Taking Brownies to Kidzania

Yesterday we had an awesome day out to the Kidzania centre in London, and while I was concerned about many aspects following reviews online we actually had an amazing time! Here is everything I wish I knew beforehand… even just to cure some of my worries!

Arrival:

Make sure to do the research on how to find Kidzania within Westfields, it isn’t signposted too well but there were staff around to help point us the right way. While I’d looked at the Westfields map online, being in the centre looked very different! The entrance is beside some lifts, you’re greeted in a rather small entrance that leads to escalators, after taking four of these you’re at arrivals.

The Brownies and adults are given security tags, and the Brownies are given Kidzo money and hair nets (which some will proceed to put on straight away! But they’re for the food activities and I believe they put them on before putting on helmets for the climbing and air conditioning.)

As we go into the centre we’re greeted by a staff member who explains to the Brownies how the system works, how to check how long an activity will take and whether they have to pay Kidzos to take part, or of they get paid!

The only disappointment here is that the time it takes to get your security tags is included in the 4 hours. We walked into the Kidzania town itself at 11am (our booked time slot) but were told as we started checking in at 10.45am we would finish at 2.45pm.

Setting up a base:

We decided to set up base in the Town Square, an area with tables and chairs designed for resting and eating. The Brownies dumped their bags on and under our table and as leaders we took turns staying at the table and going around the centre and seeing what the girls were up to. This meant the Brownies always knew where to find an adult, it was placed very close to the toilets, and often the Brownies would pass by anyway between, or during, their jobs.

Security tags:

A major disappoint for us was that the security tags did not work. For a start, no one even mentioned this aspect of the Kidzania experience to us, I was only aware of this from a colleague who had previously taken her daughter. At the Job Information stand, right next to where you first walk in, there is a screen. Press the green ‘tracker’ icon and then scan your wristband and you should be able to see on the map where all the young members of your group have last scanned in (those running each activity scan the kids in and out). Great for leaders and for the girls to be able to find each other, but none of our tags worked. We were told it was because we were a large group and to go to the airport to fix it. A fellow leader discussed this with a manager for a little while, it didn’t get sorted which was a shame (if it had included getting all the girls together to scan their wrists again it wouldn’t have been worth the loss of time).

Lunch:

As of when we went in Summer 2017, youth groups and schools are allowed to take packed lunches into the centre. This was great as organising 16 kids buying lunch would’ve been a nightmare! We kept their lunches at our base and the girls came and sat with us the eat their lunch when they were hungry between activities. This worked so much better than trying to collect up all 16, and meant there was more space for other families.

The Activities!:

There was so much to do! We gave our Brownies parents the list of jobs to read through before the day, and again to the girls on the journey up, so they could decide what their preferences were.

There really was activities to please everyone and our girls did such a variety. Reading reviews online I was concerned about queuing, being a sunny, hot day may have worked in our favour as the queues weren’t very bad at all. Many were just waiting for the previous group to finish and were next in. But some activities seem to have a constant queue, such as the firefighters and the chocolate factory.

Some activities were a little disappointing. A few younger ones were excited about the Smoothie Making Lab – but as ‘fruitologists’ their job seemed to be about identifying fruits rather than actually making smoothies – they did have some to taste though.

The air conditioning unit was tunnelling with tasks to do along the way, like counting up broken light bulbs.

Many were dashing around as couriers making deliveries, some were looking around for units to measure up to sell as estate agents, and some were looking after new born babies in the special care unit. Some were fashion designers and using a select number of clothes had to design an outfit for a client based on ‘tomboy’ or ‘girly girl’. Some became vets, although I was told the staff were a little unenthusiastic which made the session feel boring, I think the right staff really does make the activities as some others were fantastic.

One Brownie became a reporter and wrote an article on the dance studio, she selected the images to use and then her report was printed in front of her, hot of the press!

After a couple of the little ones went to university and got their Kidzania degree, the Brownies soon realised they would get paid more money in some jobs if they had one too! After achieving their degree they receive a little photo card which was a nice souvenir in itself.

They also figured out to make the most money they needed to become window cleaners. (I imagine this is because Kidzania actually benefits from the kids keeping their windows clean!)

By the end of the session the goal most Brownies had was to open their bank account. They need 75 Kidzos before they can make a deposit and receive their bank card, they’re given 50 on arrival to the centre and each activity earns 5-12 Kidzos. But watch them after they receive their bank cards, after queuing 15 minutes to deposit their Kidzos they’re straight at the ATMs trying to withdraw it all back out!

The only activity I was frustrated with was the Cadbury’s chocolate factory. One of our littlest Brownies queued by herself for so long for this, as she stood at the front of the queue we watched as the group before finished and left, and then another 10 minutes as the staff leisurely set up for the next group. When they’re finally let in (and you pay for this one, you don’t get paid) and they have their aprons on and wash their hands, then the official photographer came in to take a photo of each child holding a giant chocolate bar. It took so long to do anything. I’m not sure what actually happens during the activity, but when they finish they’re given a token, about A6 in size with the picture of a chocolate bar on it to hand in when they leave to receive some chocolate so we were a little disappointed when our girls who took part were given a ‘Heroes’ dairy milk! I didn’t understand why this couldn’t have just been given at the end of the activity rather than getting their hopes up!

We let the Brownies decide if they wanted to stay paired up or go it alone, though we did this thinking we could keep track of them but it actually worked out fine. Some stayed in groups the whole time, others had their own aspirations so split up for a bit, but they knew where to find a leader if they wanted to pair up with a group again.

Spending those hard earned Kidzos!:

Don’t expect to get much for your money. I tried to explain to some that this is the value of money and you have to work lots of times to buy the things you want. There is a shop, kids only, that sells pencils for 40 Kidzos, rulers for 45 Kidzos, necklaces for 120 Kidzos. But at the end of a session, if you hadn’t spent anything elsewhere, you’re likely to have about 85 Kidzos at most. The Brownies who had money didn’t even want to spend it on a pencil or a ruler, I wish I had advised them sooner to think about spending it on actual activities instead. It costs Kidzos to have your face painted or attempt the climbing wall. I believe there was a drum workshop too but I never saw it. Most of ours came home with bundles of Kidzo notes, so at least they can return with it in the future!

Departure:

About 20 minutes before our time was up we started directing girls to the shop if they wanted to spend their money. This worked as a bit of a wind down time. We queued to have our security tags taken off and it was “bye bye” Kidzania!

In Conclusion:

Great day! Very pleased that the queuing wasn’t an issue, we had a few moans but I think this was part of the lesson they learned during the session. If I’d had the option I would’ve gone for a longer session, 4 hours goes so quickly, but actually being there the girls were starting to wind down after that amount of time anyway. The security tags were a disappointment but it didn’t ruin the day, it would’ve been nice to know where they were. Also, handing out maps would be a good idea too. There were signposts but I never looked at them so doubt ten year olds would! I never saw where the pilot and cabin crew activities were, or the music workshop. The stadium, engineering and animation studio were out of the way too so many of the kids may not notice them. But overall we had a fantastic day, we had great feedback from the girls including “this is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life” – you can’t beat that!

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12. See the bigger picture

Part 12 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“So, when you need inspiration, think of fellow members out there. We’re all different, but through challenge, friendship, fun and adventure, we can achieve great things.”

It can be difficult sometimes to remember we’re all a part of this giant movement, and to encourage the Brownies to look wider than even our own unit.

A few years ago we took part in an exciting project at World Centre Sangaam in India. The Centre was looking to raise money by selling friendship bracelets made by girlguiding members around the world so we spent an evening making bracelets, having spent a couple weeks learning about India, and in return we received a postcard from the centre thanking us for the donation.

I wish there were more projects like this we could get involved in.

We have run international pen pals and postcard exchanges a couple times over the years and this gets the Brownies thinking about those further afield. Plus we had a lovely district day learning all about Guiding in a different region, for us we looked at Asia and learned to wear Saris and henna painting.

And me? I’m yet to have an international adventure with Guiding. I think the two biggest factors against doing it is a) the cost (if there is fundraising to do I’d rather do it for the unit or the church), b) the time away from James – it doesn’t seem fair for me to use my annual leave to go on holiday without him. So I cannot see myself taking on an overseas trip for Girlguiding any time soon. But James and I have our own adventures abroad and I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

I do love seeing what goes on in Guiding around the world though, and Facebook is great for seeing this. I’m a member of a few international groups and like a few international pages, such as Free Being Me and Girlguiding South Africa, which gives me a glimpse into the life of memebrs and volunteers around the world.

11. Find the fun

Part 11 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“In tough times, a sense of humour gets us through, and it’s extremely useful for teaching those you lead new skills and tackling challenging issues.”

For this I want to reminisce over the times where I could relax being the authoritative figure and could just have a laugh with the Brownies.

Recently we had an evening making animal masks for the Friends to Animals badge. Rather than wandering the room and checking everyone was okay I found myself at a table where the newer Brownies had settled and started making a mask myself. This night was a brilliant way to get to know our new recruits. One especially is very quiet, but we spent the whole night working together and chatting about geckos like the one in Tangled. We all made up names for our alter egos while wearing our masks.

Another great time was on a Christmas sleepover. When we go to activity sites there isn’t usually time for us leaders to have a go at activities but one this day I had a go at a few things, such as caving. The Brownies had begged me to join them as some were scared and there I found myself crawling through a pitch black tunnel, but we all came out the other side sharing stories and some defeating their fears.

On the same sleepover, another lovely moment I won’t forget is the group of us, 6 Brownies and 2 leaders, having an impromptu singing of ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree’, it was just a lovely moment.

The look on the Brownies faces when they saw my fellow leader and I racing to slot all the giant four in a row coins back onto the board was a treat! We just started putting the game away ready for next use and turned it into a race and the Brownies couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

I love any time that the Brownies suggest I have a go, one of the best times I took them up on it was at the ‘Spark’ nationwide event at the roller disco. Not only did I enjoy getting stuck in and having a go on roller skates for the first time in ten years I was also able to help a small Brownie skate for the first time too.

Finding the fun as leaders is essential, I have to remind myself sometimes I am a member of the unit too!

10. Take Some Me-Time

Part 10 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“When you’re leading a group, it can be all too easy to burn out – so it’s important to take care of yourself. Practise saying no, and being polite but firm.”

So this is my guilty post.

I’m glad this is on the list though, as it justifies the recent ‘No’ I handed out.

A couple months ago I was asked to consider becoming a Peer Educator Trainer, a local session was going to be run later this year and they were looked for people aged 19-30 to train to become trainers. I loved the idea of passing on my Peer Educator knowledge and a weekend away with similar aged guiding members would be fun so I said I was interested.

Then I received the email with the details of what would be expected and I was not prepared for the amount of time this commitment would take. One weekend to train in London, completing two qualifications, and then being committed to four weekends a year anywhere nationwide, for the next three years.

At first I was excited by the prospect of gaining a preparing to teach qualification. I was considering it, although it was A LOT more than I expected. I was thinking like a day or two to train and then one weekend away later in the year, and maybe one next year! I suppose I was rather naïve, and I do completely understand why Girlguiding would want that big commitment from the people it is putting their money into training.

So I discussed it with James, and talking it through really put it in perspective. One weekend away on top of the two weekends already with the Brownies, plus the occasional volunteering at a big event and many day trips through the year was already difficult for him to hear. And I hate seeing him like that. So another four was unthinkable. And he was right. One weekend every three months, plus my Brownie commitments, plus not knowing how far I would need to travel before being at work at 9am on the Monday after.

This was a time I had to put James, and my own wellbeing, first. I said No.

I have complete respect for any Girlguiding member that takes on this commitment, I had no idea how much goes into becoming a Girlguiding trainer! From what I had previously read online I thought it would be more laid back, it was a role I had thought I would progress into but it is indeed a huge commitment and that would be one thing too many for me right now.

So I’m going to focus on my Brownies, take a few steps towards helping the local Senior Section and make sure I include some me time during each week.

9. Jump right in

Part 9 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“To keep young members on their toes, try to give them at least one brand new experience to enjoy each term. It can be as small or as big as you like – whether it’s a fun sports event, a food–tasting session or an international trip – all activities are enriching in their own way.”

This is a thought provoking topic! Are we giving our girls new experiences?

It is a difficult one to judge, what we think may be a new experience for the girls could turn out to be a little run of the mill. When we invited in a yoga teacher for a session, one parent commented how much her daughters enjoy yoga. Plus kids have so many opportunities to try out archery, climbing and pedal karts that a day at an activity centre may nor be as exciting as I would’ve found it.

This won’t be for every girl, but here are some of the experiences we have offered which have been quite unique:

Watching the Paralympic athletics. I cannot say another group will ever have this opportunity with us! In 2012 we took a group of Brownies to watch the events in the stadium, while some may have seen other events that year I think this is the only activity we will never be able to repeat! (Although taking the Brownies to another sporting event could be a good idea.)

Spy night. There was a lot of buzz following this themed evening in our unit. The Brownies and leaders dressed up, everyone had code names (I was Alpha Snake) and the Brownies took on four tasks, including a laser room, to claim the four clues to the whereabouts of their Easter eggs. I think these are the rare activities the Brownies cannot experience elsewhere.

Kidzania. This summer we’re hoping to take the Brownies to this interactive indoor city for kids. I know for some they will have visited before but as Brownies we haven’t, and I know some parents want their girls to go but cannot personally take them. I hope this will be an exciting new activity.

Visiting the Police Station. I think this has been the best unit meeting trip we’ve had. The police officers were so accommodating. The Brownies were very excited to see the  vehicles, handcuffs, cells, and all aspects behind the scenes.

8. Keep up to date

Part 8 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“Having the latest information is key to leading well, and keeping your email address up to date on Go! will ensure you receive all Girlguiding communications. These, along with our website, will give you the need–to–know on everything from insurance to events.”

I am not one for social media, but for Brownies our leadership team set up a closed group for the parents to keep more informed. Due to this I technically have a Facebook profile, but I keep it clear of friends as I do not want those distractions. What I do use it for is keeping up to date with all things Girlguiding and some other interests too.

I can spend ages scrolling through my Facebook feed, finding out about events tacking place locally for Brownies, discussions from fellow leaders and taking inspiration from what other units have done. We recently got the paints out and each Brownie painted a mini masterpiece following an idea from Facebook – it was messy fun! It all stemmed from one Brownie saying the stain glass paint set we bought her for Christmas went in the bin because her Mum doesn’t let her get paints out. Well, what is Brownies here for!

It also gives us great ideas for trips. We are very close to being within a neighbouring county, and therefore while we don’t receive direct updates about what they are up to we can find out about trips and events they’re offering through Facebook. We’ve joined a few events at venues much closer than the ones offered in our County, and the Brownies gets some great new experiences.

Keeping the parents informed works so much better with Facebook too. On the morning of each meeting I add a status as to what the Brownies are doing that evening. Then in the days following we add a few photos to show what they did. We also use it to remind of consent forms, due payments and changes to meeting times and venues. Plus we can see who has seen the message!

7. Be inspired… and inspiring

Part 7 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“In guiding, we promise to ‘be true to myself’, which means taking steps to be happy in your own skin. Self–reflection isn’t always easy, but it can be rewarding – and being ourselves can inspire others.”

Who the heck am I? And what inspires me?

I suppose I am inspired to make our Brownie unit the best it can possibly be. But I cannot help feeling I am holding some things back, as it isn’t who I am and therefore is difficult / I do not agree with sharing it with the Brownies.

So to start, the good things about who I am and how they impact the group:

I like to challenge myself, and therefore I don’t always choose the easiest option when it comes to planning activities. It is rare the unit uses Baker Ross pre-planned crafts. In the past we have done an owl stitched soft toy on Brownie Holiday – the sewing aspect was quite a challenge. We have also done sequin pinned Easter eggs, not quite so challenging. I think it has been since then, about three years ago, I’ve avoided these sorts of crafts.

Another challenge I give myself when it comes to planning in ensuring we either leave the unit place, or welcome a visitor, at least once per term. In the past year we have been on chip walk (of course), the park, had a visit from a local clay company, a yoga session and visit to Pets at Home. I’m also planning a bouncy castle for the end of term.

I do enjoy a craft, I keep scrapbooks, in the past I’ve made my own cards and bracelets. Oh, and I love to draw! I try to use these things sparingly in the unit though. I know the stigma of the ‘only does crafts every week’ Brownie units. When we do a craft I try to keep it something with some skill. On Brownie Holiday we made awesome dreamcatchers – I will write about those at some point – and for some that was their favourite activity over the on site stuff.

So on the self-reflective side – things I could do better at to help the unit…

Go outside more. I really wish I had the forethought to ensure more of our meetings could take place out on the green during the summer months. We head outside for gardening twice a year, plus sometimes games outside and chip walk. There has been the odd meeting where we decide to spend the entire meeting, circle included, outside. But this isn’t often enough. I hoped Brownie Holiday would tackle this, intending the be outside as much as possible, but some things were just so difficult.

Lead better planning pow-wows. Sometimes I look at the term ahead, a plan decided on by the Brownies, and I wish we could do so much more. But these are the ideas the Brownies have thought of and chosen. I do offer my ideas, but the number wanting to do science experiments and the more educational interest badges are few. There is so much Brownies could do that I never get a chance to lead!

Pamper / girly nights. This is difficult because I just don’t agree with it. I think at Brownies the girls should be playing games, learning about the world and team building. We always do fun activities too. But stopping everything for a pamper evening just seems a waste of time to me. I completely agree with teaching the Brownies how to care for their nails and hair, I recall these things being in my Brownie handbook, but facemasks, nail varnish etc, for a group of nine year olds just seems wrong to me. And I don’t want to encourage an interest in it. Especially when we can run Free Being Me sessions instead.