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..
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.
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.