Facing My Dark Side

Facing My Dark Side
Facing My Dark Side

I named my first hamsters Bo Bo and Cha Cha, after my favourite dessert.  Cha Cha died at his 1 month old birthday party after being dropped from a height of 1.5 metres.  I grieved and cried for days over the loss of a loved pet. I was fifteen then.

Bo Bo lived on to have many babies with male hamsters that I borrowed from my friends.  The population in my little cage grew and I had lots of fun with that project.  Eventually, I grew lazy and got distracted with other interests, neglecting my little darlings despite constant reminders from my mom.

The population dwindled, and Bo Bo was the last to go.  On that day when I was forced to clean up the carcass, her cage stank badly, her drinking water had not been changed for days, and there was no food in her tray.  I cried, but this grief I felt was different from that which overwhelmed me when Cha Cha died, and it haunted me for many years.

I always thought myself as kind and loving, too altruistic for my own good.  But no!  The conditions of Bo Bo’s death introduced me to my tragic being, a dark side that I didn’t know existed. I knew my pet would die if it wasn’t fed or cleaned, but I chose to dissociate and procrastinate, preferring to think that such an evil outcome will never happen to me because I was a good person. But truly, bad things can happen to good people by their very own deeds. 

No hero can overcome demons whom he doesn’t recognise.  Dr Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist, taught me to read history and stories like I was the perpetrator.  It did me good to know the power I have within me to do evil, create damage and cause harm.  In fighting and conquering my own demons, I can now say that I am a better person because I have gained better control of myself.

Are you defending or defeating your dark side? Be mindful that THAT which you feed and nurture, can only grow stronger.

The Bounty

The Bounty
Lizard-Slaying Challenge

It is an ongoing challenge at home that comes with a reward: $2 for a small, $5 for medium, $10 for a large.  When I screamed LIZARD, my sons would rush to my rescue. Money works.

My mom convinced the little me that lizards are cold and yucky.  She said the lizard would stick on me if it fell from the ceiling and landed on me.  She screamed when she saw one.  I thought I should too.

While I dealt with the irrational fear, I was determined not to pass this bad legacy down to my sons.  But how not to when I reacted everytime these creeps show up at unexpected moments in unexpected places?  Thus the idea to put up a bounty, a motivation for my little virtuous knights to run towards (instead of away from) the dragon to slay it and rescue their favourite dame, me!

It was great for a start, the boys were excited to make some money.  But soon, they decided on a  minimum price for their service. “Is this a $2 or a $5 lizard?” they’ll ask before doing the job, I’ll have to pay them $5 to slay a small lizard, else they’ll wait for the small lizard to grow to medium size. 

My husband joined in the fun by suggesting some methods of growing the lizard population at home so that there’ll be more money to make.  Can you hear the agenda-problem-solution triad being discussed in my living room?

1.  Mum has no problem, but you have an agenda. You want her to use your service to solve a problem which she doesn’t have.

2.  Mum has problem (because you create one for her).

3.  Mum needs to solve a problem, and you have the solution. The bigger the problem, the more money you make.

I ensured the boys understood the consequence of carrying out such mischief because Mum has the power to give them a very hard time, and they can backfire in unexpected ways.

Yes, young children can understand complicated philosophy, especially if they are involved as actors in the stories.  Can you identify a agenda-problem-solution situation in your home that can be turned into a fun-filled conversation with your child?  Can you expand this conversation to  talk about similar happenings in your neighbourhood, school, nation, world?

Outer Space – Born in 1642

My Outer Space
My Outer Space

The idea of space travel was first planted in my head when Space 1999 was broadcasted on national TV in the 1970s.  My father told me then, that outer space was purely fictional, but the 8 year old me was adamant that I would be visiting space in 1999, which was 2 lifetimes away for me.

Being a content consuming kid, I used to struggle to wrap my head around materials and information that were presented to me:

National Geographic Magazines – My dad subscribed to this very expensive magazine then.  I loved the magificent prints of animals, people and outer space.  Yes, many full-page pictures of outer space, sandwiched between photographs of real animals and people, within a very credible magazine. The photos of outer space must be real, right? Or not?

Clash of The Titans (1981) – This was the only English video tape we had alongside our VHS.  The gods watched the earth from “up there” (Mount Olympus).

Chinese TV programs – The gods watched the earth from “up there”.

Hindi TV programs – The gods watched the earth from “up there”.

Good News Bible – God watches the earth from “up there”.  Heaven is his throne, earth is his footstool.

So,… what am I seeing when I look up,  God, gods or outer space?  The outer-space believing christians told me that God is near, yet lives far beyond the universe.  They say it within the same breath without blinking an eye.  How do they reconcile that?

After more than half a century of observation, and armed with the power of the internet, I finally identified the root of my confusion which can be summarised in the next 2 paragraphs:

Galileo Galilei died in 1642 while under house arrest by the Roman Inquisition for arguing that the earth revolved around the sun.  Heliocentrism was considered a heretic idea by the Catholic Church then.  Up to that point in time, everyone believed that the earth was central and immovable with the sun and celestials revolving around it. In geocentrism, geocentricity or Ptolemaic system (AD 150), outer space doesn’t exist.

Isaac Newton was born in 1642 and he wowed the world with complex mathematics. His hypothesis of heliocentrism and gravity was accepted (by I don’t know who). Within his lifetime, the solar system became no longer heresy, and began to replace the geocentric worldview.  We have to bear in mind that people were generally illiterate in those days, and sophisticated observation tools and aeroplanes haven’t been invented yet.  The basis of the acceptance of the controversial heliocentric view was Newton’s explanation of commonly observable phenomena using calculus, written in numbers and strange looking symbols that very, very, VERY few people understood.

How the solar system has evolved from a hypothesis in 1642, into a “fact” today, is a mystery to me.  The internet tells me:

– I am 150 millions of kilometers away from the sun,
– I am spinning at 1600 km/hour around an axis (since I live almost at the equator),
– I am revolving around the sun at 106,000 km/hour.

I get dizzy imagining myself going around in circles at such speeds, do you? Somewhere in the internet, it also says that when people are presented with quantities that are unperceivable, their brains will switch off and they will simply accept or decline that figure without reason, cognitive dissonance takes place.  I am in that place of dissonance.  I’ve decided that the pictures in Nat Geo magazine are graphics and “up there” sits God or gods.

20 years past 1999, my knowledge of outer space has developed with further education from Star Trek, Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy and many others movies.  My father now believes that outer space exists, and I’m trying to convince him otherwise.

Honing The Skill of Reasoning

 Its easier to expose a student’s lack of reasoning skill and wrong premises on a math paper than on a public platform.

“If John is married to Mary, then Mary is married to John,”  Duh, who doesn’t know that?   “The computer won’t know this unless you add that statement into its algorithm,” the tutor continued.

Math class in the computing department of a local university in the 1980s. That’s where I was first presented with vocabulary:  premises, logic, algorithm and conclusions.  I was happy to have words to pin down ideas were already floating namelessly in my head.  Having words to articulate my thoughts made me feel clever and empowered.

In order for a computer program to perform a desired task to produce an logical conclusion, the programmer has first to build a base of relevant premises which are defined by him.  He then builds the logic which is, broadly speaking, a set of if-then-else statements that eventually leads to a conclusion.

When the completed program receives an input, the input is tested against its premises.  If the input is acceptable, it is pushed through the logic statements to produce a logical conclusion.  An error message will flash if the input is unacceptable.

Going back to John and Mary, here’s a scratchy example.

X = John
Y = Mary
Mary is tall.
John is tall.

1.  X must be human and male.
2.  Y must be human and female.
3.  If X and Y are married, then they can produce Offspring.

If X & Y are married, and X is tall, and Y is tall,
then there is a 90% chance that Offspring will be tall.

There is a 90% chance that John and Mary will have a tall child.

Had the programmer failed to define  X and Y as humans with genders in the premise, then it is perfectly logical for John and Mary to be 2 tall trees that have a 90% chance of producing a tall offspring as a result of their union. 

Thus the phrase:  If you start with wrong premises, you can end up with a perfectly logical conclusion that is perfectly wrong.

The functional usefulness of math is mostly covered in Primary School.  Beyond that, math is about  disciplining the mind to reason, and providing the tools for the exercise to take place.

If a student’s conclusion is wrong, check the student’s logic.
If the logic is sound, then examine the student’s premises for flaws.
When the problem is found somewhere therein, the good student will celebrate, while the indifferent student rolls his eyes and says “who cares”.   

Society and civilisations are built on existing premises. Its easier to expose a student’s lack of reasoning skill and wrong premises on a math paper than on a public platform where he is shouting to everyone, insisting that 2 tall tree can produce another tall tree.  Make sense?

Of course, also never disregard the possibility of the question being wrong.

Adapting To A New Body

Growing up, I recall one strange day when I crashed my head into a low hanging horizontal beam of the block of flat where I lived.  I’ve run below that beam a thousand times with no problem, until that day.  It wasn’t obvious to me that I had grown taller.

As a mom of 2 boisterious little boys, I used to grab them by the arms when they misbehaved.  They would struggle to free themselves of my hold, but I was strong enough to overpower them.  But one strange day, the same struggle with the elder son resulted in me being knocked over.  It wasn’t obvious to him that he had grown bigger and stronger. The same happened with my younger son.

There was a season when the boys were unbelievably clumsy and kept hurting their toes because they kicked the legs of our home furniture.  They just weren’t used to their new large feet, and the distance that needed 4 steps to cover, now needed only 3 and a half steps.

When we estimate something, we do so in the context of past experiences, be it length, mass, volume, distance or time.  Unconsciously, the most common gauging tools we rely on as points of reference, are our own bodies.  And since children’s bodies are changing so quickly, their perceptions will need to continuously adapt to match.  What they thought was heavy one year ago, may not be heavy today.  An arduous journey last year may be enjoyable today.

The point I’m getting at is this: you need to continuously revisit the conversations on measurement and comparison with your children.  They need to adjust their ideas of heavy, and far, and big and other adjectives, with reference to the new bodies that they now have.

Such conversation will help your child grow in spatial and situational awareness.  When they know that they have grown in strength, and are able to intelligently identify that which is weaker, they will be more willing to be helpful.

Happy Parenting!

The Trouble With Empathy

I adopted a stray cat and a bunny because I had compassion for them.  They were best friends.

The lion chases a bunny.  It hasn’t eaten for days.  It is hungry.

Case 1:  If you’ve just watched The Lion King, you’ll empathise with the lion.  You don’t like the feeling of hunger too.  The nameless bunny is food!

Case 2:  If you’ve just watched Peter Rabbit, you’ll want the bunny to escape because you empathise with it.  It doesn’t deserve to die.  The lion can go hungry, you don’t care.

Case 3:  Bunnies are cute and cuddly pets.  You won’t know how anyone could hate them until you see a field full of wild bunnies.  After that, you will better empathise with the farmer who want them dead because bunnies burrow his land and damage his crop.  The poor farmer has a family to feed. His children don’t deserve to go hungry.

Was the bunny the food, the celebrity or the pest?  Did you find your empathy roving around the lion, the bunny and the farmer?  If you did, then you are experiencing the trouble with empathy.

Empathy relies on feelings, which are unstable and unreliable.  In the first place, you can NEVER empathise with a lion or bunny because you’ve never been one.  What about empathy for another human being?

In order to feel what another person feels,  you will have to have exactly the same past as him or her. You’ll need be born in the same year, be of the same sex, raised by the same people, play the same games, eat the same food.  Is that possible?  If not, then it is impossible for you to ever empathise with anyone on this earth, because everyone is unique.  You can relate to experiences of others, or guess how they feel, but you can never empathise with unique individuals.  In this sense, empathy is simply an idea, a hoax.

If you teach your children to have empathy, you burden them unnecessarily with the impossible task of trying to feel the feelings of others.  They will grow up confused.

Teach compassion instead.  Oxford Dictionary defines compassion as
“sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”  Christian scripture has much to say about compassion, and nothing to say about empathy.  Have a read!

By the way, compassion is an uncountable noun.  Some things in life just cannot be measured.

Fun-filled Bath

Kids love to play in the bathtub. What do they actually play? What common words do they learn in that process?

Blue bottle, milk container, syringe, straw, red cup, big pail, water pump.

Pour, squeeze, blow, squirt, splash, overflow, fill.

Why not include some math words into the activity?  Instead of red cup, call it the 300 millilitre cup.  Refer the blue water bottle by its capacity: the 500 millilitre bottle.

How many squirts of the 20 millilitre syringe does it take to fill the 300 millilitre cup?

There you have it, a fun-filled math conversation in the bath tub.  Try it!

Counting Time

I don’t have much recordings of exciting moments 40 years ago, but I drew to self-entertained during boring moments and produced these precious drawings that I did of my family when I was 10.

There was only one thing that Christian scripture tells us to count.  It wasn’t money.  Neither was it blessings.

“Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

God is fair when it comes to time.  He allocates  to each one of us the same number of hours each day, and the same number of days each week.  What we make of it is up to us.

When our little children protest that we waste their time, are they justified?  Perhaps not when we require them to pick up their toys, clean up a mess they created, walk a distance to the market or visit an unlikeable relative.  But when we place our demand on their time above their own priorities by making them do more assessment papers or attend unnecessary enrichment classes, is it fair to them?

Now, let’s list some things our little children prefer to do with their time:

  1. Play with their friends.
  2. Play by themselves.
  3. Day-dream and watch the clouds.
  4. Read things that interest them.
  5. Dig a hole, build a house.
  6. Sew a dress for a doll.
  7. Draw and colour.
  8. Make music.

Can you name the skills and values that your children will acquire by engaging in these activities?

Some activities are age appropriate and cannot be delayed.  It is common to see 10 year olds playing “hide and seek” or “police and thief” with each other, but it will be odd to have 20 year olds making such play dates for themselves. 

A clinical psychologist taught me that unsocialised children often grow into awkard adults who have limited ability to navigate society.  Here are 2 examples of how children socialise each other during play in groups:

  1. If I behave badly, the others won’t want to play with me.
  2. I behaved badly yesterday.  If I humble myself, apologise and promise not to behave like I did yesterday, they might play with me today.

When we fill our children’s time with our priorities and insecurities in the name of their future’s sake, we rob them of time for THEIR personal discoveries.  Have you met grown-up high-achievers who refuse to work after graduation because they’ve waited all their lives to finish school so that they have permission to play?  Or those who do work and have resources to play, what sort of games do they engage in, what are the stakes?  What are your observations of these people?

Let’s be mindful that we are only stewards of children’s time, and grant them their god-given time to have a childhood they deserve.

Learning For All Ages

Math is a language

Ever wonder what goes through the mind of your child? Follow Wendy Koh on her journey of teaching Boy in this captivating book, which is filled with personal recounts. One thing that was prominent in this story was the fact that learning starts from the moment of birth and will never stop! Life is a process of constant growth and self improvement and we at Fun-Filled Conversations advocate learning for all ages. Be sure to join us on this trip of making PSLE Math both fun to teach, and fun to learn. 


An old Englishman once told me that the family of Joe Baker were bakers, and that of Joe Carpenter were carpenters, and that’s how their family names came about. Parents imparted their family trade, wisdom and values to their children. 

That is my wish for you, that you can be empowered with confidence to impart to your own children. I believe that learning and family life can be lived out in tandem, and is within the reach of most families that desire to enjoy their own children, especially during their early years. In this session, I want to share with you some math conversations that I had with my son in our PSLE journey that led him to ace PSLE Math with an A*, and how we did so with little drills. I want to shock you with how simple, enjoyable and cheap our journey was. 

If you have a child between ages 1 and 11, do come and learn together.

Who should attend? 

Any parent interested to learn how to prepare their child for PSLE Math like it is an exciting holiday destination. It is a workshop for parents.

What would you get out of it? 

You will learn simple tips and tweaks that will make a big difference in your child’s journey in the world of Math. I will show you how you can convert fragmented bits of family time such as bus journeys and hawker centres visits into engaging math conversations with your child, and in doing so, save money on expensive long-term external math tuition.

Who is Wendy Koh? 

Wendy Koh homeschooled her son through PSLE to the IGCSE exams.  She is passionate about helping other parents conduct short, productive and fun-filled conversations on math topics with their children that can help them through school.

Basic Numeracy
(Chapters 1 to 9 of Fun-filled Math Conversations With Your Child)

Studies have shown that children learn the most before age 6, thus making this period the best time for them to acquire basic numeracy skills.  Given their very short attention span, I will share on how you can engage them with 3 minute lessons.  We will cover math language, quantities, basic operations and symbols. 

Suitable for parents with children aged 1 to 10.

WORKSHOP #2 – Measurement 
(Chapters 10 to 17 of Fun-filled Math Conversations With Your Child)

What’s there to measure? How to make a tool out of everyday objects? How to continue the conversation after they learn to read the measurement?

Suitable for parents with children aged 5 and above.

(Chapters 1 to 9 of Fun-filled Math Conversations With Your Child)

I will show you how you can condition your child to see patterns and shapes, and share simple strategies to re-organise and simplify complex diagrams.

Suitable for parents with children aged 7 and above.

WORKSHOP #4 – Algebra, Heuristics, Challenging Questions(Chapters 25 to 30 of Fun-filled Math Conversations With Your Child)

How to teach algebra? What is heuristics? What are the elements of a challenging question?  I will touch on these questions, and share on how you can help you child be nimble in his thinking skills.

Suitable for parents with children aged 7 and above.

An Overview of PSLE Math

In this workshop, I will share my view on what MOE is testing for based on their syllabus for the Primary 1 cohort of 2013 (PSLE year 2018), and how we can generally prepare our children for PSLE Math.