To say we were curious about Kidville, the celeb-endorsed New York haunt of both Madonna’s and Brangelina’s broods, would be an understatement of superstar proportions. Opening its shiny new doors in July, the latest branch of this all-singing all-dancing ‘edutainment’ centre is the first outside the USA, so we pop along, with our two young testers (Jack, four and Rupert, two) to find out exactly what puts the ‘Kid’ in ‘Ville.’
We arrive early for our Little Maestros music class, having been concerned about finding a parking space in the baffling rabbit warren that is JBR. We needn’t have worried though, we were lucky enough to park next to the lift (but get there early as you may have to find a road-side spot). Once we’re up to Plaza level, we just walk through reception, into the open air, turn right and Kidville – with its merry red colour scheme – is before us.
Before we get through the doors, Jack gets a bout of the jitters. ‘Please – there aren’t any clowns in there, are there?’ With clown-phobia apparently rife, Kidville is blissfully jester-free (unless requested by parents for birthday parties) so a reassured Jack marches straight in, discovering to his utter delight, a kid-sized plane and fire engine for him and his brother to play in.
The vehicles are actually novelty seats for tots to park their bums while getting their hair cut in the Kidville salon. Usually, we struggle with this once-a-term event (lots of screams and hair in mouths etc). But suddenly, both children decide that what they really want ‘right now!’ is a haircut.
After prising them out of the chairs, we make our way into the music studio expecting, at best, a teacher with a guitar and a few share-about tambourines. So we’re rather surprised to be greeted with a proper live band, complete with lead guitarist, a full-size drum kit, a piano lady and a very lively singer with a headset. The boys, more used to a few maracas and a CD player, are rather bemused and get a bit clingy as the room fills up. But once the music starts, they loosen up. The songs – especially written for Kidville – are catchy numbers with lots of accompanying actions and routines. The first ditty breaks the ice with all the little ones and the singer (who has an indecent amount of energy) bounces around the room singing to each of them and learning their names. There follows a very noisy farmyard chorus, accompanied by lots of animal puppetry, before the nippers go crazy with the castanets, filling the room with an enthusiastic (if deafening) clicking. The boys love it, grab two sets each, and jump around like nutters, making a complete din.
The atmosphere is relaxed and unregimented. No-one has to join in if they don’t want to, but even the shy kids are giggling away and getting into the spirit of things. Towards the end of the 45-minute session, there’s a musical story, a puppet show with more singing, and the pièce de résistance – the lead singer (still bouncing about – she must be really fit) gets out the bubble mixture. It’s clear the entertainers know exactly what they’re doing and are experts at getting even the most reluctant child to enjoy the show. Jack and Rupert race to the front, ask to be lifted up to see the bubbles and attempt to plink out a few tunes on the rather expensive-looking instruments – all of which is patiently tolerated.
Of course it’s not just music that Kidville has to offer. Two large classrooms host more than 20 sessions for newborns up to kids aged six – all educationally tailored to make learning fun – and include ballet, hip hop, ‘big muscle’ workouts, all sorts of sports, messy art and ‘wiggle and giggle’ activities. Other facilities include the salon, a snack bar and a birthday party planning service (the centre holds legendary birthday parties – Madonna and Brangelina swear by them apparently).
While I have a chat with Monica Malhotra – the New York mum who, together with her husband, Doug MacLennan, has brought Kidville to Dubai – the boys bounce around a huge soft play gymnasium, filled with all manner of large, colourful spongy blocks and climbing apparatus.
Formerly a high flying banking consultant, Monica explains that motherhood has altered her priorities, and after moving here several months ago, she realised the UAE would be the perfect recipient for the Kidville concept. ‘The purpose of the centre is to provide the community with a place where they can meet and play,’ she says. ‘There are other edutainment centres in Dubai, but Kidville is different because it offers specialised classes for kids aged zero to six that actively encourage parent participation. All our staff are cherry-picked experts in their fields – and genuinely loving children is an absolute requirement for anyone working here.’
The project, which has taken a year to come to fruition, is, Monica explains, only the start. ‘This is just our first Kidville, but we plan to open seven more in the UAE over the next few years.’ And though it’s been a challenging transition – baby daughter Anaya is just 17 months old – Monica is delighted with the result. ‘Six months ago, this place was a shell,’ she laughs. ‘And yes, starting off in a new country, with a new baby and a huge project has been challenging. But we really believe in what we’re doing and working with children is so varied and fulfilling. It’s fantastic.’
Kidville (04 440 1220; www.mykdville.ae; firstname.lastname@example.org) The Walk at JBR, Rimal 5, Plaza Level. Classes are booked by the semester (blocks of eight weeks – a lesson a week) and cost from Dhs1,075 with
discounted rates for members.