When you walk into Creative Kid's, you see kids of different ages jumping and frolicking around. Some play doctor and patient, some play a barista and customer, some gawk at the huge painting of the solar system on the wall. Some children play tag or chase, some draw and paint, and some tell stories.
The place is a thoughtfully designed vibrant and colourful environment where children are encouraged to run wild with their imagination. It features a communal ball pit that resembles a grand tree, a double-decker bus, boat, supermarket, café, pet shop, clinic and even a police station!
Children learn how to interact and communicate with their surroundings while playing. In the past children learned these skills while playing outside, but there is hardly any space left in Dhaka for that. Which is why Dr Yahia Amin, a psychologist and the co-founder and Chair of LifeSpring, searched for a quick and viable solution.
Located in Panthapath, Creative Kid's was launched in January 2023. Children come to interact and play with others of their age. They play fun games that do not require screens, and through these activities they develop skills to better them as a person.
Together with Shafique Rahman, Principal Architect of Trikon Architects, Yahia designed the space to give children the psychological stimuli they need for proper cognitive and behavioural development.
The place has been set up on a total area of 3800sft, which is a somewhat small space for children to run around and explore their imagination. But the distribution of different playing zones, using curved surfaces to segregate spaces, giving play zones different heights and the use of vibrant colours, create the illusion of an area larger than its actual size.
There is also a large column at the centre of the space, but the team of architects creatively turned it into the centerpiece of the design. They turned it into a grand tree with colourful laces hanging from the ceiling, surrounded by a huge ball pit.
Adjacent to the 'Tree House' is the 'Urban Ship'. Resembling the hull of a ship, this section is fitted with tyres, painted yellow, hanging from the ceiling. Kids can either swing from here or imagine themselves as pirates, skipping from one station to the other.
The children are also overseen by a school psychologist and a behavioral therapist while they play.
Socialisation amongst the children at Creative Kid's begins with the 'Wonder Bus'. As many as nine to ten kids can enter the bus, but only one of them will drive, and others will be the passengers.
"There's a bus there. Why a bus of all things? The bus is a social mode of transportation. The kids will ride the bus and take turns driving it and playing inside. They'll communicate with other kids while they play, and in the process learn how to interact," said Shafique.
Then there is the 'Mini City', with a literal road with zebra crossings. The city includes a police station, hospital, supermarket, cafe and a fitness zone. A child dreaming to be a doctor is free to pick up a doctor's scrubs and check their patient with a toy stethoscope. The police station subtly introduces them to the idea of good and bad. So, they themselves can roleplay a police and a robber behind bars.
The 'Fitness Fort' looks fun and daunting at the same time. They can swing from bars and hang from a wall like Spiderman, without any of his abilities. At the 'Cave & Climbing' section, kids need to really climb an inclined slope, helping them to break a sweat!
The space has many vibrant colours within the design, that helps keep children in high spirits throughout their stay. Colours have a significant role in children's developmental process. Trying to identify colours at an early age helps to create cognitive links between visual cues and words. Also, a full-size world map introduces them to the countries and wonders of the world.
Besides playing, children can avail several courses here that may otherwise not be taught even at a school, for example, sex education. Every week a free lesson is given here on 'Good touch, bad touch'. Other courses include lessons on storytelling, confidence building, speaking up to bullying, mannerisms and several other topics.
"21 children enrolled for the first course we introduced, but we only had a capacity for 20 children. Clearly, there is a need for this," said Yahia.
In the creative classrooms, children are free to read, write or draw. Parents are sometimes encouraged to join in as well.
"However, none of the activities need a screen. They're learning to socialise and interactively learn with the other kids," Shafique added.
Despite all the elements in this place, there is no obstruction in moving freely throughout. Children can play chase without once crashing into anything, and even if they do crash, paddings are extensively fitted throughout the place to keep them from getting hurt.
"Paintings of the solar system on a very large scale can help these children picture how big the universe is. They learn about planets at school, but here they see from the mural the grandness of celestial bodies. Laughing giraffes and other animals painted on the walls also give a subtle message that animals are friends, teaching them the value of empathy," said Shafique.
In terms of learning and engagement, Creative Kid's has already distinguished itself from a daycare and other commercial kid's play zones. A couple hours of playtime at Creative Kid's costs Tk 1,000. It is open between 1 PM and 9 PM.
The standard service is for children between three to five, but the space is not exclusive to this age bracket. Several courses are designed around the needs of older children. Various courses are available for children between six and nine, or five and eleven years old.
"One of LifeSpring's mottos is to nurture development. Children's mental health was being affected during Covid-19 because they only relied on devices and gadgets for recreation. The web is not a safe place for them. Considering all these, we thought of opening a play-based learning centre to nurture their creativity, cognitive development, communication skills and how to instill empathy and compassion," added Yahia.