Thursday, 27 November 2008

Fun with Kampong Games @ the NSS Get-Together

By Goh Si Guim and Gloria Seow, NSS Education Group Chairperson

The stiff ends of the wild lalang grass (Imperata cylindrica) make good projectiles. To be exact, it is the midrib of the lalang that is launched when leaf blades on both sides of the midrib are rapidly ripped backwards between the fingers, causing the midrib to fly forward like an arrow. Uncle Si Guim shows the kids here how to launch such an arrow. Photo by Goh Si Guim.

During the Nature Society (Singapore) Get-Together on 1 November 2008, NSS Kids left behind their Playstations and XBoxes to go au naturale with games of yore.

At a time when Singapore was mostly kampongs and slums, toys were make-do improvisations of readily-available plant material like lalang and creepers of the wastelands and rubber fruits from disused rubber plantations. They were the source of endless enjoyment in Uncle Si Guim’s village (Lorong Ah Soo, circa 1970), where a little imagination went a long way in transforming these simple playthings into objects of fascination and great entertainment.

For example, the pointed fruits of the Thunbergia made excellent projectiles when ‘fired’ from a wooden rifle. The rifle itself was fashioned from wood to resemble the real thing, and Thunbergia bullets were propelled by kinetic energy from released rubber bands. The stiff ends of the wild lalang grass (Imperata cylindrica) also made good projectiles. To be exact, it is the midrib of the lalang that is launched when leaf blades on both sides of the midrib are rapidly ripped backwards between the fingers, causing the midrib to fly forward like an arrow. Lalang arrows and Thunbergia rifles thus became a game of Red Indians and Cowboys, emulating popular Westerns shown in the days of black-and-white TV.

Uncle Si Guim lets a little boy try out the Thunbergia wooden 'gun', a favourite kampong toy. Photo by Gloria Seow.

The little boy's Thunbergia 'bullet' hits the cloth with some impact, but just beyond the target circle. Photo by Gloria Seow.

Fallen rubber fruits can be turned into a spinning toy by inverting its fruit walls and locking them together (bottom right of photo). The photo above shows both the rubber fruit's walls and seeds. Photo by Goh Si Guim.
The three-chambered rubber fruit has one seed encased within each chamber by a pair of earlobe-like walls. As the fruit dries and contracts, it builds up a great explosive energy and at some point, enough tension causes the two halves of each chamber to dehisce violently, dispersing the seeds some distance away. The fallen fruit walls, mirror opposites in structure, are usually still attached to each other by a thin strand of fibre. Kampong kids would then detach the two halves, invert one half over the other, and lock them in place with the help of a thin springy flap found on the fruit walls. Held gently between the thumb and the third finger, the new toy can then be blown, with the curvature in each half catching the wind and setting the contraption into a delightful spin. Kids were intrigued by the ingenuity of these simple toys, lovingly gathered and made by Uncle Si Guim.

Kids blowing the rubber fruit walls to make the toy spin. Photo by Goh Si Guim.

Auntie Geok Choo and Auntie Gloria then taught the Kids how to play ‘Five Stones’, a game that required good hand-eye coordination to enable the precise throwing and catching of tiny, triangular cloth bags of rice or sand in a fixed sequence. A round of Chatek followed next, with Uncle Loong Fah expertly kicking the feathered device in a controlled fashion to keep it off the ground for as long as possible. Kids then started kicking the Chatek to each other in an impromptu match and had lots of fun doing so.

Playing 'Five Stones', a game involving the throwing and catching of triangular cloth bags of rice or sand in a fixed sequence. Photo by Kevin Blackburn.
Uncle Timothy then introduced the Kids to his childhood pastime of ‘Marbles’, where one marble is carefully aimed and thrown into a sandy pit full of marbles to knock as many of these out of the ring as possible. Children could be seen squatting around in small groups, engaged in a friendly rivalry for more marbles, reminiscent of a bygone era of kampong kids and their simple games.

Kids enjoying the riveting game of 'Marbles'. Photo by Gloria Seow.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Next NSS Kids' Outing: Perfect 10 Ramble at Admiralty Park on 22 Nov 08

Admiralty Park - Photo from Nparks link -

Our next NSS (Nature Society Singapore) Kids events for children 4-12 years old is a Perfect 10 Ramble at Singapore's latest natural attraction in the North - Admiralty Park - on 22 Nov 08 from 8-11am. See below for details. Sign up soon to ensure places for your kids at this exciting outing! We also need volunteers for this event - please contact me if you are able to help.

Title: NSS Kids' Perfect 10 Ramble @ Admiralty Park

Date: Sat 22 Nov 2008

Start Time: 8am to 11am

Start Location: Republic Polytechnic entrance

Coordinator: Gloria Seow (

Leader: Benjamin Ho, Nature Ramblers Cost: $5/child (member); $10/child (non-member) Registration needed

Come explore newly-opened Admiralty Park in an easy 5-km/2-hour NSS Kids' ramble led by Benjamin Ho of the Nature Ramblers. Lots of fascinating natural sights to see along the way! In this "Perfect 10 Ramble", we’ll aim to show you 10 bird species, 10 butterfly species, 10 plant species and 10 miscellaneous species. Try to spot an active troop of Crab-eating Monkeys foraging in the mangroves along Sungei China. Bring along your binoculars and you'll get to observe up close colourful birds, butterflies and insects. If you don't have your own pair, we'll provide one. To top it off, there are plenty of scenic spots for photo taking. Please register your kids (4-12 years old) with Gloria at, stating their names & ages, if you are a NSS member or not, your mobile number, and if you need us to provide binoculars or not. A registration fee of $5 per child (member) or $10 per child (non-member) will be collected on the spot. Parents are encouraged to come along at no charge. Meet at 8 am at the entrance of Republic Polytechnic. More details will be emailed to those who sign up.

Gloria Seow
Nature Society (Singapore)
Chairperson, Education Group

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

NSS Kids' Fun with Asian Elephants @ Orchidville

By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson

Jin Pyn, the talented author-cum-illustrator of the children’s book ‘The Elephant and The Tree’ read aloud this endearing story, peppering her recitation with lots of captivating Ele facts and figures. This 27 September 2008 event was hosted by Nature’s Niche, the nature bookstore formerly at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, at its new location in Orchidville off Mandai Road.

Author Jin Pyn’s animated story telling brought home the message that Asian Elephants need Trees (the jungle) for their continued survival.

The laid-back ambience of Orchidville (Singapore’s largest orchid farm) proved an apt venue as kids could also browse at Ele-related books and paraphernalia sold at Nature’s Niche. After an invigorating story telling session, kids were treated to two videos filmed at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, north Thailand. These videos showed how Asian elephants lived and played alongside locals and tourists in a conservation-oriented elephant camp. Here, jumbos were portrayed as sensitive, fun-loving giants, co-existing peacefully with mankind in their natural habitat of lush jungles and meandering rivers.

8-year old Faith Wong captured the essence of the session with her cute conservation-themed drawing.

Kids were later asked to draw on ‘trees’ (at the back of recycled paper), to illustrate their thoughts and wishes for elephants. They were particularly energized as Jin Pyn revealed that good drawings would be animated by her and featured on her website at

NSS Kids’ Fun with Beverage Plants

By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson

That cup of coffee, tea or cocoa that most of us cannot do without to start off our day was given prominence at the NSS Kids’ Fun with Beverage Plants session held at the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden on 23 August 2008.

Kids gathered around the cocoa tree at the Children’s Garden, the source of their favourite drink Milo.

Auntie Angie led the session, bringing the kids to view the three beverage plants at the Children’s Garden, and talked about the various caffeine-based properties that made these beverages so popular. The best part was that kids got to touch for themselves live coffee cherries from Auntie Angie’s own tree, ripping apart the skin of these cherries to see the two coffee beans encased within. Uncle Timothy then told stories of how these plants were discovered, harking back to mystical legends and whimsical tales. For example, coffee was discovered by a shepherd boy who noticed that his goats became more frisky after eating the plant!

Auntie Angie and Uncle Timothy hold up cocoa pods.
Kids jostled to help pour the beverages out from a Middle-Eastern coffee pot.

Auntie Gloria then continued the session by explaining how the three plants were processed from their raw forms into the delicious cuppa that wakes us up. Kids then tried their hand at brewing their own tea, coffee and cocoa, and had fun pouring out and sipping the hot beverages in tiny take-home souvenir tea cups. Uncle Si Guim was the kind soul who helped rinsed the cups after each beverage was downed with delight. Finally, kids were asked to illustrate the total number of cups consumed by their family members each day, using the powder of each of the beverages to paste onto their drawings, a messy but enjoyable piece of art!

Some of the kids with their pieces of beverage art.

Beverage Art with Raw (green colour) and Roasted (black colour) Coffee beans mixed with a Coffee Cherry (red colour) on a Coffee Leaf.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Fun with Horseshoe Crabs

Written by NSS Kids' Emily Blackburn

Barnacles like to choose horseshoe crabs as well as rocks for homes!

Today (6 July 2008) we went to the NSS Kids activity, Fun with Horseshoe Crabs @ the Mandai Mudflats! It was a fun-filled and exciting trip! We learnt all about horseshoe crabs from one of the volunteers Poh Bee. We managed to save a few horseshoe crabs from fishing nets left by some irresponsible fisherman. There were some secondary school youths who also came to lend a helping hand.

Poh Bee is explaining to us how horseshoe crabs moult and showing us actual moults.

Emily with her mother Tan Swee Ngin and her brother Nicolas. We are gingerly handling horseshoe crabs by their carapaces and not their tails.
We watched and learnt how to measure horseshoe crabs and how to tell the difference between male and female crabs. Horseshoe crabs may have the word “crab” in their name but they are actually related to spiders and scorpions. The most important part of their body is the tail because they need their tail to flip themselves over if they happen to be washed upside down by waves. These gentle creatures do not sting or bite but if you are not careful when handling them, you may get pricked accidentally by one of their sharp spikes.
The Mandai Mudflats are simply polluted with rubbish! No wonder lots of horseshoe crabs die!

Horseshoe crabs were collected and placed in plastic troughs. Volunteers would then measure their diameter, sex the crabs, record their findings and release the crabs.

Volunteers and students in action!
Cute baby horseshoe crabs being measured.
Sloshing on mudflats, looking for horseshoe crabs. Photo by Goh Si Guim.