Environmentally friendly educational toys

When my children were tiny, I caused some bad feelings amongst family members because I banned plastic toys: I politely refused to accept those noisy, battery-operated, garish plastic monstrosity, especially those with flashing lights!

My parents-in-law used to make toys for my children: almost 30 years later, we still have some of those precious toys (Photo: Harry Helium, made by my mother-in-law based on a story I wrote).

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My parents, who weren’t so good with the sewing machine or saw, entertained the children with nature (Photo: drawing from 30 years ago!)

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No, they did not suffer not owning any plastic toys. They made their own with discarded packaging and stuff they find around the house (Photo: the two sisters making something).

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When my got older, I softened my stance a bit and allowed Legos into the house. But by then, they had gotten over the idea that toys are fun. They much preferred pets, and at one stage, we had two dogs, two cats and eleven rabbits. That rather large menagerie did not leave them much time for gadgets either!

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Recently, I visited my children’s father’s classroom (he teaches Design & Technology) and saw these Chinese puzzles that his Year 8 students made. It took them only 2 lessons and provided lots of educational fun:

This can be made environmentally friendly by suing softwood. The design is from MYP Design & Technology textbook published by IBID Press.

Here is something you can make simply at home with your children, using paper or even flour tortilla! A hexaflaxagon that my daughter made:

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Here are the instructions. Have fun!!!

 

Here’s an innovative company repurposing plastic toys:

Why Emotions Coaching should be on the school syllabus

At a certain stage in their lives, our young-adult children leave an institution of higher education (be in high school, college or university) with a piece of paper that declares them literate and numerate, and thus ready for the world of work.

Unfortunately, there is no syllabus, tests or qualifications on the very important subject called Emotions.

In a bygone era, it was kind of taken for granted that children learn that from the home. That was in a time where families lived close together and children had the luxury of playing with neighborhood friends after school. It is amazing how much children learn from unstructured play and from being outdoors; how to get on with others, how to make up rules, conflict resolution, self-regulation, handling playground politics, coping with losing, managing own safety and the world they live in, to name but a few.

When unstructured, outdoor play and the benefit of extended families are removed from children, the task of Emotions Coaching is left unfulfilled. To compound matters, growing up in emotionally cold households does not provide children with the opportunities to learn about Emotions – theirs and other people’s.

Emotions are living beings within our physical selves, vibrant and alive. We have to learn how to connect with the Emotions within us and to manage them, rather than control and suppress a part of the human being that is meant to live and breathe. Controlling and suppressing are the cornerstones of Discipline. I think a more positive coaching path is to teach children how to connect and deal with the entity within.

We tell children to stop crying, without finding out why they are crying. We tell them it is silly to be frightened, without knowing what their fears are.

If we don’t know the Emotions that live within us, we feed them the wrong diet. They either grow into beasts or they die. If they are unloved, they will someday rebel or they will simply stop breathing. Even if these worst-case scenarios don’t happen, isn’t it sad that we are strangers to our own Emotions?

I have known adults who have successfully built cages for their Emotions, but there are incidences when their caged Emotions break free – as they do when they grow too large or too strong to be successfully suppressed by will power.

In some cases, Emotions die from neglect or never had the chance to grow to their full maturity. I have known a successful professional, a very charming friend and an attractive looking individual. But peel back the layers and you find a hurt and frightened little boy who lashes out uncontrollably, who was never given the chance to mature into a grown-up lover, a strong husband, a tender father. No outward career success, long line of exciting lovers or big address book of acquaintances can ever compensate for not knowing the deep joys of really loving and being loved, that only comes when we are connected with our own Emotions.

Thus, we have to step up to the mark and implement Emotions Coaching, first on ourselves, then our spouses and children. Be literate in this subject, because you have to know love before you can love; you have to love yourself the way you want to be loved before you can teach someone how to love you in the same way. Yes, it is deep. Yes, the syllabus is arduous and can be complicated. But you can’t afford not to invest in Emotions Coaching. Leave no child (including yourself) stunted, silenced and dying.

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Teaching Children Adult Love: The Six Tenets

We are more likely to teach our children about sex – especially the morality of it – that we often forget the much more important lesson in Adult Love, namely teaching them how to be in a loving adult relationship.

Whilst it is accurate to say (based on numerous scientific research) that children model their childhood home environment in their adult lives, they are also bombarded with media ideals and mixed messages from the external world.

By and large, we get by. We learn from our experiences as we go through life (perhaps that is why first loves and teenage affairs are often such dramas). We make mistakes in our early relationships, break hearts, get ours broken, and move on to the next one. That is how life goes in the modern world.

The caveat is of course if we do not learn and we end up in the same ‘wrong movie’ scenario of destructive, temporary relationships: those we love have such powers to damage us, and having been hurt, we go on damaging others, lost in the mire.

I am a strong believer in teaching children how to be someone’s spouse and parent. These are my six tenets:

  1. Be fearless

When you choose to be with someone, give yourself fully. Burn all your bridges behind you so that you can focus all your energy into your joint future.

Give children a safe childhood home that they can always come home to so that they are not afraid to be fearless.

  1. Give generously

This is not about material things, but the giving of something most precious: yourself. Do not be stingy with your love, your caresses and your kisses. Intimacy – physical and emotional – is the lifeblood of a lifelong relationship.

Be generous with your affections with your children.

  1. Focus inwards instead of running away/looking elsewhere

Being strong in times of adversity (or boredom) is the key to Forever-Love. Life cannot be on a high all the time, and having the strength to keep going is so important. As I often write: love is not an emotion, it is a construction.

Teach children to stick to something instead of giving up easily.

  1. Respect yourself and respect your spouse

Respecting your spouse means that your loyalty lies with him/her, rather than outside forces, including families and friends. This is because outside forces can be destructive to a relationship (for example, a twisted, poisonous aunt or cousin), and often, in the name of your best interest, actually cause more harm to an otherwise good relationship.

Teach children that loyalty starts in the home and never talk bad about people.

  1. Never destabilise the home

A home should always be a safe place for both parties in a relationship and their children. It is a construction and an expression of lifelong love. It is also a source of comfort and joy. If you destroy it, what do you have left? Careers and high octane sex does not last a lifetime, but a stable home does.

Teach children to value the home and the people who live within it above all.

  1. Think in terms of ‘us’ instead of I, me, mine

We are taught to be independent and self-sufficient. They both are good traits to have, but they must never obscure us to opening ourselves up to love. Life is so much more beautiful if we have someone we can truly share it with. 1 + 1 = ∞

Build close relationships in the first family so that it becomes normal for a child in his/her adult years to be sensitive to others.

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As parents, even in this modern day and age, we dream that our children will grow up to have families of their own and living happily ever after within this nurturing framework. This natural wish is corroborated by well-known, long-term research by Harvard University and other credible institutions showing that they key to a happy life is having a good spouse.

Teaching our children about Adult-Love is our contribution as parents towards creating a pool of good spouses who will bring love, light and kindness to the lives of others. For if we don’t, who will raise our children’s good spouses?

You are never alone in your dark hours if you have someone decent and true to share your life with. Cherish that person who ends your solitary confinement. Love him / her to your best ability ❤

This article and drawing are dedicated to Anneke, who died 36 years ago when her son was eight years old.

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Wonderland: Shapes & Illnesses

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At first glance, you might think that this drawing is that of a mandala or some mathematical shape which I am so fond of. But actually, it is a diagrammatic representation of the Barr-Epstein virus.

Virus symmetry is one of the most beautiful, naturally occurring structures of nature. Though incredibly tiny (the smallest animal virus is the one that causes foot-and-mouth disease at 20nm), viron symmetry is highly structured and falls into highly organised categories: helical, polyhedral (cubical) and binal symmetry.

Not so bacterium structures which sometimes look like primitive spaceship.

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My daughter who is studying Biology for her International Baccalaureate commented dourly that there is so much stuff to learn for this subject. I don’t want her to just memorise stuff, but to be excited by the knowledge (or else the three years of preclinical medical course would be hellishly long for her).

So relating virus and bacteria to us and our daily lives:

Virus and bacteria cause infection in the body. When their presence is detected, the body switches on its inflammatory response, which is its strategy for fighting infection. However, inflammation can kill, though it was meant to be our body’s lifesaving strategy.

But here’s the useful piece of information that you might not previously know: virus and bacteria cause different types of inflammatory responses. Studies done at Yale University by Ruslan Medzhitov showed that a body recovering from colds (often caused by viruses) benefit from feeding, whilst those suffering from fever (typically caused by bacteria) should be starved, especially of carbohydrates which breaks down into glucose. For me, this is a really exciting discovery because it means that Medicine can move forward from blanket prescription of antibiotics – which does not work in many cases anyway – to a wellbeing system of managing health through nutrition.
The old adage of feeding the cold and starving the fever seems to be on its way to be proven ‘true’ by modern scientific establishment.

In the meantime, I leave you with some viruses.

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Note: In my novella which will be published on the 21st November 2016, An Evening in Wonderland – A Brief Story of Maths, Physics & The Universe (suitable for young adults), the protagonist Alice Liddell urged her beloved Professor to close his eyes and look for the symmetries in the world within and also out there in the universe, for within the shapes lie the truth that he was seeking.

You can read an interview with Ruzlan Medzhitov in the New York Times by clicking on the link here.

“Let’s talk fractals, Mum!”

When my youngest child G was in primary school, the walls outside her classroom were display boards for pupils’ artwork. She wasn’t academic at that time (being a late reader), but with child-like enthusiasm and exuberance, she used to put a lot of work into art.

Yet somehow, her creations never quite made the grade compared to her peers’. A few pupils in her class were producing such amazing work that G’s efforts looked as if they had been done blindfolded and upside down, though G consistently scored higher than these pupils in classroom-based tests and exams.

Hmmm.

My hunch was proven when she was in Year Six. Her homework was to make a volcano. She built a very realistic-looking one out of cardboard cartons filched from coffee shops, which she soaked and moulded into a volcano before spending hours painting it. It took her hours! Proudly, she had trotted off to school with her creation.

But she was somewhat deflated when she saw her classmates’ productions: fibre glass, LED, computer-printed labels, and very professional-looking. It was very obvious that these were the work of adults. I was annoyed. I wanted to complain to the school about the pervasive issue of parents and tuition teachers doing their children’s homework, but G’s father had wisely told me, “It is not important, because there will come a time when ALL kids will be graded according to their own abilities.”

Six years later, he is proven right. G is now in the first year of her International Baccalaureate programme. One of the questions under the Theory Of Knowledge box for Mathematics was, ‘How many times does something have to be repeated before it becomes a pattern?’

The physicist in me, with the benefit of three years of postgraduate studies at Oxford, jumped in enthusiastically.  Non-Euclidean vs Euclidean shapes! Supersymmetry in Theoretical Physics! Fibonacci’s Sequence!

I would gladly answer that question for her, and do a good job, too.

But my child, too used to doing her own homework, grinned at me in challenge. “Let’s talk fractals, Mum!”

And at that moment, I realised, wow, this sixteen-year-old can think very well for herself, so totally independent of me, and if truth must be known, I am learning from her.

Photograph and article on fractals from New Scientist can be found by clicking this link.

(Note: Special thanks to our friend Gary Macaulay, who is an inspired maths teacher, for the afternoons messing around with G folding tetrahexaflaxagons instead of sitting at the table drilling in past papers or teaching her how to pass exams with 100%.)

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Related article: The Scenic Route to 100%

The price of a happy child

Two years ago, we came to Phuket for Georgina’s football trials. We stayed for the weekend and had a lovely time. On the way back to the airport on Sunday night, we stopped at this beach, Nai Thon beach. We had an early dinner in a seafront cafe and watched the sunset. We were so happy.

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She is our much-loved youngest child and her passion is football. So we took the momentous decision to move countries for her. Her father gave up his well-paid job, and we moved into a simple, sunny house near the beach in Phuket.

She is such a happy, sunny child. She wakes up excited about life. Today, Friday, she has football practice after school and then she is going to a girl pal’s house for dinner after that. But chatting animatedly to us, she said she might have dinner at school first because she loves the ‘free’ food – apple pie with real cream, yum! – and the boarders order in pizza every Friday night.

“Don’t drink too much!” Her father joked. “You have football practice tomorrow morning.”

“I don’t need alcohol to be happy,” she retorted.

She is indeed a happy child, sunny all the way through. Her first years were spent in Portsmouth, less than 500 metres from her grandparents’ home. Apart from her siblings, she had cousins around her. She went to Story Time Nursery, and the principal is Mrs. Janet Josephine Storey, seen here. I don’t think they did much reading and writing, just lots of French, playing outdoors (even in winter) and being read to endlessly.

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She has a gift for maths, but we did not pursue that. In school, when she should have been in the Gifted & Talented programme, she was kicking a football around in the hot sun. She could have done much better at school, but for a girl who couldn’t read until she was eight, we were happy with where she was. She couldn’t draw and she couldn’t play musical instruments, though she occasionally strums the guitar alongside her rocker dad, but that’s OK. Those afternoons were filled with her howls of laughter, curious questions and sunny energy.

She played football in the midst of exams, she went on a little holiday with us and a little party here and there too; life went on as normal. But incredibly, she sailed through her IGCSEs with a very respectable number of A’s and A*’s. Even if she hadn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered, really. Her eternal sunshine and positivity would have seen her through the darkest days and highest mountains just fine.

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World Wide Web

The Internet is so pervasive in our lives, but do you ever stop to wonder about a greater, more magical network, one that is created entirely Nature?

My parents are both passionate biologists, and they created that wonder in me that never dims. Their particular passion is fungi. Mushrooms to you and I. But what we see above ground are just the sex organs of these small but amazing organisms. Beneath these fungus are roots that nurture the whole forest through a beautiful mutualistic symbiotic relationship. A complexity far beyond the comprehension of the mere human brain exists below ground, connecting all living things. Indeed, the forest is far more than you can see.

So here’s a little practice in mindfulness: the next time to log on to the Internet, think about the magical network beneath your feet.

https://www.ted.com/talks/suzanne_simard_how_trees_talk_to_each_other?language=en#t-635181

Working on my next book, inspired by my parents, of course ❤

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Understanding the physical world

In conversations with my daughter, I became interested in how we learn maths (because my novel is maths/physics-based). She has many friends who does not understand maths, cannot do maths and are scared of maths. Unfortunately that fear and dislike persists till adulthood, possibly for the rest of someone’s lifetime. I hope my Catching Infinity will change that.

There are sociological theories about why maths holds terror for many students: thinking in abstract and in symbols is not ‘normal’ in the world we live in, and also the fact that it is a subject that a student is either right or wrong. Fear of failure often impedes progress in the subject. You have to be relaxed to be good at maths.

Yet maths is the foundations of so many things. Like physics.

Here’s something that came to my attention recently:

One thing that never fails to awe me is the fact that so much of the human brain is unknown despite the billions we have invested into its research. For example, do you know that there is a special part of the human brain that is responsible for comprehension of physics/physics-like subjects? Take away the maths and the scary equations, physics is just an inner intuitive sense for how things will bounce, wobble, or fall. We use it all the time unconsciously in our heads. So, my message to adults and children alike, learn to love physics.

To test the physics centre of your brain, go to:

Magic stays with you

Part of the Waldorf curriculum is on fort-building with children. You might think it is all frivolity, but fort-building is about creating magic with your children as well as teaching them skills to be practical, safe, nurturing and creative. I am quite sad really that there are many grown-ups out there in the world who do not know how to build safe loving homes.

If you look at some photographs on Pinterest, you will see how magical forts are.

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My children’s father and I used to build forts with our children when they were little. We would use bedsheets, cushions and torchlights to create magic – as I was working full-time in those days and did not have much time to spare, I just used glitter pen to draw stars on the sheets, but when shined with torches in a dark room, you see something magical. And we all felt that whenever we crawled into our little fort.

The magic stays with you forever. Today, I went shopping for a present for my beloved partner. He is a man who hated possessions so what could I get him? There is so much I want to give him but there is nothing he wants materially. So I decided to buy him materials to build a very grown-up fort – a teepee tent – so that I can create that magic with him on the cliff of our house. I think that is a very precious gift indeed ❤

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F0r an article on how to build a fort, click here

Work hard for the right reason

 

It’s no secret – I detest work that requires sitting down and I detest work that requires using my brain. These two traits were the cause of my dismal exam results: I managed three ‘O’ levels despite going to an expensive private school and those three ‘O’ levels were in subjects that required literally no studying: English, French and Mathematics.

Though my Ma did not give me a hard time over it, in later years she confessed that she was shocked that I did not even manage a ‘C’ for Biology. “You knew so much,” my Ma said.

Well, the reason was, I never had the discipline to study.

In my parenting books, I enclosed this diagram:

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My Ma never forced us to do anything. She used to say cheerily, “Ooooh, when you are an adult, there will be so many people telling you the things that you can’t do, or things that you have to do. So enjoy what you have now, dearies.”

Thus, we had a magical time growing up. I will always remember the closing years of my childhood sitting on the beach with my younger brother when we were supposed to be studying for our ‘A’ levels, and going to the Polytechnic library to waste time instead of work.

Whatever issues that arose from my Ma’s magical ways were laughed off with her cheery, “Don’t worry, it will all come out in the wash.”

Maybe we were just plain lucky or maybe my Ma had been right all along, but all her children turned out just fine academically and in our careers.

Because you see, though my Ma was easy-going with us when it came to ‘unimportant things’, she taught us very strong work ethics, moral courage, inner strength and commitment where it matters. And where it matters is human relationships.

I began working fiendishly hard when I became a mother and my baby-daddy was a happy-go-lucky chap who did not earn that much (and who had no intention of climbing the career ladder). To the amazement of all who knew me, I won a scholarship to Oxford. Whilst at Oxford, apart from the burdens of studying and caring for three young children, I worked in part time jobs to supplement the family income. I worked hard in my career too, not for my own glory, but to provide for my family.

 

I write this post because very rarely do parents teach children the reason for working hard. These children grow into adults who work for the sake of working. “Can’t see the wood for the trees” as the old adage goes. I strongly believe that if we work hard for the sake of work alone, it is a very empty life. We might get bolstered by our colleagues’ accolades, the financial rewards or job satisfaction, but what is at home and in our hearts? Many true anecdotes abound about men who keel over and die the minute they retire or marriages breaking up when the husbands retire. And even more about driven careerists who did not place enough importance, commitment and hard work into the family, often causing pain to their partners and children.

I believe that we exist to love. Love is the Universal Law. In Mathematics, what an object is is not determined by what it is composed of, but rather, by how it behaves with respect to other objects.

I certainly find that I am more committed and more dedicated to work when there is a human element involved. For example, I am now working fiendishly hard on my forthcoming parenting book that I am co-authoring with someone. It will be her first book and I feel morally invested in making our book a success for her.

If you are looking for something to think about this morning, I would like to urge you to think about raising children to be firmly rooted in love for others, love for themselves, love for the world and love for the Universe.

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