KidZania now in the Philippines, sending parents on a mad scramble to book their kids, Filipino children finally get up close and personal with the “optimum role-play experience” that has delighted more than 42 million children in 19 other KidZanias all over the world.With
The 8,000-square meter interactive kids’ play city in Bonifacio Global City is operated by ABS-CBN subsidiary Play Innovations Inc. KidZania Manila is the 20th location of the edutainment city.
Maricel Pangilinan-Arenas serves as Governor of KidZania in the Philippines as well as President and CEO of Play Innovations.
The first KidZania, then known as La Ciudad de los Niños, opened in Santa Fe, Mexico in 1999. The brainchild of founder and president Xavier Lopez took off when he entered and won a competition for new concepts in theme parks. In only 15 years, 20 KidZanias have sprouted in cities as diverse as Jakarta, Indonesia; Cairo, Egypt; Bangkok, Thailand; Santiago, Chile; and Istanbul, Turkey.
But if a child asks, the real story is this: Nine-year-old Urbano and his sister Vita, 7, were disappointed at the way their elders were running the world. Together with their friends Beebop and Chika, and their dog Bache, they struck out on their own and started a new country where they improved on the things the older people did.
In KidZania, Urbano and company became guardians of the rights of every child: the Right to Know, the Right to Care, the Right to Create, the Right to Share and the Right to Play, respectively. Collectively, the young founders also became keepers of the child’s Right to Be.
Pretend is such a powerful thing as far as a child is concerned, says Pangilinan-Arenas. “The concept is a city-wide stage, a theater where you give children the opportunity to explore and play-act a diverse set of roles.”
These activities will not only help teach life skills and instill universal values such as integrity, respect and responsibility in the child but also introduce concepts like economic fundamentals, teamwork, communication, critical thinking, hopefully planting the seeds of what it takes to create a good community, a better world.
The former advertising executive, who came out of retirement in 2012 to take up the post of KidZania governor, cites this as the facet that sets KidZania apart from other play centers.
“Role play per se, anybody can do that,” she points out. “The important thing is to help the children make the transition from ‘What can I do’ to ‘What can I do for others,’ ‘What can I do for you, what can we do for each other, what can we do together.’ When you have that vision, that sense of your role in a community, that you can make a difference from an early age, it is empowering.”
What happens in KidZania
The kiddie visitor enters the country of KidZania Manila—his playground for the next five hours—via the international airport. Here he will receive a boarding pass and a check for 50 KidZos, which he can choose to either save in his KidZania bank account to earn interest, to pay for degrees at the university or specialist job training in different factories and academies, or splurge on merchandise from KidZania shops.
To add to his 50 KidZos, he can apply at the Job Information Center or pay for training that will qualify him to work at his desired place of employment; each activity will take about 20 minutes.
The little jobholder can work (and play) alongside other kids at any of the 54 establishments, including ABS-CBN, First Gen, SKYcable, and other top Filipino companies.
“It’s more exciting for them to be a news anchor at a real ABS-CBN TV Patrol set, not just a generic TV studio. To learn how to fly in a real Cebu Pacific plane, not just any plane. To broadcast for DZMM or MOR; or to perform in the ABS-CBN Theater. Real brands provide authenticity kaya kinikilig ang mga bata (so the children are thrilled),” laughs Pangilinan-Arenas.
Variable programs add spice to the mix, allowing the child to experience something new. These could be anything from special classes; fairs where the children can sell crafts they themselves have made, plays and pageants where the kids get to perform before their parents and other guests; and celebrations of holidays like Philippine fiestas, Earth Day, and the Christmas season.
As in the real world, taxes are inevitable in KidZania. But unlike the real world, the children can choose where and how their tax KidZos will be spent.
“This will help introduce them to the concept and the value of taxes—where they are supposed to go and what they are supposed to fund in a community—perhaps, open their minds to how local governments run. Hopefully it creates new concepts and shapes new expectations of public service,” Pangilinan-Arenas explains.
The team took extra steps to protect and respect the sensibilities of its young clients, the governor emphasizes. Scripts and spiels went under the stringent KidZania Manila “marketing to kids policy” lens to ensure that the focus is on the activity itself; even the use of logos is regulated—where and how many, how big, and the context in which they are applied.
There are “zupervisors” who watch over the children and facilitate their activities in addition to the CCTVs and individual RFID bracelets that keep track of their location in the play city at all times.
The Bonifacio Global City iteration of the play city has been customized with Filipino touches to set it apart from other KidZanias. The marching orders from ABS-CBN Corporation and Play Innovations Chairman of the Board, Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III were clear: Build what will be seen as one of the very best KidZanias in the world. ABS-CBN President & CEO and Play Innovations Board Director, Charo Santos-Concio, articulated the imperative for the facility to touch chords that would defy demographics and celebrate roles of those who serve, the Filipino soldier, for example.
For starters, the Manila center will have the first marine research facility in the KidZania nation, a tiangge, an urban garden, and a farmhouse store to highlight the important role farmers and fisherfolk play in ensuring the country’s food supply.
“This is a developing country and we can’t have children from the rural areas feel like their parents’ roles are irrelevant in the city. I want to help children see that farming can be fun, that it is a vital and valuable occupation, that unseen farmers work to put good food on our tables every day,” Pangilinan-Arenas explains.
Nelly Garden, an ancestral home of the Lopezes in Iloilo, became the inspiration for the façade of ABS-CBN Theater in the heart of the play city, while some of the other buildings sport capiz (windowpane oyster) shell windows. The KidZania tiangge is garbed in beautiful, intricate Maranao okir woodcarving motifs inside and out. These help build a sense of cultural memory, things of beauty and legacy the children can take pride in as Filipinos.
Instead of concealing the structural posts in generic trees as in other KidZanias, Pangilinan-Arenas insisted on transforming them into native tree species for KidZania Manila featuring narra, bitaog, and balete species.
“I didn’t want these to be generic trees, I didn’t want this to be a generic KidZania devoid of Filipino character,” Pangilinan-Arenas says of the tweaks. “For example, where else will the children learn about beautiful and remarkable Filipino trees like these in the city? They're all disappearing.”
On the culinary side, chef Glenda Barretto, who is best known for the iconic Filipino fare of Via Mare, has been tapped to lead one of KidZania Manila’s programs.
KidZania Manila is a place where children do big things, dream their dreams and discover their talents. It is a venue where our young—even as they play with others and pretend to save a life, put out a fire, fly a plane and go places—imbibe the importance of serving others, empathy, and entrepreneurship — concepts the Department of Education representatives implored they incorporate in their agenda.
“What the country needs is generational change, and here, we activate our faith in the future, our faith in the children. More than anything else, because play sparks the imagination and invigorates the soul, KidZania is a place of fun and dreams. We invite all the kids, ‘Come and play!'” Pangilinan-Arenas says.