July 13, 2011
My Personal Kidzania
Dubai is often qualified as a superficial place, designed for consumption and devoid of culture. I have found many occasions to disqualify that accusation, by commenting on cultural and sports events and activities that take place there. Dubai is a dynamic city with an urban edge that can compete with other cities.
But Dubai, like any other city, does have a superficial, consumption driven edge to it as well. People can easily spend all their time roaming in malls and entertaining their kids in indoor playgrounds that have nothing educational to them. Of course Dubai has a Children's City, a place I once thought would be a silly indoor playground but turned out to be an interactive play area, resembling a science museum, but entirely for children. Either it is a well kept secret or the parents don't think it is "stimulating" enough for their kids because it remains empty.
More stimulating for kids in Dubai, some have argued is Kidzania, which in my opinion is an easy gratification place. Kids pay a hefty price to be "taught" how to pretend. To be given so many tools and realistic toys that they are no longer "pretending". There is no longer room for imagination in such an artificial environment.
My own personal Kidzania is taking my children with me to the supermarket. We choose things together, we take the fresh items to be weighed, we talk about the choices and the alternatives, the prices and the quantities, even the provenances of things.
Geneva, an urban-village, allows for Kidzania play all day long. We take public transportation, and I make sure the kids pile the coins into the ticket dispenser, choose the routes and numbers to take, and press the door buttons before the requested stops. At the public library, I allow them to choose their books freely. At the supermarket, they have to weigh the veggies and fruit themselves, and help me bag the groceries, even carry some. We go to the post office, wait in line, buy the stamps, and drop the bills in the yellow boxes. We go to the baker, select our pastries with care, naming them correctly, handing the change. They buy me my Le Monde, not because they can necessarily read the words, but rather because they recognize the now familiar font.
Dubai may lack these specialty shops, and public libraries that make Kidzania interesting to parents who think "pretending to work as a hairdresser or as a McDonald's cook" will teach their kids lessons in life.
Frankly, I think the game of Monopoly is a much better experience.