Tech toys to help pre-schoolers learn

Ms Grace Fu, MP for Yuhua and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, playing with the children at the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots pre-school in Yuhua using the BeeBot teaching tool.
Ms Grace Fu, MP for Yuhua and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, playing with the children at the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots pre-school in Yuhua using the BeeBot teaching tool.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Technology in the form of toys and robots can help pre-schoolers with their cognitive development and social growth, as they are more interactive and physical, compared with screen-focused technology such as iPad apps.

With this belief in mind, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) has developed a programme called PlayMaker which is centred around using technology-enabled toys to build creative confidence in young children and familiarise them with technology from a young age.

Pre-schoolers as young as five from the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots pre-school at Yuhua Block 223 are the first in Singapore to play with these toys in a pilot programme for PlayMaker, ahead of its full rollout next year.

One such toy is the BeeBot, a bright yellow robot that teaches children problem-solving, logical thinking and teamwork.

It carries four directional arrows on its back, along with a "Go" button. Teachers will place the robot on one of 25 numbered squares on a mat and tell their students which square they want the robot to go to.

The children must then plot a route of the squares they want the robot to visit before hitting the "Go" button, in an effort to teach them sequential thinking.

The IDA plans to roll out these toys at 160 pre-schools from next January as part of its $1.5 million PlayMaker programme.

Yuhua was picked for the pilot as it is part of the Jurong Lake District Smart Nation test bed.

MP for Yuhua Grace Fu, who attended the launch of the programme yesterday, said the toys are useful not only in teaching children technical skills, but also life skills such as teamwork and encouraging one another.

Other toys in the programme include LED stickers, which children can stick to their drawings to light them up, and a robot kit named KIBO, which contain wooden blocks with instructions that kids can scan in order to tell the main KIBO body what to do.

Five-year-old Chandar Sambasivam said his favourite toy out of the three is the BeeBot.

"Sometimes I play it with three friends, or five friends," he said.

"We don't always get it right, because sometimes it gets out of the mat."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'Tech toys to help pre-schoolers learn'. Print Edition | Subscribe