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NTU undergrads launch campaign to teach children traditional Asian games

Published on Jan 12, 2014 8:43 AM
 
Mr Gordon Toh showing off his chapteh skills at a Potong Pasir void deck. He and his teammates (seated, from left) Carolanne Chan, Keith Kay and Gina Foo plan to hold storytelling sessions and workshops for children and their parents. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The humble chapteh - a shuttlecock fashioned out of chicken feathers, rubber and nails - is seen by youngsters of the iPad generation as a relic of their parents' era.

But for 24-year-old undergraduate Gordon Toh, memories of playing the traditional Asian game - which involves keeping the chapteh in the air by any means other than using the hands - remain some of his best as a student at Whitley Secondary School.

He and five other soccer-loving friends got hooked on the pastime when the school banned ball games in enclosed areas. Fellow pupils soon caught the chapteh fever and it expanded into an inter-class tournament.

"We would play it anywhere at any time," said Mr Toh, now a communications student at Nanyang Technological University. "Not just before and after school, but also during recess time and in between the class periods."

When his parents noticed his interest in the game, they taught him how to make a chapteh from scratch, gave him tips on how to improve, and spent hours playing with him.

"I found out that they used to play such games in the 1960s and 1970s because of the limited resources then," he said.

Nine years later, Mr Toh and his university schoolmates set up a year-long campaign called "Playtime: The Games We Used To Play" to teach children about Singapore's past by getting them to play these "kampung" games with their parents.

"We hope the games can trigger parents' memories and be a springboard for conversations about the past between them and their children," explained fellow group member Keith Kay, 26.

Mr Toh and Mr Kay, together with friends Carolanne Chan, 23, and Gina Foo, 22, set up the project as they felt there were few activities to educate primary school children about Singapore's history.

"Maybe primary school kids cannot understand content-heavy lessons in National Education and social studies, but we feel that they can learn through games," said Ms Chan.

The group's hunch proved right. From their survey of 150 primary school pupils and 75 parents, they found that six out of 10 parents felt there were not enough heritage activities in schools.

More than 115 pupils said they would like to learn about the past through treasure hunts and playing their parents' childhood games.

The team also plans to hold storytelling sessions and workshops for children and their parents. Their campaign will conclude in March with a games exhibition and an "Amazing Race" involving heritage-related games.

Last month, the team visited the Orchard and CBD areas to distribute "paper flowers", an origami game, to office workers.

"Three or four out of every five people we talked to said they remembered this, and they took it back to the office to play," said Ms Foo. "They also told us about the games they used to play, like tabletop soccer and token-flipping games like 'kuti kuti'."

Technical instructor Patrick Elangovan, 39, grew up playing such games in his one-room flat in Balestier, and has passed them on to his four children.

Among their favourites is an improvised version of tabletop soccer, which they made by cutting and folding a vanguard sheet into 22 A-shaped pieces and a ball made of rolled aluminium foil.

"The yellow pieces are for Brazil and blue is for Italy," declared nine-year-old Zoe, as she demonstrated how to play the game with her brother Sean, 11.

Mr Elangovan prefers that they do something more hands-on than play with electronic gadgets, which he prohibits on school nights.

"They learn skills like creativity because they have to build or fix things, or even teamwork when they role-play," he explained. "They learn about what it was like for us growing up back then. We had no money to buy toys, so we made our own."

He and his wife Charis Chua, 39, a family life educator, make it a point to have play nights with their children at least twice a week.

"It's hard to make time but you can't wait for the perfect time to play," he said. "We as parents have a wealth of knowledge to pass down."

jianxuan@sph.com.sg

 

Background story

Play and talk

"We hope the games can trigger parents' memories and be a springboard for conversations about the past between them and their children."

GROUP MEMBER KEITH KAY, on 'kampung' games

Hands on

"They learn skills like creativity because they have to build or fix things, or even teamwork when they role-play. They learn about what it was like for us growing up back then. We had no money to buy toys, so we made our own."

TECHNICAL INSTRUCTOR PATRICK ELANGOVAN, who plays traditional games with his four children