Last week I went to the opening of a new theme park for children, KidZania, and I was completely blown away. Based around the motto “Get ready for a better world,” KidZania is basically a theme park that allows children to play at being adults, and encourages them to learn through the process. Originally founded in Mexico, KidZania has now spread to 10 countries with the London park the latest one to open. Located in the Westfield shopping centre, it was brought here by Joel Cadbury, former owner of the Groucho Club, in partnership with British Airways. The concept is a world where everything is two-thirds the size of the real world, and children are in charge.
The park’s opening has generated much interest in the press, largely from bemused journalists who don’t understand why children would want to play at having jobs. I can definitely see the attraction, though, both from a child’s and a parent’s point of view. For parents, the opportunity to leave their children at KidZania for four hours and enjoy everything else that Westfield has to offer must be tempting. For children, I think it must be a dream come true.
Apart from Peter Pan, most children want to grow up quickly. So many of the toys we give them and the games they play encourage them to imagine themselves as police officers, doctors or parents. At KidZania, children can live out their grownup fantasies on a much larger, more interactive scale.
On arrival at KidZania children enter the new world via a British Airways check-in desk, before boarding a life-size plane. The aeroplane is ‘flown,’ using a simulator, by children playing at being pilots. Once inside the city there are a number of other jobs on offer, from police officer to radio presenter, sports star to fashion designer. Each one lasts around 20 minutes and is supervised by trained adults. In return for their work kids earn the local currency, KidZos, which they can spend or even save in a bank, from which they will receive a debit card. Of course, any child at home can pretend to have a job, but the authenticity at KidZania is really special.
Whether it’s making a smoothie with innocent or a burger with Gourmet Burger Kitchen, kids can interact with the real brands they see on the high street. The presence of KidZania’s business partners is the jewel in the theme park’s two-thirds size crown. With companies such as H&M, Unilever and Renault – which provided a two-thirds replica of a racing car for the London site – represented, kids are immersed in the companies that define the world around them.
It’s this realism that makes KidZania so appealing to kids, and allows them to go well beyond the realms of their imaginations.
Will you be taking your kids this summer? Let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org, and have a lovely weekend.