As parents, we all struggle to get our children to understand that money doesn't grow on trees. We want them to be responsible, work hard, and learn to save a few bucks. But these lessons are among the most difficult to teach.
Enter KidZania, an internationally acclaimed - and truly unique - children's theme park that makes life a little easier for parents, and learning a whole lot more fun for kids of all ages.
KidZania is not a traditional theme park in almost any sense of the word - there are no roller coasters or merry-go-rounds in sight.
There are, however, plenty of attractions and activities that will keep your children busy, active, engaged and excited all day.
According to the company, "KidZania provides children and their parents a safe, unique, and very realistic educational environment that allows kids between the ages of 4 to 12 to do what comes naturally to them: role-playing by mimicking traditionally adult activities."
Unfortunately, that doesn't come close to capturing the essence of KidZania.
What makes it so much fun is that it's a kid-sized city - complete with restaurants, banks, grocery stores, and hospitals - where the kids get to be adults, doing the things most of us do on any normal day.
They start by picking one of nearly 100 "careers" and learning about it. Then, they put on their uniform and are ready to work - and to earn KidZania dollars ("Kidzos").
Most activities are universal (such as firefighters, police and reporters) but some are localized to reflect the distinct flavours and personality of the country and region where the park is located and to keep it real and authentic for the kids.
Kids get paid for every job they do, which helps them explore the mysteries of managing money. Kidzos in hand, they can spend it save it. If they run short of money, they'll have to find a way to earn some. Kids can a
lso create bank accounts, file taxes and get tax refunds, and even decide how KidZania's tax revenues are spent. There's even a court system, run by KidZanians.
If I hadn't seen it myself, I would never have believed that it was possible to introduce kids to politics and government without boring them half to death.
Each KidZania city is planned in amazing detail, even including real world brands that help sponsor the city and keep it running. I was a little wary of all the popular corporate logos, but the brands weren't pushed at all (or even mentioned).
They are there to reinforce the "real city" feeling by populating it with things kids recognize. Kids ride Yamaha motorcycles to get their "motorcycle license," and Domino's Pizza makes its signature cinnamon dessert with the children who chose to participate.
Kids are encouraged to independently explore the whole city (little ones stick with their parents, while older children can wander at their leisure). Parents of older children can relax at the Internet cafes, food areas, or in the parent's spa if they should so desire while their children are enjoying the city.
Safety is a big concern, so children and their parents must wear tracking bracelets, which allows staff to locate both parent and child should one lose the other. No one can leave the park with another person unless their bracelets match.
KidZania is one of the fastest growing kid's interactive entertainment brands in the world - and it's easy to see why.
To start with, the staff is carefully screened (many are pursuing careers in education, child psychology and other child-related fields), and are there to promote the learning, nurturing spirit of the environment and encourage children to take the time they need to concentrate on completing their goals and tasks.
While KidZania was still in the design stage, educators and developmental specialists were employed to make sure children and families had the very best edu-tainment experience possible.
Their customer-service training was pretty impressive too, and it's obvious from the moment you walk into the park.
Each person we came in contact with did his or her best to make us comfortable and be helpful in any way possible, which I'm sure was extra-challenging as our language was limited (my Spanish was more than rusty).
KidZania employs senior citizens who give the park a homey feel and help put children at ease. Management also employs the disabled, whether blind, deaf or wheelchair-bound.
Besides making for a more realistic city, this teaches children about those with different abilities and gives them an opportunity to spend time with people they might otherwise have stared at or treated less than kindly.
Socialization is an important part of KidZania, just as it is throughout childhood. The KidZania experience empowers kids, giving them the confidence to be their best selves, and the inspiration to be great global citizens.
And it's part of what makes KidZania such an amazing place for families and children.
Kidzania Cuicuilco also was astoundingly clean. With the amount of children and families wandering the city, one would expect more than a few messes. However, the place seemed almost to clean itself.
You could watch a child spill popcorn as he ran by, turn around to sign your child up for an activity, turn back and the mess was gone. I have never been to a children's park or even a touch-and-play museum that was as clean as Kidzania was.
The park itself is environmentally friendly and children are encouraged to recycle, not only on the premises; they can also bring in their own recyclables from home.
The staff puts their respect for the environment into action by working with the kids to make recycled paper and helping them design energy-efficient projects and electricity.
IF YOU GO:
With 11 locations in eight countries, KidZania has won award after award for ingenuity, education and entertainment. New locations will be opening in the United States (in 2015), as well as Cairo, Mumbai and Bangkok this year.
For more information, and to book at a location of your choice, go to kidzania.com