Category Archives: Shoestring Singapore

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!


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 🙂


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!

Want to prevent myopia? Head outdoors.

I’ve done a couple of posts on the apparent health benefits of exposure to nature

In case you missed it, Australian researchers have just completed a study that concludes that exposure to sunlight is a major factor in the incidence of myopia.

Comparing six and seven-year-old Chinese children in Singapore and Australia, they found that 30 percent of the Singaporeans were myopic, against just 1.3 percent of the Australians. The differentiating factor was the amount of time spent outdoors – 30 minutes for the Singaporeans versus two hours for the Australians.

“What we would suggest,” said the researchers, “is that what’s happened in east Asia is that they have got the balance totally out of kilter.”

What an indictment.

You can read more here:
Red Sports – Spending time outdoors in the sun stops myopia
AFP via Yahoo News – Sunlight can help children avoid myopia

TED: Mathemagician and Underwater Astonishments

I’ve mentioned TED before – Technology Entertainment Design, a conference that takes place every year in California, bringing together some of the most fascinating people and ideas into a potent brew.

Its organisers have made videos of the talks available for free viewing and I highly recommend exploring the site for a stimulating exploration of new ideas, practices and technologies.

Here are two of TED’s most-watched videos that I think kids might enjoy. An ovation to a mathematical mind, and the wonders of God’s creation.

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.