorium of a small church along East Coast Road.

Coming up this Children’s Day weekend, from October 4 to 5, the musical will hit a bigger stage!
In this post, I’ve invited Joanne, mummy of Maeve, to share a little about how she came to write the book and produce the musical.

5-minutes with Joanne, Mummy of Maeve
Writer of Brave Maeve, the book
 Producer of Brave Maeve: The Musical

1. Can you tell our readers a little your book, Brave Maeve?

Brave Maeve is about a little girl who gets a pain in her tummy, goes to hospital and finds out that she’s got a poisonous stone (cancer) in her that she needs to remove and later, fight with, with the help of her brave soldiers (chemotherapy). The exciting battle causes some unusual things to happen (weird tasting food, hair fall, diarhhoea) and she finally wins the battle!
2. How did this story come to you?
Through sheer desperation! I needed some way to explain to a 3-year-old the journey she would be going through when she started cancer treatment. a 3-year-old doesn’t understand chemotherapy and probably will not cooperate and put up with the painful medical procedures, but if she thinks she’s going on an adventure and that she needs to be brave and heroic even when things get painful, she just might! So really, this story was written one night after a whole round of scans, blood work, needle pricks, surgery and just before chemo started. I wrote it, leaving gaps between lines, for Maeve to illustrate, which she really enjoyed!
3. Is this the very same story you told your Maeve as your family battled cancer?
Yes. This story was for an audience of one! And my 3-year-old bought it, hook, line and sinker! Partly because of this story, she was able to withstand many of the side effects that came with chemo, as the book gives a, well, 3 year old-logic explanation for everything! For example, the diarhhoea which is one of the horrible side effects of chemo is explained as the need to “poo out the posionous stones” after they’ve been killed by the good soldiers. This way, whenever she had diarhhoea, she never complained, as she thought it was “good riddance”! and that she was doing her part to get rid of those nasty guys!
 4. I understand that there are also two separate, and also quite amazing stories, about how this tale became a picture book and how it went fom page to stage. Can you share more?
I went to VJC to do a talk on cancer to a big group of JC students, and to end off that talk, I read this story to them. They encouraged me to get it published and I was very moved that they thought it was good enough to be published!
Honestly, I had no intention to do so, as it was just a story for my little girl, but I prayed and told God that if He wanted this story out there, He must send me an illustrator AND a publisher without me knocking on doors. This happened!
My wonderful illustrator, Liew Hooi Yin, is a first time illustrator who is actually a doctor, and she called me and asked if she could illustrate my book, to my shock as you can imagine! She heard about this little story I wrote from someone else.
My publisher, Goh Eck Kheng, of Landmark Books and I met through a mutual friend and he took up with project, pro bono, and is dreaming bigger dreams than me for this book!
As for the musical Brave Maeve battles the poisonous stone, staged in December last year, it was written and directed by an ex theatre student of mine, Dwayne Lau, who journeyed with my family through our toughest moments and was there to entertain and indulge my sick little girl in hospital. Everyone needs a story of hope, of courage, of a community coming together in crisis, and our story, was that.

I watched the first run of Brave Maeve last Christmas. I am told that there have been some changes to improve on the musical.
I don’t know how much better it can get, but I believe that you will NOT REGRET watching it with your loved ones.
Brave Maeve was, and still remains, one of the best local productions I’ve seen in a long time. And those of you who know me, I wouldn’t lavish praise so easily and freely on theatrical productions.

Putting aside the fact that the storyline make for a compelling one by virtue of it being a true life story, Brave Maeve does have very strong scriptwriting and creative execution. Director and Scriptwriter Dwayne, though young and not a parent himself, has shown a great sensitivity to the emotional and spiritual nuances  of the heartwrenching journey parents go through when their precious children suffer. I personally thought the use of puppetry was very clever. I won’t tell you much more because you MUST GO WATCH it for yourself.

It’s NOT an exaggeration when I say there was not a dry eye in the theatre a mere 10 minutes into the show. I couldn’t help sniffling through the entire time. I told Joanne and Dwayne after the production that they should get a tissue paper sponsor. Well, you’ve been duly warned. Be sure to bring your own tissues.



The book is available at the musical for a minimum donation of $15 that will go into reprinting more books and funding of printing in other languages. There will also be the Brave Maeve ebook launched at the Musical!

Joanne’s dream is that this book, Brave Maeve, will be made available to all pediatric oncology wards around the world.

“My dream is for every single child battling cancer, to have access to Brave Maeve, so that they can be empowered to battle this disease, to be the brave princess or prince, taking charge of their chemo  troops!”
So if you live outside Singapore, and would like a copy, just email
Kindhearted volunteers have also translated the story into various languages.
These are available for download from Brave Maeve Singapore Facebook Page.



Limited tickets are still available for Friday night.
To purchase tickets, you can email BraveMaeveMusical@gmail. Or check out the poster I’ve put up at the start of this post for details.

The Making of Brave Maeve: Some Sneaks
Photos courtesy of Brave Maeve Singapore

Brave Maeve’s amazing production team (from left to right): Super solid fundraising team Choon Ling & Charles, wonderful Producer Joanne & talented Director Dwayne


Some Props Made By Xin Min Secondary Students

Rehearsing Hard : The Little Heroine Herself, Maeve, & The Other Cast Members

As you can guess, I think Maeve and her family are really inspirational.

In this next post, Living With Children & Cancer, Joanne shares how the battle with cancer has changed her as a parent. She also offers some encouragement for parents whose children are battling with cancer.
If you know someone whose child is battling with cancer or other critical illness, Joanne also has tips for how you can support that family. 

September 6, 2013
by theplayfulparents


How are you?
Thanks for stopping by my little corner in the immense universe of the blogosphere.

Because I always love making new friends,
and new friends cannot be made without an introduction…

Let me introduce myself to you,
In as brief as one as chatty as I can do.

First, I’ll like you to meet my dancing partner through life.
No, I don’t dance in the typical sense of the word ‘dance’.
But my man, he’s the one who dances. Yup.
He did ballet at 6 or maybe 7 – danced through primary school, danced off stage and into Life.
Now, he basically dances me – the typical Singapore worrywart – through life.
He is ever patient with me in all the things I ought to do well, but don’t.
He is ever ready with some handy humour to help me put life’s messes and myself into perspective.
Levity and perspective are two rarities needed for the precious commodity called ‘Wisdom’.

What I find fascinating and wonderful about him can be summed up by looking at his entire name, made up of both Christian baptismal and Chinese birth names. By literal, symbolic and metaphorical definition.
His name translated into English?
Servant King, Son of Wood, Flying Dragon.

His ways, dispositions and character often remind me of my Heavenly Saviour King, Jesus.
My husband even loves working with wood.
One day, we hope to live in a place where we will be right smack in Nature.
And I’ve never known him to shrink away from pursuing his dreams, passions and convictions.

As we celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary, and our 20 years of friendship, I feel more blessed than ever that God has given me him.

Here’s a recent photograph of us taken at one of my favourite-st place in Singapore.

We were married after a very dramatic progression from friends to couple to estranged friends to reunited soulmates, again.

And oh! I did earnestly pray as a 9-year-old, on the steps up to Sunday School one morning, that I would marry someone by the surname ‘Lee’… just so I could be called ‘Sarah Lee’. That was how much I loved those buttery pound cakes. Kid you not.

In our second year of marriage, we wanted babies.
We conceived our first, but a short 10-weeks after, our baby went back to heaven.
The loss came as a shock, and hit me harder than I thought.
Especially since we saw the little heart beat on the screen and heard its loud thumps just two weeks before.
However, God being the Good God He is, blessed us with a boy exactly a year later. Perfectly timed to the prophetic promise I received at church.
And now, we have two bouncy, lemon-squeezy boys who just turned 3 and 5.

Now, I try my earnest best to give my family my all because they are treasures entrusted to me to love and care for.

However, life as wife and mom isn’t all that easy as you would know.

I often get distracted by my own dreams, but I’m learning to hunker down a lot better.
I’ve learnt the wisdom and beauty of streamlining my life.

So if you asked me to give you a condensed version of what my life is about…
Love hard
Play hard
Give hard

Because it’s truly better to bless than to be blessed.
Because I really want to be building up eternal treasures.

Thank you for reading this and I hope we can get to know each other better.

May my blog of wanderings and wonderings 
wow you  enough to live life with a different type of wonder.

September 5, 2013
by theplayfulparents

Dream With Me {Parent & Child Workshops} @ Voyage of Dreams 2013

Why is it so important for you to ‘Dream With Me’?

Behind a successful someone, there is always at least one person who has dared dream along with him or her.
Your children need you, their parents, to love them enough to dare dream along with them. 

So if you’ve ever thought to yourself, ‘ How can I play better with my child?’ or if you’re in search new ideas for bonding with your child, these workshops are a great place to get inspired!

DREAM WITH ME (DWM) Parent-Child workshops has something to cater to parents and children aged 2 to 12.

Here’s the line-up of exciting workshops you can book.
Click on the workshop title to read more:

DWM 1: Dancing In The Rain
( Best for 2 – 5 y.o. and parents), 11am – 12pm
DWM 2: Adventures Ahoy ( Best for 4 – 8 y.o. and parents), 1 – 2 pm
DWM 3: My Family Can Dream ( Best fo 9 – 12 y.o. and parents), 2 – 4pm

For more details of the individual sessions, click on the workshop title.


September 5, 2013
by theplayfulparents

Voyage of Dreams 2013: Only Believe {13 Oct, Central Library}

What’s Voyage of Dreams?
Voyage of Dreams: Only Believe 
is a community celebration of hopes and dreams that children and families have. It is also about celebrating the importance of family and creating special family memories through play, and with DIY playthings created out of cardboard. Families that play together stay together!

Voyage of Dreams grew out of Cardboard Dreams, my first community cardboard play picnic, held last year at the Botanic Gardens. Cardboard Dreams was inspired by the viral video, Caine’s Arcade, and Imagination Foundation’s Global Cardboard Challenge.

This year, the passion for encouraging families to create and play together as well as to celebrate each other’s creativity and imagination continues in this Voyage of Dreams.

Why ‘Only Believe’?

Because every journey has to begin with that single step of faith, and the destination is reached by faith.
Because all dreams need someone to believe in them enough for them to become a reality.

Please Meet This VIP – Very Important Partner

This event has also been very much a ‘Voyage of Dreams’ in many ways.  VoD could not have begun nor journeyed so far without the generous support of  my chief play-laborator (play collaborator)  – Public Libraries Singapore.

I am very excited and honoured to have the support of Public Libraries Singapore as my co-organiser in this year’s event. The libraries in Singapore have ALWAYS been a significant part of my life, and I totally love what they have done, and continue to do to build up our people with their passion for living knowledge! It sounds dramatic but I’ve got to say this – that without their generous support and willingness to join me on this adventure of attempting something so crazy, I wouldn’t be able to make this a reality. So thank you very much, Public Libraries and the fantastic arts and culture team, especially Krist and Sonja.

NOW, MORE about Voyage of Dreams 2013.


When? 13 October 2013, Sunday

Where? Central Library ( Bugis) . Please click here for map and directions.

Time?  The day of Fun begins at 10am until 5.30 pm. See below for details.

Other Important Notes:

  • All events are FREE to the public (thanks to the funding by Public Libraries ).
  • However, there are several activities which require you to make bookings via the Library’s e-booking service as seats are limited. So be sure to hop on over to GoLibrary Bounce to book your space!  
Here is a summary of the activity highlights from VoD.
Click on the individual programme categories below to find out more!

Event Highlights include:

Note: All sessions, except Dreams On Parade, are limited ONE-SESSION only with limited seats.
So please remember to book your seats early via the library booking system.
Dreams On Parade {Your DIY Craft Creativity Corner}
Everyone is creative! We’re making a cardboard ship for this Voyage of Dreams.
Come and do your part in creating a cardboard animals to add to the cardboard ship display.

Dreams: Now Playing {Key Event! Back by popular demand!}
Family cardboard games playdate ala ‘kampong’ style at The Pod (Level 16). Create a game out of cardboard or other recycled materials, and bring it on down to share with others.  It’s amazing how fun multiplies when everyone shares their stuff.
Find out how to participate here.

Dream With Me {Parent-Child Workshops for parents with kids aged 2 – 12}
Together with your child, let your hair down and set your imagination free! Our playful experts will guide you through the exploration of new crafts to make, new ways to play and new dreams to dream together.  More details here.

Catch A Dream {Storytelling For All Ages} 12.30 – 1.00pm
Listen to stories of dreamers who dared pursued their dreams.
A one-session only  event by our master librarian storyteller.

Sing Me A Dream  {Special Musical Storytelling Session}
 Folk singer-songwriter Dawn Fung shares original songs where impossible things happen.

Download and share this E-INVITE to all you know!

Share This Fun With Your Friends & Family!

E-Invite to Voyage of Dreams

P.S. If you love our colourful  event logo, and this publicity banner, you’ll have to hop over and show some blog love to Dee of Prune+Nurture. Thanks Dee for supporting us with your creative design talent and time!

Special thanks also to Jean Angus of Wee Stories for her invaluable help in preparing the media release.