Kidzania, the latest entertainment and educational centre in KL, brings out the adult in kids and vice versa, writes Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal
HONK, honk. I hear the sound of impatient honking behind me. Somewhere in the distance, the wailing of a fire truck siren pierces the already noisy air. I raise my hand to signal my apology to some grinning minors behind the wheel of a small car.
Phew, I’ve only just arrived at Kidzania, KL’s latest “place-to-go”, an entertainment and educational centre that allows kids to learn while they role-play, and I am already caught in the manic buzz of my surrounds. Children (and adults!) whizz by me in a blur, their faces reflecting the excitement and anxiety of being let loose in their own world, where kids are king.
It’s not quite Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here. There’s no candy or flowing fountains of chocolate to lead them astray, nor a Willy Wonka character to add intrigue. Kidzania is actually a city for kids where common public service institutions — the hospital, fire station, bank and even others like beauty salon and radio station — are recreated. The kids derive excitement from being able to play at being adults. There are 90 real-life roles to choose from.
I spy a group of kids squealing in delight in the “bank”, having just exchanged their cheques for wads of cash. Another looks starry-eyed as he dons his fireman’s gear. My daughters, scrutinising a notice board in front of a “theatre” inviting kids to try out as fashion models, look absolutely stoked and can’t stop salivating at the prospect of being decked out in fur and frills. A bubbly Kidzania rep or “abang” bounds over and says: “It’s easy. We have half an hour to rehearse and then you can perform in front of your mummy on the stage. It’ll be fun.”
Just as I turn to tell them not to talk to strangers, I find myself talking into thin air as the kids have already disappeared into the folds of the “fashion school”, ready for their shot at sashaying down the runway. Oh well... it’s their kingdom after all.
“Kidzania allows the kids to empower themselves, to make their own decisions, such as what are the jobs that they could pursue based on their interest and at the same time, how and where they spend their money. It’s a city where kids can also find solutions to problems that may crop up. It’s very much a world reflective of the real world,” says the casually-clad Waikuan Wong, vice-president of communications, marketing and sales for Themed Attractions
Malaysia, who was tasked with guiding me around the place.
It’s as real as it gets in a number of ways. Kidzania has its own financial currency, the kidZo, which allows kids to get a feel of spending and managing money. Besides using it to buy goods or services, they can also earn kidZos by working and depositing them in a savings account in the bank.
When they role-play, they’re doing so in an actual environment, albeit in a slightly simplified way. For example, if they decide to become a Hitzfm DJ, they don the headphones, sit in front of a monitor and get scripts to read over the microphone just like in the real studio.
“The kids can probably play a maximum of five activities, from waiting time to actual,” adds Wong. “It is more interesting when they come with friends and cousins because they can make decisions together.”
Mother Jaselyn Wan concurs. I bumped into her as she was enthusiastically trailing her eight-year-old daughter Wong En Qi and friend, who were debating at length whether to sign up to become super reporters in front of the New
Straits Times “office”. Soon, another “abang” emerges to entice them in. After some encouragement from mother Wan, the kids troop in. Smiling, Wan says to me: “I think it’s better if your child is accompanied by a friend or they go with siblings. It’s not as much fun to make decisions on your own or just with your mother.”
Wan confided that her interest in Kidzania was piqued when she read her friend’s glowing Facebook account of her time with her kids here. “I got curious. My daughter always thought she knew what she wanted to do when she grows up... something that she’s familiar with. But after her time here, she’s discovered that there are a lot of other interesting careers. She’s really excited to check out things that are not otherwise easy to experience outside, for example, being a DJ or a newspaper reporter.”
Giving a little wave to her daughter who has suddenly emerged from the NST office with her friend armed with a reporter’s notebook and Press tag around her neck, Wan adds: “I want her to learn how things happen.
She got the chance to experience a window cleaner’s life, what it’s like to be a courier, how tough it is to get money. It’s a great experience. As a parent, I give my daughter some directions but ultimately I want her to make decisions herself. It’s important for parents to come and enjoy the experience together with the children.”
Her daughter’s favourite job so far? “Now she wants to be a firefighter! She enjoyed hosing down the burning hotel.”
For housewife Mumtaz Mohd Yusof, who is mother to nine-year-old Aleya Inshirah, Kidzania is the sort of place that kids ought to be encouraged to hang out at. “I like that the children get the chance to explore what different jobs entail,” she says, looking on with pride as her daughter practises her sashay for a fashion show due to commence. “She used to keep changing her mind about what she wanted to be so this is the best place to experience things. She has always said that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up but the first place she went to check out when we got here was the beauty salon. And then the fashion show!”
Kidzania is also great for parents, adds Mumtaz. “There’s a lot of things I’ve learnt about the various professions that I never knew before. It’s not only the kids who benefit from being here.”
Fazli Ibrahim and his wife Wan Mastura Mahmood decided to bring their four-year-old daughter, Emira Rania, here to encourage her to become more “independent”. Wan Mastura, 32, shares that her daughter went into the “painting school” all by herself and had fun doing all the activities there. “We want to take her to the cooking school next because she loves to play ‘masak-masak’, baking and making cookies. She’s made some money from her stint at the painting school but hasn’t told us what she wants to do with it yet!”
Kidzania KL, Curve NX, 18, Jalan PJU 7/5, Mutiara Damansara, PJ. Website: www.kidzania.com