It's all just fun and games

Education | Katie Hung 23 Apr 2019

The days of toys purely for fun are gone. With many incorporating elements of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) gaining a growing popularity in the market, it seems an irrefutable trend that parents now expect kids to gain even more during the play.

While the backbone in most STEM playthings' design are to teach children science theories, or to train various hands-on skills, Kevin Lin, founder of the Taiwan-based Mr Sci Science Factory, holds a different view.

The company designs their own STEM toys and has recently opened a pop-up store in Hong Kong.

"We don't aim to teach you anything and we don't take notice of what you learn from it," said Lin.

"The essence of the toys is for you to discover on your own that they are interesting. When you find it interesting, you will then be inspired. And once you are driven to know more, you will do it. If it has nothing that attracts you and yet the theory is being crammed into your head, it is not going to work."

One of the biggest characteristics of his STEM toys is that they are not accompanied by instruction booklets explaining the related scientific theories and knowledge behind each step. Instead, children will have to take the initiative to find out more.

The self-designed hollow-face illusion-based Einstein paperweight, for example, taps into optical illusions, in which viewers will find that their gaze from the hollow face looks as though it is tracking their every angle. Keywords are always given but it is up to the viewers to do their own research.

"The benefit of living in the digital age is that you can Google almost everything you would like to know. However, the one step you have to be clear about beforehand is what it is you want to know," he said, hoping that his toys can be the first stepping stone to spark a child's interest in science.

In comparison to the majority highlighting on the toys' instructive features, Lin's toys are different in that he stresses the need for the parents to keep their kids company at play.

Lin, who always made his own toys as a child, recalled his parents not really paying attention to what he wanted to do whenever he would ask for materials such as rubber bands or chopsticks.

However, they would always tell him where the materials were and worked with him to build something. "They didn't say things like: 'The way you approached it doesn't work, or you can't do this,' or 'You didn't learn anything from it.'" he added.

The "fun-goes-first-principle" is not only the core aspect in designing STEM toys but also the same for parents when selecting toys for children.

"If adults think that it is boring and they hand it over to their kids saying that it should be fun, or you should be able to learn something with it, kids are not going to follow through," Lin said, pointing out that it is all about fun even for parents.

"If the toy doesn't make you want to snatch it and play, you won't accompany your kid to play or read a manual together."

To trigger both the kids and the adults' interest in science, Lin strives to blend STEM into everyday life by filming and uploading videos about experiments and scientific knowledge on social media.

His company, with five stores in Taiwan and one in Shanghai, also runs a cafe in Kaohsiung. The menu is constructed around science, offering surprising food combinations like miracle berry with lemon juice, where the taste of the lemon will turn sweet after eating the berries.

The company is opening up a pop-up store running from April 26 to 28 at MCP Central mall in Tseung Kwan O. Six gigantic STEM-themed installations explaining basics such as the principle of the lever and density of different liquids are on display from now until April 28.

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