Tag Archives: parenting

A Good Preschool

So what makes a good preschool program?

1.   A school with teachers that treat each student with respect, and understands and appreciates the uniqueness of each child.

IMG_0359Keeping a watchful eye while a child builds with blocks

IMG_3337Allowing the child to experiment

2.  A school whose biggest asset are the teachers because they teach with intention and purpose.  

IMG_0292Sorting Shoes according to shoe closures:  laces, velcro, zipper, elastic


Without teacher direction, a simple flower arrangement left on the counter inspired this clay creation

3.  A school with a principal/director who knows how to manage resources–teachers, materials, facilities, and parents.  The principal has the responsibility to hire and retain teachers.

This is the very basic; the core of a good school.

Once you have a list of schools that have all these qualities, then you can look at the program.

Where do you think your child will learn more and thrive?

In a child-centered program– Play-based, Project-Based, Bank Street, Reggio Emelia?

IMG_3232Diorama of a child’s bedroom

Or a teacher-directed program?  –think elementary school program but for little children, individual desks in rows, scheduled classes in reading, writing, math


Does your child learn best by sitting on a chair reading quietly (Look for a more structured class that offers more teacher direction),

Or does he need to be move around and be active every few minutes? (Explore schools that allow children to move freely around the classroom)

Then, take into consideration your own goals.

Do you want your child to learn another language? (You need a language immersion program)

After careful research, you should be able to find a good school with little to no compromise needed.

My advice as a parent of young children myself: provide an environment that teaches life skills.

Preschool is the perfect opportunity for children to learn how to share, negotiate, explore, question, and experiment. I discovered that the older children get, the less tolerant they are of their peers who do not know how to be a team player.

Early Childhood Education

As a preschool teacher for many years, I am always asked what kind of preschool program I recommend.

My short answer: “It depends.”

The program in itself should not be the deciding factor.  You have the child’s interests to consider, as well as the ability of the teachers to implement the program.

IMG_0344Rolling plastic eggs down a ramp

I was fortunate to participate in an intensive preschool teaching conference by Bing Institute, the preschool laboratory program of Stanford University in California.

For five days they showed through classroom observations and experiential activities, how the five basic simple materials– sand, clay, water, blocks, and paint when used consistently, could teach and engage young children.

IMG_2227Scooping sand to a bucket and then transferring to a waiting dump truck

It was impressive how the organizers were able to tie up the use of the basic materials to the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical domains of learning.

On the last day of the conference, as the facilitators were trying to summarize 40 hours of hands on experience and presentations, the participants were asked to share what they learned.

As I was contemplating my answer to share with my peers, I had an epiphany!

  • The materials are not as important as the teachers who use them. The children become successful in making connections to the real world because of the teachers.

IMG_1675Observational Drawing: Vegetables from the Farmer’s Market

  • The teacher’s skill to facilitate learning and growth in the classroom is crucial.

IMG_0390Making Healthy Choices Project:  Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, Protein, Dairy

Smart boards and computers are important and some say, even necessary, to stay competitive in the preschool market.

But I say, a good teacher with simple materials will always trump incompetent teachers with computers.

(Follow up blog entry:  What makes a good preschool?)


When I taught first grade ten years ago, I had a Listening Center in my classroom.  I had a tape deck, 6 earphones, and multiple sets of first grade books in one cozy corner.


I knew that a struggling reader would benefit from listening to an audio book.  As the story is read aloud, a struggling reader would be able to concentrate on making the story come to life without being bogged down with decoding words.

In a way, an audio book levels the field for all readers because struggling and advanced readers alike can listen together–something that would be impossible to do if an unskilled reader were left to read a challenging book on his own.

My children have listened to numerous audio books—Harry Potter, Percy Jackson series, Magic Tree House, The Inheritance Cycle, the list goes on.  Our very first audiobook was played in the car on our way to Disneyland.

randomhouseaudiobrisingr500The story in our CD deck

Although my children have always been confident readers, I found that listening to audiobooks made them even better readers, not to mention story writers.

My six-year old uses phrases like subtle whisper, frantically searching, and slow pace in her writing. These words I know she picked up from reading because we don’t use these words in our everyday conversation.

Not only does the audiobook help struggling readers, but also widens vocabulary.  My daughter listens and engages her older brother in discussions of books that she may not necessarily read on her own.   She now appreciates books that more savvy readers read.

I was worried that when they discovered audiobooks that they will stop reading on their own.  On the contrary, they developed an even more insatiable appetite to read independently.  Sometimes, they even choose to read books that they have already listened to because they like it so much.


The best benefit of an audiobook for me is listening with my children.  Since we listen to the story in the car, we have mini book club discussions on our way to school.

I can even use the characters in the stories to stress a point when I am in my mommy-teacher moment like, “Remember, Galbatorix who made bad choices?  Tell me again the consequences of his actions?”

In a nutshell, listening to audio books can:

  1. help improve vocabulary
  2. allow a child to read beyond their reading level
  3. help their creativity in writing
  4. improve the ability to read aloud with expression

Reading for Kids

I am now writing in the library while my kids, 8 and 6,  are going crazy over the books that they can borrow.

They love books and take very good care of them, but their appetite to read is insatiable that if I were to buy every book that they fancied, we would quickly run out of space.

Instead we go to a public library to stock up on books.  I direct them to the children’s area, and recently, to the graphic novels section for their book selection;  I do not discourage them from reading books that are thick or have no pictures.

They choose books they can read by themselves, books that they want to be read aloud to them, and even books that are way too easy for them.

IMG_3452.JPGAt 18 months

It amazes me that they honestly derive pleasure from reading books because I was never that kind of a reader.  When I was in school, most of the books I read were assigned readings.

My children love reading books now because I made a conscious effort to promote reading.  My husband and I were determined to cultivate their love for reading.

Here are the reading strategies that worked for my family, I hope you will find them helpful:

1.  Start reading early and read often.  Yes, even if it is the same book over and over again (and, even if you think the child is not understanding the story).


2.  Spend time in libraries. Borrow books that you think would interest them.  Do not veto a book just because you think it is too thick or too hard to understand.  Look for books with topics that appeal to them.


3.  Give books as prizes.  It shows how much you, the parent, value reading.


4.  Model reading.  A grown up has to model reading (in our case, my husband did).


5.  Limit screen time.  Regulate watching TV and playing with video games.  And always have an abundant supply of books—chapter books, fiction, non-fiction, picture books, mystery, science, comics, etc.

6.  Listen to audio books.

Meal Plans

Báon is a Tagalog word that means food, or items packed, specifically for a trip.

Ang báon ko ay tinapay. (I brought bread.)  Nag-báon ako ng maraming libro.  (I packed a lot of books.)

It can also mean monetary allowance for a trip.

Magkano ang báon mo?  (How much money did you bring?)

Báon is also the word used to refer to food packed for school.

Anong gusto mong báon bukas?   (What snack/lunch do you want to bring to school tomorrow?

I pack my children’s snacks and lunches for school.  With the invention of Thermos and ice packs, there is really no reason for me to spend extra on hot lunches or salads at school.

Palagi silang may báon. (They always bring packed food.)

IMG_0127    IMG_0027Adobo wings

Occasionally, I would pre-order lunch for them in school, especially on sushi days.  But regularly, nag ba-báon sila (they bring packed food).

My children know what to expect for their báon.  I post the menu of the week on my refrigerator door for easy reference.

It is not always easy for me to follow through with my weekly menus, but when I do, I feel I am organized and in control.  I have less food waste, I have more time to do other things, and I don’t overspend on food.

Planning our weekly menu is a family activity.  My son would go through the recipe books I have, and then he would choose several dishes.  Usually, I would be able to cook his choices.

IMG_0016Bacon quiche from a recipe book

I would then buy all the ingredients and cook a week’s worth of food for báon and dinner. I would store them in leak-proof tempered glass containers so they can easily go in the microwave or oven.

My daughter would then decide on which days the food would be served. She would help write the menu.

IMG_0113Menu for this week

Something could definitely be said when all you have to do is take a couple of containers from the fridge and dinner is served.  You have more time to spend with the children.

New Year’s Eve

On the last day of the year, we tidied up the house, prepared our dinner, and while waiting for the food to be cooked, played with the toys from Santa.

IMG_0021Rubber Band-Powered Airplanes

IMG_1174Remote-Controlled Helicopter

If we were in Manila, there would be a big party (I come from a big family) with abundant food and loud fireworks.

Thanks to Face Time, my children were able to see how their titas and lola greeted the New Year.  They oohed and ahhhed as they watched the fireworks right outside their lola’s house–16 hours ahead of our own New Year celebration.


My own mom was very big on spending Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in our own home.  She wanted all of us together as a family. Our tradition was to spend Christmas and New Year’s lunch with cousins, and aunts, and grandparents, but the Eve was reserved just for us.

Aside from wearing red (lucky color), and wearing polka dots (symbol of money), putting money in pockets (to greet the year with pockets filled with money), jumping (for children to grow taller), and making noise (to ward off evil spirits), we would also turn on all the lights around the house on New Year’s Eve. On the dining table would be a huge basket of fruits to symbolize abundant blessings for the New Year.


My mom would even open all the windows “to welcome the luck of the new year in”.  Not too far behind her would be my older sister shutting the windows because leaving the windows and doors open meant letting the firecracker fumes in the house as well.

Except for donning something with polka dots, and opening the windows and doors (it was too cold), I followed my mom’s tradition of welcoming the year.  We had a quiet dinner at home with a home-cooked meal.  At midnight, we clinked flute glasses filled with sparkling apple cider and Prosecco.

And so, we welcome 2013 full of hope and excitement for the endless possibilities that this year may bring.

Santa Claus

Years ago in my final panel interview for my very first teaching job in a Catholic school, a priest (who was part of a ten-man panel) asked me about my thoughts on Santa Claus.

He was basically asking me if I was going to include Santa in my  Christmas curriculum.  I think it was at this moment that it became clear to me that my role as a teacher should not include talking about Santa and his gifts.

In my interview, I said that Santa is a family matter.  I said that I would defer to the parents who I believe, know what is best for the family.  I really wanted to be sensitive to the families whose holiday season may not include him.

Receiving gifts from Santa was not my own family’s tradition.

Santa Claus was a character that I only saw on Christmas cards as a young child in Manila.    I was not the least curious about him because my parents never talked about him when I was growing up. Because of this, I always thought that he was a fictional character similar to the Disney princesses.

When my own children became old enough to understand the concept of receiving gifts from Santa, my husband and I had to decide if we were going to support this or not.


We are now living in the US and not the Philippines.  I know that they are going to ask questions because Santa can be seen everywhere–TV advertisements, print ads, and retail and grocery stores.  We even see him in the mall for photo ops.

What tipped the scale for me was when my son came home from school with a wish list for Santa.


Lillian Katz, an international leader in childhood education, said in an interview regarding the distinction between child’s culture and heritage:

We want children to appreciate their heritage. At the same time, we must acknowledge that a young child’s culture represents his or her actual day-to-day experience.

With that in mind,  my children expect Santa to visit our house in the early morning of Christmas day.  Santa drops by and leaves presents under the tree with my children’s name.  When cookies and milk are left on the dining table for him to eat, he happily takes the treat and leaves a thank you note.


Santa even uses a different wrapping paper when wrapping his presents.  Even the manner that the presents are wrapped is very different from how presents are usually wrapped in my household.

Yup, we are loving Santa.  We anxiously await his visit and grateful for his generosity.  We compare his ability to give to God’s generosity.

And to make sure that the cultural heritage is not forgotten, we go to church on Christmas eve, we light the Advent Wreath during the Advent season, and we celebrate Noche Buena with family and good friends.

My children are making new Christmas tradition that I am hopeful will always reflect our Filipino cultural heritage.

IMG_1179       IMG_1180

Qualities of a Leader

My 8-year old son came to me complaining about his 6-year old sister not wanting to help clean up.  He was very upset because he has put away a lot of things, and the two things that he requested his younger sister to clean up, she wouldn’t.

I inquired if he asked his sister in a nice way.  He muttered under his breath, and then marched to talk to his sister again.

Then I heard him grunt, groan, whine, and command his sister to do what he was demanding her to do.  My daughter ignored him again.

My son stormed back to my bedroom to gripe.  This time I told him that if he wants to be followed, he needed to be a better leader.

A great leader is calm, but assertive (not aggressive). 

I suggested that he talk to her again in a calm voice (since he really did not do it the first time around), and explain why he thinks she should help clean up. (I think I threw in as an example a former teacher that he dislikes because she was, in his words, bossy.)

He went down the stairs again to face his sister, but this time he was much more calm.  I heard him say,

I think you should put these toys away because I already put everything away.  We should help each other clean the house if we want a play date.  Please put these two things back to the bedroom.

Just like a charm, the younger sister did what she was told to do.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  I am just grateful that it did that time.  It was 10AM on a Saturday morning, and I really didn’t want to put my book down and get out of bed.

IMG_3919Happily doing a project together

Christmas Symbols

Last week we trooped to watch my son’s class sing Christmas carols in the tree-lighting ceremony of the city.

People at work pointed out that it was too early to light the Christmas tree.  After all, it wasn’t even December yet.

I just had to smile because clearly, they have not heard about crazy Filipinos decorating Christmas trees as early as November (after All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day), or Christmas songs hitting the airwaves as early as September, or even Filipinos who do not even bother putting away Christmas decor.  (My mom had her Belen in our atrium for the whole year.)

 Picture 088          SONY DSC

The Christmas Decor in our house in Manila

I don’t put out Christmas decorations early.  The earliest I have bought a Christmas tree was Black Friday, and the latest was Dec 22.

There were Christmases that we didn’t even have a Christmas tree.  My husband felt that it was wrong to cut trees just to be decorations for the holidays.  So as a sign of protest, he was adamant that we not support the Christmas tree growers–we had a potted rosemary topiary with lights instead.

Then I argued that the pine trees were grown and cut precisely for the sole purpose of becoming a Christmas tree.  I countered that if a tree were left in the lot, then it did not achieve its purpose in life: That tree would have died living an unfulfilled life.

So the next year, I got my tree.

IMG_6748Our very first Christmas tree

While we decorate our house with pretty trimmings, we also prepare our minds and hearts for the birth of Jesus.   On the four Sundays leading to December 25, we pray and light the candles of the Advent Wreath.


During this season of Advent,  I am hopeful that my children understand the difference between Christmas and Christmas symbols.

With Santa Claus in the malls, advertisements for stocking stuffers everywhere, ninongs and ninangs asking them what they want, it will be challenging.


My children will be supporting their school’s Toy Drive this year.  They will purchase toys using the money that they earned from their car wash business.  It is not a lot, but I told them that for every dollar of their own money that they use, I will match it.

Because they are using the money that they worked hard to earn, they are giving up a part of themselves which I think, is the true meaning of Christmas.

Savings and Investment

I come from a family of teachers.   My parents instilled in us the value of a good education, hard work, and saving money.

I am very prudent with money as a result of their teaching, but I have much to learn about investing and making my money work for me.

How to invest was never a topic of conversation on our dinner table.  Although my mom dabbled in several small business ventures, including setting up a very successful preschool, she was really a teacher and not a business woman.

Now that I am raising my own children, I want to teach them how to live within their means, and be savvy with the money that they save.

Earnings from their car wash business

This summer, my husband implemented the TV Minutes policy.  It was meant to monitor their TV viewing, but after a week it naturally developed into a very good learning tool on investing.

The policy: TV minutes should be earned prior to watching TV.  They can earn it by doing extra academic work–reading, writing, math, and speaking in Tagalog.  Homework does not count.

Practicing multiplication facts can earn my son 15 minutes.  Writing a comic book with illustration can earn him 30 minutes or more depending on how detailed the finished book is. Minutes can be earned in increments of 15 minutes.

I learned a lot about my children through this activity.  My son would work to earn his minutes if he knew that there was something good to watch on TV.  Otherwise, he was contented not to add to his TV Minute bank.  My daughter was different–she accumulated TV minutes without being motivated by a good show.

Investing was introduced to motivate my son to work more and consequently, learn more during the summer months.

It worked like a regular CD in banks, but with a 100 % return on investment.  If they invest their TV minutes, it will double after 30 days; if they take it out before its maturity date, then they don’t earn anything.

It was sheer genius, if I have to say so myself.  I have never seen them work so hard (and learn).  They kept on investing the minutes they earned, and kept tabs on when the minutes will mature.  If they want to watch a show, they would work extra so they won’t use the minutes that they have allotted for their investments.

After a couple of weeks of heavy investment, I (the banker) calculated how much they would earn at maturity.  Between the two of them, they had almost 30 hours of TV!

After two weeks, my daughter is set to earn a lot!

So the bank (me), announced that the bank rates have gone down.  Any new TV Minutes investment would now earn 50%.

They complained and stopped investing.

That was in August, it is now November and they still have TV minutes left from their savings.  Not bad for an introduction to savings and investments.