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August 22, 2011

Kidzania: Top Level Edutainment

Can education and entertainment truly mix? Eric Shannon visits the edutainment theme park in Toyosu, Tokyo and finds out.

Eric Shannon

KidZania Entrance

The KidZania concept, originating in Mexico, was brought to Japan by Einosuke Sumitani in 2006. Sumitani had the theme park built in the third floor of the Lala Port complex near Toyosu station and KidZania has been educating and entertaining kids ever since. In 2007, Cory McGowan (pictured) and Dennis Oliver were hired to head up the English programs along with their Japanese counterpart Mayu Kihara with the goal of making KidZania an English-speaking park within three years.

Upon entering the park, I saw children enjoying various jobs at 50 different pavilions and earning Kidzos which they can save at the KidZania Mitsui Sumitomo Bank or use their KidZania JCB credit card to purchase items within the theme park. For the children’s security, all children wear a security bracelet that will prevent them from leaving the park unless it is with their own group.

Flying to KidZania

Entering the park for children is not simply going through the doorway. Children arrive through the ANA-sponsored KidZania airport where it is evening, because it is always evening in KidZania. When they land, it is evening in KidZania, because it is always evening in KidZania. Upon departing the plane, children see a city of shops and factories where they can experience stepping into the roles that regular workers take on in the real places of work. A huge benefit for them is that each pavilion is actually designed and constructed by the companies they represent.

Cory McGowan

Cory, Dennis and Mayu have created programs to bring English to KidZania with programs like “English at KidZania” (E@K) and the “English Activities Program” (EAP). On these programs kids talk to English-speaking Japanese staff, allowing children a taste of English in a real setting with Japanese adults –– something they wouldn’t usually get outside of their school. To ensure the staff’s English level is adequate, there are free in-house conversation lessons for all staff members. It’s quite a task but the staff are rewarded for the extra effort by seeing children return and using English.

E@K Activities Board for the Day

To begin E@K, children enter to see a placard that let’s them know what pavilions are in English that day. This allows the children to choose a job that they will use English with if they want. As they line up for the job, they can preview the language that will be used for the job. Then the job begins with the ‘Zupervisors’ going over the pronunciation of the words they will use as well as asking them questions about the vocabulary and actions. The job ends with a review of the job and their use of English during the job.

EAP Children Making their Pizza at the Pizza-la Pavilion

In the EAP program, the child's parents makes a reservation beforehand to join a group of six. These groups are usually limited to children in the 5th grade to Jr. High 3rd grade, though younger groups of six are accepted. The schedule for their jobs is preset and they will do everything, even get their job cards, in English. Our navigator for the day was “Tom.” She studied about theme parks in Australia before working at Disney World in Florida and coming back to Japan to work for KidZania.

E@K Children Reviewing English from their Job

In every job, children are taught good hygiene as well as eco friendly habits along with all that is needed to do the job there in the pavilion with a great staff that really enjoys being with children. In the future, the staff at KidZania are hoping to add more variation to each job for repeat visitors such as those enrolled in the KidZania Club.

Access to the park as well as schedule times can be found at: http://www.kidzania.jp/ Reservations are not necessary for regular entry though many people do make reservations. The holiday period at the park begins from July 16th and goes to the end of August.

Eric Shannon

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