Melbourne – a family-friendly city we love

Melbourne is one of the most family-friendly cities in the world, with lots to see and do. Here are 6 fun activities to take the kids to and you can easily find them all over Melbourne. We stayed in the Mornington Peninsular area as that was the only place where we managed to find accommodation for 30 people under one roof, and it turned out to be a really lovely part of Melbourne to explore.

1. Visit a Farm or Wildlife sanctuary

The first thing that came to mind for the kids was to get up close and personal with kangaroos and koalas. We went to Moonlit Sanctuary which was just a short drive from our rented house. They have kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, emus, tasmanian devils and many more Australian animals. They even conduct evening tours, which has to be booked in advance.
Feeding wallabies

Moonlit Sanctuary

Admission fees:
Child (4-15 years): $9
Adult: $18
Under 4: Free
Family: (2A 2C): $48

Operating Hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm (except Christmas Day)

550 Tyabb-Tooradin Road
Pearcedale, Victoria 3912, Australia


“Who, me?”

2) Outdoor family fun

The Enchanted Maze Garden is a huge gardens filled with lots to do. The kids came here mainly for the tube slides which is suitable for both children and adults. Kids under 5 have to sit with an adult, and there is a maximum weight of about 100kg. I normally wait at the sidelines and watch while the hubs accompany them, but the kids kept telling me “Mum, it’s not scary at all, not even for you” that I dared to give it a go. Yup, they were right, and it was pretty fun doing it together with them. Only thing is it might be quite hot during summer to drag the tube up the slope. We had a brilliant time as we went during the beautiful spring weather.

You can easily spend half a day here as there are indoor and outdoor mazes and other simple game-like structures dotted around the park. There is also tree-surfing, which is like our forest adventure, where you are harnessed and navigate an obstacle course high up around the trees. They have fixed timings for tree-surfing, and it’s better to book in advance. There is a cafe on the grounds, right at the entrance. Everyone has to pay to enter the grounds, even if you just sit at the cafe.

Kate zooming down with her daddy

The Enchanted Maze Garden

Admission fees:
Adult: $29
Child (3-17) $19

Operating Hours:
Most parts of the park: 10am – 6pm
Some slightly earlier or later. Full details of operating hours, click here.

55 Purves Road
Arthurs Seat

Maze hedges

3) Horse riding

Initially, we wanted to ride all the way to the beach, however that would have taken us 2 hours so we settled for the trail ride which lasted for an hour. This is also suitable for the entire family. After we came back to Singapore, #3 told me she has changed her mind. She doesn’t want a dog anymore. She wants a horse. And she’s going to name her Caramel. I’m sure I will hear no end to this.

Younger ones on the smaller horses (background)

Gunnamatta Trail rides

We went for the Trumans Bush Ride (50 – 55 mins)
Suitable for beginners (min 6 years old)
$70 adult / $60 child

Operating Hours:
About 9.30am – 4pm
Advance booking necessary
(They require a booking deposit via credit card)

Corner of Truemans road and Sandy road, Fingal, Vic 3939

4) Go Karting

You might think Go-karting = speeding. However, it is up to you to control the speed, and even our aunt who is in her 60s tried it. Both the men and the kids enjoyed themselves so much that they went back again the next day!

We went to Le Mans Go Karts which happened to be the newest and largest go karting track in Victoria. As we had a big group, the adults did a 30 lap race. The kids were broken up into ages, with the teenagers doing a 30 minute race while the little ones did just 10 minutes. There are ample sofas and chairs indoors for those not joining in to wait and they sell light snacks and drinks.

#5 thoroughly enjoying himself

Le Mans Go Karts

10 min $23 (8 – 15 years) $32 (16 – adult)
20 min $42 (8 – 15 years) $57 (16 – adult)
30 min $57 (8 – 15 years) $75 (16 – adult)

Operating Hours
Sunday – Thursday 10am-11pm
Friday & Saturday 10am-11.30pm

11-55 Waterview Close
Dandenong South VIC 3175
7 year old niece did the small track (background)

5) Bush walking

When we told the kids we were going to Point Nepean National Park for a walk, they looked incredulous. Walk? While on holiday? Weren’t we running short on time with plenty more to do? In the end, they enjoyed the walk. Lots of little animals and birds to spot, ending at the beach for a nice family photo, and the cool weather contributed greatly to their enjoyment of the walk.

Point Nepean
6) Free playgrounds

We chanced upon this marvellous Rye community playground right by the beach. It looks like a dream playground and it was indeed conceptualised by the kids themselves, funds were raised by the community and the entire playground was built in 5 days by 700 skilled volunteers.

Where: Rye foreshore, Point Nepean Road, Rye.
Playground by the beach

Not forgetting the food.

When in Melbourne, we always make a stop in Chinatown for yum cha. The hubs used to frequent Sharksfin Inn when he lived here ages ago, so it was a must-visit for him. The selection is wider and they still serve them pushed out on trolleys. My all-time favourite yum cha item is this deep fried meat dumpling with a chewy crust, and these are the best I have found so far!
Another must-eat for us in Melbourne is the Vietnamese pho and we stopped by Springdale for it. Quick, fuss-free and satisfying meal, especially lovely eaten on a cold evening.
We thoroughly enjoyed our vacation with the extended family and I’m sure we will be back again someday! #3 is already making plans for her future – she wants to set up a cafe in the countryside with horses grazing nearby.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Thankful for… my husband’s extended family

In this day and age, families are spending less time together and people are getting more isolated. However, on the hub’s side of the family, they still have a strong sense of kampung spirit. The hub’s cousin was getting married and the clan flew over to Melbourne in full force to celebrate the occasion with them. All 30 of us stayed together under one roof for a couple of days and the kids had a great time playing together. Being a Hainanese family, there was never ending cooking and eating. Most of the cooking were done by the men, and they all had their speciality which they proudly whipped up. Even after a huge dinner, at like 10pm, we started smelling the aroma of curry and we asked incredulously, “Supper? We are stuffed!” And uncle answered, “Lamb curry, for breakfast”.

There were only 3 bathrooms for everyone and we had to take turns. Some had to sleep in what we termed the “workers dorm” which was an outdoor shed converted into sleeping quarters. Yet there were hardly any complains and we had a whole load of fun and laughs.

I myself come from a huge family on my dad’s side, with almost 100 extended family members. Sadly, most of us only meet during Chinese New Year and we don’t even remember the names of the new additions (with 6 kids, no one remembers my kids’ names!) For their generation, even though they are cousins, they seem more like strangers. Maybe I should suggest to my cousins that we should organise a simple family trip too, although I can imagine the logistics!

Mornington Peninsular National Park

It is heartening to be part of a family that is so close knit. It turned out to be a very enjoyable family vacation spanning 3 generations of kin which I’m sure everyone will remember for a long time to come.

Thankful Tuesdays:

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has” – Epictetus

Thankful… for the hub’s cooking
Thankful… for #5’s cooking and caring of Kate
Thankful… for #3 in so many ways
Thankful… for sister-in-law #1

Thankful… for our helper
Thankful… for my family
Thankful… for my mum-in-law
Thankful… for my father-in-law
Thankful… for all who helped create this blog
Thankful… for #4’s resilience and forgiveness
Thankful… for blogging perks

Linking up with:

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

6 simple things we do during the school holidays

During the school holidays, in between taking them out for activities, these are some of the simple things we do at home to get them away from their gadgets.

Things to do during the sweltering afternoons:

1. Paint pebbles

“Eww, what’s that on my finger?”

It’s never about the end-product but the process, isn’t it? They have an interesting story behind every creation.

Handmade paper weight, anyone?

I was actually inspired by these… but alas, it looks easy but it’s not!

For Kate, I got her an old styrofoam box to paint on.

2. Bake yummy cookies

These cookies are the best! Made by #2 of course, with her assistants. Slightly crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Recipe to follow soon, when I get the time to do it up. Promise.

 Homemade cookies are still the best

Then spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying a slow leisurely tea with freshly baked cookies.

“Small ones all for me?”

3. Play boardgames or card games

There’s never a lack of players in our house. We get a lot of our games from the local online website My First Games. They have a mind-boggling selection of very good games which doesn’t rely on luck to win.

Looks simple, but a test on speed

Things to do once the sun goes down:

4. Go to the playground

There’s so much to do at the playground. Play hide and seek around the play structures and trees, play ball, badminton, soccer, frisbee. I brought my sidewalk art set which I bought from the U.S. and all the other kids at the playground joined in as well. Lovely.

Sidewalk chalk and paint

5. Swim and pack a picnic

In this heat, the kids love mucking around the pool. There are so many fun swimming complexes all over our island and we’re taking Kate to them one by one.

Easiest to pack dinner along so we don’t have to rush back when the kids are hungry. Also gives the mummies more time to relax and chat!

Too lazy to pack? Just order

6. Fun walk after dinner

I made up this little game with the kids a couple of years back. When I first started asking them to go for a walk, they said “Huh. So tiring”. I told them we would walk to the nearest petrol station and back. I brought along some money in my pocket and asked them to guess the amount. Each child had 1 guess. If they got it right, they would be rewarded with the full amount to be shared amongst them. If they got it wrong, they would each be entitled to buy just 1 item with a cap of $2. The kids still remember the walks we had years ago and the fun they had trying to collaborate and out-guess mummy.

Sane tip: I used to be very ambitious and spent a lot of effort to plan and prepare activities to keep them occupied during the holidays. It really drained me and I became high-strung as I had more expectations. I have learnt that simple activities work just as well, and because I didn’t spend a lot of time and energy on the preparations, I am able to relax, go with the flow, and enjoy doing the activities along with them. And even if it doesn’t turn out the way it’s supposed to, it doesn’t bother me anymore.

Save tip: You can get chalk from Ikea which works well too. To make sidewalk paint, just pound up the chalk, put it in a plastic container, add water and stir.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Discipline #5: How to talk to boys vs girls

My first 4 kids were girls. Being a mother, I had no problems communicating with them. Then along came my son. I would be nagging him constantly to tidy up his room to no avail. Finally one day, I was having a conversation with some friends who only had boys. They told me their house sounds like a military base, where orders are given straight and curt. I was telling them how my nagging seems to be falling on deaf ears. I would be standing at the doorway to his room saying, “Look how messy your room is! How many times must I tell you to clear up the mess? Why don’t you ever listen to me?” With my girls, they understand these implicit instructions and immediately they will start to tidy up their room. However, my friends laughed and told me that with boys, I had to be direct. And explicit. With my earlier instructions, #5 must have been thinking, “Ok, I’m looking. I’m not sure how many times. I am listening.”

They said that with their boys, getting them to tidy their room sounds more like this: “Ben, pack all the Lego into the blue box now.” Clear, precise instructions.

For showering, I would tell my girls, “Why haven’t you showered?” And into the bathroom they would go. For the boys? They taught me that I should be saying: “Ben, take off your clothes and go and shower now.” 

When I was sharing this with some other friends over breakfast (who also had girls first), one of them told me that her son was the same. He would constantly forget to close the cupboard doors and she decided to nag him incessantly until he remembers to do so. Obviously, that isn’t working, and he has probably learnt how to tune out her voice.

On the other hand, for those of you who had boys first and are used to the command driven method of communication, take more care when you speak to your girl. My friend who had 2 boys followed by a girl was so used to ‘commanding’ her boys that she automatically did that with her girl. And the poor 2 year old used to break down in tears when her mum forgot and said to her in a stern voice, “Girl, go and bathe now.” Her hubby chided her gently and told her not to speak to their daughter so firmly, and when she spoke to her girl in a nice and gentle tone, her girl smiled, said “Ok mummy” and happily went in to shower.

We also realised that boys are generally not able to multi-task. If they were thoroughly absorbed in playing their Lego, they can’t hear you speaking to them even if you were right next to them. Once, when Kate was just a few months old, she was crying in the room next to where #5 was engrossed with his Lego. I was showering upstairs and heard her cries. When I went down and asked him why didn’t he go to her when she was crying so hard, he replied: “Oh really? She was crying?” Sigh. But at least now I know why the hubs doesn’t reply me when he is engrossed in his movie. And all along I thought he was pretending not to hear me…

Other discipline tips (which I’ve learnt after having 6 kids):

Discipline #8: What do you do when your 2-year old lies?
Discipline #9: When the gramps can’t say ‘no’
Discipline #10: 6 Tips to stop tantrums in toddlers

Discipline #11: Who has the energy to discipline our kids

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Cafe Melba @ Mountbatten

Took our mum out for dinner with my siblings over the mother’s day weekend. I wanted a place where the food had enough variety to suit both the kids and the grandparents and where the kids could stretch their legs. This place fits the bill, and I just love the laid-back ambience.

Indoor and outdoor seating available

There was a little gravel-filled pit which the kids all seemed to be poking straws into. Kate was obviously having a great time imitating the older kids.

Gravel-filled pit

As it was a weekend, they had 2 little jumping castles to keep the kids entertained.

Best suited for those under 8

Their food was decent, with a selection of mains, pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and salads. They also have a kids menu priced at $15 each, inclusive of a drink. The kids said that the truffle fries ($13) here are one of the best they have ever eaten. And yes, they have eaten a lot of truffle fries.

Peperoni pizza $18

They also have fusion dishes like this crayfish pasta, and we also tried their beef rending. While the standard of their food was nothing to shout about, at least they were very accommodating with the needs of the old folks and our requests to remove certain ingredients were accepted readily.

Crayfish linguini $27

I couldn’t resist ordering from their All day breakfast menu.

Eggs benedict $20

Sane tip: Love this little gem of a place tucked away at the Goodman Arts Centre. The atmosphere was nice and relaxed, parking was easy, and the kids had lots to occupy themselves with after dinner.

Save tip: The prices are actually a little above average, compared to similar cafes.

Cafe Melba
90 Goodman Road
Goodman Arts Centre
Block N #01-56
Singapore 439053
Tel: 64406068

Operating hours:
Mon – Fri: 10am – 10pm
Sat / Sun: 8am – 10pm

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Discipline #4: 6 common sleep mistakes for babies

One of the biggest parenting mistakes we made was not knowing anything about babies and their sleep. I did read a few books such as Babywise and What to Expect in the First year and knew about routines and bedtimes. However, I didn’t know just how absolutely important this whole business of sleep is. It was only after I had #5 and a close friend pointed out a very good book to me that I was enlightened.

I went on to read a few more books on the subject, and have come to thoroughly respect a child’s need for good, proper sleep. There is a lot of information to digest, so I’ll start with the 6 most common sleep mistakes for babies that parents unintentionally make.

1. Keeping them awake for too long

Babies can only tolerate a very short amount of awake time when they are young. Once you pass this time, they will start to get cranky and it will be harder to get them to sleep. There is a ‘magic’ window of opportunity when it is easiest for baby to sleep. You have to catch that window before they get over-tired. You know how it is that sometimes we feel drowsy, and suddenly our eyelids start to droop and we really feel like sleeping? That’s the window period where baby will easily fall asleep. If you ignore this time frame and keep baby up, she will start to fuss and get cranky. If you continue to ignore it and baby is not put to sleep, hormones will kick in and it becomes even harder for baby to get to sleep because the hormones drive her into a hyperactive state.

So how long should babies be awake for? Here is a general guide, but observe your own baby for their sleepy signs.

Birth – 6 weeks  : 45 mins
2 – 3 months     : 1 hour
4 – 5 months     : 1.5 hours
6 – 7 months     : 2 hours
8 – 9 months     : 2.5 hours
10 – 12 months  : 3 hours

2. Not watching out for sleepy signs e.g. yawning
I didn’t know about these signs to watch for until I had #5. Well, nobody told me, so how was I supposed to know right? All babies have a signal that it’s time to hit the cot. It could be rubbing their eyes, swiping their ear or pulling at their hair. Watch your baby. You will notice a pattern they display just before they are ready to sleep. Once you identify it, put them straight to bed when you see it displayed.

3. Going to them between sleep cycles

Babies’ sleep cycles last for one and a half hours with a little break at 45 minutes. They will stir, cry or make a bit of noise at this juncture. DO NOT go in to your baby. Give them the opportunity to fall back asleep by themselves. If you go in, they will be disturbed by your presence and will not want to go back to sleep. And it will likely result in a bad habit of wanting you to go in and carry or rock them back to sleep. After about 5 – 10 minutes of fussing, they will fall asleep again for the next cycle.
Kate woke up very early to send us off
4. Too late bedtime
Most people think that by keeping the baby awake later, she will sleep better at night. We thought that too, and our babies used to go to bed around 8 or 9pm. When they were waking up in the middle of the night or waking up too early, the hubs suggested putting them to bed even later so that they would be so tired they would sleep properly. What happened was that they woke up even earlier! I remember #4 used to sleep at 10pm and began her day at 5.30am. It seems like an illogical explanation, but sleep begets sleep, and the later the baby sleeps at night, the earlier she will wake up. After I read about sleep, I shared the information with friends who had babies the same age, and all our babies (from the time they were 6 months to around 4 or 5 years old) went to bed at 7pm and woke up slightly before 7am! We are now firm believers of giving our kids adequate sleep.
5. Sleeping in motion during naps
Sleeping while in the stroller when you are shopping, or in a carrier does not allow the baby to have the necessary deep sleep she needs. Babies have to be placed in the cot or bed to sleep properly. It is akin to us sleeping on the public bus vs sleeping on our own beds. Having said that, we have to balance this with living our lives. We shouldn’t be a ‘slave’ to their schedule and end up being stuck at home all the time and being resentful of it. It’s just to have an awareness of what is happening. I didn’t know all this in the early years and I deliberately took the baby out in the stroller at nap time as it was easiest to put them to sleep that way.
Sleeping like a baby
6. Attributing the crying to colic or other reasons

Many people simply attribute their baby’s constant crying to having colic, being night owls, or that their baby is very naughty. I suggest you try your very best to implement the strategies and allow your baby the opportunity to have adequate sleep before you come to such a conclusion. In most cases, your baby will surprise you. And you’ll have your nights back! 🙂
Do read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr Marc Weissbluth for a better understanding and some case studies of babies. 
~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Thankful… for #3 in so many ways

It was only when I was pregnant with Kate that I started noticing how caring and thoughtful #3 was. I had a very difficult pregnancy and was bed-bound for most of the 9 months. Initially, the kids were all very helpful, but they got tired of it and slowly became less and less helpful. Except for #3. Even till the end, she never hesitated or gave any excuse when I called for her. She pushed me to the toilet on the study chair, brought my food to the room, fed me on days when I couldn’t even feed myself, and dressed me when I had to make a trip to the doctor’s. I could be calling her throughout the day to fetch things for me and she always paused what she was doing and came to me. Ever since then, and after the birth of Kate, her character has really started to show, and I can say that there is not much more I can ask for in a child.

2 weeks ago she said, “Mum, is it ok if I take boy for a movie after school tomorrow?” I was slightly taken aback as #5 is only 7, and none of them has taken him out alone. “I asked him if he wants to watch the Lego movie and he said that his friends have watched it and he wants to watch it too. I know you are very busy so I can take him there by bus. Don’t worry mum, we’ll be fine.” Deep in my heart, I knew they would be fine as #3 is very independent and also very nurturing. Besides, the bus goes all the way to the terminal so there won’t be any roads to cross. I allowed them to go and told them I would pick them back so that they’ll be in time for dinner. It suddenly hit me that my kids have really grown up!

Sibling day out

When they came back, she immediately went to take care of Kate as she missed her very much, having been out the whole day. She’s also the one who spends the most time with Kate, playing with her, seeing to her needs, and teaching her all sorts of things. When Kate had quite a bad fall and bumped her head, she immediately ran to her, picked her up and consoled her. My sister-in-law said to me “Why are you sitting here so calmly? Looks more like she’s the mummy.” I quipped, “That’s her first child, but my 6th”.

Her real life toy

Sometimes after school, she invites her friends over to play with Kate as they all dote on her and Kate loves her jie jie’s friends too. We don’t own a dog and she knows that Kate loves dogs, so she goes to our neighbours’ houses to ‘borrow’ their dogs.

#3’s friend taking care of Kate
In the evenings, our helper used to settle Kate to sleep but these days, once our helper carries her into the room, she starts to wail as she wants to hang around with the rest of the family instead of going to bed. I was starting to get worried as this meant that I was a prisoner in the evenings. I was also wondering what am I to do when I go for my trip with my mum next month. One night, when I had to accompany the hubs for dinner, #3 told me that she would try to put her to bed, and she managed to! She even chose the safest bed for Kate to sleep in, which was the pull-out section of a bed, so that she will be sandwiched and won’t be able to roll off.
All in a day’s work

One wonderful trait of #3 is that nothing fazes her. She looks forward to challenges and instead of being stumped or anxious, she faces them squarely and thinks of ways to solve them. If one solution doesn’t work, she will think of another way.

I really love her can-do attitude. I took her for her dental appointment and as we were pressed for time, I instructed her to run up first while I went to search for a carpark. Just as I dropped her off, I asked her “Which floor is it?” (because I couldn’t remember). She hollered back, “I’m not sure but I’ll find my way!” and she dashed off. With this child, I don’t have to worry about her. 

You know, the strange thing was that when they were growing up, I had the most problems with her. She couldn’t sit still (too much energy), was always answering your questions with more questions (her mind thinks too fast), and was always getting lost (extremely curious child). But now, all that is working out really well. The same issues which I had with her became a boon instead of a bane.

I am indeed blessed.

Thankful Tuesdays:

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has” – Epictetus

Thankful… for our helper
Thankful… for my family
Thankful… for my mum-in-law

Linking up with:

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~