Bucket List Worthy
Imagine a sprawling city filled with bustling streets, busy shops, and passing vehicles. It is a place that has a modern hospital, a local police station, theaters, schools, and even an airport. Now imagine that same city is ruled entirely by children, and parents aren’t allowed in at all. It is a place where kids fill the role of every job, from chef in a restaurant, to fireman, to newspaper reporter, and they’re paid in a local currency that can be spent on food, gifts, and entertainment. That’s the concept behind Kidzania, a theme park-type attraction that is being franchised across the globe that invites kids to work in a simulated world for both fun, and education. But the concept also has some parents asking tough questions about where you draw the line between role playing, and child labor.
Conceived and created by Mexican entrepreneur Xavier López Ancona, the first Kidzania opened in Santa Fe, a major business district in Mexico City, back in 1999. The idea was to create a theme park in which kids could role play real world occupations as a way to help them learn about how those jobs help create a sense of community. The children are payed for their “work” in “kidzos,” which can then be spent on good and services in the town. A child could, for example, work as a fireman who puts out a simulated fire in one of the Kidzania buildings, and even rescuing fellow citizens from the blaze. Later, they can then spend their hard earned paychecks on hamburgers at the local restaurant, where the meals are prepared by other kids, who are also being payed for their services.
Ancona’s idea caught on, and in the years that followed, Kidzania has been franchised in 16 different locations across the globe, including Egypt, Malaysia, South Korea, and Dubai. Additionally, there are plans to open at least nine more locations, including one that will be completed in London soon. Often, these outlets are found close to shopping malls, making it convenient for parents to drop off their kids for a few hours, while they go shopping, grab some lunch, and take care of their errands. Those who choose to stay and watch their children are confined to the “Parents Clubhouse” for the duration of four-hour experience. They are able to monitor their child’s whereabouts using RFID technology, but they are not allowed to enter the city themselves. Essentially, Kidzania is a form of child care, with the cost of entry running as high as $45.
While in the Kidzania city, a child can opt to take on any role available, and stay in that role for up to 25 minutes at a time. They’ll be outfitted with everything they need for the experience, including a uniform, any necessary tools, and some basic training. At the end of their shift, they’ll receive their pay, and they can elect to stay in their current role, move onto another, or take their cash to spend in one of the local shops, or restaurants. They can even improve their salaries by attending the local university, and graduating with a degree. In this way, the kids learn what its like to have a job, how to manage their money, and the importance that each person plays within the community.
Not everyone sees this as a quality learning experience however. Some parents view the Kidzania model as a form of child labor, as the children do most of the work within the confines of the simulated city, creating a society, as well as a simple economy. Disgruntled moms and dads see the theme park as a revenue generator for its creators, who are getting rich off the children whose parents pay for them to be there in the first place. The fact that Kidzania has partnered with a number of well known brands, including McDonalds, Coca Cola, and Nestle, to help give the town further authenticity only further fuels the fears against capitalism being ingrained at a young age.
The founders of Kidzania counter by saying the children are learning valuable life lessons while they are there. They discover what it is like to hold down a job, and may even find one that they would like to pursue when they grow up too. They also learn the basics of making – and spending – money, as well as the impact of their personal contribution to the community as a whole. Those impressions can stick with them for the rest of the lives, as they go on to enter the job market for themselves.
What do you think? Is Kidzania a healthy place for kids to have fun, and learn a few things along the way? Or is it a place for them to learn more about our capitalist society, while the company founders rake in the dough themselves? Personally, it sounds like a fascinating place to me, and just the kind of entertainment I would have loved as a child.