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'Edutainment' - Kids play doctors, bankers, firemen

FIVE hundred kids a day throng a make-believe park where they can play grown-ups in a facsimile real world. It's an "edutainment" break from the grind of study study study. Wang Jie reports.

Archeologists dig in a pit, detectives study crime scenes, mechanics work on engines, pilots fly aircraft, firemen climb ladders, bankers count money - all this is part of daily life in an unusual town.

Eday Town in Minhang District is where kids really get to play house in a kid-size facsimile adult world - an "edutainment" park in Zhongsheng World Mall.

They also get salaries, bank books and a credit card so they can deposit (or withdraw) money, pay their bills, make purchases - at a fast-food restaurant, for example - and check their balances at the Bank of China ATM.

They interact, make friends, get into the team spirit and learn about real professions, like being a TV host. Or they can just horse around and flip burgers in a fast-food joint.

Eday means eighth (e) day, the one extra day of the week that many Chinese kids don't get to enjoy because they are pushed to work hard, get good grades, study piano or otherwise improve themselves.

Kids love it, so do many parents.

Five hundred kids a day visit Eday Town, a 7,000-square-meter world of real-life make-believe on Dushi Road in Minhang District, according to management. It opened in January.

"My son is crazy about Eday Town," says Rebecca Wu, who has a 10-year-old boy. "He begs me to take him here every weekend."

Eday Town is a small society for kids aged from three to 13 years old.

There is a bank, police station, hospital, bakery, fast-food restaurant, TV station, newspaper, hotel, travel agency, fire department and many other fixtures of daily life. Everything is on a smaller, kids' size scale.

"We have about 70 roles in the town," says Shirley Yen, chief technology officer at the town. The idea was started in a similar kids' town in Mexico, she says.

"I am paid 10 yuan (US$1.47) for working as a fireman," says nine-year-old Xu Wenwen. "It's terrific to wear the fireman's uniform and play with the squirt gun."

"See! I just dug an ancient coin out of the sand pit," screams Wu Sihan, a six-year-old girl. "I am sure that I can be a great archeologist one day!"

Admission is 120 yuan per kid and 50 yuan per parent (170 yuan per kid on weekends). Not every family can afford it.

"My daughter enjoys herself a lot here, but admission is still a bit too high for an ordinary family," says 30-something Wu Wei, a cashier. "I am definitely not going to take her again without giving it some thought."

While most kids and parents are keen on this "mini adult world," Iva Wu, who has a five-year-old daughter, sees it differently.

"There is nothing better than fresh air, sunshine and breeze," she says. "Nature itself, not a man-made environment, is ideal. And the recent flu makes me nervous about taking my daughter to any crowded indoor venue."

It's really not a case of either/or, however.

"Both are okay, unless the parents are very academically demanding of their children," says Feng Yalan, counselor at the psychological consulting center of East China Normal University. "The different experience of playing different social roles at Eday Town actually helps satisfy kids' curiosity about the adult world. It's similar to the game of playing house."

In fact, she says, the problem today is that many parents want everything to be utilitarian and educational for their kids and help them become successful.

"They want children to learn from their activities, otherwise parents consider fun for its own sake a waste of time," Feng says.

"Fun, that's also a reason we opened Eday Town," explains Yen from Eday Town. "From Monday to Friday, kids have to listen to teachers and parents and weekends are usually planned by their parents.

"What about kids' real desires and freedom? Here, they can really enjoy themselves without being disturbed by adults. Of course, we do have certain rules," Yen adds.

Like standing in line and waiting one's turn.

Sometimes it's the parents who don't follow these rules, and jump queues for their kids.

"Some parents even want to stand in line for their children," Yen says. "But this is purely a kid's world."

It's a welcome respite for many kids and teens.

Some children, even as young as three or four, are already pushed onto the road of knowledge by their parents.

They study piano or another instrument, English, painting, math, chess and other useful and enriching activities.

Recently extra studies for a youthful EMBA (Early Master of Business Administration) has become popular among local parents, though annual tuition is around several dozen thousand yuan.

"All this push to achieve is very bad for healthy child development, as the child is deprived of the joy, fun and spontaneity that ought to be part of childhood," says psychologist Feng.

"A child is entitled to play, regardless of purpose. There's no need to stuff too much knowledge into a little head at an early age," she says.

Eday Town

Address: 5/F, Zhongsheng World Mall, 5001 Dushi Rd, Minhang District


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