The Entrepreneur Behind Hong Kong's First Museum For Children On The Power Of Play
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters.
Serena Fan knew she had found a career she loved when her job stopped feeling like work. Fan’s love for children and experience in early years education in both Asia and the US led her to create the Hong Kong Children’s Discovery Museum in 2018. The interactive Tsuen Wan centre leverages the benefits of learning through play for children of all ages, and is the first of its kind in Hong Kong.
Before founding the museum, which welcomed 73,000 visitors in its first 15 months, Fan was unsure about what she wanted to do. After a conversation with an acquaintance about the importance of children’s museums in the US, Fan looked for similar facilities in Hong Kong, but found there weren’t any. “I thought: maybe this is something I can do,” she says. Here, she discusses the value of letting children learn through play.
Starting a children’s museum is more difficult than starting a school or kindergarten because at least people know what a kindergarten is: you fit nicely within the education bureau and the licensing laws are clear. Because we were the first children’s museum in Hong Kong, everything like opening a bank account took longer because people didn’t get what we were.
All parents with young children know play is important, but unfortunately the education system is so focused on rote learning that everyone gets caught up in making sure that their kids play the piano and do maths olympiads. A lot of kindergarten programmes actually say children will learn through play, but inevitably, because they are a school, they have to respond to parents’ expectations that children will be completing worksheets and things like that.
Globally, children are getting less playtime because there is increased pressure to demonstrate academic achievement. It is frustrating for early childhood experts because there has been decades of research showing how important it is for children to play. It develops roundedness and social skills. They learn how to do things like take turns: that’s learning how to be a citizen of the world. Unfortunately, because play is intangible, you can’t quantify it unless you’re an expert and you know how to observe. For example, when a child is digging sand and filling up buckets, they’re using their fine motor skills and learning about the physics of weight, which are skills they’ll need later in life.
Our exhibits were designed for ages ten and under. Children of different ages learn from the same exhibit in a different way. We have something called the wind tube, where you put things in a tube and the items fly up. Young children love throwing things in there and watching them fly. We challenge older children to create a contraption that will fly using only three items, and when they’re older still, they’ll add to it and learn the physics behind it. Even adults will stay for a long time figuring out how to make things fly. Because we’ve designed everything to have educational purpose and meaning, both children and adults can have fun learning experiences.
See more Gen.T honourees from the Education category of the Gen.T List 2020.