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A motorist waits patiently in his blue and white car for pedestrians to clear before heading home after a trip to the local market. Across the street at a beauty parlor, a young woman slips into a pink party dress and adjusts her tiara as she prepares for an afternoon out on the town.

To all appearances it is a typical day in suburban Shanghai-that is, until high-pitched squeals and children's laughter remind you that you are in Kidtown.

The 400-sq-m community has an impressive array of toys and books used in the educational and social developmental classes it runs for children between the ages of 3 months and 7 years old.

Expat children play at Shanghai-based Kidtown that features a hospital, market, police station and a beauty salon to encourage creative play.

But, it is the play center's collection of stage sets mimicking real-life locations that sets it apart from other children's centers in China.

"My favorite is 'Home Sweet Home' because it looks just like my house," says 6-year-old Abie Badanjo, who has been coming to Shanghai-based Kidtown for the past year. "I like playing here."

Realizing there was a lack of recreational sites for urban children, Lisa Chiang came up with Kidtown after visiting a children's museum in San Diego. Chiang says the backdrops at Kidtown, which include a hospital and police station, help foster creative play.

"Kids engage in pretend play all the time," says the 34-year-old mother of two. "This is how they practice life skills. Creativity is valued more and more in the work place and that has to be nurtured at a very young age."

Dr. Nagmeh Rowhani agrees. The pediatrician at Shanghai United Family Hospital says the play center offers children a place to enjoy and explore the world from their own vantage point, which is important for their social development.

"As children explore real-life locations, they learn about their world and are able to master new skills and abilities," says Rowhani. "Through acting out real life situations, they gain a better understanding of their own world, develop their confidence and sense of independence, and are therefore empowered to take on greater challenges."

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