KidZania Opens its Doors

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. ParenThots. February 29, 2012. (English). When KidZania held a meet-the-press session to introduce the concept of a city for kids back in June last year, we were invited for a tete-a-tete with Hernan Barbieri, the chief integration officer of KidZania Mexico. We were introduced to the success of various KidZanias around the world, an indoor educational and entertainment theme park based on the concept of fostering independence and autonomy in kids aged four to 14. If you go to kidzania.com, one of the first things you see is the tagline: Get ready for a better world.

The world they’re talking about is constructed on 7,400sq m (80,000sq ft) over two levels in the new building called Curve NX in Mutiara Damansara (Petaling Jaya, Selangor), that’s joined with the Curve shopping centre via an airbridge.

The RM80mil KidZania Kuala Lumpur is the first in Malaysia and the ninth facility under the franchise started by Mexican brothers Xavier and Esteban Lopez Ancona in 1996. The other eight are located in Mexico (two) and Japan (two) as well as in Indonesia, Portugal, Dubai (UAE) and South Korea.

We were told that KidZania provides a safe and realistic educational and entertaining environment for children. How is this done? There are over 60 “establishments” sponsored by recognised international and local brands. These outlets let children experience what it’s like to be out in the real world through role-playing a variety of professions in a colourful child-sized city.

Up to 300 staff members are on hand to guide or help the participants around the establishments. And unlike the conventional theme parks, there are no rides or arcade games here. The concept, designed to stimulate physical and intellectual growth, and to develop skills and a good attitude in the young ones, sounds great.

Fast forward eight months later, and KidZania KL finally opened its doors to the public yesterday. In a preview of the place last Thursday, media members got the chance to check out the centre along with some 500 schoolchildren who went to where all the magic supposedly happens. In the week prior to the public opening, KidZania had been receiving groups from schools around the Klang Valley.

“Schoolchildren have been coming since Monday,” said Waikuan Wong, vice-president of communications of Themed Attractions Malaysia, the people responsible for bringing KidZania to our shores. (Themed Attractions Malaysia is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Government’s investment arm, Khazanah Nasional.)

“It’s a good way for us to ‘test’ our establishments; it is a trial of sorts,” Wong added.

A pilot and his co-pilot in control inside a mock cockpit.

Among the corporations that have a presence there are AirAsia, CIMB Group, Honda Malaysia, F&N Beverages Marketing, Media Prima, Pos Malaysia, Telekom Malaysia and more.

We were taken on a tour through the city where kids earn kidzos (KidZania currency), and everyone greets you with “kai” (hello in KidZania), and each shop is under the supervision of a Zupervisor. To enter the city, you go through an airline check-in counter by AirAsia, get your boarding pass and a cheque for 50 kidzos to start you off.

Once you are in the city, the first place you will see is the bank (CIMB). Here, children will cash their initial cheque and either use the cash or deposit it in an account at the bank. Most kids we saw took the cash and ran, literally, to the nearest shop. The idea is that if they do open an account, they get an ATM card, which can be used at the two ATM machines within the establishments. If at the end of the session, they have kidzos left over, they can bank the “cash” into the account and use it for their next visit.

In the city, kids can spend their kidzos, and earn it too, when it runs out. All the establishments have tasks for the young workers to carry out, and the wages that go with them.

Once you’re in the city, it’s pretty much up to the kids where they want to go. The 90 jobs available in the establishments are for children of different levels of ability and interests. Think pilots who navigate airplanes, radio announcers, chefs who whip up yummy fare, mechanics who do the repairs, dentists, doctors, and more.

“We encourage the kids to make their own decisions, and for parents to let them,” explained Wong. “If a kid chooses to work at the bakery, the nail salon, the fire station, the courthouse, the hospital, we hope the parents will encourage them to try out whatever strikes their fancy. In this way, they empower the kids to make their own decisions, and in turn foster confidence and independence.”

Parents have the option of dropping off the kids for an afternoon of fun and independence, or they can enter the establishment as well, for a fee, of course.

“We have a tracking system on each child the minute they enter KidZania. The children will each be given an ID bracelet, which will be scanned each time they enter or leave an establishment. So parents will know where their child is at any time. There are also CCTV cameras all over the city,” said Wong.

For parents who choose to stay on with their kids, there are various food and beverage areas for them to rest or take a break while their kids roam the city.

While we were there, we saw groups of children participating in various activities. Some took part in a magic show at the theatre, some were busy dispatching parcels as postmen, and there was even a group that went around on the fire engine to put out a fire. At the crime lab, kids discussed how to solve a murder, with case files and evidence all around them. The ones who wanted to be pilots could simulate a flight in an actual fuselage of a plane. At the hospital, those who wanted to perform surgery had a mock patient on the operating table.

And just like in real life, at the end of a long working day, the kids can squander all their kidzos away at the shopping street, which was bursting with kids exchanging their kidzos for trinkets and gadgets.

“This is also a lesson in money management,” Wong pointed out. “The establishments on the shopping street have different pricing. As you can see, the one where all the kids are browsing around is like a bargain centre. The other outlets sell slightly more expensive stuff. So, the kids decide how much to spend and what to spend on.”

All in all, it was a decent experience. We suggest parents go in with the children, at least the first time, just to gauge your level of comfort in leaving your kids there for five hours. Though they are scanned when they enter or leave an establishment, the time in between one establishment and the next is unsupervised.

Parents might also want to hear the kids’ feedback on whether they found the experience interesting or enriching, and whether they gained anything new from the experiences. After all, it is a city made for kids, so who better to judge than the kids themselves.

Young ‘doctors’ being guided by a Zupervisor in an operating theatre that is modelled after the real thing.

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