Whoever said learning and fun have to be mutually exclusive? Learning need not be torturous with loads of assignments that the child struggles to understand through sleep-laden eyes. The image of learning need not be of a teacher yielding authority and threatening detention if all the rules are not followed to the letter. Education need not be something that the kids hate. It can be fun and enjoyable.

The most effective learning activities usually engage the senses and spark imagination and creativity as well as encourage interactions with others. This type of entertaining activity makes learning, and education in general, more enjoyable, and also helps the child better retain the lessons and develop an eagerness to learn more. When a child engages in an activity s/he really enjoys, they are more likely to learn as much as they can about that activity, thereby reinforcing the learning process.

What Is Edutainment?

Simply put, the term edutainment refers to educating while entertaining. Initially, the term edutainment was first used in the computer industry to refer to programs designed for kids to make learning fun. The concept was adopted several years back by the leisure out-of-home family entertainment center industry.

While the combination of education and entertainment might be relatively new, the concept has been around for quite a while. Remember the school bus trips; visiting historical sites, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, museums, tourist attraction centers, etc? Well, all those trips were meant to bring the entertainment aspect to learning.

The Business of Edutainment

The concept of entertainment and education has grown beyond the school trips to include design and development of mega facilities for learning through leisure entertainment. This concept is largely influenced by the changing societies globally where most tasks are no longer labor based but knowledge based. Almost half of the workforce today, especially in the socioeconomic sector, is comprised of pure knowledge workers. Additionally, the population is becoming more and more educated and high numbers are graduating from tertiary institutions.

Initially, leisure was considered a reward for hard work. You had to be the absolute best in your work environment in order to get more money to afford a vacation. Leisure was considered a time to relax and do nothing other than catch your breath after a long string of weeks at work and recuperate from mental and physical work stresses.

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Learning was just as stressful as work. Kids were required to work just as hard. It was imperative for kids to learn their numbers, vocabulary, and grammar rules in the classroom (reading, writing, & arithmetic), complete their homework before and after dinner, and excel in their tests. This pressure took a toll on the kids, making education seem like a bothersome experience. Kids struggled to understand concepts and retain the lessons amidst the growing resentment for education. Learning was something they’d rather not do but were forced to.

Today, learning through leisure is one of the most effective concepts, and has been widely embraced, bringing a revolution to both the workplace and education sectors.

Giving Kids Freedom- Learning through Play

According to numerous research findings in the field of early childhood development, self-directed play is more effective in children’s education as compared to regular academic-type environments. These open-ended play-learning settings have since been adopted by pre-school, kindergarten and day care providers to develop children’s cognitive, emotional, social and physical abilities. The popularity of the teacher assigned learning environment has decreased as more educational professionals and parents prefer the child-sensitive approach to learning.

It is commonly agreed that the minds of the young children are programmed to explore the environment around them as they make their own discoveries. Kids’ play is mainly based on imaginary games with other kids or individual unstructured play.

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Improving Learning in Children- The Business Opportunity

Despite the growing concerns that the regular classroom learning environment may have some restrictions on the learning and development of children, the public sector has done little to address the issue. This has created the opportunity for private enterprises to thrive as more family edutainment centers spring up in every corner of the world.

Family edutainment centers (FECs) are equipped with operators who are armed with information on the needs of the children, and therefore, craft learning opportunities that allows children to learn in ways that are most natural and fun.

These edutainment centers offer kids discovery and learning experiences in natural settings or fun (manmade) environments. It is a lot like those days when parents let you explore out of the home as much as you wanted, and the only rule was to be home by dinner time.

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Model Edutainment Centers

There are dozens of different types of edutainment centers. Initially, indoor pay-to-play centers were popular (recall the early small Inflatable centers, Discovery Zone I & II), and based on the flawed concept that indoor physical play is safe, meets all the learning needs of the children, and the children would never get bored. However, as time went by, larger centers were built which incorporated not only the safe indoor activities, but those that were a little more thrilling activities such as interactive soft play units, indoor amusement park rides, animatronics, and of course, children’s and family amusement games.

Other centers incorporated more discovery opportunities in the children’s play such as kids’ museums and nature trips in addition to the usual theme parks and indoor play. Child-parent interactions were also emphasized, as they were recognized as important elements of effective learning and childhood development.

The next generation children’s edutainment centers are going back to the actual discoveries (as opposed to the common virtual reality and technological gimmicks incorporated in the kids learning experiences). In this new generation of learning centers, children are actually allowed to play with real tools (just that they are scaled to fit them), pretend to be in different professions, learn what it takes, and basically let their imagination run as wild as possible.

These centers allow kids to play just as kids, bearing in mind that what adults consider appropriate for their children is not necessarily what the children desire. The centers allow children to explore according to their individual likes, since no two kids are the same. The differences in ages, likes, genders, development levels, and learning abilities all influence children’s learning experiences, which the centers cater to.

Success Story – KidZania and Tiny Towne

One successful story of a well thought out and designed edutainment center is KidZania, a global enterprise that seeks to improve kids’ learning through hands-on experiences. KidZania allows children, ages 4 to 14 years of age) to participate in realistic educational yet entertaining experiences. The role playing is done in a safe environment that allows children to mimic adult activities and actually get paid for “jobs” done. It is basically a small city built to scale for the kids, with a functional economy, paved streets and even transportation vehicles!

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KidZania provides the perfect blend of entertainment and reality, which gives children an authentic experience for proper development. This newest model of edutainment centers are simply child sized cities with buildings housing theaters, hospitals, salons, shops, manufacturing industries and pretty much everything that would be found in a city including streets and cars. This child-only city allows kids to socialize, cooperate and learn how to be independent and creative, all in a 3-5 hour experience.

As the kids engage in various activities that mimic adult jobs, they get paid in the KidZania currency which they use to buy goods and services with. The kids are also encouraged to save a portion of their salary by depositing their hard earn money in the city’s bank, later to be used to buy gifts from the gift shop. Everything is just as the adults have it, only that it’s kid-sized, fun and stress free, a great learning environment for kids.

Another positive for the parents is that they are aware of their child’s whereabouts at all times! When each child enters this city, they are provided with a bracelet that allows the parent(s) to track them remotely.

This is just one of the edutainment success stories today. Even as the KidZania franchise spreads across the globe, more companies are coming up to offer edutainment to children, such as Tiny Towne where the children learn to drive small electric cars and earn points towards obtaining their special driver’s license. Today, edutainment is the perfect blend of leisure and learning for children. Perhaps in the near future adult learning will follow the same format and there will be adult edutainment centers within our colleges and universities. How does eduversitytainment sound? Nah!  🙂

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