FOR MOST Hong Kong children, learning how to write complicated Chinese characters marks the start of their pre-school education. However, at kindergartens run by Dr Angela Chiu Kwan-hung, students are not given this gruelling exercise until they are much older. 'We should not ask our children to do something which is beyond their ability,' the 73-year-old educator says, explaining that a child's muscles and hand-eye co-ordination are not mature enough for writing until four years of age. She is a revolutionary figure in early education, the founder of 11 Creative Kindergartens and, most recently, recipient of the first Outstanding Educator Award from the Hong Kong Institute of Education. It was an awful pre-school education experience that influenced Dr Chiu's beliefs and philosophy. During the first few days at kindergarten she cried a lot because she missed her parents and an unkind teacher decided the solution was to leave her alone in a dark room. It was something she never forgot. She decided she wanted to be a teacher of teachers, educating them on how to treat their students. Dr Chiu believes that kindergarten education plays an essential part in developing a child's language ability, interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills and creativity. In her secondary school days, she was a motivated student involved in literature, music and sport. She was particularly fond of drama. 'Acting helped build my confidence, strengthen my ability to express myself and boost my creativity,' Born in Guangzhou, Dr Chiu was expected to follow in the footsteps of her father and become a doctor. She was accepted by a medical school but chose to study early childhood education at Ginling College in Nanjing because of her affection for children. 'I was very fortunate to have parents who respected my choice,' Dr Chiu says. She went on to Lingnan University on the mainland to complete her early childhood education studies. In the 1950s, she started her career in Hong Kong in the kindergarten section of Ying Wa Girls' School. 'Most of my classmates became principals or did administrative work. 'I was the only one going to be a teacher,' Dr Chiu recalls. She also became an award-winning author of children's literature. Although Dr Chiu officially retired in 1994, having been involved in education for more than four decades, her work and study in childhood education continued. 'Even now, I read books for two to three hours every night,' she says. 'I will continue learning my whole life.'