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Li-Hsian

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I LOVE reading. However, I didn’t read to my unborn babies in utero. I was busy wrapping up work before I left my job to become a stay-at-home mum. Nor was I one of those mummies who read to their newborns. As a new mother of twins, I was severely sleep deprived. So, extra shut-eye and my general survival trumped whatever research I had read on the topic and any grand intentions I had in the beginning of introducing books to my bubs early on.

I’m actually glad I only started reading books to my twins when they were closer to 12 months. It was more meaningful as my children were able to understand what was going on and more rewarding as I was able to see their reactions to my reading.

A bedtime story routine is really the best way to acquaint your babies with books. After all, bedtime reading combines some of your child’s favourite things: snuggles, interesting pictures, fascinating sounds and, of course, you!  

I learnt from some good sources (like Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age by Jason Boog) and personal experience how some books are better at holding babies’ attention than others. I follow a simple criteria:

  1. Great to read aloud
  2. Good pictures – a few large pictures (in colour or stark black and white), or colourful spreads
  3. Sturdy pages – get board books and if they have flaps, ensure the flaps are not too flimsy (or say hello to your new “friends” – Mr. Scotchtape and Ms. Scissors)
  4. Large text – a few large words (more than an inch) in mostly lower case is preferred
  5. Fun story, with interesting details you can point out as baby grows with the book

Point to each word as you read. Allow your child to help turn the page. My kids love to decide when to turn the page and it allows me to know for sure that they are really engaged.

Warning: toddlers will request for repeated readings of their favourite books, but you can console yourself when reading a story again and again and again that this is how your little ones learn.

On the occasion of International Children’s Book Day on 2 April, I’d like to share with you a few books that my twins really enjoy and still repeatedly ask for.

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Say Goodnight / All Fall Down / Clap Hands / Tickle Tickle By Helen Oxenbury

Say Goodnight was the first book I read to my twins. My daughter still anticipates each turn of the page and says the words with the actions I taught her before I read them aloud. Each page of the Big Board Books in this set has only four to six words. Their oversize format and large-scale drawings (the babies’ faces are about fist-size) showcase Oxenbury’s winsome, multiracial babes, who spill food on each other, sing together, play with adults, bounce on beds, and clap hands.

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? / Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? / Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle

I like these books – that come in a gift set – better than the more popular The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Exuberant artwork and pages that lead seamlessly into the next make these rhythmic stories the perfect introduction to animals (from the familiar to the more exotic), colours and sounds. My kids love the simple repetitive language, and can now recall the animals and sounds spontaneously.

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The Babies On The Bus By Karen Katz

My son loves cars and buses, and we love this version of the song. I disliked Katz’s bubble-head babies, but they grew on me. My kids learn words and concepts (e.g. up, down) more easily through songs. We sing through the entire book, incorporating easy actions for each verse such as tracing the wheels for “round and round”, signing “open and close”, imitating wipers for “swish, swish, swish”, pretending to press horns for “toot, toot, toot” etc. I play the song on YouTube and use flashcards with the same words to reinforce recall, and they love learning the same things in different formats.

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Goodnight Moon By Margaret Wise Brown, With Pictures By Clement Hurd

I’ve been curious why this was considered a staple for every child’s book collection. I frankly didn’t understand people’s fascination with this famous picture book – about a bedtime routine, told from a little rabbit’s perspective – until fairly recently. I didn’t like its stark colours but learnt that babies are visually stimulated by black and white stripes or light and dark contrasting colours. The book uses rhyme efficiently and beautifully. Brown gently encourages children to seek out the many objects in the room to make sure each one gets its own special goodnight. Little details make Goodnight Moon incredible – like the clock continuing to move forward every time it is shown, or the moon slowly making its way higher in the sky as the story progresses.

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There’s A Wocket In Your Pocket / Hop On Pop by Dr. Seuss

Straight-laced parents may proclaim that Dr. Seuss’ books are absurd and use English incorrectly, so should not be read to children. They’re missing the point. A child learning to speak and read needs to first learn the sounds that go with letters before he can put these together to make words and sentences. Speech therapists say it’s important for young children to make age appropriate sounds, even if they cannot always say the words. Dr Seuss’ wonderful whimsical books motivate even reluctant readers to repeat sounds frequently, helping children to eventually master language.

Children’s book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola said, “Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.” However, like everything else with children, it is important to first help them find the fun in reading. Learning will happen naturally when you love doing something.

Li-Hsian recently left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.

Image Credit: Li-Hsian & Amazon.

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I love the quote by author Isak Dinesen that reads “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” A beach holiday has always been one of my favourite kind of getaways as it combines everything in the best possible way. However, bringing babies along on a such a break can be a different ballgame altogether.

We braved a beach holiday in Langkawi with our 20-month old twins in January, towards the tail end of the monsoon season when the torrential rains had tapered off. We enjoyed blue skies and sunny days. What I learnt at the end of our 4-day, 3-night family vacation is that with a little bit of planning, babies and a beach holiday go very well together, like Nasi Lemak and Teh Tarik.

Below are some tips if you are thinking of a similar trip with baby over the Malaysian beach holiday season (that officially starts in March!).

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Select a child-friendly hotel

With tots in tow, you are unlikely to venture outside the location. So, check if your accommodation has facilities and activities to keep your little ones engaged. We chose The Andaman because:

  • It was well recommended by friends and mummy forums / Facebook groups, and www.hotels.com offered good deals.
  • We heard their beach had powder-fine sand and was clean – more comfortable and safer for little tushes to sit on, and little feet to walk on.
  • Kids under 3 years eat for free, and the menu is pretty decent. It is a kids’ menu that is not an apology for one; and might actually meet with the approval of parents who advocate healthy meals. Not only are the usual pastas, pizzas, burgers and chips there, but also corn-on-the-cob with melted butter, cheese and fruit kebabs, vegetable crudités with dips, and rice paper rolls. You might be tempted to steal bites from your toddlers’ plates, like we did.
  • There is a playroom and organised activities for kids. Though our twins were too young to participate in the daily kids’ excursions (revolving around nature and exploration) around the resort, they enjoyed the ride-ons, tunnels and playhouse at the Young Explorer’s Club room when it was too hot to be outside.
  • There are meaningful activities offered at their in-house Coral Nursery e.g. private guided snorkels around the nursery every morning, educational talks on marine life as well as fish feeding every evening where parents and kids can actually go inside the nursery waters to do so. There is also a Touch Pool with animals like starfish, sea cucumbers etc. It’s a great way to expose children to marine conservation.
  • The pool has a kids’ slide, and the towel hut loans out beach toys.
  • The hotel concierge was very responsive to our email queries sent beforehand. They emailed us the kids’ menu ahead of time (making it easier to decide what foodstuff to pack) and even secured us airport transfers with child seats, which frankly surprised us. It is always worthwhile writing to your selected hotel to check if they can accommodate your requests.

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Sun protection

Even if it isn’t sunny, your baby’s delicate skin can still burn so sun protection is vital. Here are some tips:

  • Babies younger than six months should be kept out of the sun altogether and in the shade. Older babies and toddlers should also stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day).
  • Dress babies in cool cotton clothes that loosely cover their legs and arms. Consider wide-brimmed hats that shade their faces and necks (e.g. legionnaire-style caps with long flaps at the back), and even baby sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun and sand.
  • Use a sunscreen specially formulated for babies/children, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Make sure it has a broad-spectrum brand with a four-star or five-star rating that offers UVA and UVB protection (stated on the packaging). Do a skin irritation test at home before using the sunscreen. Before going out, apply a fairly thick layer to areas of baby’s skin not covered by clothes or a hat – including hands and feet.
  • Reapply sunscreen every couple of hours, and after baby has played in water. Small children can still get sunburnt in the water. So if you take baby into the sea, keep her T-shirt or UV swimsuit on.
  • Aloe vera gel can provide good aftersun relief (Sasa has this).

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Baby beachwear

  • Fashionable swimsuits (especially for little girls) are fun but rarely functional. Best to go for practical bodysuits with sleeves and pants that offer UV protection and keep baby warm. Mothercare, Speedo and Arena have good ranges.
  • Washable baby beach sandals will protect baby’s feet from the heat of the sand and any sharp shells or stones. We got Nike ones from Parkson in 1 Utama.
  • Swim diapers (we used disposable ones by Huggies)

Baby beach / pool gear 

  • Have big towels on standby after swimming. Babies and toddlers can lose heat quickly after they have been in the sea or pool, and will need to be warmed up immediately.
  • A beach sarong is useful for kids who are uncomfortable with sand. Many babies have immature sensory systems, and may get upset when walking on sand and having sand stuck to their body. However, I personally feel it is good to slowly get your baby accustomed to these new sensations and desensitise them through progressive exposure, unless they get particularly distressed. My usually active son refused to budge when initially placed in the sand, but slowly got used to it.
  • A cooler bag with snacks and drinks to stave off hunger or dehydration. Bring plastic ziplock bags for “taking away” baby-friendly food (e.g. raisins, buns, hash browns) from the hotel breakfast buffet as snacks between meals.
  • Baby pool floats
  • A bucket, spade, and inflatable beach ball can keep a baby happy for many hours – we got these from the larger Mothercare and Daiso outlets
  • A camera to capture memories of baby’s “firsts” at the beach
  • Plastic bags (for wet clothes)

Medication

  • Thermometer, Baby Paracetamol, Baby Sterimar, nasal aspirator, antiseptic cream or wipes, plasters
  • Rehydration sachets
  • Insect repellant (we like Badger’s) and bite cream (like Lucas Papaw)

Beach holidays with babies are drastically different from any pre-baby vacations you’ve taken. You may feel like you had days of non-stop exercise rather than a relaxing week in paradise. It can be exhausting. But if you plan ahead, revise your expectations and include some mummy “me time” like a massage, you can still have a great getaway.

Bon voyage, babies!

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Li-Hsian recently left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.

Image Credit: Li-Hsian.

Healthy mother and baby making gymnastics

Yoga was an important part of my prenatal routine and still continues to be, in my life as a new mum. Post delivery, it was hard to find a suitable time slot to re-incorporate it. With twins, there is always a baby that needs feeding, changing, playing with, bathing and soothing to sleep. We hardly leave our kids at home alone with our helper, especially now at 19 months of age, when they are very active and really “double trouble”! I fit in a one-on-one yoga workout at 7am one day a week, so that I can be back before the hubby scoots off to work.

I have been looking for ways to attend extra yoga sessions and was happy to hear about the new Mum and Baby Yoga classes at my studio, Prana Yoga KL. I signed up for these as soon as they started. Below is my review of the first few classes I attended with my two rascals and helper:

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  • If you practice yoga, it will be one of the few activities you enjoy that you can actually bring your baby to. I find that if I don’t find ways to incorporate my (hopefully) budding little yogis into my regular practice, I may not practice as often as I should or I may not even practice at all
  • Yoga is great exercise for adults and kids alike. Lack of physical exercise in a baby will have pretty much the same effects as for an adult – poor digestion, constipation, emotional agitation, poor circulation plus physical and cognitive sluggishness. There are a wide variety of reasons why you should introduce physical activities to your child early on
  • Yoga is said to stimulate all of baby’s senses and help to improve his or her sleep patterns, but I think we have not been doing this long enough to see such benefits
  • It’s a good way to introduce your really little ones to yoga, before they progress to actual kids yoga (usually for kids 3 years and above). I like to think that even though my toddlers are not always cooperative in class, they are learning some moves through observation and osmosis. I recently caught them doing “downward dog” type poses during playtime at home. My twins especially enjoy crawling all over me when I am planking, sliding down my back during a “downward dog”, sitting on my bent knees when I am activating my core muscles as well as being moved up and down during squats
  • You can see it as a kind of structured playgroup session, with an instructor leading the activity and your kids being able to interact with other kids over yoga and songs
  • It’s a great way to make new mummy friends or to reconnect with old friends from prenatal yoga classes
  • Classes are informal and relaxed – mummies are free to breastfeed / feed, change and comfort baby or to soothe him or her to sleep when needed. In some ways, this helps you to see that with the support of others, you can develop a balance between doing something for yourself and meeting your baby’s needs. It can also give very new mummies better confidence to handle their babies
  • The instructor, Vivian previously taught similar classes at the now defunct Fit For 2 in Bangsar Village 2. Vivian is mother to a young toddler herself so can emphatise with other mummies and knows how to manage toddlers
  • Prana Yoga KL is located at TTDI’s Pusat Kreatif Kanak-Kanak Tuanku Bainun, a secure and family-friendly location
  • Every time someone comes to a class, they donate RM1 to a selected charity as part of their unique Pledge a Ringgit™ programme

Nay

  • I must admit that I had visions of having peaceful and calm “zen-like” yoga practice with my twins before I actually started. I think I must have been delusional as there is nothing “zen-like” about toddlers. I had to lower my expectations of getting a proper workout during these sessions. I now just focus on getting whatever I can out of the hour yoga-wise (usually about maybe 20 to 30 minutes worth of a low intensity workout), in between chasing after my crawling / walking toddlers and making sure they don’t become a complete nuisance to other mummies by doing things like digging into handbags, stepping over small babies, or unscrewing and emptying the contents of water bottles all over the wooden studio floor!
  • It is suitable for babies above 3 months, but my personal opinion is that Mum and Baby Yoga is best embarked on with infants under 9 to 12 months who are not yet actively crawling or walking. The infant will be less disruptive and more cooperative as a “live yoga prop” in mummy’s yoga practice. Unfortunately, there are no Mummy and Toddler Yoga classes to cater more for toddlers between 12 months and 3 years of age (the base age for kids yoga classes). The best I can do is to stick it out and seek the teacher’s support to modify some exercises so that it can be more engaging for kids like mine

In any case, do check out these classes as it could be something that you and your baby may enjoy! Kindly email Prana Yoga KL at [email protected] or refer to their Facebook Page and website for more information.

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Li-Hsian recently left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.

Image Credit: Gallery Hip.