## Odd and Even Numbers Magnetic Game

WARNING: This activity uses small magnets, which can pose a serious choking hazard. If swallowed, they can cause serious injuries and even death. Adult supervision is required.

I made a self correcting game to help the Dumpling identify odd and even numbers using upcycled bottle caps and magnets.

While the game was designed to help her memorize odd and even numbers, it was also important that we discussed what the concept means. I explained that an even number is like when everyone buddies up and has another person to play with. When there is an odd number, however, there will always be someone who is by himself — the odd person out. We were eating breakfast during this math lesson, so I visually demonstrated with a handful of Cheerios on the table and grouped them in pairs to determine whether there was an even/odd number. Once she understood that, I told her the shortcut was just to memorize which numbers are odd and even…and mommy made a game for it!

Materials

• Flat magnets (12x): Need to be small enough to fit in the inside of the bottle caps. I purchased mine at a local craft shop; similar ones can be found on Amazon.
• Bottle caps (12x)
• Strong tape
• Sharpie

Label the bottle caps “0”, “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”, “5”, “6”, “7”, “8”, “9”, “odd” and “even” with a sharpie.

Arrange six magnets with the positive side facing up and six with the negative side facing up. To do so, first stack all 12 magnets together. Next, pull apart six so that you have two stacks. Then, flip one of the stacks over. Now you have one stack that is positive and one that is negative.

Take one of the stacks and separate each magnet about an inch apart — let’s call this Group A.

Do the same thing with the second stack — this is Group B.

Secure magnets onto the insides of the caps with strong tape. Bottle caps labeled “1”, “3”, “5”, “7”, “9” and “even” (yes, “even”) get Group A magnets. Bottle caps labeled “0”, “2”, “4”, “6”, “8”, and “odd” get Group B magnets. Make sure the magnets are securely attached though, because the attraction can be strong enough to pull the magnets and tape off!

Hover the caps labeled with “odd” and “even” over the numbers and watch as they either attract or repel each other. Please note that the “odd” and “even” caps need to be held with the text facing down — meaning the inside of the cap faces up.

## Making Music With the Dumpling

During the height of the Dumpling’s obsession with Baby Shark, I thought it would be a fun idea to teach her how to play the song on the piano. It was an idiotic move on my end because the main tune, which only consist of four notes on repeat, was even more annoying without lyrics…especially when played incorrectly, as my then three year old did regularly.

The Dumpling was only interested in replicating the melody, so I helped her identify the keys by writing the name of each note, starting with middle C and ending with high C, on painter’s tape and taping them onto the keys. Our “lessons” were unstructured, a few minutes long, and on an impromptu basis. My goal was to expose her to music, not formally train her. Repetition was essential. For the first month, I listened to her play Baby Shark on repeat until my ears bled.

Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo…”

Luckily she also learned Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to give me a bit of variety.

Her enthusiasm for the piano soon stopped just as suddenly as it started, and a year would passed before we made music together again. This time around, her instruments of choice were an out-of-tune toy xylophone and a set of handbells. With a little refresher, it was not long before I found the same two songs on an infinite play loop again.

The Dumpling claimed that she could actually play five songs because The Alphabet Song (ABCs) and Baa Baa Black Sheep share the same tune as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. While technically true, it was nevertheless a good time to add new ones to her repertoire.

Handbells: I found handbells easier to work with than the piano. First, they look more fun and can be either rung or struck with a mallet (although the sound is a bit muffled). In addition to the labels on the handle, the different colors provide an easy identifying visual. Finally, because the Dumpling must deliberately select a bell and ring it, this prompts her to be more careful. The biggest downside, however, is that we are limited to working with only eight bells.

Using the bells in practice exercises, we shuffled and arranged them in proper order. We also compared the sounds of two or three randomly selected bells to determine which was lower or higher. Our collaborative playing, where the Dumpling and I took turns being responsible for ringing different notes, was probably my favorite part. For example, she would have bells C and D while I would have E and G on Mary Had A Little Lamb, then we would switch off on the next round.

Noteflight: Most of the music sheets I found were too complicated for what we were trying to do, so I re-arranged my own using Noteflight. I kept only the notes (I also included note values, but have not gone over the concept with the Dumpling yet) and the corresponding note names. Everything was enlarged and spaced out for easier reading. The premium version of the website also provides color coding, but I opted to only use the free version.

I am not sure how long this round of the Dumpling’s musical aspirations will last, but I might as well make the most of it. In the meantime, if you cannot beat them, join them! “Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo…”

## Learning Chinese Alongside My Toddler

I did not think it would happen so soon — the Dumpling is now learning Chinese words in school that is beyond my elementary knowledge of the language. Frankly my exact reaction when I saw her second semester vocabulary list was “WTF?!”

Semester 1 vocabulary list: 大, 小, 人, 口, 月, 手, 貓, 狗, 魚, 車, 門, 山, 男, 女

Semester 2 vocabulary list: 花朵, 青草, 杯子, 新年, 米飯, 牛奶, 兔子, 樹木, 刷牙, 洗手, 雨天, 跑步, 打球, 游泳, 爸爸, 媽媽

While she is not expected to write at three years old, her current curriculum requires her to recognize characters. Feedback from the school’s initial progress report stated that she “needs more practice”.

I dislike the competitiveness, methods, and intensity of the Hong Kong school education system (her current kindergarten is actually considered lax by local standards), so I am unwilling to deploy any tiger parenting tactics that would add additional pressure. That means I do not intend to enroll her in after-school tutoring or various extra-curricular courses so she can “get ahead.” I believe that learning at her age should be done seamlessly through play; anything extra should be purely based on her interest level. For example, I will only sign the Dumpling up for additional classes because it is an activity she loves to do—not something I want her to learn.

My challenge, therefore, is integrating Mandarin into our daily routine without making the process feel like a “lesson.” Despite living in Hong Kong, English is the primary and dominant language in both our household and expat community, so Mandarin is actually a very foreign sound. In order to do that, however, I first have to learn the words myself. Google Translate has been my BFF, and I have been practicing the activities below alongside the Dumpling (and pretending like I know what I am talking about).

Flash Cards

I made flash cards and taped them on relevant or highly visible places around the house. For example, 花朵 (flower) was taped right next to my vase of flowers and 牛奶 (milk) was taped on the fridge. Sometime we would play a “scavenger hunt” for the words or we just pointed to them as we went about our day. Those few seconds of daily exposure added up — by mid-semester, the Dumpling’s progress report improved to a “well done!”

Coloring Sheets

I made coloring pages of her vocabulary words in PowerPoint, which can be done with just a few clicks!

Instead of using just markers and crayons, below are few ideas to keep the activity fresh by “coloring” with different materials.

• 花朵, 青草, 樹木: Scavenge for small flowers, grass, and branches to glue onto the characters
• 米飯: Glue rice (I dyed mine with food coloring)
• 兔子: Glue cotton balls or white pom poms
• 刷牙: Paint with toothpaste (preferable a colored one) on with an old toothbrush
• 洗手: Paint with colored foam soap/shaving cream
• 雨天: Draw raindrops with white crayon and paint over with blue watercolor (wax resist)

Below are a few other learn-through-play activities I have done with the Dumpling in the past:

Self Correcting Puzzle with Vocabulary Words

The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words from her Semester 1 vocabulary list.

I created this puzzle to help the Dumpling recognize Chinese numbers and associate them with their Arabic counterparts.

This was another puzzle to help the Dumpling get familiarize with Chinese numbers. When we first started the activity, the Dumpling actually lacked the coordination and strength to pinch the clothing pins open, so clipping them on became an exercise in itself.

To play, lay the pieces with their backsides facing up. Flip over two pieces on each turn with the goal of finding two matching colors in as few moves as possible. Again, I do not expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started with only two colors and have currently built up to six.

## 6 Fun Ways to Do Alphabet Hunt Worksheets

I recently printed a free A-Z alphabet hunt pack from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls to review letter recognition and sounds with the Dumpling. To spice up the activity so that she was not just circling the letters 26 times on repeat, we divvied the worksheet pack into four to five separate exercises and “circled” the letters a different way each time.

1. Apply Sticker Labels

I wrote the letters out on circle labels and asked the Dumpling to stick them on as each letter was identified.

2. Dab On Colored Glue

If you do not have colored glue, create your own by mixing food coloring or liquid watercolor (add more drops for higher color intensity) to white Elmer’s glue.

3. Stamp with Fingers, Bottle Caps, Etc.

4. Paint With Watercolor

This step is optional: I pre-circled the letters with a white crayon so the correct answers were “revealed” once they were painted over.

5. Squirt Watercolor With Liquid Dropper

Sometimes just switching up the tool does wonders to renew my kiddo’s interest. Using a liquid dropper saved from an old medicine bottle, the Dumpling squirted liquid watercolor on top of the letters.

6. Puncture With Push Pins

Placing a folded towel (or two) underneath a worksheet, the Dumpling punctured each letter that she found with a pin.

N.B. Needless to say, the pins are sharp and adult supervision is required.

## Turn Your Child’s Handwriting Into a Font

It started when I noticed the Dumpling drawing lines between random dots on her magnetic doodle board two months ago, so I began making more dots for her to connect. She got really into it, so we moved onto shapes, numbers, and letters and are now even solving simple connect-the dot puzzles!

As much as I want her penmanship to improve, I know that I would miss her scribbles one day. Wouldn’t it be great if I could archive her chicken scratches forever…without keeping piles of paper?

Enter Calligrphr, a free app that I used to convert the Dumpling’s handwriting into a font. I downloaded their template, filled it up with the Dumpling’s traced numbers and letters, and then re-uploaded the template back onto the site.

This would make great “handwritten” holiday cards or letters to Santa!

I plan to turn the Dumpling’s handwriting into a new font annually and to track how her handwriting progresses!

## Indoor Play & Activities: Recap of September 2018

September has brought about a stretch of dry weather in Hong Kong, so the Dumpling and I have been spending most of our afternoons outdoor. For the days that we stayed in, our activities have centered around reviewing the Chinese words that she’s been learning at school, celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, and discussing the aftermath of the typhoon that hit our city midway through the month.

Learning Chinese

Ever since the Dumpling started kindergarten, I wanted to increase her exposure to Mandarin at home to reinforce what she’s learning at school. I tried reading Chinese children’s stories with her, but the words sounded so foreign that she exasperatingly asked, “Mommy, what are you saying?!” When I switched the language of her Netflix shows from English to Chinese, it solicited such a visceral reaction that I quickly reverted everything to its original state.

Eventually I backed off…until one day, out of nowhere, she muttered her first Mandarin words at home. At first it was counting to five, then to ten, and now a few words and broken phrases. She was so proud of herself at times that she wouldn’t shut up! I quickly capitalized on her newfound interest by creating several puzzles to further engage her through play.

Chinese and Arabic Number Puzzle Match

Self-Correcting Chinese Vocabulary Puzzle

(Sorry, folks—because I used stock illustrations* to make this puzzle, I do not have the license to re-distribute this as a printable.)

* Some illustrations used in this puzzle were stock illustrations downloaded from Feepik.

Chinese Color Match Memory Game

Celebrating Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

The Dumpling and I experimented with different methods of making lanterns throughout September. Details can be found here.

Dealing with the Aftermath of Typhoon Mangkhut

Typhoon Mangkut was supposedly the fiercest storm to hit Hong Kong in the last 30 years. For a few hours, our windows and door shook violently and rainwater leaked in non-stop.

The next morning, the Dumpling and I ventured outside to assess the damages. There were lots of downed trees and foliage as expected, but to our surprise there were also shattered seashells outside our flat! We live less than a quarter of a mile away from the beach, but we are also situated on a hill approximately 80 feet above sea level so these seashells were a long way from home. The Dumpling and I managed to find several intact ones which we brought home and painted.

## Inside My Two Year Old’s Toy Box: Quality Over Quantity (Part 2)

Despite my love for wooden toys, it’s not realistic for our family to escape plastic ones entirely. They are everywhere because the truth is that there is a lot to love about them—they’re affordable, easy to clean, and come in so many vibrant colors and shapes. These are the ones currently in our toy rotation because the Dumpling and I play with them so often!

Plastic Pit Balls

They are a huge crowd pleaser when we host play dates, but I normally keep just few out and hide the rest…otherwise they end up everywhere—under the couch, on the beds, inside the washing machine, etc. The balls are great for gross motor skill activities: we toss, roll, and kick them around the house since they’re too soft to do any damage.

Magnetic Doodle Board

I don’t let the Dumpling have free access to crayons or markers (for good reason), so we have a magnetic doodle board instead. It is a staple and has never left our toy box (our second one is currently on its last legs). We use it to free draw, review shapes, letters, and numbers, and have drawing contests!

Magnetic Foam Alphabet

Given the Dumpling’s obsession with the alphabet lately, we use this to review letters quite often.

Water Drawing Alphabet Flash Card Book

I love these water “magic” pens because they also provide mess-free coloring. While the Dumpling initially didn’t pay attention to the alphabet on top, she “colored” the pictures so often that they were always in her peripheral vision.

Duplo Sets

We love open-ended toys because our imagination is really the limit. The Dumpling just builds and builds and builds…I’m pretty sure she constructed something like the double decker couch once.

Cutting Food Set

The Dumpling loves pretend play in the kitchen, so I’m looking to replace the set (which was a hand-me-down) with a wooden alternative since she actually tried to lick some of these.

This wraps up what is currently in our toy box. I will continue to update what is in our rotation once we shake things up a bit!

## Inside My Two Year Old’s Toy Box: Quality Over Quantity (Part 1)

I recently purchased two sets of barn and jungle animals from a mom-and-pop store in Tsuen Wan. From the outside, they looked like the plastic toys used in zoo/farm/safari “pretend play” activities that I’ve been seeing all over Instagram, so I was pretty excited to open them when I got home. The moment I ripped off the packaging, however, I was overcame by a terrible chemical odor. Luckily I was able to toss everything out before the Dumpling knew of their existence. (I normally buy toys behind her back and always examine everything behind closed doors before letting her to play.)

After this debacle, I decided to phase out most of our plastic toys because I’m tired of researching whether something is BPA, PVC, or [insert whatever chemical name]-free. Even if the Dumpling is past the phase of putting everything in her mouth, anything that’s radiating a chemical odor cannot be good.

My goal is to slowly replace the Dumpling’s toy box with quality wooden toys. Although the market is smaller and more expensive compared to its plastic counterpart, I’m only looking to purchase a few sets—specifically those that are multi-functional, offer replay value, and, if possible, have resale value as well. (I purchased two used sets that are in great condition; one of the sellers disclosed that she bought it used from someone else!)

Our household has always enforced a strict toy rotation system where the Dumpling is only allowed two boxes of toys—I cannot stand the clutter, so it forces me to be more thoughtful of my purchases and makes the Dumpling’s responsibility of cleaning up more manageable (and therefore, she’s more likely to do it). Most importantly, it challenges both of us to think of playing with existing toys in new, creative ways. This ensures that everything in our toy box gets play time; those that don’t get replaced with “new” ones until they find their way back in rotation or get stored away once she outgrows them.

These are the wooden toys currently in our collection and the creative ways we play with them to ensure that we get the most mileage!

The Dumpling currently has zero interest in learning to lace, so we have been using the beads as stacking blocks and puzzles.

Wooden Animal Shape Sorter Pull Along Truck

This is the Dumpling’s favorite at the moment because the animal pieces are so cute!

Wooden Magnetic Animal Puzzles

This was my first impulse wooden toy purchase, and in hindsight, probably my least favorite because there’s not much to do beyond solving the puzzle. It took the Dumpling a full afternoon to learn that she needed to flip all the pieces to face the same side, but she can now assemble everything in minutes. I guess that’s the problem with puzzles: they cease to be fun once the challenge is gone.

Thats it for now, but I’m still looking to add two or three more sets. In the meantime, I will continue sharing new ways we play with our old toys…including the plastic ones I tend to keep in my next post!

## Make a Doggy Layer Puzzle

These were the instructions that someone once used to teach me how to draw a dog:

My ten year old self thought it was the most awesome drawing tutorial ever! Actually, it’s still awesome because it’s the same set of instructions I give myself whenever I draw a dog today…which is often since it’s a regular request from the Dumpling.

I wanted to share the story with my toddler because this wisdom must be passed on to future generations! Having been tinkering with layer art recently, I thought making a layer puzzle would be a fun way to get her involved.

Materials

• Printable template
• X-Acto knife
• Scissors
• Seven sheets of cardstocks (Color choices are based on preference; I used black, beige, blue, white (2), light brown, brown)

Instructions:

Step 1: Print the template onto the cardstocks.

• Black: Layer 1 (Please note that I just hand wrote the title in with a marker.)
• Beige: Layer 2
• Blue: Layer 3
• White: Layer 4
• Brown: Layer 5
• Light brown: Layer 6
• White: Layer 7

Step 2: Use an X-Acto knife to cut out the shaded areas. I’m not that dexterous so I used scissors to clean up the frays and trimmed off any borders peeping from the previous layer(s).

Step 3: Layer the cutouts in numerical order and share the story! I also numbered the sheets so that the Dumpling can solve the puzzle on her own by applying her number sequence knowledge.