Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, at the Official Launch of Kidsstop, The Children’s Science Centre
Igniting children’s interest in science from young
I am delighted to be here with you this evening. I share in the excitement of the launch of KidsSTOP, Singapore’s first-of-its-kind science centre for children, providing young ones with a place where they can Imagine, Experience, Discover and Dream.
KidsSTOP is a wonderful addition to our learning landscape. Kids love to play and run around. So it is nice to provide a one-stop place for them to pause and wonder about the marvels of science.
Designed for children from 18 months to 8 years old, KidsSTOP will spark their interest through interactive play. Themed zones such as Flight and Space Zone, Built Environment Zone and Innovation Lab let children discover through hands-on experience as well as activities. The KidsSTOP experience is designed to create a strong sense of wonder through play, deepening a child’s curiosity and interest.
KidsSTOP is a place where children can develop sharing, teamwork, consideration, effective problem solving and other social-emotional skills as they explore in teams around some of the exhibits.
In this safe and exciting environment, children can discover the world together with their parents and caregivers. Guiding our children on this journey are science communicators, many of whom are trained in early childhood.
Why Learn through Play?
The question is why learn through play? The astronomer Carl Sagan once said: “Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist”. A sense of curiosity, and wonder about the universe is natural to children. At a young age, children perceive the world differently, and are very open to exploration. Our role at this stage is to help them nurture this sense of wonder and curiosity, and encourage their interest in finding out more.
To put it in another way, we should give them every opportunity to play. Play is more than just fun – it plays a vital role in a child’s development. Play helps young children to learn about the world around them, challenge themselves, build friendships, and imagine endless possibilities. Play feeds their natural curiosity about what makes the world work, and what is our place in it. As they “think with their hands”, and tinker with their environment, they are being stimulated.
KidsSTOP lets children learn scientific concepts in a fun way. Through play, science and related topics become accessible and natural to children, and children can start begin to be enthusiastic about these subjects from an early stage. Indeed, KidsSTOP also has a science education programme tailored for pre-schoolers.
Play is an especially good way for children to learn. This extends to the learning of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. Sometimes we think of these subjects as offering little room for play or creativity. But quite the contrary, the fundamentals of STEM are the same as those for playing, that is, innovation, curiosity, and a willingness to test new ideas. Taking part actively in STEM requires being comfortable with uncertainty and being open to possibilities. KidsSTOP will teach science through play by this “learning by doing” approach. This process of inquiry-based activities encourages children to experience and contextualise problem-solving.
I am happy that Science Centre will have rich early childhood education programmes, adopting Play with a strong educational goal. I understand that weekday morning sessions at KidsSTOP will be made available exclusively to schools for the booking of programmes and activities. Kindergarten teachers will be able to use the space creatively to complement course materials covered in the classroom. Science Centre will also be working closely with Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to explore the possibility of conducting teacher’s training. Long term plans also include using the space and exhibits to test out new methods of learning and teaching of science through research projects and evaluation studies.
Let me also add that learning through play extends beyond childhood years. As a child progresses through education journey, he encounters more difficult concepts and more complex problems (as we do in life). This is when retaining the fundamentals of play are all the more important. It is about being able to apply what you have learnt in creative and playful ways – this is how we bring out abstract concepts to life, and excites the student that what he learns makes a difference in real life.
We have to make sure that curiosity, creativity and playfulness are retained throughout the learning journey, even as we keep the rigour in education. A meaningful way to do this is through tinker labs and tech labs because students can, from an early age, get used to playing and tinkering, building gadgets and prototypes. Other ways are mentoring programmes, learning journeys, attachments, and so on.
I am happy that MOE is keeping this spirit alive through the Applied Learning in the arts and sciences. Using innovative approaches to learning that emphasise not only concepts and skills, but also practical applications, real-world context, and connections across disciplines will help our students appreciate the relevance and value of what they are learning, keep their curiosity alive and motivate them to keep learning.
Playing for Life
Through facilities like KidsSTOP and opportunities in our schools and elsewhere, our hope is that the fundamental concepts of play and interest in STEM will lay a strong foundation for our children to become life-long learners. Creative thinking and innovation skills learnt through play and STEM exploration will help them adapt to a rapidly changing world and to new technologies. As adults, we hope that they will continue to have a healthy curiosity that leads to higher learning, invention and discovery.
Beyond the individual, play has the power to benefit society. It is by asking questions, forming hypotheses, investigating for evidence, and an openness to see contradictory evidence that STEM innovations are made. We see very tangible results of STEM research in our everyday lives in Singapore, e.g. desalination, land reclamation – all these alter our lives and landscape. These have been made possible by the creativity, invention, and innovation which are the bedrock of STEM research, and which play promotes.
It is our goal to create opportunities to let our children discover the joys of STEM through play, so that they may one day go on to make a difference to society. I welcome many more companies, societies and organisations to join us to promote the love of play and STEM in Singapore. Let me commend Science Centre Singapore for having played, and continuing to play, an important role in Singapore’s STEM efforts, and am very happy to have KidsSTOP.
KidsSTOP is a welcome addition to the Science Centre’s exhibits and programmes. I hope it will be a place of fun, exploration and learning for everyone. I’m sure many of you wish, like I do, that there was a place like this when we were kids. Those of us who are not, technically speaking, kids anymore should feel free to come to KidsSTOP too, to keep our inner kid alive. Learning, and playing, are for life, after all.