KidZania London

Indoor attractions are very useful in London, where our pursuits are often limited by the weather. One of the newest is KidZania, which sits high atop Westfield London in Shepherd’s Bush. Purpose-built to house the multi-storey educational-“real world” conceptual- theme park (really, one struggles to describe it aptly), the activities inside are based on role-play concepts and designed to help children understand our society while having fun.

Kids acquire real-life skills, learn about working, having a career and are introduced to the fundamentals of financial literacy. Kids also learn social skills, mutual co-operation and respect..

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Photo courtesy of KidZania London’s Facebook page

We were invited to visit and review KidZania in its opening weeks this summer. Our team of 3.5 year old “Agent L” and 5 year old “Agent M,” accompanied by responsible adult (me). Tickets cost £28 for children aged 4-14; £16.50 for anyone 16yrs +; £10 for 0-3s. The targeted age range is 4-14 years old for the main activities.

So what is it, exactly?

To be honest, we’re still figuring this out. My children had a great time and seemed to learn a lot about exchanging money and working, adding to what we do at home: chores, talking about the cost of items and services, comparing things. We had such a lesson in the Gift Shop at KidZania, in fact, totalling up the price of the armfuls of toys they had chosen, and after we decided that we’d rather spend that money on doing some other things later on, they cheerfully put the merchandise back. I got a reluctant grin from the KidZania shopkeeper after that. KidZania does what we hope we’re doing at home–preparing our children for the “real world,” but maybe in a more fun, practical way.

Still confused? Here’s what KidZania say they are about: http://www.kidzania.com/the-concept.php

The “real world” gives KidZania much of its look and concept: British Airways, Innocent, Big Yellow Storage, Renault, and Cadbury are some of the brands that populate the space with child-size versions of what they offer, surely testimony to the financial investment necessary to create a play space like this. And there are now 20 KidZanias, the latest in Manila, with plans for the North American market soon, so each one is localised with local brands and businesses. So it’s an impressivley large and complex operation. Not everything seems branded, though. And, I hope, some of the yet unopened storefronts will represent independent retailers, or family businesses. Being at KidZania feels like being on a movie set with a real road and three vehicles which move at a maximum speed of 4 mph, surrounded by children who have every appearance of feeling free to be themselves. As an adult in this mini-London, I did feel as if big corporate had taken over the charm of our High Streets and wished for at least a little throwback to the London of recent memory. Am I dreaming?

When we first entered this kinder-wonderland, Agent M made “super-wow” noises. She was ready to climb the wall, jump on the fire engine, and just go for it. Somehow, I convinced her to have a look around, so we went shopping instead, spending 15 Kidzos on a bead bracelet. Not good. Agent M’s approach would have kept our wallet healthier. For an even more studied approach, we suggest reading up on the concept ahead of time and definitely stopping in at the Job Centre (oh yes) for suggestions on how to navigate KidZania. Or even taking a few minutes to read the brochure you’re given at the entrance.

Some activities pay a salary (Fashion Studio); whilst others charge a fee (Fire Station trainee programme); some (Science Laboratory) are free. You can establish a bank account once you have 100 Kidzos in your pocket. And please do remember to wear trousers with a pocket, or else you might find yourself buying a lanyard (with your pounds Sterling) in the gift shop. You can go to University, where a fee is charged, but your subsequent salaries for work are higher.

Some of our favourites were the Theatre (the Magic Show was wonderfully entertaining), the Supermarket, and the 0-3s soft play, “RightZKeepers Residence.” Oh, and the loo. Not kidding. It’s sponsored with WaterAid (great idea, and wish they could extend the charitable sector representation) and the male and female loos are joined up by the sink area, so you can keep track of your children, no matter what gender, without anyone looking at you oddly. Also nice to see is the staff members singing and dancing to the KidZania theme song.

Practical Stuff

It really does seem as if it takes more than one visit to see every nook and cranny of this mini-city, but considering the price you’ll want to optimise your first visit by reading up on KidZania. Remember you’ll need to budget for parking: £6.50 all day during the weekdays at Westfield London during the summer or by Tube to Shepherd’s Bush. You’re also meant to arrive 30 minutes before your booked appointment time because there may be a queue. From Redbridge, we booked an 11am visit on a weekday, got on the road by 9:15am and arrived and were parked by 10:40am.

You can let them roam if they are aged 8+. Everyone receives an electronic bracelet upon check-in, so you can find your free-roaming child by tapping your bracelet on one of the digital kiosks (near the stairwells). There are many, many staff members in addition to parents roaming about, so a lot of adult supervision is present.

The food offerings are quite good (we had coffee, the mini chicken burgers, sweet potato fries, Thai green curry and chocolates later, after the Magic Show from the shop window right next to the Theatre) and not horribly priced, and since you’ll be spending four hours there, you’ll get hungry at some point. Some people brought snacks in on their own and we heard from another parent that there are good goodies in the Parents’ Zone!

If you are visiting with a younger child (0-3 years) and an older child on your own, we have some suggestions: All ages can participate in watching shows at the Theatre, making bubbles in the Science Laboratory, and shopping in the Supermarket. If your older child is happy to be on his or her own, then there are role-play activities in the soft-play areas on the Mezzanine level. We spoke with a few of the KidZania activity guides and some other parents about it and this seems already to be an ongoing concern. We hope so, as most of the mums and dads we know always take younger children on outings. “Agent L” is at the 3.5 year mark, confident yet a little shy. She found the attractions on the main floor a little overwhelming, especially the fire attraction (a fire is “put out” every 30 minutes by children participating in the Fire Station activity). A buggy park with lockers will store your kit — £5 for the larger / £3 for the smaller locked space.

We visited KidZania London on Tuesday, July 28th, 2015.

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Space Safari

After a fairly relaxed half-term holiday, I decided a day out would be in order. A little looking around online unearthed a great surprise: a live planetarium show for under 7s at the Peter Harrison Planetarium at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Brilliant.

Having grown up in South Florida near a planetarium and NASA, I remember the sense of wonder the Planetarium shows gave me as a child. This show, called Space Safari, is hosted by a real-life Astronomer called Tom and his animated friend Ted, a bear. I wasn’t expecting that we would have the privilege of an Astronomer, to be honest, as so many childrens’ offerings seem to be a little dumbed down. So this is especially good. Really, especially, intelligently good.

space safariThe Safari takes young children on a journey through our solar system looking for a “great big bear,” which we eventually learn is the constellation Orion. My nearly three-year old was a little frightened at first, but quickly removed fingers from eyelids after deeming the show “not scary.” It was a kind and gentle introduction to outer space, a little sing-songey (not enough to drive you bonkers). There’s plenty to see in the beautifully illuminated planetarium space with amazing footage of the ground on the Moon and Mars, solar atmospheres, and much else that science has found and ferried back to Earth for us. Plenty to learn for the older children of the 0-7 set and beautiful, natural visuals and a story to include and entrance the younger ones.

We had a look around the Observatory grounds and then shuffled back down the hill, through Greenwich Park, and spent the afternoon in the Royal Maritime Museum where we looked around, sat nice and quietly for the Chinese New Year storyteller, and saw some “old things.” All for free.

A quick 40-minute train and DLR journey (a bargain at around £5 round trip on a Saturday from our pad in East London–zones 3 and 4) and tickets to the show are very reasonable at £6.50 for adults and £4.50 for children 3+. A complete day out (including snacks and lollies) for about £20. Not bad.

The Space Safari runs on weekends and Tuesdays in term-time (Spring 2015). Booking online is probably essential. And do leave early as you must arrive 10 minutes before showtime and the Observatory is, of course, up a nice hill. The pre-schooler, the toddler and I walked / ran / hopped (no buggy) from the Cutty Sark DLR station to the Observatory in 15 minutes.

Double 10 Delights

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In the Caribbean, we celebrate something called Double 10, so named for the 10th of October. As with many Caribbean cultural inheritances, it corresponds sometimes to its ancestor, in this case the Chinese Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn festival. The common denominator is lots of good food, family and friends.

It looks like the universe is conspiring to get us down to London Chinatown this weekend as six of Chinatown’s restaurants are participating in London’s Restaurant Festival this month. Y.U.M.

If You Went Down in the Woods Today. . .

2014 Hainault Forest Easter Egg Trail, organised by the Woodland Trust

. . .yes, you would have seen bears (carved ones, of Yogi and Boo-Boo Bear). On this, the first ever Easter Egg Trail in Hainault Forest, organised by the Woodland Trust, we also saw a panoply of beasts and birds carved into the woods.

The North-western end of Hainault Forest has a one-mile long walking trail which is home to the Trust’s annual Halloween ‘Monster’ Trail and, now, a delightful Easter trail for families. The trail is accessible for buggies and most wheeled vehicles. There are some narrow bridges, but detours are available.

Bunnies in the woods

Bunnies in the woods

The Hunt was free to anyone who requested a ticket; the Trust asked only for donations. And thanks to Derek Wright of the Trust for organising a ticket for us at the very last minute.

Enjoy the photos and play along to see if you can spot some of the carved creatures, done by local chainsaw carvers and willow bark sculptors.

 

 

 

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Happy Easter from Yogi, Boo Boo, Emelia and Liesl

Happy Easter, from Yogi, Boo Boo, Emelia and Liesl

At Tumbling Bay Playground in the Olympic Park

I now see what everyone’s raving about. We visited the Tumbling Bay Playground at the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park at Stratford this weekend. It’s in our neighbouring borough of Newham, so just a short ride on the train. And yes, it’s totally WOW. Agreed.

Beautifully landscaped, the architects have taken pride in preserving the natural riverside environment as you walk up to the play area, which has been thoughtfully designed for kids of all ages: Sandpits, water play, climbing, a rope bridge, slides, and loads of green space to run and play. There’s plenty of space to picnic, or you can have a meal at the Timber Lodge cafe, which shares the play space.

The walk up to the play area is full of very picturesque views of the river and London in the distance. Modern art is playfully placed all around (see photos), and there’s a poetry installation at the Playground. We saw a poetry potter’s shed last Sunday with free workshops for the kids. And it’s just really cool to be in the Olympic Park.

We took a wrong turn on our way and ended up at the London Aquatic Centre. Another WOW! I’m booking in a swim for us next week. It’s easy to use during the week and busier on weekends. But as my 8-year old nephew said, “You’re going to swim in the pool where Michael Phelps swam? WOW!” The Copper Box also is now home to an amazing gym. We saw people playing table tennis outdoors.

Here’s some more WOW from the Park. For pics of the Playground, see the link to the web site, below:

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The view down to the river. One of several large spherical sculptures. The Park is full of modern art like this. During the Olympics, this space was used as a picnic area.

 

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Nearly there. . . a final hill of daffodils before we reach Tumbling Bay. Just there is the Athlete’s Village. These are privately owned flats. More are being built just behind the play area. Lucky local residents!

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A nice welcoming entrance to the play space, keeping the all natural theme.

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The view across to the Athletic Stadium, which will reopen in 2015 for the Rugby World Cup and then be home to West Ham United’s football team. Next to it is that thing. . . er, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, which you can still climb for a view of the Park.

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Yes, there was a lot of tumbling at Tumbling Bay. . .

How to get there: Many people cycle to this park, but if it’s not local to you, then you can easily take public transportation. From Stratford International rail/bus/tube, it’s a 15-minute walk (through Westfield and then out on the main road) OR two stops on bus route 388 to the Copper Box stop.

Tumbling Bay Playground’s web site: http://queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/the-park/attractions/tumbling-bay-playground