Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Underwater World, Sentosa

Brought the girls to Underwater World two Fridays ago. It was Teachers' Day so girls did not need to go to school. A was supposed to go on her school field trip the day before but she came down with a fever. She had been looking forward to the trip since the day her teacher announced the news to the entire class. Not being able to go upset her so much that she cried so sadly. It didn't help that I was following K for her school field trip on that day too. My mother had to come over to help care for A while I was away for the whole morning. We promised her that we would bring her to Underwater World once she recovers. She recovered that very afternoon and so the plan to visit Underworld World materialized sooner than we thought.

View from Sentosa Express. On way to Sentosa.

We left the house early to beat the peak hour crowd on the MRT. It took us only 40 minutes to get to Sentosa Express (Rail) at VivoCity (alight at Harbourfront MRT). We had wanted to get to Sentosa using the cable cars but at $25 for an adult ticket and $15 for a child ticket, it is just too expensive for a family of 2 adults and 2 children. It makes more sense to take the Sentosa Express as tickets only cost $3 each. What's more, K goes free!

We alighted at Beach Station. Weather was nice and cool so we opted for a leisure walk to Underwater World. It is a short walk of about 20 minutes. We walked pass a machine gun pillbox that was used in World War II and A was the first to notice it among the leaves. Daddy explained its use and that inspired A to want to go inside and hold a gun! Of course, the request was denied for the simple fact that it wasn't safe. In addition, I personally believe that historical structures such as these should be left alone. Still, A got her chance to pose as a soldier. It was a win-win situation. :) We went on to spot lizards and a family of squirrels. Definitely a great way to start the day.

Beach Station

Posing as a soldier with her 'gun'.

One of the three squirrels we saw.

We were greeted by peacocks once we reached Underwater World. 3 of them in fact. Now, everyone was ready for the exploration around the oceanarium. We brought A there once when she was barely 2 years old. Well, sort of. We bought the tickets and only managed to bring her to the Ray Pool before she got too scared of the dark. We ended up only going to the gift shop before exiting. That was a really expensive visit to any gift shop for that matter. This time round, she was overflowing with excitement. We went to the Turtle Pond just outside the Oceanarium and K called out, "Turtle, turtle." whenever she saw one. I spotted a few in the pond but there was this one that kept swimming in and out of sight, under us. Hence, K pretty much chanted "Turtle, turtle" the whole time we were there. Anyone who heard her would have thought that there were a lot of turtles. In actual fact, she was just focusing on one.

Tickets to Discovery

Next, we proceeded to the Touch Pool. It is the very first pool you see once you enter. Here you can touch sea creatures such as starfish and bamboo sharks. Daddy picked up a starfish and A stared at it with an mesmerized smile on her face. K, on the other hand, was flapping her hands, shouting, "cannot touch, cannot touch ok?" She had this worried look on her face. She was either concerned that we would get hurt or the animals would be hurt. Either way, I had to pick her up and assured her that everything was alright.
Next, we went for the Shark Feeding at 10am. For $3, we got a small bowl of squids and fish and a disposable plastic hand glove. Daddy placed the feed on one end of a long plastic pole and reached out to the sharks. The sharks gathered where the pole was and were pushing one another out of the way so that they could get a hold of the food. Of course, the bigger sharks get the food. Unfair but it is simply the survival of the fittest out there. I suppose the smaller ones would have to outwit the bigger guys in the water. Then again, I am pretty sure the staff at Underwater World does a great job taking care of each one of them. Afterall, Underwater World ranks conservation efforts highly on its agenda list.

Our baits

Kids were scared but eager to see. Made shark-feeding all the more exciting.

There are a lot of marine animals in just this one place. A was clearly so happy with everything she saw that she had this mesmerized look on her face the whole time. "Daddy, big crabs! Daddy, more fishes here!" It was a good thing that the place was packed with tourists or else I am quite certain that A's voice would resonate through the entire place. Of the 2500 and more marine animals, guess which is A's favourite? A display showing the crab's internal organs. By pushing a button, a particular section (stomach, heart, lungs etc) would light up. After paying so much for admission, I was expecting her to rank sharks, dolphins or even rays as her favourite. The display??? It is not even alive! Well, the girls never fail to amaze me each day.

Good that the girls got to see some tank cleaning in process.

A's favourite - The (plastic) crab

The admission charges (Adult: $25.90 Child: $17.60 Child below three: Free) include admission into Dolphin Lagoon. The first dolphin and sea lion show starts at 11am. We got there around 1030am and there was a group of people in the pool with the dolphins. Dolphin Lagoon provides close interaction opportunities with these mammals. If I am not wrong, it is at $160 per pax. Quite a hefty price to pay but for some, swimming with such gentle mammals is already a priceless experience. I don't think I would object if the girls want to swim with them, but only when they are a whole lot older and can understand the importance of being gentle to the animals and appreciate its educational purposes. Only then, can I truly say that it is worth it. :)

The staff at Dolphin Lagoon opened up the area in front of the performance stage after the swimmers had cleared the pool and the dolphins have retreated to have their much deserved rest. As we were there early, we were able to get really good seats, right in front of the stage! The sea lions struttered in front of us for a large part of the show and it was an amazing experience for the girls to see the sea lions up close.

The sea lions did a great job entertaining the crowd.

After the show, we continued our tour around Underwater World. Another highlight of the place is this 83 metres long travelator. It brings you through a tunnel housing many different marine animals including sharks and sting rays. Being right underneath these creatures as they glided past made me feel like I was in another world. Very cliche? It may seem so to those who have been to Underwater World before especially since it is a common excursion spot for many local schools. Not that I have never been to Underwater World before but for one, it helped me pull myself away from the hectic schedule of juggling the housework and caring for the two children. Seeing the animals swimming so gracefully around me made me forget all the worries and for that few minutes, it was just me, the water and the animals. Either that, I was just too happy to be in the light since everywhere else in Underwater World is dark. A was also in her own world with the animals. She peered through the glass panels and had this look of awe on her face. It was quite a heartwarming sight to behold too. Then again, I am biased. :p K, on the other hand, was afraid of the giants around her. She wrapped her arms around Daddy's neck so tight that he needed to strain his neck just to see his way in front. Yet, the animals had such an amazing draw about them that K could not resist stealing glances at them from the corner of her eyes. Once a while, she would let go of her grip (for a brief moment), follow them as they swam past and looked up as they cruised right above her. Of course, I hope that the next time we come, she would be more willing to run along with the animals and be amazed at God's creation.

3 times the amazement

We spent a total of 3 hours at the Underwater World and Dolphin Lagoon. Everyone was tired and after a quick lunch at the coffeeshop just outside the exit, we went home, with the girls sound asleep. We, too, left with wonderful memories, sweetened by the girls' laughters and smiles. Looking back, Sentosa has changed a lot over the years. It used to be more rustic. Now, it seems like a mini Phuket with so many attractions, together with pubs and restaurant springing up along the different beaches. Still, the island feel remains and it would be nice to stay in Sentosa for a few days to just soak it all up. It would definitely be on my list of 'Places to Go with Kids'.

For more information on Underwater World and Dolphin Lagoon, do visit http://www.underwaterworld.com.sg/

Some Educational Aspects for Young Children

- The concept of conservation

- The importance of keeping the marine environment clean and free from pollution.

- The impact on climate change and temperature rise of the oceans on the creatures that live in the sea.

- Appreciation of the marine biodiversity; sharks, fishes, and other creatures come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. What makes each shape and / or size special and how do their unique adaptations help them to survive in their environment?

- Simple classification of marine animals; what makes a sea lion different from a seal? What makes a shark different from a dolphin? How are dolphins and sea lions similar? Fish, reptiles, mollusks, crustaceans, mammals; how do we tell which class an animal belongs to?

Jacob Ballas Children's Garden

Friends have been raving about Jacob Ballas at Singapore Botanic Gardens for quite a long time now. I decided to go verify the reviews myself. We set off early on a Wednesday morning to avoid the peak hour traffic and managed to get there by 9am.

The car park at Jacob Ballas is spacious with a lot of space for cars to manovoure. The number of carpark lots was more than sufficient when we went on a weekday but on a crowded weekend or public holidays, carpark lots may be difficult to secure, especially if you prefer a shaded one. It is hence advisable to go early. Plus, the weather is usually cooler early in the day.

The first thing that greeted us upon arrival at the foyer is a big sculpture of a tree. On closer look, the leaves and branches are actually made up of many people, 500 people in fact. Simply amazing.

On one side of the sculpture is a Kidz Cafe. They have kids-friendly tables and chairs and menu is kids' friendly too, such as nuggets and fish and chips. There are other food choices but I usually look out for these few choices. :) However, if your child is still taking semi-solids, it would be better to bring your own food as I do not remember seeing any 'soft' food there.

The information booth is on the other side of the sculpture. It has a small table and chairs for some ad-hoc activities. They had a billboard explaining Hari Raya Adilfitri on the day we went so the girls got to do some activity worksheets related to the topic.

A few things to note about admission. It opens everyday, except Monday, from 8am to 7pm. Last admission is at 630pm. It is free for all children 12 years and under and children must be accompanied by adult(s). If you want to enter the garden and your child is not with you, you will be denied entry. My mother-in-law came to the garden later and was unable to enter. I brought A out to escort her in. Admission into the garden is free.

Once we entered, children's laughter filled the air. Loud splashes of water could also be heard. There is a waterplay area and right beside it, is a playground with lots of soft fine sand. Girls wanted to start their waterplay immediately and we had to persuade them to explore the garden first. At 930am, it was already starting to get hot.

We went to the A-Mazing Play first. It is a small maze and it doesn't take too long for one to complete one circuit. Once inside, the helpful spirit within A rose to the challenge and said, "Don't worry, Mummy. I will bring you out. Just follow me." I played along and acted really anxious and lost. It was so sweet to see her comfort me as she navigated her way out. I am indeed very proud to be her mother.

Along the way, A and I talked a lot about the growth of plants and how flowers play an important role in their reproduction. Lo and behold, we saw a hands-on corner showing the process of photosynthesis. Known as the Sensory Garden, it allows the children to follow the path of water and sunlight in the food making process. Water mist comes out from the leaves, indicating the oxygen and water that are released during the process of photosynthesis and respiration respectively. 'Photosynthesis' may be too big a word for the girls right now but the concept can certainly be explained simply.

Other areas of interest include the wooden swinging bridge, the waterfall, the pond ecosystem and a treehouse. However, the latter was under renovation work when we were there so we could not exlpore it. The toilets in the park are very clean and dry. Absolutely child-friendly. We met several groups of students in the park. It is clearly a very popular excursion spot.

Of course, we have the wonderful playground and waterplay, which got really crowded by around 10am.

Above Photo Courtesy of the girls' beloved grandmother

It got really hot around 11am and we had to vacate the place. The kids were also tired from playing under the sun for more than an hour. It was a great and fun way to spend the morning and we would certainly be back again...this time, even earlier.

For more information on Jacob Ballas Children's Garden, do visit www.sbg.org.sg/bukittimahcore/ChildrenGarden.asp

Some Educational Aspects for Young Children

- The variety of plants is an opportunity for the children to appreciate biodiversity.

- Different parts of the garden are divided by habitat themes (e.g. tropical rainforest, mangrove, pond, waterfall) that make interesting starting points for discussions on the types of flora and fauna found in these habitats.

- The Sensory Garden exhibit delivers a simple lesson on the process of photosynthesis.

- Formation of waterfall.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pasir Ris Mangrove Boardwalk

We had some 3 hours to spare on a cool Friday morning so we decided to head down to Pasir Ris Mangrove Boardwalk. We only managed to walk a small section of it the last time we visited Gallop Stable. We hoped to be able to finish the whole trail this time, if the weather, and of course, the children, permit.

The Mangrove Boardwalk is a short 3 minutes walk from the Pasir Ris Carpark C. It is nearer the entrance of the carpark so do avoid parking all the way at the end. The other end is nearer Gallop Stable.

Eager to explore the trail

A map of the trail.

There are a total of 4 entrances and the one with 'You are here' is the nearest to the carpark.

The board walk is very sturdy so it is very safe for children. However, it being nature, do watch that your children do not put their hands on red ants, which run along the wooden railings. It was a cool day when we were there but even if it was sunny, the vegetation would have provided a lot of shade and relief. There are so many things to see at the trail. Once inside, we spotted a lot of animals and insects. We even spotted a Malayan Water Monitor cruising along in Sungei Tampines. By the time we got our camera ready, he has swam away. Same goes for the jungle fowls and squirrels. Anyway, below is just a small peek into what the mangrove has to offer...

Four Lined Tree Frog: Polypedates leucomystax (Gravenhorst, 1829)

Horn snail: Telescopium telescopium (Linnaeus, 1758)

Tree climbing crab: Episesarma species

Scarlet Granadier: Lathrecista asiatica (Fabricius, 1798)

There are several sheltered huts so we took the opportunity to rest our legs when we saw one. A asked a lot of questions as it was an eye-opener for her. The trees in the mangrove trail are different from what she usually sees. I had to explain characteristics like prop roots and aerial roots and their purposes. Even if you do not know much about the mangrove, there are information panels scattered along the trail. The information is very comprehensive and the colorful illustrations made it very interesting too. A would stop at every panel and have us explain it to her. K, on the other hand, was just happy with staring at the animals and insects along the way.

At one end of the trail is a 3 storey birdwatching hut. From there, we saw Sungei Tampines. Everything around us looked so tranquil. Definitely a place where I can sit and reflect.

On the way out from one of the entrances/exits, we saw a gardener tending to the Herb and Spice Garden. It was a good opportunity for the kids to see how a gardener works. The gardener worked hard under the sun, moving huge heaps of soil in a wheelbarrow. We took the chance to explain to the girls the importance of caring for the environment. There are people who have worked hard to take care of the beautiful environment. We need to do our part to care for them too. Definitely a learning moment. Interestingly, we saw some compost barrels. Dead leaves are left to decompose inside the barrels. This would in turn be used on the garden. Very eco-friendly indeed.

Inside the compost barrel

We took a total of 1 hour 30 minutes to walk the entire mangrove boardwalk. The girls were tired at the end of the walk. K had to be carried for a large park of the walk so if you have very young children, you may want to consider bringing the strollers along. The good thing that came out of it? A good nap. :)

For more information on the Pasir Ris Mangrove Boardwalk and directions on how to get there, do visit

Educational Aspects

- Characteristics of mangrove e.g. prop roots, aerial roots, elongated fruits

- Food chain within the mangrove

- Things that a plant needs for growth, e.g. water, sunlight. We saw some creepers in the mangrove vegetation and explained to Anna the plant's need to grow tall in search for sunlight. Concept of how sunlight is vital in the food -making process can also be explained.

- Concept of decomposition, e.g. how it happens and why it is important for the environment.