Kidzania: a city where the kids are in charge

Inset Days really throw me. They are allocated randomly during the school term for teachers to have a day of training. We’ve just emerged from a seven week summer holiday and the school has arranged an Inset Day two weeks into the new term. Don’t get me started…

As much as I resent Inset Days for disrupting our recently established routine, they are a good opportunity to take the kids somewhere exciting, on a day when most children are at school.

This has backfired spectacularly in the past – for example going to Chessington World of Adventures on a day when it seemed every other school had an Inset Day and getting stuck in traffic for so long my kids had to pee in their water bottles!

I was looking for a special, interesting, unusual activity for this week’s Inset Day when I came across Kidzania, who kindly offered me a couple of free tickets in exchange for my honest review of the day. Happy to oblige of course.

Kidzania is a simulated city where the kids are in charge. It’s the size of a small shopping centre – inside the much larger Westfield London shopping centre and offers a unique experience, where kids role-play as adults (in a slightly clinical, capitalist utopia).

We checked in at the ‘Airport’ and were given wristbands, which allow the parents to keep track of their kids who have to check in and out of each activity. The kids were also given 50 KidZos – money which can be spent on music or dance classes, smoothie or chocolate making activities, as well as in the department store (in which even the cheapest toy was beyond our budget). Kids can also earn a salary in KidZos by taking on the role of DJ, policeman, pilot, supermarket assistant, hotel receptionist, car mechanic and many more.

C, who is a mature nine year old, went straight into the Capital Radio booth to be a radio presenter. From there he was happy wandering around and choosing his own activities. The place was so empty I knew where he was, but I could also check his progress by tapping my wrist band on one of the kiosks, to see where he last checked in.

M, a six year old who wants to be a sandwich when he grows up, found the whole experience a little overwhelming.

He started as a policeman, where he was briefed to find a criminal wearing a red rucksack. He was allowed to look around the whole city, but stuck to one corridor, uncertain what to do. I didn’t want to get involved – this was his opportunity to be independent. Adults are not allowed into the activities but can watch from the ‘street’.

The next couple of activities – car mechanic and hotel receptionist, were equally overwhelming for him and brought on an unusual bout of shyness, usually displayed by his older brother. He kept losing his money and wanted me to stick close by.

The Pit Lane at Kidzania London

We had a break for lunch at GBK where Matthew made his own burger – and earned himself a free lunch. I encouraged the two boys to stick together for the next round of activities which led to a much more successful afternoon. They took a music class, made some smoothies, played a game of football and became firemen.

Kids role playing as firemen at Kidzania London

Knowing they were together and C would take care of M meant that I could park myself in the parents’ room with a cup of coffee and do some work.

The visit lasted four hours, after which the wristbands no longer allowed the kids to check into new activities. They were removed at the Immigration Desk and we were released into the real world.

The boys enjoyed it so much that M wouldn’t talk to me afterwards – he was so upset that we had to leave.

I was hugely impressed by how well the city is organised and how smoothly the day ran. The activities are educational, fun and well planned.  Giving them Kidzos to spend and the opportunity to earn a salary has led to some really interesting discussions about our household income.

Because it was a normal school day for the rest of the country, there were probably only about 30 children there that day. During busy sessions at the weekends and summer holidays it could be quite stressful for younger kids to be let loose in such a big place. I knew my kids were safe, but they wanted to know where I was at all times – no bad thing I suppose.

There are Kidzanias all over the world. Kidzania London tickets are £29.50 each and I recommend booking in advance. It’s not like anything we’ve experienced before. I wish Kidzania had existed when I was a child (and that there was an adult version – I want to be a fireman/radio DJ/paramedic for a day!). At that price it’s not an activity we’ll be able to repeat very often, but I’m sure we will go back.

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Kidzania, a city where kids are in charge. A review of Kidzania London by Lifestyle Maven