Children Blues

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Chess with Kids

As parents, we consciously limit our two kids’ exposure to mobile gadgets as much as possible. While both Hannah and Peter do enjoy the occasional time they get on the iPad, neither seem particularly hung up about it when they don’t get that time – though in Hannah’s case at least, I wonder if it’s because her After school care already has such devices for the kids to congregate over already, and she has her fill of them as a result.

In any case, we supplement their free time with other home activities. Ling has a repertoire of gardening and baking projects that Hannah will typically actively join  in, while Peter usually just looks on. Of late too, and possibly in part because her friends’ induction at After School Care, Hannah now plays chess. We’ve been diligently putting time aside every day to play at least one game, normally after dinner. And it’s fascinating to observe how quickly she’s improving with practice. Since Monday, we’ve played about nine games now. And while it’s been eight wins with one stalemate in my favor, over this short period of a week, I increasingly have to work harder each match! She’s mastered most of the types of moves permitted in each chess piece, and can anticipate the most obvious opponent countermoves one to two steps ahead. Though she’s still missing a clear understanding of the relative prowess of chess pieces and what are considered good or bad trades, and also perhaps a sense of long-term strategy. Those I’m sure will come over time with more practice.

H’s starter chess board is the same type I had as a primary school student too: a small 5″x 5″ board with tiny black/white chess pieces with magnet attachments. Cheaply made of plastic that goes for just a few dollars @ Popular Bookstore. And pieces on the 5″ board are too small for my chubby fingers! Now that she’s really getting into the game, I’ve placed an order for two other wooden handcrafted sets. The first is a slightly larger 7″ x 7″ set that’s going for SGD14 @ eBay and shipping from India. The 7″ set should make a world of difference compared to the small dingy 5″x 5″ board we’ve been making do, yet still small enough for Hannah to bring around. The second is a much larger 11″x 11″ that’s a bit more costly at about SGD45, also wooden handcrafted and shipping from Poland. This one we’ll keep at home to play.

Her little chess board follows her even to weekend breakfast at Olivia & Co. Bistro @ Compass One.

Teaching P, just so that she can beat him at it repeatedly. Notice how many pieces she’s taken as White LOL.

Match #9 on Sunday, and try to understand why she lost the game and what to do next time. Cornered her king after wiping out the rest of her pieces.

Another toy that she’s gotten into: Rubric cubes!

It’s certainly fun to reflect on how our kids play the kind of games we used to as children at their age. I wonder what will be next! :)


Shooting with the Panasonic GX85 + Olympus 45mm f1.8

One of best things about having four micro four-thirds bodies is that since I have four favorite lenses, I can mount each one of them on a different body and not have to as frequently switch lenses with bodies! The first two posts in this series has been centered on the E-PL6 + Olympus 17mm f1.8 + E-M5 with Panasonic 25mm f1.4. The third post in this series and the last one with primes is the GX85 + Olympus 45mm f1.8 combo.

The 45mm can work just as well with either of the E-Ms though perhaps less well with the E-PL6. At 90mm full-frame focal length equivalent, I reckon my camera-holding technique needs to be just a little steadier and using an EVF than through a rear LCD. Of the three primes, the 45mm is the most challenging to work with when indoors and in the small rooms typical of high-rise apartments in this part of the world. I do get more obvious bokeh with the 45mm than the 25mm of course, but for the most part, having to step back all the way into a wall and still have one of the kids’ heads chopped off in the frame makes whatever bokeh I might get a non-starter.

The lens though will come into its own when outdoors where’s a lot more space to move and get exactly the composition you want in a shot.

The GX85 with the 45mm.

And a series of shots with this combo: excepting the Bolo bun picture, aperture settings were between f1.8 to f2.0 and ISO200. These are also flash shots too, with the Meike MK320 mounted on the GX85.

Balancing an eraser on the edge of the ruler is a past-time we all had as kids!

Practising for a storytelling competition in school.

Ling says that P takes after me in this trait: we both stick our tongues out when unconsciously when we’re concentrating on something. The fairly long focal length and almost full-body composition required shooting from across the bedroom.

H’s big sister instincts kicking in to help Peter with some writing activities. Two person shots on primes wide-open are always a little challenging, as it’s very easy for one person to be out of focus because of the thin depth of field.

The wife getting creative in the kitchen again. These Bolo buns look so good literally I’m not sure if I’ll bear to have them for breakfast! This one’s at f4.5 to give a bit more depth as this was a close-up shot.

A picture of concentration: H having her school Home-Based Learning exercise across two days this week. I had my back against our brick wall, and her upper body still barely fitted into the frame. The 25mm would have been an easier lens for this shot, though the background rendering would had been less creamy.

That concludes the series of posts using the three key m4/3 primes I’ve got. They’re really fun lenses to use, and I reckon the 25mm f1.4 is the one that I find most useful given the kind of pictures I like to take. I might do a future post on weekend pictures using the 40-150mm f2.8 exclusively, but there’s a huge thing to lug around on family weekends, but we’ll see.:)

Shooting with the Olympus E-M5 + Panasonic 25mm f1.4

The other weekend‘s series of camera + prime lens pictures was so fun to do I reckon I’ll do a regular series on this on our blog. This week’s combo is the E-M5 with 25mm. The Olympus E-M5 is the oldest of my four m4/3 bodies that I still use regularly. I’ve been quite careful with this particular body, though given that it’s seen quite intensive use over the almost 5 years I’ve had it, the scruff marks on the body are now quite obvious to the naked eye. The E-M5 isn’t without its middle age quirks too; the camera doesn’t always power-up now when the power lever gets flicked on, though it normally does on the second try!

I’ve also had the Panasonic 25mm f1.4 for just over four years now, with my particular copy purchased on Amazon JP and shipped here through Tenso, a Japanese parcel-forwarding company. The lens is also showing its age too, though its rubberized lens grip acts also as a protective layer from it getting scruff up with nicks and bangs like my E-M5.

The 25mm remains the fastest and only f1.4 lens I own. Its light-gathering ability of course makes it great for low-light shots, and of the kids especially in ambient light – though it’s also less useful say for night-time shots of scenery. The shallow depth of field also makes any composition with not one but both kids a more considered undertaking, since it’s seriously easy to have one of the two just out of focus.

The lens is still balanced nicely with the E-M5. The lightning quick AF on the E-M5 plus the fast shutter speeds that the camera reaches for when coupled with a f1.4 lens makes it easy to catch decent pictures of fast-moving kids who don’t keep still – especially Peter. In fact, there’s no reason to engage continuous AF on this combo when single AF works great here.

The coming to five year old E-M5 with its scuff marks with the 25mm.

A selection of this week’s pictures shooting with the E-M5 and 25mm exclusively. All were wide-open at f1.4, and between ISO200 to 400. The first four were also just before weekday bedtime so with the Nissin i40 flash gun.

And over the weekend:

Right outside our main door just when we’re heading out for weekend brunch. The 25mm wide-open at f1.4 remains incredibly sharp in the center.

While waiting for Pet Lovers Centre @ Nex to open for the day. It’s possible to use the 25mm for full-body pictures without too much difficulty – as long as there’s working distance.

The trio of child joy rides on the Popular Bookstore level.

The E-M5’s speedy AF with the 25mm makes it possible to take shots like these where the kids were running about Parkway Parade’s joy rides.

Next post in this series will be the Panasonic GX85 + Olympus 45mm f1.8!

Shooting with the Olympus E-PL6 + 17mm f1.8

The two month old Panasonic GX85 has been a ball of fun to use and I’m gradually adjusting to some of its quirks: for instance, ghosting in its EVF, and that I don’t even notice its occasional tearing anymore. Despite that, I still find that the E-PL6 with the 17mm f1.8 provides me more keepers than my other m4/3 bodies with the other lenses. And this is despite the challenges my particular E-PL6 copy brings about: that both its touch-screen and rear mode dial have become finicky and occasionally having a mind of its own by deciding to change command settings on its own, and the loud shutter release sound it produces when I trigger a shot.

A lovely combo: the E-PL6 and 17mm f1.8.

So; just for illustration, I shot our kids with this combo exclusively over this weekend, and here’s a selection from the series of pictures.

I took a similar shot with Hannah almost exactly 4 years ago, and while both of them were at the same age: 3 years 9 months.

H doesn’t get bored too easily. She’ll always have something in hand to read when we’re waiting for food (this one’s at Coffee Kaki @ AMK Hub).

The weekend early afternoons have been slightly more humid than a week ago, though the two of them are obviously not bothered.

These kiddie sunglasses used to belong to his big sister.

She’s about 2/3s done with the first Suzuki Method book, and got me to load up the second book of pieces into her MP3 player.

Peter getting his first taste of Suzuki Method piano pieces.

The 17mm focal length on the m4/3s sensor is also useful to get a good deal of context and surroundings in without making the shot look too wide-angle.

This picture of H on the children’s see-saw was actually slightly over-exposed out of the camera, while the others taken in quick succession were fine. Seems that the E-PL6 misjudged the metering for this shot. Corrected it in post-processing.

Taken from across the dining table. Shots like these are always tricky, as the thin depth of field makes it easy for one of the two kids to be out of focus if he/she is learning a little backwards.

It might just be that Olympus out of camera rendering is just a bit more to my taste than Panasonic’s, and that the older 3 axis image stabilisation the E-PL6 uses is particularly effective with the 17mm. The low light advantage of a f1.8 stop helps a lot, as thus also the lens’ very quick focusing mechanisms. And lastly, the particular combo looks great together – though the lens and camera body are actually two different color tones: the lens is silver, while the body is chrome-gold.

This was actually a pretty fun of picture series to do for these couple of days. Next weekend or so I’ll do a next post – perhaps the almost 5 year old-now E-M5 with the Panasonic 25mm f1.4!


Magical Magnet

As parents of young kids, we have to wrack our brain cells to decide what to buy for presents – whether it’s for their birthdays or Christmas. We generally avoid electronic gadgets and video games, with Hannah’s Nikon Coolpix L29 camera the only exception so far. Books are always a fail-safe when we can’t think of anything else of course. Credit again to the wife who is always a lot more observant in discovering new things for the kids – because we got Hannah and Peter a box of ‘magical’ magnets last Christmas. Basically, these are plastic polygonal pieces lined with magnets for kids to build models with. Pretty much like Lego, with the differences being that constructions are a tad more fragile but can also be disassembled very quickly, and the pieces are also much larger and hence less likely to get lost in sofas, carpets and the like.

Ling found a box of these for sale at a bazaar at a nearby shopping mall late last year, and the kids have been having a ball of fun with the pieces after getting them for late last year. They weren’t too costly too at about $45 a box.

The box comes with a fully colored guide printed on good quality glossy paper, though it’s still not hardy enough to withstand child abuse!

The first pages lay out clear step by step instructions for kids to assemble their first object.

Lots of more advanced designs for kids to figure out too.

Peter getting all creative. He rarely gets attached to a toy for long and frequently moves past them after a month or so. For these Magnets, he’s still going at it every day 10 weeks after Christmas!

The box we bought was made by a Chinese-sounding manufacturer called Xinaida, which also has them listed for sale at places like Amazon, but they should also be widely available for sale at most toy shops here.

By this point, the kids have put together all types of movable vehicles, hamster cages (!?!?), Ferris Wheels, and even simple Rube Goldberg machines . Highly recommended for kids!


Kids @ 17mm, 25mm etc. – Part 31

If there is one large down side about owning multiple m4/3 camera bodies, it’s trying to decide which one to bring along for vacations when space and portability is premium. I’ll have to decide soon enough which two of the four m4/3 bodies – the E-M1, E-M5, GX85 and E-PL6 – will come on our June trip to Western Australia. The E-M1 is a given for certain and coming, since the 40-150mm f2.8 works better on that body than the others. For the other three, and particularly in reference to the trip’s requirements:

E-M5: EVF, uses the same battery as the E-M1, so I don’t have to bring a different set of batteries and chargers.

E-PL6: lovely styling, great touch-AF and release implementation, super portable, articulating screen for wefies. No EVF though.

GX85: USB charging so no additional charger needed, 4K video so that I don’t have to bring a camcorder, EVF for the more tricky shots.

I’m leaning towards the GX85. So of late, I’ve been putting the 12-40mm f2.8 (which will be also coming for the trip) with the GX85 to get use to its handling and if there are quirks I need to be mindful of. The below is a selection of pictures taken with the 12-40mm + GX85, all set to f2.8, multi-segment AF, and the last three also with the Meike-MK320 flash unit.

This one was a bit of a test shot to see if the GX85 will correctly detect AF points – our two kids at extreme edges, and not the persons in the center. The GX85 got it right for 7 out of 8 shots.

Keropok Conference with Grandparents (keropok = Malay for deep fried crackers). Mom does enough of these every now and then to fill up a couple of jars.

Peter has inherited the set of six Mickey Mouse Clubhouse pocket books from Hannah, and enjoys putting them together to form a picture puzzle. This BTW is just 15 minutes after he was disciplined for essentially not behaving himself over dinner. Guess boys at this age don’t get too hung-up over being punished for misdemeanors!

In large part that we wanted her to provide her an opportunity to buy responsibly, we let her use the first of the Popular store vouchers she received from her Edusave award to buy anything from the book store. She chose the set of coloring pencils here.

All in; the GX85 works well with the 12-40mm, though AF is still very slightly less blazing-fast compared to the same lens on the E-M1. Oddly too, several pictures in the series were registered with incorrect image rotations: basically, shots that were taken in normal landscape fashion were determined by the GX85 to be portrait instead. Not a killer by any measure since the photo just needs to be rotated 90 degree clockwise in edits, but still annoying.

Parenting a 7 Year Old

For all intents and purposes, I reckon we have it fairly easy with Hannah. Our 7 year old listens to instructions well, is conscientious, generally diligent and always seeking to do well. She’s adapted well to her new school environment – if her invitations to birthday parties in her class is any indication – and seems to enjoy school and after-school activities. Of her quirks; she still does not take failure of any kind well at all and easily tears up when she’s faulted for something. She can also be a little bossy, and is naturally inclined to tell people what they should be doing. These seem to have been ingrained in her for several years now.

There is one other quirk that gradually surfaced since starting Primary One though. In the last year, we’ve discovered a few instances where she had not been truthful. The story about this goes back though slightly further back to Nov 2015 and two months before she started Primary One. Hannah’s school advised us then during that briefing for parents that one challenge parents would face would be their child’s tendency to hit the school book store to buy all manner of stationery items they don’t really need but are nonetheless attractive to girls at that age. I recalled the both of us chuckling at that point and musing to ourselves “Nah – Hannah’s not into these things”.

How wrong we were and the irony. The instances where she’d been untruthful have all centered on how she uses the pocket money we give to her to buy food during recess time. Specifically: on those three occasions, rather than use her money to buy food, she’d spend it on cute things at her school book store, and then not tell us. When quizzed on it, she typically acted ignorant first, but folded in short order under Mommy’s interrogation. After which, she teared up and sobbed.

The most recent of these were yesterday evening. Rather than physically discipline her this time though, we got her to write a reflection instead after a stern talking to – which she did:

Got date and itme-stamp even.

After the kids went to bed, the two of us had a further discussion on this, as it struck us that it’s hard for 7 year old girls not to be attracted by these things. Moreover, at a level, we wondered too if we finally needed to provide her an outlet to buy these stationery, as these things often become social topics of chitchat with her friends. We agreed that we would provide opportunities for her to buy these stationery, but in an organized fashion and to better teach her personal responsibility.

Parenting: an ongoing learning journey!

Learning Music for Kids

Both Ling and I started our formal music and piano lessons when we were in junior Primary school, which is about the age that many parents here today still get their children started at too. Both of us learned the piano using what many music teachers refer to as the ‘traditional’ method: basically, you learn to read notes first before getting onto the keyboard.

Hannah’s piano teacher – who himself is also a Minton resident – has been teaching her using the Suzuki method. There are many apparent differences between this method against the traditional form of learning, one of them being the emphasis of listening to a piece of music extensively to learn how to play it. Which sounds like a perfectly right way to learn – and one that Hannah has really taken to, since she’s inherited one of my old Sony MP3 players and listens to the pieces of her current Suzuki music book whenever we’re in the car.  I reckon that even my piano teacher had the chops to teach me all those years ago with such a method, it would had been a lot harder anyway since personal audio players weren’t the norm as they are today.

There’s one other key difference between learning music today yesteryear and today: and it’s that young learners today have access to all kinds of learning aids. Like these:

A Music Magnetic Board.

Two music books from a Malaysian publisher and from the same author Ng Ying Ying.

This book comes with stickers for kids to paste: exactly the thing to engage them!

Structured exercises laid out in child-friendly fashion.

And that’s not counting music software you can find on on computers and tablets. How I learned music theory was through a lot of rote: my teacher made me draw pages of stave lines for both clefts, and then all manner of notes on them as though I was learning calligraphy LOL. I think our old Lentor family home still has several of these books from more than 35 years ago – and I’ll find one such and scan those pictures in to show Hannah how her parents learned!

The Malaysian publisher Poco Studio has a decent catalog of music books, and their line is carried on international retailers including Book Depository and Amazon UK.  The former in particular lists the books from a shade under S$10 to S$13 including shipping. The Magnetic Board is also of interest: it allows young learners to arrange music notations and learn rudimentary concepts of timing and such. This particular board is from Yamaha Music School. Hannah isn’t enrolled in one of course, so we got one pre-loved.


Peter and OCD

If there’s another one thing that sets Peter apart from his older sister, it’s his occasional-OCDing. Though thankfully, most of it is harmless and even beneficial for us parents. For instance, our boy at just a few years old now would:

Neatly arrange his crocs at the doorway. And everyone else’s shoes that’s in his view angle.

Running around the common lift lobby outside our main door to latch all the fire escape and utility doors properly.

After soiling himself, would take his soiled clothes… and put them back into his clothing drawer. OK – that was totally not funny for mommy!

Using the Ikea sticky roller (normally used to pick up lint on clothes) around the house to pick up hair and tiny dusty bits off the floor of our home.

Child labor LOL.

Child labor LOL.

The couple of instances above were taken towards the end of 2015, and of late, he hasn’t demonstrated this compulsion to the same degree. Maybe this was just a passing phase where he mimicked a good deal of what his sister and parents do.:)

More Kids’ Activities

A short post that I wrote last year but it ended up sitting in the drafts for a good couple of months!

McDonald’s @ Ang Mo Kio Garden West

The fastfood restaurant with McCafe looks like it has been recently refurbished, though the air-conditioned seating area remains somewhat limited, and it was not easy finding a free table even at early Saturday morning. I reckon it’s to do with that the restaurant on the inside is fairly small, so even seating is a little cramp. There are more spaces on the outside that is covered with ceiling fans. And more importantly, a small covered children playground beckons once you’ve done dining. Nothing too massive, but it was enough for our two kids to run in and around it for 20 minutes.

And as F1 was in town then, Renault similarly ran their car showcase with a children’s version of the F1 circuit on one of their current favorite hangout malls: Punggol Waterway Point.

Hannah outraced Peter - even though the latter had Mommy's help!

Hannah outraced Peter – even though the latter had Mommy’s help!