Category Archives: Activities

Wired: 5 Best Toys of All Time

Move aside, iPad. This stuff is the Real Deal. As a mother of three, I can vouch that these five are hands-down among the best of the best. Maybe you can fill a stocking or two with these? πŸ™‚

NLB’s Video Library

Exams are over and the school holidays are almost upon us! Which means I am once again trying to keep half a step ahead of boredom and mischief among the Pilgrim brood.

Thankfully, there are few places more trustworthy than our neighbourhood library. I’ve raved about Singapore’s library system and its treasures elsewhere on this blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that besides the books (which already offer rich pickings), NLB also carries DVDs.

I’m not sure how they determine what titles to offer – you won’t find Hollywood blockbusters or primetime TV series – but there are award-winning documentaries, instructional videos, educational CD-ROMs and the occasional classic movie.

This week Pilgrim Dad and I borrowed and watched To Kill A Mockingbird, the 1962 film adaptation of the book, that won Gregory Peck an Academy award for Best Actor. And for the kids, we’ve found the Popular Mechanics for Kids and Bill Nye the Science Guy series delightful.

I can imagine few better uses for my tax dollar!

A National Day Dessert

We had family and friends over for National Day dinner and parade-watching on the goggle box. (Wasn’t this year’s just splendid?)

Anyway, earlier in the afternoon, Athos, Porthos and I created this patriotic and healthy dessert using grapes and canned lychees. Simple fun, and I must say the end result looked pretty decent too. πŸ™‚

Happy 44th birthday Singapore!

Fruity flag

Ice, ice baby

In the midst of this impossibly hot weather, I’ve been trying to think of things to do with the kids that don’t involve us (well, me really) getting too sticky and sweaty.

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before but ICE is such a great, low-cost, boredom buster. Today we spent a good hour outside doing icey things, which worked so well in this nasty heat. And you can always teach some science on the sidelines – freezing, melting, surface tension, adhesion, cohesion, hydrophilia, hydrophobia blah blah blah.

But it’s really too hot to get into the science. So on to the activities –

  • Ice-racing – Give each kid a piece of ice and get them to blow it across a table. The first person to blow his ice off the opposite end wins. It helps to wet the table thoroughly to minimise friction. One variation we also tried is to use drinking straws to focus our blowing more precisely.
  • Ice carrom/hockey – Kids are to use their fingers to flick their ice cube carrom-style into a goal (I just used my hands in a V formation). They can also use straws, spoons or some other item as a stick or bat.
  • Ice fishing – Fill a basin with water and throw in some items that sink like marbles, coins or paper clips. Cover the surface with ice, the more ice the more challenging. Give each kid a spoon and they are to fish out as many items as they can. If you mix items you can give more difficult ones more points. To increase squeal factor, instead of spoons they are to use only their index and middle fingers (like chopsticks). If you have a bigger basin, you can also try bigger items which the kids must fish out use their feet.
  • Ice bags – Fill a small Ziploc with ice cubes and seal. Practice throwing and catching, and take cool break in between!

Stay cool!

More Fun and Frugal Birthday Cakes

It turns out the most popular post on Pilgrim Parent at the moment is
Birthday Cakes for the Fun-Loving and Frugal

So here are more cakes, created since that last post. All are made from Betty Crocker cake mix, and the icings are either butter or whipped cream based.

Porthos’ 6th birthday cake – an aircraft carrier with Lego figures and models made by Porthos himself.

Milo powder and nuggets simulate soil and rocks in this military-inspired, sugar-saturated creation for Athos’ 7th birthday.

Aramis’ 3rd birthday cake is a train featuring chocolate-chip cookie wheels, windows made of Loacker biscuits, and Kit Kat tracks.

Athos is begining to outgrow cutesy cakes so we had some difficulty brainstorming for his 8th birthday. Since he likes Lego so much, we decided on a Lego block cake. I’m a little embarrassed to say most people had difficulty recognising it πŸ™‚


Make sure to check out these other cake posts too!
Birthday Cakes for the Fun-Loving and Frugal
The Smoke-Emitting Prehistoric Cake
The A380 @ Camel Diaries

Water shooters for toddlers

It has been blistering hot in Singapore so water play is the activity of first resort in the Pilgrim family these days.

It’s not always convenient to go to a pool, so here’s a fun alternative, especially if you have younger kids. Buy a spray bottle from any household goods store, fill it up with water, and let the kids at it! The cheapest bottles go for under $2, and the more expensive ones have different nozzle settings.

Here are some ideas:

  • watering plants, leaves, flowers
  • spraying into tubs and basins
  • aiming at specified targets (we sometimes draw a bull’s eye on our blackboard)
  • shooting at each other – this works especially well if you have, as the Pilgrim family does, kids of varied ages. The older ones will always win in an all-out water gun fight, so spray bottles level the playing field enormously. Be forewarned that older boys might consider this extremely uncool! Athos was most dismissive at first, but eventually deigned to join in and had fun.
  • add different food colourings to each spray bottle and let them spray paint on a large piece of mahjong paper or the bathroom wall
  • if it’s a sunny day, challenge them to make a rainbow. Porthos managed to do it without any guidance and was utterly thrilled (not surprising given his history with rainbows). The spray should be the kind that shoots out a mist of water rather than a jet, and you should stand with your back facing the sun.

The spray bottles are a useful tool for sand play as well – if you are building sandcastles on a hot day, spray the built structures occasionally to keep them wet and intact.

Don’t be surprised if the kids find other interesting ways to use the spray bottles. Athos started giving Porthos a “haircut”, spraying water like an old pro barber!

Have fun!

Stop Press for Stop-Motion Lego

Athos and Porthos have been majoring in Legos recently, especially since their collection more than doubled recently. Mustard Seed Mum sent over some from her gift stash, followed closely by a versatile expansion kit from Kong Kong J, and hot on the heels was Porthos’ birthday present from Aunty D at Camel Diaries, and then another whopper from Uncle J.

I jest not when I say that there are Legos EVERYWHERE. (We found one in a flowerpot today….)

Still, Legos are a toy that I am heartily supportive of because of the kind of mental skills and physical dexterity they seem to encourage.

Including some unexpected ones, like Athos’ discovery of stop-motion video. He got the idea from some Youtube videos he watched and bugged me to let him try making one. I demurred initially, worried that a 7-year-old and a functioning (even if old) digital camera didn’t seem like a very wise combination.

Continue reading

Top-Secret Message? Try Lemon Juice.

Athos saw this in a magazine and had to try it. The effect was quite nifty so I thought I would share it here.

Ours isn’t much of a lemon juice kitchen so we had to go out and get some. I squeezed the juice out, strained out the pulp and seeds, gave the kids some brushes, and let them have a go at writing and drawing whatever they wanted.

The tricky bit is getting used to the idea of drawing without seeing anything. The natural response is to keep adding more juice, just in case, creating a very wet piece of work.

In any case, the result is wholly invisible. Let it dry, and if you want you can even get the kids to write over the paper to enhance the “secret message” effect.

When you’re ready to reveal the message, pop the paper into the oven for a few minutes, or run a hot iron over it. The juice will brown and become visible.

King of my castle

“Can I watch a video, Mommy?”

That’s like a temptation-in-the-wilderness question for me. Saying “yes” is ridiculously easy, and guarantees me at least 30 to 60 minutes of household peace and quiet to do whatever I need to do without interruption. But I can’t shake off the feeling that it’s the second-best option, and where possible, I try to have standby alternatives for the kids.

So when the question came yesterday, I had to fight off the urge to say “yes” (a nap would have been so delicious…), and instead activated one of the simplest and most low-cost activities – building castles and fortresses with the household bedding and bedlinen. I remember doing this myself when I was a kid, and if you give the kids lots of raw materials to work with, they’ll enjoy it too.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Do this on or just before a bedlinen laundry day. That way you won’t get stressed if the kids trample and sweat all over the sheets.

Dedicated clothes pegs

2. Buy and set aside clothes pegs (both big and small) just for this activity. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if your normal laundry pegs mysteriously disappear over time. The ones on the left are about $2 a pack from NTUC Fairprice, and have rounded edges which make them safer for kids.

3. Besides just sheets and blankets, let the kids use pillows, bolsters, cushions and even mattresses if they can manage them. You’ll be amazed at the ideas they’ll come up with. (Athos absolutely insisted on having a drawbridge….)

4. Make sure the children are old enough for this activity – some possible risks are suffocation under a pile of blankets, or clipping sheets to unstable furniture (e.g. lamps) that might topple over. If you aren’t sure, be on hand to supervise.

Here is Porthos peeking out of the castle we built yesterday, out of four mattresses and three blankets. Whee!

Pilgrim castle

Pilgrim castle

Tadpoles –> Froglets

Our tadpoles are growing! (Click here to read about how we found our amphibious friends.) Apart from one who has died – we’re still not sure how but we found him floating lifeless one morning – the rest appear to be doing well. They’ve been quite a talking point when people drop by!

I told Porthos that both his grandfathers would be reading this, and asked what he would like to say. Here is his little lecture, captured verbatim:

“We got those tadpoles from Sentosa. They are very good. The tadpoles swim with their tail. They eat goldfish food. And now they are growing into frogs. The tadpoles grow from back legs to front legs.”

The boys have been quite excited (and so have I!) and have been helping to feed the frogs and maintain the aquarium. I’ll keep this blog updated on their progress. In the meantime, here are some pictures. Continue reading

Amphibian Adventure

It rained a lot during the March school holidays. Not good for a household full of young, hyperactive, on-the-go lads. They were bouncing off the walls and generally tearing the house apart.

But there was a wonderful silver lining. When the sky cleared, we brought the boys cycling along Sentosa beach (one of the Pilgrim family’s favourite hangouts). And at Tanjong Beach, we discovered that the tree-covered grassy patch next to the carpark had become waterlogged, and was now home to hundreds and hundreds of tadpoles. Continue reading

Train Spotting

Athos was invited to a birthday party at McDonalds King Albert Park. It’s not a place we go to frequently, but I remember that the KTM (Malaysian railway) tracks pass near there. So after dropping Athos off, I decided to take Porthos and Aramis on a little adventure to look at train tracks.

Pilgrim Parent delicious discovery: the Bukit Timah signal station! If you’re going along Bukit Timah Road towards Woodlands, you’ll find a small road just before King Albert Park. It’s easy to miss because it has no name and is not properly paved. But it’s just past the overhead trackbridge, and before the McDonald’s HQ at the junction. And if you turn into the road, you’ll find a world set apart – train tracks at street level, with a platform running alongside, as well as a signal station and office belonging to Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malaysian Railway, or KTM for short).



Serendipitously, the friendly signalman Mr Abdul Ghani told us that a train would be passing by in 15 minutes! Porthos was particularly excited. In the meantime, Mr Abdul Ghani let us follow him around on his duties. Continue reading

Seeing Carbon Dioxide

I stumbled across this simple yet marvellous experiment that demonstrates that carbon dioxide is heavier than air. The science is probably a little too advanced for Athos and Porthos, but the metaphysics is not – that you don’t have to see something to believe it’s there πŸ™‚

A Red-Hot Multi-Family Garage Sale

The Pilgrim family loves garage sales. As a seller, it’s a great way to keep your home free of clutter, and to give unwanted items a new lease of life. As a buyer, garage sales present an opportunity to save a lot of money, and to uncover wonderful treasures.

We’ve hosted regular multi-family garage sales for a few years now, and we are having our 6th this weekend! We usually have between 15-30 donor families/individuals, so there’s a huge variety of stuff. We price our items to sell (my dad calls it “ridiculously cheap”), and ALL proceeds go to charity. We’ve done this so often we actually have regular customers, ranging from expatriates to families to domestic helpers and foreign workers, to bargain-loving Singaporeans. Some even come back several times in one day!

Anyway, the details are as follows:

Date: Sat and Sun, 1-2 December 2007
Time: 9am to 5pm
Items: Electronics, books, toys, clothes, household items, fixtures and furnishings, decoratives and lots of other stuff
Venue: Email pilgrimmom[at] for address

Do drop by!

Free Rice

After receiving this link for perhaps the 4th time in as many days (and reading Owlhaven’s post on the same), I finally decided it was time to mosey on over to Free Rice and check it out for myself.

And 600 grains of rice later, I’m pleased to say this is one of the coolest sites I’ve encountered in recent months. If you like playing with and learning new words, Free Rice allows you to test your own vocabulary while donating rice to the UN for every answer you get correct. It is deceptively simple, yet judging by the advertisers and the exponential growth in grain totals, I’m guessing the site isΒ  getting a lot of traction. Hurray for social enterprise and please do go check it out for yourself.

Buccaneers for Breakfast

Most mornings at the Pilgrim household are a mad rush of getting breakfast in, uniforms on, and everyone out, so that the boys get to kindergarten on time.

Which is why breakfast on weekends is a precious time for us. We’ve taken to calling it “Family Breakfast”, and the ritual is that the boys get to choose what they want to eat, help to prepare it, set the table, we all say grace and eat together, and there’s always a big jug of iced Milo that sometimes lasts us until lunchtime.

I’ve mentioned the idea of edible art before – here and here – and highly recommend it as a fun and creative way to engage kids. Athos and Porthos hadn’t done it in a while, and as they were working on breakfast this past weekend, they decided to get creative. Continue reading

The Dancer Is Going Clockwise. (Isn’t She?)

This piece from an Australian online paper is making the rounds on the Internet. I was utterly fascinated (and frustrated) by it, and have only just minutes ago managed to make it turn anti-clockwise.

Give it a go.

Water Play

Going to a swimming pool is one of the great joys of childhood.

But let’s face it. We don’t all live near a pool. And even if we did, the paraphernalia that goes along with it (towels, costumes, sunblock, floaties blah blah blah) can be a bit of a turn-off.

There’s a simple substitute for young children, and that is just to give them containers of water to play with. Unlike pools or even tubs, containers take up little space and you don’t have to keep such a close eye on safety.

I strip Aramis down to his diapers, set him on a mat with various pots and basins filled with water, and left to his own devicesΒ  he can play for a good half hour.

[Note: If you’ve read my earlier post on bean play, you can use the exact same set of equipment.]


If Cakes Could Fly…

My earlier post on DIY cakes for the fun-loving and frugal was an attempt to show how easy and fun it can be to make your own birthday cake as an alternative to the store-bought stuff.

In that spirit, I just had to link everyone over to this aeroplane cake (A380 no less) by Auntie D over at The Camel Diairies – what a delight to behold, and surely a joy in the making too!

The Athos Squadron

Athos went on Lego overdrive recently and created this. A reminder of why Lego is one of my all-time favourite activities for kids: