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When the parents are away, kids will play
- Childzones a hit in shops and stops

While parents pick out big-ticket ‘toys’ for themselves, kids need playthings of their own to keep them occupied. From Tendulkar’s to Toyota showrooms, toy corners in ‘adult hangouts’ have captured every child’s — and grown-up’s — restless heart.

As dining and shopping destinations coming up by the week, moms and dads run out of baby-sitters faster than they do places to go. Kids, too, will get some variety, with play corners in city hubs promising to do more than give them a good time. “To boost creativity”, Kool Kidz, a drop-in day-care at 22, Camac Street, which houses major retail outlets like Pantaloons and Westside and restaurants like Grain of Salt and Pizza Hut, has launched Book Lovers’ Den, a circulating library for children, on Tuesday.

Over 1,000 books have hit colourful shelves, and children between zero and 14 years are invited to join — with their parents’ help, of course. The collection includes everything from bathtub books to Ladybird, encyclopaedias to Enid Blyton, and is to be updated monthly.

But kiddie corners will soon be seen in unexpected places as well. Kool Kidz, the company that holds the marketing rights in India for Little Tikes, a US-based toy and playground equipment brand, has struck partnerships with companies like Toyota. So while parents check out a Qualis, tots can keep themselves busy in a tomato-red, top-of-the-line Cozy Coupe. And rest assured: the four-wheeler, powered by tiny, though busy, feet, will not go very far. “We are present in 38 Toyota outlets across the country, including one in Calcutta,” explains Manish Newar of Kool Kidz. Little see-saws, sandboxes, swings and playhouses are just some of the products in its portfolio.

The concept has clicked at restaurants, too, with Pizza Hut and McDonalds round the country roping in Little Tikes for a number of outlets. But what is a prime feather in the toy distributor's cap is the association with Tendulkar’s, the high-end restaurant in Mumbai promoted by Sachin. Not only has the brightly-coloured, child-proof plastic equipment cornered 500 sq ft at the Mumbai branch, the company has also been signed on for any future outlets it may open. The Little Master — the father of a boy and girl himself — apparently got hooked on to the concept while on tour with his family, always ending up in restaurants with child-friendly facilities.

Kool Kidz currently caters to “1,600 families a month”. Parents can either sign on as members or pay an hourly-rate to leave their wards in the charge of trained personnel, with toys, computers, video games, books, music and an art corner at their disposal. But with feedback from parents indicating they prefer a one-stop solution for the kids, they also started a Montessori service for toddlers between one and two years, run by teachers from Kindled Hearts in Alipore. The library is an extension of this.

Explains Kiran Jhunjhunwala, one of the founders of Kindled Hearts: “Parents in the Alipore school used to complain that no libraries stock the books their children want. That made us start a lending library in Alipore, so parents don’t have to buy all the books, which can be quite expensive.”

With pester power changing the rules of the spending game, can the marketing men be far behind'

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