Kidzania was the brainchild of Xavier López Ancona of Mexico. Originally, his friend Luis Javier Laresgoiti had sought Mr. Lopez's help in coming up with a business plan for a series of day care centers that would allow children to role play in various professions. He soon came to the realization as he put it, "Nobody owns role playing." His experience in working with big corporations under GE Capital led him to seek sponsorships with big name businesses like Coca Cola to set up miniature businesses in KidZania where children can role play. For example, Coca Cola has built a miniature bottling plant where children can participate in an production line. A third of KidZania's revenue comes from such marketing deals.
When children first enter KidZania, their parents purchase a "plane ticket", which I'm guessing is going to be from AirAsia for the price of RM 55. Parents must also must pay to enter. I had heard from some sources that the ticket may be RM 35 for parents. Well, I hope parents are not just paying to sit in a parents' lounge waiting for their kids to finish their "work".
Next, kids take a short quiz which helps them pinpoint what type of work they'd enjoy doing for a living at the job information center. They also get 50 Kidzos (the currency for this theme park) and must open an account at the CIMB bank. They may spend the money in the gift shops. Judging from some articles I had read about the park, they may also be able to spend it on some services, like a makeover at certain boutiques or playing games in the games room . To get more Kidzos, the children must find a job and work there. Unlike in the real world, less popular jobs like window washer pay higher wages than more popular jobs like fire fighters. I suppose this is to encourage kids to try less popular professions. Education is also part of the theme park experience. Children can enroll in 20-minute courses with a quiz at the end to earn a bachelor, masters or PhD, which allows them to demand higher pay for jobs.
It seems the theme parks in other countries are highly popular. The one in Japan was fully booked its first three years! So I guess reservations may be necessary!
I don't know about you, but before I commit to spending perhaps RM 85.00 a pop (for just one of my children) to go, I'd like to think about the merits of the investment. I learned this the hard way when we visited Universal Studios in Singapore. We spent so much money on the tickets and found ourselves waiting in line for hours with rides that were only 30 seconds long in many cases! I realize that I won't get a full picture unless I go there or talk to people who have, but I can look critically at the set up and activities and weigh the pluses and minuses from what I do know.
- Role play - I have realized from some of the units I created in Edison Explorer, like our Wild West unit, that role play is a powerful way to spark interest and help children learn. What they learn also stays with them. I'll give you an example. Students from many years ago still tell me this is one of their favorite units. They can still remember facts about the Wild West, the activities we did and thinking skills from that unit. For the first time, history came alive for them and it was interesting to them. So I would imagine that children would definitely enjoy themselves and remember for a long time what they have learned from trying out jobs at KidZania.
- A wide variety of professions to try - This really allows children to learn more about working world. It might be better than field trips to these companies because the children actually get to do the jobs in those companies. Older children could really benefit from this as it could really help them a few years down the road to make informed decisions on what they should major in at university. That's much better than basing a decision on where their friends are going to school or the dreams of their parents.
- How things work - Not only do kids learn about professions but they learn about how things work in the world around them. For example, they can learn how electricity is generated, how ice cream is made, how a courtroom works or how a newspaper article is produced. KidZania makes it a lot easier to learn these things because they are all under one roof and there's no need to keep seeking approval to visit and learn and no need to coordinate a field trip. However, it is a little sad that you wouldn't be able to meet a real journalist, policeman, lawyer, etc to ask more questions about the profession.
- Earning real money - Having an account, an ATM card and having to earn money in order to buy things teaches kids some important, beginning lessons about finance. It would be easy for parents to branch off from this to talk about loans and credit cards, bank statements, etc.
- The idea that education's purpose is to increase earning power. As noted before, children can take courses to earn degrees that allow them earn more for each job. The courses must be paid for (not a bad idea to help kids understand that education costs money). Others have noted that there just aren't enough messages about the intrinsic value of education. The message that comes out most loudly is that education exists for the purpose of a higher paycheck.
- Highly structured activities with little room for imagination or creativity - Children are told exactly what to do by "Zupervisors". There's no room for the child who wants to explore and make their pizza differently from the way Pizza Hut actually makes it. According to Dr. Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, “Child-driven, hands-on creative play is the foundation of learning, creativity, constructive problem-solving. When adults drive children’s play, those benefits are removed.” In unstructured play children have to decide and agree upon what to play, what the rules will be and even problem solve when things go wrong. Such activities build empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, and flexibility. So it's very important that adults step back and let the kids take over to create and interpret things.
Maryland found that amount of time spent in creative play by 9-12 year olds has decreased by 94% in
- Commercialization of childhood - We would do well to remember that children are impressionable. The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted this about children under 8 years of age: "They do not understand the notion of intent to sell and frequently accept advertising claims at face value.” Marketing to children promotes some unhealthy values such as immediate self-gratification and a focus on things rather than people. We definitely see marketing going on with the branding of the work satations in KidZania. I have noted earlier that 30% of the revenue comes from selling marketing opportunities to corporations. It's hard to imagine that our children wouldn't be influenced by the brands and products presented here. It is also interesting to note in Tim Kasser's book, The High Cost of Materialism, that numerous studies show that materialism weakens community ties, interferes with our ability to maintain relationships, causes higher incidents of stress and depression, and reduces volunteerism and generosity.
The jury is still out for me. I haven't been there yet, but I'm willing to try it out and see if it lives up to the benefits and whether my concerns are appropriate. I think a limited exposure with follow up and discussion afterwards in our homeschooling curriculum could gain the benefits and lessen the more negative aspects.
Sources for this article that you may want to check out:
- KidZania website (Lots of nice pictures and details. It seems to focus on the Mexican theme park): http://www.kidzania.pt/estabelecimentos.aspx?param=6xaQnimFh6TUGczg8rpu2Zpy6mpcDcrLe2N/uVk2zInw5H4/JGf3LN6CIr5AZw8+3JyHUXGIYZw=
- The Center for a New American Dream Presents Tim Kasser's The High Cost of Materialism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGab38pKscw
- "Advertising Messages Bombard Children", LJWorld.com: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/may/22/advertising-messages-bombard-children/
- Media Education Foundation. Please see the links at the bottom of this page: http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=134
- "The Need for More Unstructured Play", KevinMD.com: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/07/children-unstructured-play.html
- "State of Play", The Morning news: http://www.themorningnews.org/article/state-of-play
- "Playing Grown-Up at KidZania", Bloomberg/Businessweek: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_22/b4230085996598.htm