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You know the old saying about all work and no play? Well there’s now the chance for plenty of both for youngsters growing up in the UAE with the launch of KidZania in Dubai Mall.
The high-tech 80,000-square foot plot is an interactive ‘city’ in which children of all ages can become anything from a surgeon, to a pilot – even a lowly journalist in the course of the day.
The kids then get paid for any of the 70 professions available to them, so learning about the value of money as they spend their hard-earned kidZos, the only currency worth its salt in a city that was two years in the making.
A wander round the bustling streets – it can accommodate an incredible 2,000 youngsters – is like a walk in wonderland even for a grown up. But there’s a strange twist as you observe all those busy little people serving each other in Waitrose, or picking up their hard-earned kidZos from HSBC.
That’s right, the addition of such high-profile marketing partners means the fully functioning city is as ‘real life’ as it gets. And with children spending so much time in front of computers, Doctor Rajeshree Singhania, a paediatrician, is all for this twist on city living.
She said: “Children learn through play, just telling them things is not good enough.
“When they experience something for themselves they learn about it.
“This is real life in a micro level. If they are well primed, and they can handle themselves, then they can gain confidence.
“Role playing is a way they learn. It is much better that they learn this way, rather than in video games.
“Video games and computers are not cooperative enough. Here you would have a group of kids doing it together and I think it increases their ability in understanding how the world runs. And then they understand the experience.
A lot of things nowadays in the modern world have become quite complex and this [KidZania] would improve their social interaction.
“Schools should really try it for a day out.
Even if you go to the museum for example, which is very good for a child to do, you are still an onlooker. With this idea, you are very much part of the action.”
There’s plenty to learn as soon as the children go through ‘migration’ and enter this two-level model city. A walk to the Job Information centre for a spot of advice and then the world is their oyster.
Some choose to work in a supermarket, or try the beauty salon.
The hospital is a popular location, as is the flight simulator, while those who enroll at university will get more kidZos at the end of the day once they graduate.
There’s an acting academy for any budding thespians, while at the other end of the scale your pride and joy might just fancy becoming a window cleaner – not a bad vocation with the Burj Khalifa in town.
The police station offers young sleuths the chance to investigate a crime scene, or crowd control. And this is a skill that proves invaluable once the tiny fire brigade roars into action every so often.
That’s when the ambulance team will also get busy, as will any would-be journalists and radio crew.
Special high-tech ID bracelets and 350 staff mean it is all as safe as houses. Chuck in a lovely kid-free lounge tucked away on the second floor, and it really could be a blessing on a Friday.
Will Edwards,the governor of KidZania, is proud that the city encourages independent thought and important values.
He explains: “It takes the universal activity of role play, which we have all done throughout the ages and across the world, and it takes it to life in a complex setting like a city.
“There are also a lot of essential elements which will help children to develop. There are educational components which we think is very very important.
“Actually, activities which you may not think would be as high an interest really are.
Obviously it’s like a real city, it’s totally self guided – we don’t give the kids a schedule, they make their own choice and it’s like the real world, people gravitate towards certain roles, occupations.
“There are some that are a little surprising. Me if I were five, I’m not so sure I would be interested in university but that’s one of our more popular choices right now!”
Ten-year-old Dwayne from South Africa was busy trying to work out what to spend his hard-earned kidZos on after a tough morning at work. Dwayne had tried his hand in the hospital and at the dentist but it was the crime-scene work that he liked the best.
UAE City cops
Khalid from Libya was just nine but already he had in mind what he wanted to do as a grown up. Maybe he hadn’t spotted the car racing track just yet, or still hadn’t made his way round to the flight simulator. Because Khalid also wanted to be