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KIDS’ THEME PARK: KidZania theme park encourages tots to explore activities such as opening a bank account at a Maybank outlet, and role-play in occupations such as being a doctor and a pilot (above).
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KIDS’ THEME PARK: KidZania theme park encourages tots to explore activities such as opening a bank account at a Maybank outlet, and role-play in occupations such as being a doctor (above) and a pilot.
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KIDS’ THEME PARK: KidZania theme park encourages tots to explore activities such as opening a bank account (above) at a Maybank outlet, and role-play in occupations such as being a doctor and a pilot
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KIDS’ THEME PARK: (Above) KidZania theme park encourages tots to explore activities such as opening a bank account at a Maybank outlet, and role-play in occupations such as being a doctor and a pilot. PHOTO: KIDZANIA
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KITTY CAPERS: At the Robot Kitty theme park event next month (above), fans of the Sanrio character get to immerse themselves in gaming and interactive activities.
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KITTY CAPERS: At the Robot Kitty theme park event next month (above), fans of the Sanrio character get to immerse themselves in gaming and interactive activities.
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KITTY CAPERS: At the Robot Kitty theme park event next month (above), fans of the Sanrio character get to immerse themselves in gaming and interactive activities.
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ALONG CAME A SPIDER: At the Playeum, the first ‘children’s centre for creativity’ here, kids get to view insects and other creatures in their natural habitats (above).
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ALONG CAME A SPIDER: In another activity, infants and toddlers explore a multi-sensory cave (above), using their bodies, eyes and ears.
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FOR BUDDING PICASSOS: The National Gallery’s Keppel Centre for Art Education is the first learning facility of its kind in the region that offers exciting and accessible art-related programmes (above) for children, youth and families.
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FOR BUDDING PICASSOS: The National Gallery’s Keppel Centre for Art Education is the first learning facility of its kind in the region that offers exciting and accessible art-related programmes (above) for children, youth and families.

Play central

The June holidays might be a month away, but it's never too early to start planning for fun activities that kids love, with plenty of lessons embedded within.

NO parent likes spending the weekend trying to stream Beyonce's Lemonade "visual album" on their smartphone in the corridor of a dour mall while waiting for junior to finish a two hour-long enrichment class. Worse yet, try asking any child if he enjoys Saturday morning classes and you'd be met with a look sadder than Queen Bey's rant about infidelity.

The good news is, the deities of kiasu parenting have finally answered the prayers of Singaporean folks, presenting a host of educational venues that encourages learning through play. Feel guilty about going to Universal Studios instead of helping your tween discover her true profession through cram classes? Then check out KidZania, a theme park where children can role-play occupations such as being a pilot, doctor or even candy chef.

"KidZania appeals to families who are seeking a different theme park experience, veering away from traditional rides and towards an experience that balances the importance of learning with having fun," says Leong Yue Weng, general manager of KidZania Singapore.

"In KidZania, kids are empowered to take charge and make their own decisions, through role-play." 

The brainchild of Mexican entrepreneur Xavier Lopez Ancona, who founded KidZania in 1999, the indoor edutainment centre on Sentosa allows children to experience the world of adults in a replica of a real city. Children aged four and above are empowered to live out their aspirations through activities, such as setting up a bank account and receiving a bank card at a Maybank-fronted outlet, to earning cash through various job experiences to help children build up their confidence, develop life skills as well as social skills, and also gain greater awareness about social values.

This writer was even approached by an earnest young gentleman trying to recommend an insurance policy. And no, mummy and daddy are not allowed to help the kids stand in line or carry out their tasks, but simply offer some support as the children independently try out a range of professions.

As for those exasperated because kiddo hates spending hours on a still life sketch of a bowl of fruit, try introducing the budding Georgette Chen to art through The Keppel Centre for Art Education at the National Gallery and Playeum, Children's Centre for Creativity at Gillman Barracks. The latter is Singapore's first children's centre for creativity. The non-profit organisation opened its first permanent space at Gillman Barracks in September last year and revolves around open-ended, exploratory learning and play.

In a study involving 300 children in Singapore conducted by Playeum eight years ago, it was revealed that local kids played for an average of nine hours a week less than their parents did when they were children. But rather than simply encouraging more hours on computer games or dressing up Sofia the First dolls, the centre works with artists on developing environments and activities to ignite the ideas and learning of children.

"The concept came about as the founders of Playeum, who are themselves parents, realised how children are often instructed and told what to do, even in a creative context," explains Anna Salaman, executive director of Playeum.

"And so they were driven to create initiatives whereby children's creative competencies were allowed to be revealed, and were heartened when they saw children responding very well to open-ended activities through their residency at the National Museum and also multiple exercises in the heartlands and in libraries around the country."

Its current exhibition, titled Hideaways - Creating with Nature, is an immersive environment spearheaded by artist and creative director Jeremy Chu. The Singaporean-born artist, who has worked a lot with communities such as an art collaboration with Indonesian villages, started the process by working with Playeum's education researchers on a series of consultation sessions with children to discover what kids would love to explore. After which, a brief was sent out to artists who would then submit their proposals for works and activities.

"We try to inspire artists to work with children and view this work as a highly valuable process," explains Ms Salaman.

"Artists are always amazed as they realise that children have an incredibly divergent way of thinking, and are able to see their ideas expanded in such creative ways that they would never have imagined on their own."

Indeed, the idea of art appreciation as a high-brow activity best left to learned grown-ups is fast disintegrating as artists and institutions alike turn to the backpack-carrying set as a key audience.

Museums around the world have been tailoring their exhibitions and programmes to be more inclusive of little tykes, and the National Gallery has even launched The Keppel Centre for Art Education, the first learning facility of its kind in the region that offers exciting and accessible art-related programmes for children, youth and families. Comprising four interactive activity zones - Art Corridor, Art Playscape, Project Gallery and the Children's Museum - these spaces are designed to stimulate the imagination of younger audiences and make the learning of art more inspiring and accessible, based on the belief that every person is born creative.

"The creative potential of learning through purposeful play is a powerful one," says Suenne Megan Tan, director of education and programmes at the National Gallery.

"Playing is an important form of putting what we learn into practice. While play is crucial for a child's development, it is also beneficial for people of all ages."

Recognising that children respond to a multi-sensorial art experience, the Centre will feature specially commissioned artworks designed to engage younger audiences, children-centred spaces, studio workshops, as well as learning spaces for youth and young adults. And the interesting thing about these art-based spaces is that youngsters not only learn more about being creative, they are able to discover other subjects through art.

Playeum's current exhibition is inspired by the natural surroundings at its Gillman Barracks venue, and the installations encourage children to explore the outdoors and appreciate plants, animals and insects. Exhibits such as a station where children could magnify insect and plant specimens, and then create a drawing from what they see, are imbued with lessons on art as well as biology.

"In the past, the challenge has always been for parents to see the value and importance in art education," adds Ms Tan. "There had traditionally also been little emphasis to leverage on the creative potential of art as a core foundation for child development."

Instead of providing parents and children with a fixed set of instructions on how to carry out tasks and achieve learning milestones, Playeum encourages families to explore various themes and use the centre as a starting point for initiating more conversations about creativity and learning. "Initially parents have to go on a bit of a journey because there isn't anything like Playeum in Singapore, and we had to sometimes explain why kids can't just be dropped off at the centre on their own," says Ms Salaman.

"But there are huge benefits from play that can be applied to formal education, such as developing a certain maturity when they discover that failure is part of a learning process and not an end."

For those after some downtime following months of gruelling homework and tuition classes, try the Robot Kitty theme park event next month. Although the popular Sanrio character Hello Kitty is perhaps better associated with its kawaii (cute) quotient then education, fans of the mouthless cat can take some comfort if they decide to take their kids to the upcoming event, held from June 11 to 21 at Suntec City Convention and Exhibition Centre.

"The main aim of Hello Kitty events is and always has been to bring fun, play and enjoyment to the whole family," says Jacky Teo, chief executive officer and founder of Mighty-Eight, the company behind the themed event.

"That said, our events also have educational elements for children as Mighty-Eight enjoys helping children learn through play. At Robot Kitty Singapore 2016, children and their families will get to hone their cognitive and psychomotor skills at the five gaming stations."

Following runs in the region, the event will see Hello Kitty take on a robot persona. Participants will then have to combine their cognitive logic and psychomotor skills to successfully complete games at various stations, set up to resemble a manufacturing production line. Its organisers predict 40 per cent of attendees will be children and youth.

Ultimately, any experience could be an opportunity for learning and fun, when children are provided with the proper guidance. So before being tempted to sign up for yet another class or tuition session, consider some quality bonding time instead for a real lesson to remember.

"Adults play a critical role in facilitating their child's learning journey when in KidZania Singapore, choosing to participate in selected role-play activities, such as a tourist on the tour bus to enhance the realistic experience and foster confidence for participating children," says Mr Leong.

"They are also able to observe, actively discuss, and follow up with their child as they make decisions in the city - from which activities to prioritise to tips on financial planning. Depending on the choices that each child makes, the takeaways are always different."