Saturday, January 21, 2012

KidZania

There's a buzz going through the homeschooling community about the new edutainment park, KidZania that will be opening in K.L. in February.  I have been staring at the building with the Airasia airplane sticking out of it for over a year now and felt it was high time I found out more about it.

Kidzania was the brainchild of Xavier L√≥pez 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.

Pluses
  • 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.
Having mentioned the positives, I also have reservations too.  Here are some of them:
  •  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.
          Here's another interesting, yet alarming statistic. A study done by  Sandra L. Hofferth, University of
          Maryland found that amount of time spent in creative play by 9-12 year olds has decreased by 94% in
          a decade. 
  • 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:
  1. 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=
  2. The Center for a New American Dream Presents Tim Kasser's The High Cost of Materialism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGab38pKscw
  3. "Advertising Messages Bombard Children", LJWorld.com:  http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/may/22/advertising-messages-bombard-children/
  4. 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
  5. "The Need for More Unstructured Play", KevinMD.com: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/07/children-unstructured-play.html
  6. "State of Play", The Morning news: http://www.themorningnews.org/article/state-of-play
  7. "Playing Grown-Up at KidZania", Bloomberg/Businessweek: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_22/b4230085996598.htm

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The First 2 1/2 Weeks of Homeschooling

 Well it's been 2 1/2 weeks since we officially started homeschooling. It's not always a walk in the park.  I've had eye rolling moments, as well as wandering attention and resistance to some of the activities I have planned.  But on the whole, I'd say it's been a positive experience.  Here are some of the highs and lows of these past 2 1/2 weeks.

Great Moments:
  • More quality time with my children - Helping Katelynn and Kaleb learn means we spend more time together doing meaningful things.  We talk about more things and we've grown closer.  I love the memories we are building together and I love the opportunity I have as an influence in shaping their lives. I wouldn't trade it for the world, even when I consider the more difficult aspects of homeschooling. 
  • Bible study - I have always meant to do this and now I've just scheduled it in. In just two weeks, Katelynn and I have had some deep conversations, even for her just being seven.  I'm amazed at what she understands and the questions she has. I've found that the things we've discussed come up again later in very natural settings and it reinforces what we've talked about.  I find it also makes my faith grow and holds me accountable because little eyes are watching to see if I walk the talk.
  • Math stories - I'll admit that I don't really enjoy math.   Today I discovered that I could take my strength in literature and language arts and use it to make math more interesting and help Katelynn understand it better.  Quite by accident, as I was helping Katelynn learn to add by 9s, I realized that it would be so much simpler if I just told a story about it. When I explained the concept in terms of a story ("Jealous 9" who likes to copy 10, but always comes up 1 number short) it was easier for her to understand and it was a lot more fun.  Katelynn was so inspired by the story she went on to write and illustrate a story about "Jealous 9".  So now we had killed two birds with one stone - math and language arts.  So I will definitely remember this and find other stories to explain new math concepts we will be learning.
  • Homeschooling groups on Facebook.  Facebook  is one of the greatest inventions to help in homeschooling.  It makes connecting with others and coordinating outings so much easier.  It makes it so easy to know what's going on and to join in, plus it's a snap to share things with others too.  Facebook has really strengthened the homeschooling community and made it easier to homeschool.  You no longer have to feel isolated.  Everyone can be connected and everyone can always find new ways to learn and get support from other homeschooling families.
  • Learning Bahasa - I have enjoyed learning the language along side both Katelynn and Kaleb. We've used pod casts of Bahasa Indonesia. (We weren't able to find any Malay pod casts)  Adeno helps us sort out the differences between the two languages.  The biggest thing about learning Bahasa is that it puts us on equal footing because all of us are at the same level. That makes this subject different from others.  Katelynn and Kaleb see me forget things and make mistakes which I think encourages them to take risks in other subjects when they are learning.  If mommy can make mistakes then it is O.K. to try something even if it doesn't come out perfect.  It's very humbling and helps me remember to keep the perspective of my children as they learn.
  • Teachable moments - they are everywhere.  Here's an example of one. At the grocery store today, we took down the names of fruits and vegetables that are printed on the labels in Bahasa so we could learn more words. It's a lot more interesting to learn new Bahasa words this way, rather than just from a book.  Then we tried saying them with some of the staff members who were putting out the produce.  They helped us with our pronunciation and they got a big kick out of us learning Bahasa, plus it really helped us to start getting over our shyness about speaking the language with native speakers. So even everyday, humdrum activities like grocery shopping can become exciting learning experiences.

Challenging moments:
  • Not battling the traffic jams to school.  Because we don't have to "get to school" it's very easy to get slack and lazy.  It's easy to wake up later and start the day later, which I feel is lost time.  Homeschooling means you are responsible for disciplining yourself and teaching your kids discipline.
  • Friends.  Starting homeschooling right after kindy was tough in the area of friends for Katelynn.  All her friends from kindergarten have gone off to various schools and Katey doesn't see them any more.  I know this would have happened even if we didn't homeschool, but this "friends" issue was compounded when Katey's best friend in our apartment complex moved away to Singapore in December.   Katelynn is by nature a reserved person and it takes her awhile to make friends, so making new friends at our apartment and during our numerous homeschool outings is going to take time. This process is hard for me too. It's not easy for me, because as a mom, it's painful to see her so sad at the loss of her good friend.  I want her to be like me.  I'm reserved too, but I have no problems pushing myself to get to know people and make friends in new environments. I will just have to be patient and keep encouraging her in this area without being pushy.
  • Bahasa - I have to admit, I have not been as disciplined in learning this. To learn a language you need consistent practice.  I know we need to do it about 5 days a week, but we haven't had that good of an average.  I have to work harder about being disciplined on this. 
  • Having days where I get nothing done because of emergencies.  I'll give you an example.  The washing machine and the air con in the kids' room broke down on the same day.  I also had to run some urgent errands. So all my time for homeschooling that day was taken up by these things. Sometimes it happens when I have to take care of emergencies related to my learning centers, staff, student or program issues that crop up and demand immediate attention.
  • Chinese - I'd like Katelynn to learn this language, but it's really beyond me to teach.  I just cannot hear the tones.  Secondly, I know this will sound odd to my Malaysian friends, but for me learning languages is difficult.  I come from a monolingual background (Midwestern America) where there was very little opportunity to learn other languages.  I feel that learning Malay is all I can handle at the moment. I'm going to put priority on that because my children live in Malaysia and need to know the national language more so than Chinese at the moment.  Adeno tries to teach her, but he's not around enough to make what she learns stick. I think eventually we'll have to get a tutor.  
 Looking back at this short time period I can't believe how much has happened. I'm still adjusting to the homeschooling process and finding my footing about what works for us.  I look forward to chronicling more of our adventures.  It's very cathartic and I'm sure it will be nice to look back at how far we've come in the future.