The Learning Lab Review

The term of 13 weeks at The Learning Lab (TLL) has come to an end and there is so much to say about our experience there, but I’ll try my best to be concise.

In my previous blog post about TLL, I shared photos of the various cool features of some of TLL’s eight centres located conveniently around Singapore and our initial review and thoughts about TLL (if you’ve not read the post, please hop over to take a look).

I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to sit in in one of the Math and English classes during the term for awhile to observe how lessons are usually conducted, so I’ll share some of my thoughts about the lessons as well as the overall experience at TLL.

When we entered my boy’s classroom on the day of observation, we saw some items laid out on the table:

It definitely was a fun lesson as you’d expect. The kids got to taste, touch and smell ingredients such as cocoa powder, salt, sugar, butter; used descriptive words like smooth/rough, sweet/salty/bitter; pretended to go through the processes of baking a cake; and most significant of all (at least to the children) was when they got to eat the cake (the teacher had bought earlier that day).

Before the start of the lesson, the teacher had already checked with all the parents regarding food sensitivity.

Someone loved the butter and sugar, and even the slightly bitter cocoa powder!

The Learning Lab review

He loved the cake so much that his teacher got me to bring back the rest of the slice for his tea break!

I’ve never been in a lesson with him where I’m not the teacher (because we homeschool) and it was so refreshing to just focus on watching his curiosity unfold, his enthusiasm abound and listening to his laughter without conducting the lesson. Indeed, I think not many parents have actually watched their children in classes and I’m indeed blessed to have the opportunity.

That was the hands-on part of the lesson. Other parts involved some writing where the kids would attempt comprehension questions (choose from two options with pictures) after the teacher has gone through the passage, learn sight words and word families.

TLL has a 30-people strong curriculum team who refreshes the learning materials weekly. The week before that, they also had a more interesting session where they learned about Mexico and got to eat tortilla chips and salsa (which according to the teacher, my boy ate the most even though he found the salsa to be spicy). The National Day week saw them going through related materials as well and they all got to have a Singapore flag tattoo which they were so eager to show off at the end of the lesson.

I have many more photos of my boy’s (N2 English) class observation than my girl’s (Primary 1 Math) class simply because of the nature of the lessons for the age groups. Nursery level classes naturally tend to be more exciting and hands-on, and even so, I do find that TLL does require the students to be more focused and able to handle more seat work. As mentioned in my previous blog post, the curriculum at TLL though designed to follow MOE requirements closely, is pitched 20-30% higher so the students have an edge over others.

My girl’s Primary One Math class was definitely more academic in nature, which was totally expected since at that level, the focus is on honing exam skills and getting the students to understand Math concepts.

For the Math class, I found the teacher to be very organised and systematic. They started the class with housekeeping matters where the students all filed their marked worksheets in the correct sections. The teacher also played simple games with the students so the students could distinguish between the concepts of long vs. tall. To help the students understand length of curved/winding lines (as opposed to straight ones), the teacher also used concrete objects. There was also constant revision of concepts and exam skills taught in the course of attempting questions and the students all took turns to chip in with their answers and were not afraid to ask questions.

As the lesson I observed was approaching the test week in primary schools, I’d say the lesson was definitely gearing the students up for their test by revising earlier topics covered in Term 3. The teacher also reminded the students of the exam skills that had been taught previously when she observed any one of the students not applying the knowledge when attempting the questions. I like that answers are not fed to students and they are given time to work through the questions one at a time, individually first, then checking and explaining how they derived the answers as a class.

After a term at TLL (Westgate), we were encouraged to sign up for another term for my girl. I think at the end of the day, for parents to be willing to spend the time and money on enrichment for children, the most important thing is that the enrichment has to be effective, especially when you are paying good money for it.

For my girl, my hubby and I have noticed how much more positive she is now towards Math and attempting challenging questions. It’s also something that her TLL teacher commented on in the informal progress report she gave me at the end of the term. In her words, my girl “started off with apprehension in her mathematic ability. She would hardly attempt questions on her own and would require me to look over her shoulder as she did her work … Now, she takes the initiative to attempt questions on her own, even if she is unsure of the correct answer.”

Indeed, she used to give up immediately when she felt that the question was too challenging but now I notice that she really tries to apply the exam skills she learned at TLL. Her speed of mental calculations has also improved – when she started at TLL, she was still using her fingers to count when doing addition within 20.

Overall, we find that the lessons at TLL have been effective in boosting her self-confidence and improving her attitude towards Math. I also like that we don’t have to check through her TLL homework to ensure that she got every question right as the teacher expects the students to complete the homework without assistance so she knows which learning gaps to address. There is also constant revision of various topics as TLL assignments done in class and for homework span a wide range of topics, not just concentrating on the new one introduced. I will share more about the Math classes when I get to observe another lesson some time in Term 4, before the end of year exam preparation goes into full swing, to give a fuller picture of the Math programme – so be sure to keep a look out for my blog post.

As for my boy, I’d say that his attitude towards practising writing has improved in the course of the term. Before we started lessons at TLL, he already knew how to write his alphabets but he was not very keen on writing and there was plenty of room for improvement in his handwriting. When his TLL teacher first passed me the Reading Log, I was quite flabbergasted that there was actual homework to be done but eventually I realised that not only did the whole assignment provide the kids with good readers to learn to enjoy reading, it actually encouraged them to write purposefully and in my boy’s case, he got used to doing some writing and copying every week. For that, we are actually very pleased with him and how he adapted quickly, though he admittedly took a little longer to deal with separation anxiety in the first few sessions at TLL.

In the first week, I thought he wasn’t up to writing so I did the writing for the titles. In the second week, I let him take ownership of his work:

This is the page for his last assignment at the end of 13 weeks. It is so much neater and he takes pride in writing on the line!

Conscientiously doing his last TLL assignment

I personally find that the N2 English class is pitched at really quite a high level as letter sounds are covered in N1, so N2 focuses on word families and letter sounds are not re-visited for new students who join in N2. There’s a gap there and TLL tries to fill it by providing new students who were not with them in N1 with an A-Z book which is issued in the term that they join.

Even though my little boy enjoyed the lessons at TLL, unfortunately being a single-income family, we have only enough resources to let my girl continue with her lessons. It’s a matter of who-needs-what-more for now. Meanwhile, we will definitely continue to encourage our boy to continue with what TLL has started with him.

For more information about the locations and programmes offered at The Learning Lab:



Disclosure: This is an advertorial. All opinions expressed are 100% mine.

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Why I recommend Literature based learning for children

If you are new to literature based learning, essentially it is using authors’ original narrative and expository works as the core for experiences to support children in developing literacy.

Literature-based instruction is much more than giving students quality literature; it is doing the authentic things with the literature that all writers and readers would naturally do, and giving students support with these activities as they need it. As Wells (1990) indicates, children and young adults develop literacy (reading, writing, thinking) by having real literacy experiences and getting support from more-experienced individuals, who may be adults or peers. Research clearly shows that literature-based instruction helps all students become better readers, writers, and thinkers (Tunnell & Jacobs, 1989). (Source)

I must first clarify that it is such a natural reaction to do something as a follow-up to a book that it was only much later that I realised what I was doing with my daughter (many years ago) had a proper term for it (You can view the complete list of literature-based learning stuff we have done at the end of this post).

One of the activities we did when we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar – egg carton caterpillars

You can use the literature based approach for any book, but I’ve chosen to go with the Before Five in a Row (BFIAR) curriculum (for 2-4 year olds). Using the curriculum, you will read the story of the week (there’s a list of stories which you don’t need to read in sequence) for five days in a row – which is where it got its name from – and do various activities based on what the guide suggests. There are plenty of ideas on Pinterest too if you don’t use the guide.

I think the idea of staying focused on the story for at least a few days to explore the story and its ideas is useful because children learn through repetition and in many cases, they would want the same story read many times over anyway. Reading the story and focusing on a different aspect each day (e.g. Art on Monday, Language on Tuesday, Field trip on Wednesday, Science on Thursday, History on Friday) also breaks things down into bite-sized portions for children and this leads to my first point in my list of why I recommend using the literature based approach for children.

1. Literature based learning encourages the exploration of ideas or subjects. For instance, Goodnight Moon drew the kids’ attention to how the moon looks like and we took time to view the moon every night and went through briefly (not too technical) why the moon looks different although in reality the shape never changes. You can download Phases of the Moon printables (free from The Crafty Classroom) for this exploration. This is just an example but you get the drift. (I get my 7-year-old to join in for activities that are still suitable for her age or I tweak the activity to make it more challenging)

2. It is cross disciplinary – there is exposure to different subjects (art, language arts, science, geography, history etc.) while remaining anchored by the text and children also grow in their understanding of the world (e.g. social norms) and themselves.

In If Jesus came to my house, the story is about a little boy who imagines what he’d do if Jesus came to his house – through the story, the child can learn about hospitality and appropriate behaviour when there are guests in the house. The boy in the story also mentioned he was afraid of shadows. So we discussed fears (learning to speak about fears), I shared my own fear of this particular shadow when I was young (demonstrating empathy), we played in the dark with torches while trying to form discernible shadows (good ol’ fun times!), and I tapped on his interest in his shadow by showing him how at different times of the day, his shadow would have a different length (science). We did a simple illustration of this by measuring the kids’ shadows at different times of the day (morning, noon and evening) and had them record their findings.

In the same text, it is written in rhyme (language) so the concept of rhyme is introduced /reinforced depending whether he’s grasped it (there are quite a few texts in the BFIAR curriculum with rhyming text). By the end of the curriculum (we just finished the curriculum recently!), he understood the concept of rhyme.

3. The kid remembers better what he has learned because there’s a storyline which he can recall. My little one still talks about the bluejay in Play with Me and the importance of looking after one’s own belongings (The Big Green Pocketbook), Angus got lost when he strayed (Angus Lost) etc. Some stories stick better than others but I guess personal interests play a part in that.

4. It is a multi sensory approach, and I’d say learning is done through fun ways. In fact, as mentioned earlier, ‘the types of activities done with the literature are the natural types of things children and adults would do when reading and responding to any good book’, and hence learning is a natural outcome.

Examples of what we have done for BFIAR with my boy:

  • Discussion of Illustration in the books:
    • different art styles (e.g. pencil and ink sketches vs. water colour painting; two-dimensional vs. three-dimensional drawings),
    • develops ability to infer meaning and ideas conveyed through illustrations [- in The Big Green Pocketbook, there’s a picture of the girl sitting on the floor with her back to the reader after she lost her pocketbook (handbag). My boy managed to infer that the picture conveyed the girl’s sadness/grief at the loss],
    • the child becomes more sensitive to details and can point them out (e.g. in The Carrot Seed, the illustrator used pale orange and brown for every picture in the story except the prize carrot at the end of the book to highlight it; in Goodnight Moon, there’s a picture of the Runaway Bunny (which the child would be able to point out after reading both books), three bears (from Goldilocks and the Three Bears), a cow jumping over the moon (from the rhyme).
  • I brought him to a friend’s place for him to interact with her rabbits and her dog. He got to feed and mingle with the pets when we rowed the book The Little Rabbit. We also checked out the pet store (but no photography is allowed there) to explore what other types of animals people keep as pets.

  • Counting blueberries (and eating them) when we rowed Blueberries for Sal. 

  • When we were at Genting’s Snow World (during the June holidays) where we experienced the cold and made fake snow, he managed to link his experience to The Snowy Day – ability to draw links is important. The fake snow though, obviously doesn’t melt. :)

  • From the reading of The Big Green Pocketbook, he made associations with his own day, showed empathy when the little girl lost her bag and showed understanding of the meaning of gratitude
  • We planted some beans (we didn’t have seeds) and a carrot top when we rowed The Carrot Seed and took photos daily of the growth for a week.

  • We also watched YouTube videos to extend the learning experience. For instance, when we rowed The Little Rabbit, we watched various short videos of baby animals and talked about how they looked, how long it takes for them to be fully grown etc. The things we can do with the power of the Internet!
  • He learned some hands-on skill of sewing a button on when we rowed Corduroy. I made the learning aid when I rowed Corduroy with my daughter years ago (check the full list of literature based learning posts on the blog at the end of this post).

5. With such pleasant memories following reading, children naturally will form positive associations with the act of reading, and in the long run, hopefully they will develop the good habit of reading and learn to be close readers of text (which translates to better comprehension skills).

I hope that what I’ve shared above will at least pique your interest in checking out this approach to teaching children. :)

With every approach, there are bound to be some drawbacks.


  • I find that some prep work is needed but it’s still manageable if you plan ahead. To work around this, work with whatever resources (including time) you have – focus on some main things you want and zoom in on those.

Other points to note

  • Technically it can be done with any book but I like to rely on the list in BFIAR and Five in a Row (FIAR) and also renowned titles and authors as it makes things easier for me. I borrowed the guides from my homeschool friends, and even if you don’t have it (and don’t want to buy it from Amazon), Google will come up with something for you. I know, because I did BFIAR loosely with my girl without the guide, though we didn’t do every currently available book in the list (a few are out of print).
  • Most books in the BFIAR curriculum are available in our libraries – we are so blessed!
  • It can be as elaborate as you want it to be; and as simple as you can manage.

I haven’t blogged about all I’ve done for the books (BFIAR or not), and I don’t intend to kill myself doing it, but here are some instances of what I’ve done (with my daughter in the past). You’ll be encouraged to know that it ain’t that difficult after all after checking out what I’ve done. The hardest part is the inertia to start!

The literature based learning posts on the blog:

Mister Seahorse (Eric Carle) Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown)    The Wind Blew (Pat Hutchins) Corduroy (Don Freeman)
the mixed up chameleon activitiesThe Mixed Up Chameleon (Eric Carle) Little Cloud (Eric Carle) The Perfect Square (Michael Hall) the very hungry caterpillarThe very hungry caterpillar (Eric Carle)
Little Blue and Little YellowLittle Blue and Little Yellow (Leo Lionni) DSC_0773Owl Babies (Martin Waddell) CollageToday I am… (Mies van Hout)


Sensory Play ideas on the blog:

farm sensoryFarm Sensory Bin Ocean themed sensory bin Penguins Small World Play Beans for sensory play
Coloured salt sensory box Sensory bags for the kids coverFall scented cloud dough ice alphabet lettersIce alphabet letters play
Shaving foam art with pipettes Shaving foam marbling art Shaving foam with water beads Shaving foam painting
Contact Paper process art Salt Glue Painting Painting with water beads Velcro Craft sticks
Home-made play dough


Lovely and constructive comments are welcomed. Do hop over to my Facebook page where I connect with my readers and I would love to have you following me on Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram too :)

Posted in Homeschooling, Literature-based learning | 4 Comments

A new accomplishment and End-of-term-3 review

It’s been a while since I updated the blog about her P1 journey. The last time I wrote it was how we started Term 3 with a bang. Now that it’s the end of the term, I thought I’d do a review of how the term went.

We started the term with a milestone achievement and ended with one as well:

I edited the photo to remove the name of the school for privacy reasons and the name of the school is in the award. The award is actually the equivalent of a Model Student Award and is given to one student per class per month. Although it’s a monthly award and it doesn’t seem that difficult to get, based on the fact that it’s one student per class, I knew how hard she worked for it because she kept talking about how she has to behave in order to qualify to be chosen for the award. And knowing that she’s not exactly the angelic type or the quiet, obedient type, she definitely had to control herself very well to get this award. In fact, when she told us that she was the next to receive the award, we were skeptical (so mean, but we couldn’t quite help it).

It took a long while for her to receive her award (plus a badge) though because they only have prize-presentations on Mondays during assembly and there were some school holidays and so it was only in August that she received her much desired award.

Apart from her award, she has been coping well with her schoolwork and this term, I worried a lot less about her Math results now that she has been attending The Learning Lab (TLL) since the start of the term (you can read more about my review of TLL). There has been somehow less homework this term so that meant we had more time to play, experiment with new stuff,

and explore new interests, like learning cursive handwriting:

I printed off and laminated these practice sheets from Confessions of a Homeschooler (these are FREE)

She’d seen a couple of the teachers write in cursive so she was intrigued and wanted to learn too. And since she was interested and had the time, I indulged her and bound all the laminated sheets into a book for her. I figured at some point in time my little boy would want to try too so laminating it would definitely be useful.

We also made a mask for a competition and went shopping to get everything together to showcase the mask.

We also celebrated her 7th birthday this term!! 😀

I also only realised that she’d been doing creative writing in school this term. I mean I’ve seen that jotter book a couple of times when it came back with her and there are also only a couple of assignments thus far in the book which she completed in school. Over the National Day long weekend, I was told that she needed to write a composition with the theme Celebration, given a picture of a girl waking up in bed. I had to go and read up on how to teach composition, and realised in the process that the format for composition has changed and wasn’t what we used to do in school. Anyway, since I found the way that kids are taught writing in school anything but creative, I decided that I’d try to teach her myself. And because she wasn’t very keen on writing, I decided to make it special by allowing her to type on my MacBook: makes it easier to make changes too when needed. She was, as expected, very motivated because she got to use my laptop. 😀

Unfortunately due to my commitment to some ad-hoc assignment in August, I have not had the chance to follow up with the teaching and anyway I feel that my method was rather haphazard. I shall have to make time for this and improve!

This term, we had a minor run-in with the same boy from Term 1 when he took some of her belongings. Fortunately it was resolved quickly and though we didn’t get everything back, there was some closure as his mom conveyed her apology through the form teacher.

At the end of the term, we also started our Junior Explorers subscription and she loves the activities thus far (check out my review of the newest subscription box in Singapore).

So that’s our review of the term! This is the first time I’m reviewing the term and I think I actually like looking back on the term so I shall continue with this and probably do one up for my homeschooled boy as well! :)

This post is part of an ongoing series:


Other posts in this series:

Posted in Memories, Parenting, Primary One, Primary School | Tagged | Leave a comment