Nuts & Bolts

About

Nuts & Bolts is a quaint little standalone shop in Balestier Road specialising in open ended toys sourced from all over the world.

Open ended toys are toys which can be used in a variety of ways, depending on the child’s creativity and imagination. For example, a curved wooden board can be a rocker or flipped over to become a tunnel. It can be propped up against a sofa and used as a slide. Open ended toys are kept simple and as natural looking as possible.

The owner of Nuts & Bolts is Wei Xuan, a lovely homeschooling mama of two. Her children are her main priority and the opening hours of the store actually revolves around their schedule. As such, the store is not open daily but about twice a week. To maintain a comfortable experience for visitors, the store runs on an appointment-only basis.

Her children came up with the name Nuts and Bolts, as they used this term instead of “pins and needles”. Both children helped to set up the store by painting signs, fixing shelves, cleaning up… the entire store is a product of love by their family.

We had the pleasure of visiting the store twice and it was such fun for the children! The store has large glass windows to let natural sunlight shine through. The store itself is not large by any account, but it is well-designed and doesn’t feel claustrophobic. There are various corners where children can play at indoors. Behind the store is a grassy slope where children can run up and down and outside the store are climbing frames, large hollow blocks and a sand corner. These activities will be changed from time to time.

The first time we went there, the kids got to paint on seashells and spray coloured water on a piece of paper using a spray bottle while they painted on a mirror the next visit. 

Most of the products which are on sale are available for children to test out. Although there is no obligation to purchase, it is close to impossible to leave empty handed. The products are decently priced, taking into consideration the overheads required to maintain such a place. Play objects which promote gross motor skills such as the Wobbel board, Confidence Triangle, Large Hollow Blocks and the Step-up-step-down Rocking Boat can be placed in the home in place of electronic toys. 

A multitude of smaller toys promoting sensory development and creativity line the walls of the store. There are treasure blocks, which are wooden hollow blocks with acrylic centres that can be filled with anything from beads to feathers and buttons. Baby percussion instruments, mirrors, light pads with colourful acrylic paddles and geometric shapes… there are simply too many to list. 

Mirrors are an integral part of the Reggio Emilia approach because it adds depth and structure to a child’s learning when he is able to see the object from all angles. The mirrors sold are child safe and do not contain glass.

Wei Xuan mentioned that she likes observing how each child uses the play objects and behaves. Some are confident, some are shy, some need help while others don’t.

The children couldn’t keep themselves away from the sand area. Didi loved it so much, he put it in his mouth. Pro-tip: bring a bottle of powder if you’re intending to let your children play with sand so you can dust the sand off easily. There are no washrooms in the store so it may be wise to bring some water for washing hands too. 

It is a unique concept where children are allowed and encouraged to do what they want with the toys. There is no stress unlike in some stores where you feel like the salesperson is trailing you and guilt-tripping you into buying the products.

Over at Nuts & Bolts, it feels more like a playdate at a friend’s house. That said, it is still a store so please don’t bring your children there to play for hours without at least making a purchase to show your support!


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Only cash or PayLah accepted.

*** This is not a sponsored review and no compensation was received in exchange for this post. All opinions are my own.

Shaping Early Childhoods

Many children in Singapore are forced into highly competitive environments as early as 4 years of age. Their schedules are chock full of enrichment and preparation classes until they don’t even look forward to school holidays anymore because they have holiday camps and more classes.

These kids go to primary school and feel bored, causing the bar to be raised even higher for future batches of students. It’s a suffocating cycle. With two very young children at home, I wish to let them play and explore and ideally, pick up concepts and develop their own reasoning through play. 

Eventually, I will have to prepare them for primary school to ensure that they know enough to not fall behind their peers and suffer from low self-esteem. Before that, setting up an environment which stimulates learning will be beneficial for their holistic development.

My own childhood was less stressful and I remember having my own huge playhouse with working fan and lights, constructed by my father from a TV box. He crafted cardboard shelves from pizza boxes for my Barbie dolls and taught me to cycle. Okay, I completed Mixed-Up Mother Goose, watched my dad play Wolf 3D and Prince of Persia, so I wasn’t all Tarzan. I felt real academic stress when I started primary school.

Here’s why open-ended play is important. How do we start? Popular beliefs of open-ended play are that “Passive toys make active learners.” and “The best toys for babies do nothing”. Rather than buy an electronic toy drum set, hand them pots and pans. Start a collection of bread tags, bottle caps, toilet paper rolls, rubber bands, pebbles, leaves… things readily available in the household.

There are many ideas available online I’m only beginning to clear out my toys. In the meantime, I try to bring them out for playdates at least once a week to socialise and explore non-digital environments. On days that we don’t go out, we sometimes let them go to the playground to climb, run and expend all that energy. Letting kids sit on grass does wonders for their immune systems. Also, you know those electric shocks you get when you brush against another person? Standing barefooted on the ground, though icky, dispels static electricity from your body into the ground.

Children are like flowers; fragile yet with the right environment, they will flourish.

 

Blue House Atelier

We’ve been to Blue House Atelier at UE Square quite a number of times now. The Atelier offers Playgroup, weekly classes  and drop-in sessions. Lessons ($40) are an hour each with a theme. Each child is introduced and an instructor will sing a few songs before introducing the theme of the day. As they focus on the Reggio Emilia approach of learning, the children get to be in control of how they want to play, how long they want to play and whether they want to play at all!

LESSONS:

For one lesson, they brought out raw oatmeal and pasta for the children to mess with. Sensory play is essential for babies and toddlers to develop cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. Elise started off by swiping around the box…

…then she decided to climb inside the box! The instructors encourage parents to let children be during the session – they are allowed to smell the oatmeal, throw it, fling it, put it in their hair, put it in their friend’s hair etc. It’s all about messy play. Mess =/= stress when you’re not the one having to clean up!

In other lessons, there’s messier play where the babies can be in their diapers for easier cleanup. Once, the babies played with tubs of cold yoghurt on bubble wrap, smearing it on their faces and round tummies. On another occasion, they fiddled with tubs of water beads along with ladles, pots and pans to build their gross motor skills.

They had a contraption where they let children blow streamers up in the air to intrigue their curiosity. Every lesson is slightly different depending on the theme. Kids who choose to stay at the first activity can continue doing so until the end of the lesson. It’s an entire hour where kids get to have their way without being nagged at. FREEDOM!

DROP-IN:

They also provide drop-in sessions for unsupervised free play ($25). The environment is spacious with a high ceiling and glass walls allowing natural light to shine through. There’s a diaper changing area as well. It used to stock wet wipes and tissue but the most recent time I was there at noon, the bin was full and there were no wet wipes to be seen.

They shift their furniture every now and then.

It’s a chance for you to plonk your kid there to explore while you sit and watch them do their thing. The place is child friendly and they’re not likely to get hurt even if they trip and fall. You’ll still have to break up fights if needed though at this age, most kids indulge in parallel play (playing alongside each other, taking interest in what the other kid is doing but not influencing it) instead of interactive play. Interactive play begins at a later age.

Over at the dark corner, there’s a light box with sensory bottles. Sensory bottles are plastic bottles which are filled with water, gel, oil and trinkets such as buttons, pasta, water beads. These bottles cost next to nothing to make but they trigger children to question why some objects move slower in oil as compared to water, why some bottles are quiet but others are noisy, why the contents in certain bottles can’t move (one was filled with agar).

A wall-mounted light box for kids to insert coloured plastic rods into to create their own design.

They are open on weekends at UE Square so even working parents can bring their kids over for a sensory experience. I prefer this approach of teaching because it allows children to learn through play without placing stress on them while stimulating their senses and invoking their curiosity. They can’t express themselves yet, but their little minds will be questioning.

 

 

Blue House Atelier
83 Clemenceau Avenue
#-01-35/36 UE Square, Office Tower
Singapore 239920
Telephone: +65 6235 2126

Check the timetable for drop-in sessions. Remember to bring socks for both adult and child.

2 Turf Club Road #02 – 05 to 08
Singapore 287988
Nearer MRT : Sixth Avenue – 10 minute walk
Telephone: +65 6462 6547

** Not a paid review. I paid for the lessons and drop-in sessions.