Wash them hands!

[Author’s note: I am not a medical expert – far from it – so this entry is a personal opinion piece.]

I have quite a few bottles of hand sanitisers sitting around the house. We used to dutifully carry a giant bottle around in the diaper bag when Elliott was younger because hand sanitisers equate to clean hands, right? I cannot remember where I read this (probably one of those articles shared by friends on Facebook) but did you know that unless hand sanitisers contain alcohol, they are largely ineffective against viruses that causes illness?

I did a bit of snooping on the internet and found this and this. I’ve extracted some bits here:

From the first article:

Is using a hand sanitizer a good substitute for soap and water?
It can be—depending on the particular product and situation. The best way to clean your hands is to wash them with plain soap and running water for at least 20 seconds, especially if they are visibly dirty. This creates mechanical friction to loosen and rinse away microbes. If you don’t have access to soap and water, the next best thing is an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains a minimum of 60 percent alcohol (typically listed as ethyl alcohol). These products kill most (but not all) bacteria and viruses on contact. They also work well against fungi but not against bacterial spores (such as those created by C. difficile bacteria).

What about alcohol-free sanitizers?
Instead of alcohol, some hand sanitizers contain quaternary ammonium compounds (notably benzalkonium chloride or benzethonium chloride) to reduce microbes. These agents are less effective than alcohol, plus they lack evidence of real-life benefits. Moreover, they may be contributing to bacterial resistance (see inset). Other alcohol-free hand sanitizers contain “natural” ingredients like tea tree oil and thyme, which may kill some germs but not enough for them to be good alternatives to an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The CDC recommends only alcohol-based products.

From the second article:

Frequent hand washing is the best way to keep yourself healthy and to prevent the spread of illness. The most effective way to wash your hands is with plain old soap and water.

Hands should be washed: Before, during and after preparing food; before eating or drinking; before and after caring for someone who is sick; before and after touching a cut or wound; after using the toilet; after changing diapers; after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; after touching an animal or animal waste; after touching garbage.

While antibacterial gels can quickly reduce the number of germs on your hands, they do not eliminate all types of germsIf soap and water is not available however, antimicrobial gels are the next best thing.

It was such a revelation to me (like, OMG I’VE BEEN DOING IT WRONG ALL THIS TIME?!?!) because there I was, insisting that Elliott use the hand sanitiser after each playground visit, or before partaking in a meal. I always thought that it would do the job of keeping his hands clean. I did wonder why he was still falling ill despite my religious use of the hand sanitisers (the ones we use are alcohol free, safe for children, etc etc).

As it turns out, the only way to keep those damn viruses away is to wash both hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. To be honest, trying to balance a heavy toddler against a wet sink while trying to wash his both hands with your one available arm (because the other arm is wrapped around him, holding him up) is really not the easiest. What usually happens is some random squirting of soap onto his palms, some quick rubs, then a rinse. I guess that is better than not getting the hands washed, yes?

Ever since I discovered this fact, I’ve made it a point to get Elliott to wash his hands with soap whenever we are out. I have also noticed that this frequent hand-washing does lessen the number of times he has fallen ill. I do not have clear evidence that washing his hands after any activity helps in keeping the viruses away but so far, so good. To me, the following (among others) are hotbeds for viruses to be passed on – indoor playgrounds, outdoor playgrounds and kiddy rides. We cannot walk past kiddy rides without him having a go at it so we always whisk him off to get his hands washed ASAP.

This article from Singapore General Hospital sums it up nicely. Have a read! Here are 2 important points, in summary, on what people should clean their hands with:

Liquid soap and water

Water alone will not remove dirt and bacteria. Soap allows these to be scrubbed off easily as they bind to them. Any regular soap will do. Antibacterial soap kills bacteria more effectively but has not been shown to be more effective than ordinary soap in reducing the rates of colds and infections in generally healthy people, said a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States this year. What matters more is good hand hygiene, independent of the soap you use.


Alcohol-based hand sanitiser (containing at least 70 per cent alcohol)

Hand sanitisers are a quick and effective way to disinfect your hands when soap and water are not available. Cleaning hands with alcohol-based hand sanitisers takes probably 20 seconds, while washing hands with soap and water needs about a minute including the time taken to lather, rinse and dry the hands. But alcohol-based hand sanitisers are not effective if the hands are visibly dirty. Dirt needs to be washed off with soap and water.

(I do wish more public toilets have child-friendly sinks like these. Maybe one day…)

So everybody, please remember to wash your hands (whenever you can), especially of our little people! They touch everything (and anything), and those same hands reach out and touch their face ALL THE TIME. Stay healthy!

Just keep swimming

No, the title has nothing to do with Finding Dory – that’s one in the many movies that I haven’t had the chance to watch yet.

(One thing good about children, I get to save money on entertainment because I don’t have time for entertainment! We have cancelled our cable TV for years and we watch, like, three movies a year. Hah.)

Anyway, this is about swimming lessons.

When Aidan was a wee bugger, we contemplated signing him up for swimming lessons. But the prohibitive costs – swimming classes for little humans can be really expensive – plus the distance plus our sheer laziness put us off going for formal classes. We took him to the pool occasionally and he grew to love swimming but on one condition: he had to have his puddle jumpers.

And then Zac came along and with the kids being in the same age brackets, some friends and us decided to form private swimming groups. Between the few of us, we have five preschoolers and four toddlers, enough to form two classes. And so we began our formal lessons last October.

I don’t dare to speak on behalf of all the kids but I daresay that my kids have definitely benefitted from the parent-accompanied lessons.

With Aidan, he’s always been quite cautious and fearful of water dribbling down his face. I don’t know if it’s a natural inclination or if it’s because of that one time when he tripped and fell face forward into the water (#parentingfail) but he is really, really resistant. For the past few months, he had steadfastly refused to put his face into the water. And that made it really frustrating for us. I started questioning if the lessons were effective and if we should switch instructors.

There was nothing wrong with his physical form though, he was perfectly happy to float and kick. He just didn’t want the water near his face. So much for swimming, right?

And then we had a breakthrough.

We hadn’t had lessons for two weeks and I was not expecting anything out of the usual. As the coach worked with Coco and Claire (yes, Yi Lin, Selene and I are in this together!), Aidan put on his goggles on his own accord. And then, suddenly, he dipped his face into the water.

Just like that. No fuss, no whining, no pleading, no cajoling. He just stuck his face in and he was out a second later.

“Look papa!” he called out to his father. “I put my face into the water without holding my nose.” And then he proceeded to do it a few times to show his father and the coach.

The rest of the class went swimmingly well (PUN! PUN!) and we were so, so proud of him.

As for Zac, he has progressed from screaming his lungs out the entire class to this:

A video posted by yannisms (@yannisms) on

Oh, it’s not that he hates water or swimming. He actually loves playing in the water. He hated having to work in the water. He screamed when he had to practise kicking, screamed before we dunked him into the water and screamed after he emerged from the water. It was pretty painful.

And then it was almost as if the switch clicked and he suddenly realised that hey, swimming is actually quite fun! He stopped screaming (THANK THE HEAVENS) and started enjoying it. He is now gleeful when he has to jump into the water, can hold his breath well under the water and knows to kick his way to his papa while underwater. He is so, so, good at it now, we all love to watch him swim.

Now that we have gone through this whole swimming process, I have come to a few conclusions.

Firstly, start them young. At slightly over two years, Zac is doing brilliantly. He has zero resistance to water and is practically fearless. Meanwhile, the older kids who started at a later age are so cautious that it takes a whole lot of cajoling (and bribing in some cases) before they would even put the tip of their noses into the water.

Secondly, be patient. I was not. I tried not to push Aidan too hard but at the same time, I was immensely frustrated by his stubbornness. But he did it in his own time, in his own way. I needed to respect his development.

Thirdly, praise the effort. We didn’t criticise him when he refused to do it but told him to at least try. And if he did make the effort but did not complete the act, we acknowledged his attempt. And when he finally did it, we told him how proud we were of him for trying.

Fourthly, get a good instructor. The first instructor we had was a doozy. She was decent but was bad at scheduling, bailing out on us at the last minute. We complained to the school and they sent us a replacement who was so, so good with kids. She made them work, doled out heaps of positive affirmation and was so patient with Aidan when he flat out refused to do certain things. The kids all love her. I know mine do, Aidan loves to run towards the pool every Saturday yelling “TEACHER W!!!!”

So there – now go forth and rear your own human Dory!

GIVEAWAY! When does Squirky’s search end?

And just like that, we have come to the end of The Adventures of Squirky the Alien.

In the penultimate book, How do you get to the Garden Galaxy (which we wrote about here and which gave us all the sads), Squirky managed to track down the whereabouts of his biological parents. Faced with the prospect of finally reuniting with his parents, he eventually decided to give up that opportunity in order to go back to his life on earth with his adoptive parents.

I got to say, that decision truly gutted me. It was such a beautifully bittersweet moment – and I felt like writer Melanie Lee had personally sucker punched me. It was such a real dilemma, one that I can imagine many adoptive children go through.

And so, it was a pleasant surprise when Melanie wrote me to say that the last book was completed. I received it in the mail with much anticipation and could not wait to read it.

Was it a happy ending? Well, I won’t give it away here but needless to say, I thought it was the perfect ending. I really, really loved it. I felt that it reflected life so honestly, that we all make hard choices in our lives and we live these choices everyday. Some days are good, some days are tough – but we grit our teeth and move on. And so it was with Squirky too.

My boys and I, we have gone on the journey with Squirky for six books now and I have to say that it was a good, learning experience. Through the books, Aidan and I have spoken about the importance of empathy, for instance. And, funnily enough, almost-two Zac is a fan of Squirky! He loves to pull the books out of the shelf and wave them in my face with an imperious “Read! Book! Mummy, read!”

It got to the point that I had to hide the books because I was reading them for the nth time for the evening/week and I could practically memorise EVERYTHING (sorry Melanie!). Heh.

If you were looking for something new to read to your kids, I highly recommend this series. Not only is it culturally relevant, it’s full of lovely conversational moments that you can use to guide your tots. Plus, support local eh!

Dear Melanie, thank you for being so honest and open about your experience as an adoptive parent, and for bringing Squirky to life through your words. And thank you for sharing this story with me!

We have two copies of When Does The Search End? to give away! All you need to do is to complete the following steps.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Melanie Lee and illustrator David Liew are part of this year’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), which is happening from 25 to 29 May 2016 at the National Library Building, Singapore.


Check out these events below:

1. Launch of The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #6: When Does the Search End? [Note: This event is FREE and anyone can come!]
Date: Sun 29 May 2016
Time: 3-3.30pm
Venue: NLB Building, L1 Plaza

2. Squirky author Melanie will be co-presenting a talk on “Being Honest about Difficult Issues with Stories” with NIE Associate Professor Ruth Wong [Note: You will need to have signed up for either the Parents Forum or Preschool & Primary Teachers Congress]
Date: Sun 29 May 2016
Time: 1.15-2.15pm
Venue: NLB Building, L16 The Pod

She will also be moderating a panel discussing themes close to the Squirky book series:
– To S.I.R. (Socially Inclusive Reads) with Love: A socially inclusive picture book for kids, with or without special needs [Note: You will need to have signed up for the Preschool & Primary Teachers Congress]
Date: Sun 29 May 2016
Time: 11.15-12.15pm
Venue: NLB Building, B1 Multipurpose Room

Terms and conditions
Giveaways are open to Singapore residents only. Winners will be contacted using the contact particulars provided when entering this draw (email address as requested) and will have 48 hours to respond, failing which a new winner will be drawn.

All incomplete entries will be disqualified. All entries will be verified before the winners are announced. To be fair to our sponsors, please note that all fake Facebook accounts (eg. accounts set up purely to take part in contests with no or very few real friends) will also be ineligible to win. Giveaways are in no way directly linked to Facebook.

Disclaimer: We were given the book for purpose of this review. No monetary compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

We love…Pip’s Playbox

Earlier last month, my little man turned four. I’m not going to go into a spiel about how fast he has grown and just how short the years have been. I won’t, sniffs. But I’ll bet you already understand it anyway.

As husband had to travel out of town for a business trip on the day itself, we decided to celebrate it with Aidan a day earlier. Unfortunately, it coincided with a nasty bout of cough that the boys were suffering from and the morning was spent at the paediatrician’s clinic where we paid a mini fortune and emerged with a bag full of medicines.

Undeterred, we decided to go somewhere indoors to play. I had read on social media that Pip’s Playbox had recently opened at the Esplanade and thought it would be a good place to explore.

And I was so right.

It being a Friday, the place was not too crowded when we were there. I love everything about it – from the high ceilings to the ceiling-to-floor windows that let in copious of light to the craft table where kids could construct bunny nose and whiskers (in line with the PLAYtime! show of the moment).

Mostly, though, I loved the spaces that the Esplanade management had thoughtfully carved out within. There was a corner filled with train tracks, magnetic wooden blocks and large jigsaw puzzles for the kids to mess around with. There was a little nook with cushion seating that allowed kids to bring books in to read. And oh, the books – shelves and shelves of children’s literature written by local authors. It was amazing.

There was also an area with an old overhead projector – you know, the sort we had back in primary school – where the kids would indulge in shadow puppet play. That was really cool! There were animal cutouts provided and we showed the boys how to angle the mirror to let the light hit the wall, and they were gleefully projecting the shadows and having fun. Check out BuyDLP.com if you want to arrange this kind of entertainment, too.

When they were done horsing around (heh heh), Aidan and I spent a quiet moment making bunny noses and colouring at the craft table. Meanwhile, Zac was busying himself by moving the stools around.

It was a very large and airy space, and we spent easily upwards of two hours there. We ended up dragging them off because they refused to leave. And you know what? I could totally see why. I would have been happy as a kid to spend my day there.

The icing on the cake? Entrance to the play area is completely free. Yes, FREE. Not a single cent. Shocking really, seeing how thoughtfully curated it was and how imaginative it allowed the kids to be.

I can foresee the place being crazy crowded during the weekends so I am guessing we won’t be back so soon. But we will definitely be back again.

GIVEAWAY! Squirky goes to the Garden Galaxy

One of Aidan’s favourite series of books has to be local writer Melanie Lee’s The Adventures of Squirky the Alien.

I am not sure if he truly understands the meaning behind the books, which traces the journey of Squirky the alien as he zips off into the galaxy in search of his birth parents. But the emotional themes – the unconditional parental love, birth or adoptive; and the desire to uncover our roots – seem to resonate with him. He is quite affected by the illustrations and descriptions of Squirky and Emma (his adoptive sister) feeling sad, for instance, and is always asking me why they are crying.

Which makes the latest book in the series, The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #5: How Do You Get To The Garden Galaxy?, even more gut-wrenching! Without giving away the details, let’s just say that Squirky manages to track down the whereabouts of his birth parents and makes a huge, huge decision – one that gave me all the sads. I was pretty gutted!

What I love about the series is that it is so chock full of teachable moments to little people, and it is done in such a simple manner. For instance, when we were reading book #4 Where is my Mama, and came to the part where Squirky, Emma and Mr Quentin decided to help Crystal find her mother, we explained to him that we should always be people who could help, if we are ever in the position to do so.

Book #5 ended with the cliffhanger and now I can’t wait for Melanie to finish writing the next one so I know what the ending will be.

Melanie has generously agreed to give away books 1 to 5 of The Adventures of Squirky the Alien to ONE LUCKY READER. That’s right, all five books can be yours! All you need to do is to complete the following steps.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

During the March holidays, Squirky will be visiting the following book stores. Do drop by and say hi!


Terms and conditions
Giveaways are open to Singapore residents only. Winners will be contacted using the contact particulars provided when entering this draw (email address as requested) and will have 48 hours to respond, failing which a new winner will be drawn.

All incomplete entries will be disqualified. All entries will be verified before the winners are announced. To be fair to our sponsors, please note that all fake Facebook accounts (eg. accounts set up purely to take part in contests with no or very few real friends) will also be ineligible to win. Giveaways are in no way directly linked to Facebook.

Disclaimer: We were given the book for purpose of this review. No monetary compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

Toys we love…The Twig Co.’s Pixie Camera

I’ll confess: I usually do not buy toys for my littles.

I know, I know, it makes me sound like a nazi mother but the truth is, I know that they will receive heaps of toys during festive seasons and their birthdays. And the last thing I want is for the house to turn into a toy factory. That’s why I choose not to buy toys for them.

(I’ve already packed away most of the toys that they had received during Christmas!)

But if there is one weakness of mine when it comes to toys, it is this: IMAGINATION. I love toys that help them to be imaginative, allowing them to creatively make up their own worlds and scenarios. And one toy that I bought – and which checks all those items – is the Pixie wooden toy camera from The Twig Co.

Photo taken from The Twig Co.

Photo taken from The Twig Co.


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