By Annabelle Liang
“I like painting,” said Sylvia Tho, but the six-year-old kindergarten student was not referring to art made with standard brushes or palettes.
At the technology-themed playground PlayMaker Studio@KidsSTOPTM, painting has been re-imagined for the digital age. A piece of paper is placed on a rapidly spinning surface, and young visitors like Sylvia add primary colours to it using squeeze bottles. This results in the formation of unique patterns. Alongside this, other age-appropriate tech toys are used to enhance learning experiences through play.
Launched in January, the studio is a collaboration between Science Centre Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). The space is located within KidsSTOPTM, a dedicated space for children at the Science Centre.
Young visitors to the studio can “play, experiment and enjoy hands-on learning,” said Ms Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education at the studio's official launch in January.
“Some of them will eventually become scientists, engineers or even technical experts to drive technology and innovations. They are what we call digital natives. And with a swipe, they will engage and learn through the world of technology,” said Ms Low, who is a mother of two.
Tech toys galore
Besides the Spin Art station, the studio has a wide range of tech-enabled toys on offer.
For instance, children can interact with Bee-Bots, mini bee robots that pass on skills in sequencing, estimation, planning and problem-solving.
The KIBO robot, on the other hand, is controlled through the scanning of wooden blocks with instructions printed on them. With the help of educators on-site, young visitors can arrange these blocks in a row, forming a sequence of instructions. KIBO then moves in different directions, lights up and makes music as instructed.
Perhaps the most peculiar is the Scribbling Machine, formed with recycled materials, drawing tools and a motorised base. Its “legs” – made of colour pencils or markers – can be adjusted at will, allowing it to draw surprising patterns.
By the end of 2017, PlayMaker Studio hopes to reach out to 3,500 children. Science Centre Singapore and IMDA will work together to further curate more age- and developmentally-appropriate toys. Programmes and workshops, such as tinkering and playmaking sessions, will also be conducted in the space.
Learning outside of the classroom
Since the programme was launched in September 2015, it has brought tech-enabled toys to 160 pre-schools islandwide.
The initiative received positive feedback from children, parents and pre-school educators, shared Mr Leong Keng Thai, Deputy Chief Executive, IMDA.
He noted that the PlayMaker Studio was formed as “a tech playground and a safe space for children to explore ideas, make mistakes and keep trying again for new solutions.”
“This will help children build their tenacity and resilience, while having fun.”
Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive, Science Centre Singapore said that the studio fits well into its aim of getting young children interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
“With IMDA's support, our PlayMaker Studio has been curated based on a constructivist theory of learning which asserts that knowledge is not transmitted from educator to learner, but actively constructed by the mind of the learner,” he said.
“The studio supports the construction of knowledge within the context of building personally meaningful artifacts.”
Sylvia and her father Mr Tho Lye King with her Spin Art masterpiece.
Among the studio's first visitors were students from PCF Sparkletots Preschool in Bishan. Like Sylvia, many of her counterparts favoured the Spin Art station, said Ms Loy Shien Ling, one of the teachers in-charge.
The school has been utilising 12 KIBO and four Bee-Bot sets since early last year. “When using the KIBO robot, they work out and learn about different codes independently. It encourages them to be creative in solving problems,” she said.
Sylvia's father Tho Lye King, 36, was full of praises for tech-enabled learning.
“I truly believe that as a child, the whole world is your play universe. Play is a part of learning, and that has always been the case when I was growing up. I'm very encouraged by the fact that we are investing in technology and emerging concepts,” he said.
“Different colours can create something very beautiful,” said Sylvia, who posed with her newly-created piece of Spin Art. “I had fun.”