When Mariam Al Kassab moved to Dubai six years ago, she just couldn’t find the kind of community centre that was a central part of family life back in Canada. So the logical step? To open one herself. ‘What I wanted to create was a true community centre,’ explains the mum-of-two. ‘In Vancouver, where I used to live, there are places where all families with small kids can attend, where you can try workshops, do sports, meet new people.’
And so, Kidz Venture was born. This vast space, located in the mall’s Egypt court, encompasses everything young families could want, and then some. There’s even a Kidz Venture nursery, right next door, following a combination of the Early Years Foundation Stage and the Montessori systems. In the community centre, the mantra is ‘learning through play’ – fun, age-appropriate activities are divided into various areas. A large indoor sports area helps kids with their physical development, through fun sessions of tennis, dodgeball, football and more (they’ll be opening a shaded outdoor play area after the summer months, too).
An area for threes and under features self correcting, interactive toys and stimulating activities for crawlers, wobblers and early walkers. There’s also workshop rooms for theatre and storytelling, and a ‘splat room’ for messy arts and crafts. ‘Everything we use in the splat room is from recycled goods,’ says Mariam. ‘We have the kids bring in old bottles and card from home, and we pay them 50fils to Dhs1, and we do all our arts and crafts from recycled materials – this even runs through to the birthday parties, too.’
The timetable of planned activities through each day varies from gym time and sports such as mini-golf, plus workshops that encompass everything from chess to drama, Arabic lessons and scrapbooking. The centre has also started to host longer-established kids’ groups, too, including Boogie Babies and Baby Arabia. ‘These classes already exist in the city – I don’t want to take everything for myself, and I really want to establish Kidz Venture as the kind of venue where people can come to do their thing,’ says Mariam.
Also in the pipeline is a book club, plus photography lessons and workshops for both kids and adults (did we mention that the space is also home to a large photographic studio, too?). ‘The demand for bookclub has been amazing,’ says Mariam. Launching soon, there’ll be interactive storytelling sessions for the youngest kids, while older ones will also be able to incorporate drama and music, plus parental discussions too.
Over in the photographic studio, managing photographer David Strongman explains how he’ll tailor sessions to meet the needs of their customers, young and old. ‘Cameras are so ubiquitous these days,’ he explains. ‘But I doubt that 90 per cent of people actually read the instruction manual; they just turn it on and see how they go. There are really basic things you can do to make a digital camera work really well for you. With kids, we can teach more about composition, how to set up a shot, whereas with the adults, it will be about how to set up a camera, so you never have to think about it again.’ In the meantime, they’re already doing a roaring trade in kids’ birthdays – with fun studio photographic sessions (Click!) taking their place alongside the sports-themed Sweat! parties, and craft-based Art! parties.
Back in the main community centre, it’s designed with kids uppermost in mind (with full wheelchair access, there’s even mini bathrooms, with antibacterial toilets brought over from Italy), and the majority of the products and equipment are from German brand Dusyma. ‘I love their products,’ says Mariam, who herself travelled to Europe to pick everything. ‘Everything has an educational, Montessori angle. And if we have special needs children here, we use the materials and the toys, teaching the mother how to use them – we then have a deal with the brand whereby she can buy the items at cost to use at home, too.’
It’s this flexibility to fit in with mums and dads that is at the heart of Kidz Venture’s philosophy. ‘I want this to become the heart of the community – we want to get to know the people that live around here and build relationships. So many people don’t get to even know their neighbours here in Dubai – I want people to come here, socialize and make new friends.’
To make this even easier, Kidz Venture has a convenient drop in policy, whereby parents of threes and under can either accompany their kids as they play (Dhs30 per hour), or organize one-on-one babysitting (Dhs60 per hour). For older children, there’s a ‘no nanny’ policy – with qualified instructors keeping a close eye on the kids as they lead the scheduled activities.
‘I want to be so flexible here, especially for parents who might not have a nanny,’ says Mariam. ‘We take children during mall hours, and will be offering drop in packages, too. For children who do use the babysitting service regularly, we’ll aim to use the same care-giver, to give them a sense of consistency.’
With summer camps currently at the planning stage (watch this space), and more family-friendly activities to come – we reckon this fun new centre is gearing up to become a must-visit fixture on Dubai’s family calendar.
Sports activities from Dhs60 per hour. Arts and crafts are Dhs90 for 90 minutes, including 30 minutes of free play. Dhs30 for drop ins, Dhs60 for drop ins with one-to-one babysitting. Kidz Venture operates during normal mall opening hours. Ibn Battuta Mall, Egypt Court, www.kidzventure.ae (04 361 9315).