“How about taking your daughter to KidZania and having a good time?”, the good folks at Blogadda asked. Now, several friends had spoken about the place as a vibrant vivacious fun place for kids. God bless their good souls. If anyone gives me an opportunity to try and bring a smile to the little miss, well they grab a piece of my heart. ‘Yes’, I said and they arranged it all. Seeking to experience the place first hand and see what the world was coming to.
Some search later, the facts seemed to hold promise. To say the least. A Mexican entrepreneur Xavier Lopez Ancona ( & a former managing director of a Private Equity business with GE) wove this idea from nothing and its mushrooming into a sought after, profitable global franchise held allure. Currently, the only Indian franchise is the one at Mumbai’s R City Mall at Ghatkopar. The perpetual dusk setting within, the sculpted roads & stores, the services are all supposed to be similar in every franchise around the world to exacting detail. Including the fuselage of a plane that juts out of the building!
The place is a city in itself. With immigration counters and stamping etc to enter. The immigration folks being cheerful and helpful was a dead give away that this after all is a make believe world that we were entering. Everything else is real. In fact, a tad too eerily real. Real clean sculpted pavements, real products and services that go out on a limb to recreate life as it exists outside, with a charter and a bill a of rights drawn up by children. Suave marketing, methinks, but its a story well told.
From health services, fire service ( the sirens of the ambulance and a fire engine that do the rounds at a periodic interval can capture attention with a snap of a finger), their own supermarket, a cop station, a radio station, replicas of factories that make stuff from soft drink to cereals etc etc, the place packs a punch. Plus of course, to complete the milieu, KidZania has its own ‘currency’ and a bank (with adult tellers) to boot. A ‘fully functional economy’ of sorts!
Speaking of the economy, the place reeks of real life brands, which must vary from country to country and speaks of hardcore commerce. For example, when the kids play courier delivery folks, they work for DHL. Radio City when they work as a Radio Jockey. Hyundai for the cars. Camlin. Coca Cola, Nerolac. Yes Bank. etc etc. They are all there. Soaking up the kids and their attention. Consumerist reality is everyday reality for all ofus in the real world and that is an unmistakable part of the business model of KidZania
The idea is simple. Kids from the age of 4 to 14 choose to do various jobs ( from being firemen, dabbawallas, doctors on call etc are paid in Kidzos the local currency, and then dispense it on artistic pursuits like drawing greeting cards, pottery lessons, or simply spending it on food and fun. Or they can save up the money, deposit in the bank within and use it again in the next visit. Its quite a load of fun for the children. For they get to play multiple roles and for parents get to have a voyeuristic peep into the future. The little miss enjoyed playing a fireman, and going about the fire engine with its loud bells and screaming sirens. She played doctor. And then a super market assistant. She would come back with a wad of currency from each of these places and dutifully hand it over to the missus.
Me and the missus walked about soaking up the place.
We watched kids run around as courier delivery folks. They queued up to clean tall buildings. To paint walls. Of course it was part of play. Never since Tom Sawyer was there this enthusiasm in painting, I must say! There are adult instructors for each activity, who hold court handing over the necessary costume and setting up the boundary conditions and instructions for the kids to play their part. An education, it surely provides kids with with. One way of adding perspective is to soak into different jobs. To empathise with people is to ‘step into someone else s shoe’, as the cliched expression goes. Kids get to be adults and play different roles. Each activity lasts approximately 20 minutes and no kid I could see had a shortage of excitement there.
Play is an integral part of learning. Especially so in children. The little miss had such a whale of a time doing all that she got to do. She told us after successfully ‘putting out a fire’, that fire can be ‘dangerous’, with a roll of her eyes. The setting for some tremendous learning to happen is endearing and complete.
On second thoughts, it is near complete.
It is near complete for it is a replication of adult real life as it stands today, it comes a tad too close in making a linear extension of the present day life into the future and overlaying a materialistic mindset on impressionable minds. That’s at least the feeling I was left with all through. Particularly so, when a tall kid who was playing the role of a courier boy brushed past us, pushing his trolley in infinite hurry. He turned for a minute to give us another look and then went his way with his darting lunges as his Kidzo notes awaited him. In the fully functional economy of KidZania, kids could learn more about adult life than perhaps adults themselves would care to acknowledge. Running around to ‘make money’ and then ‘spend’ it on ‘artistically creating greeting cards’, ‘Pottery lessons’ etc is part of our story. Now, that’s why it struck me as a linear extension of the present into the future.
It is a scary future, where money will continue to have currency over our thoughts and ‘finding meaning’ in life is a distant and dead thought. Perhaps it is a practical and the most likely future as well. The hours at KidZania prepares kids for this kind of a future. Helping them experience reality in safe circumstances, teaching them options and choices for a material world. On how it perhaps would be and what all they would need to do to get ahead. Parents who have this as the most secure future for their children, will simply adore the place.
For those of you parents who imagine a different future, where a life of purpose and meaning without a wad of currency notes dictating what our kids should end up doing, KidZania is quite an experience. For the parents that is. Atleast, it was for me. For it gives a well calibrated peak into the future and nudged me to seek and exercise the right choices now, for an alternate narrative to take root in the little miss’s mind. Possibilities abound. The changing nature of creative work, the fundamental changes that technology has brought to us, the importance of conversation, relating to one another and building relationships, the joy and curiosity in discovery. A heap of such things struck me as possible. Building these into the little miss’s choice set and creating a base of enduring interest there, is work cut out for me. In the times we live in, its not child’s play.
At KidZania, you could retire to the luxurious parents lounge there(sponsored by Urban Ladder) , (where the kids aren’t allowed) or plough into some cheese Pizza and masticate these thoughts. For you have the time. The staff at the place are friendly to a fault and have an endearing demenour that helps kids gravitate to them like iron fillings to a magnet, leaving you with nothing much to do. Unless of course, you would want to capture every inch of your kid’s experience, every smile, wince, whine, laugh on every possible device – mobile phones, digital cameras, tablets and the like. If you belong to the latter category, you can run behind the fire engine and chase the ambulance like Paparazzi, clicking pictures and recording videos of kids, getting to be adults. To an uncharitable eye it can appear to be an elaborate fancy dress pageant with some high tech props in tow, but to some parents it is a priceless experience.
The entry fee is steep but perhaps it is worth the experience. It is a good place to check out. It sure will get your kid excited (especially so, if he/she has a friend along) and by natural consequence, get you smiling. If you are someone like me, it perhaps will get you to think hard about how incomplete the loud voices for leaving a good planet behind for our children are. A pretty planet is pointless, if we don’t work the right perspectives into kids who will inherit it.