Free-play. It’s all everybody’s been talking about for the past few years. Experts have been highlighting the importance of “letting kids be kids” for decades, but the concept has become engraved into parents’ minds with the emergence of more venues that encourage this sort of interaction across the UAE.
The latest in Dubai is XPark Jr. Launched by sports brand XDubai, this new natural playscape promises hours of fun designed to ignite kids’ sense of adventure through plenty of unstructured play for youngsters aged one to 12 – and the endless laughs that come with it.
“The entire concept of the park is unique in that it allows kids to get in touch with nature, take healthy risks, discover and learn about their surroundings – both independently and in groups – all while having fun in a natural setting right in the heart of Dubai,” says Mohammed Javad, general manager of XPark Jr.
The park is rooted in nature, which is evident through the planting garden, fruit trees, streams, waterfalls and fountains. “We have tree houses with wooden bridges, climbing nets and bridges that enable kids to explore,” Javad says. “We’ve also added a petting zoo so kids can learn about animals. The sand play area and mud kitchen are expected to be very popular, too. Kids can enjoy arts and crafts while there and Park House restaurant has opened up a branch, giving families the opportunity to enjoy healthy food when they visit, too.”
XPark Jr is set in a forest-like setting, only steps away from Dubai’s popular Kite Beach, on the site formally occupied by The Journey, and the team behind it is dedicating great efforts to ensuring it’s very well taken care of. “We’ve really put in the time to offer a natural, yet well-maintained environment for our visitors,” Javad says. “Constant irrigation and natural compost help keep the greenery alive and healthy and the park’s design provides naturally shaded areas for families to keep cool and relax under, so it’s perfect for parents accompanying their kids or for kids to take a break to refresh in between exploring the wooden forts, enjoying the water features or working in the mud kitchen.”
While wooden forts and mud kitchens offer plenty of opportunities for surprises, free-play may not be the best option for some parents who still seek a more structured approach to making the best of their child’s time in the park, something which the team behind XPark Jr has also taken into account.
“Our daily lives have grown more structured over the years and XPark Jr gives all young visitors the opportunity to enjoy messy play, which is why it was built in the first place. In terms of structured play at XPark Jr, we’ve re-introduced the Urban Forest School Programme, which is primarily for school and nursery visits. It offers structured visits for groups with activities that include den-building, arts and crafts, campfire-building and studying small animals and plant life.”
A series of characters have also been introduced, designed to help kids move around and learn about nature in an interactive way. Among them are park hosts Xemo of Xemo’s Garden, FortyFarah of FortyFarah’s Fortress, CraftyCareem of CraftyCareem’s Corner, and more.
XPark Jr is also ready for party fun, with birthday packages available and a private room for those special occasions when adventure is limited to a small group of friends.
While kids have been loving it all so far, certain attractions appear to be standing out. “The water features – streams and fountain – are a big hit with the kids as is the mud kitchen,” says Javed. So look out for these on your next visit.
“With two young kids of my own, what really appeals to me as a parent is that XPark Jr just allows them to be kids,” Javed explains. “It’s simply letting kids be kids again!”
Dhs45 (per child with one adult, for two hours), Dhs45 (each additional adult, for two hours), Dhs25 (each additional hour), free (kids under the age of one). Mizmelah Street, near Kite Beach, Umm Suqeim, Dubai (04 328 4175).