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Wednesday, December 17, 2014         

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Kids on a role

Child-sized cities give youngsters a chance to take on adult personas

By McClatchy News Services

POSTED:


CUICUILCO, Mexico » As parents we all struggle to get our children to understand that money doesn't grow on trees. We want them to be responsible, work hard and learn to save a few bucks. But these lessons are among the most difficult to teach.

Enter KidZania, an internationally acclaimed — and unique — children's theme park that makes life a little easier for parents, and learning a whole lot more fun.

KidZania is not a traditional theme park in almost any sense of the word — there are no roller coasters or merry-go-rounds in sight. There are, however, plenty of attractions and activities meant to keep children busy, active and engaged all day.

KiDZANIA

» KidZania has 11 locations in eight countries. New locations are opening in the United States (2015), as well as in Cairo, Mumbai and Bangkok this year.

» For information and to book a visit, go to kidzania.com.

According to the company, "KidZania provides children and their parents a safe, unique and very realistic educational environment that allows kids between the ages of 4 to 12 to do what comes naturally to them: role-playing by mimicking traditionally adult activities." That doesn't come close to capturing the essence of KidZania.

It's a kid-sized city — with restaurants, banks, grocery stores and hospitals — where the kids get to be adults, doing the things most of us do on any normal day.

They start by picking one of nearly 100 "careers" and learning about it. Then they put on a uniform and are ready to work — and to earn KidZania dollars ("Kidzos").

Most activities are universal (such as firefighters, police and reporters), but some are localized to reflect the distinct flavors and personality of the country and region where the park is located and to keep it authentic.

Kids are paid for every job they do, which helps them explore the mysteries of managing money. Kidzos in hand, they can spend or save. If they run short, they'll have to find ways to earn more. Kids can also create bank accounts, file taxes and get tax refunds, and even decide how KidZania's tax revenues are spent.

There's even a court system, run by KidZanians. If I hadn't seen it myself, I would never have believed that it was possible to introduce kids to politics and government without boring them half to death.

Each city is planned in amazing detail, even including real-world brands that help sponsor the city and keep it running. I was a little wary of all the popular corporate logos, but the brands weren't pushed at all (or even mentioned). They are there to reinforce the "real city" feeling by populating it with things kids recognize. Kids ride Yamaha motorcycles to get their "motorcycle license," and Domino's Pizza makes its signature cinnamon dessert for the children who choose to participate.

Kids are encouraged to independently explore the whole city (little ones stick with their parents, while older children can wander at their leisure). Parents of older children can relax at the Internet cafes, food areas or parent's spa if they should so desire while their children are enjoying the city. Safety is a big concern, so children and their parents must wear tracking bracelets, allowing staff to locate both parent and child should one lose the other. No one can leave the park with another person unless their bracelets match.

KidZania is one of the fastest-growing kid's interactive entertainment brands in the world. The staff is carefully screened (many are pursuing careers in education, child psychology and other child-related fields) and is there to promote the spirit of the environment and encourage children to take the time they need to concentrate on completing their goals and tasks.

While KidZania was still in the design stage, educators and developmental specialists were employed to fine-tune the edu-tainment experience.

The staff's customer service training is obvious from the moment you walk into the park. Each person we came in contact with did his or her best to be helpful, which I'm sure was extra-challenging as our language was limited (my Spanish was more than rusty).

KidZania employs seniors who give the park a homey feel and help put children at ease. Management also employs the disabled, whether blind, deaf or wheelchair-bound. Besides making for a more realistic city, this teaches children about those with different abilities and gives them an opportunity to spend time with people they might otherwise have stared at or treated less than kindly.

Kidzania Cuicuilco also was astoundingly clean. With the number of children and families wandering the city, one would expect more than a few messes, but the place seemed almost to clean itself. You could see a child spill popcorn as he ran by, turn around to sign up your child for an activity, turn back — and the mess was gone. I have never been to a children's park or even a touch-and-play museum as clean as Kidzania.

The park encourages children to recycle, letting them make recycled paper and helping them design energy-efficient projects and electricity.






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