Kids play at grown-up work

Kids gave up a day of summer relaxation to join the work force as part of When I Grow Up Day, hosted by the Pretend City Children's Museum in Irvine.

Pretend City hopes through the event to inspire youngsters by letting them interact with professionals. More than 15 guests attended, including a personal trainer, a hairdresser, a nurse, an entomologist and a police officer.

"This is really how children learn," said Linda Hunter, the nonprofit's chief operating officer and senior director of education. "They learn by experiences and being in what we call an immersive environment."

Everett Owens, 3, of Irvine, said he wanted to be a policeman but after working his way through the city and seeing the different jobs exclaimed, "I want to be a lifeguard!"

Pretend City, intended for children younger than 7 but open to all ages, is a fully functioning, tot-sized city that lets kids interact in a life-like setting. It not only has a beach and a police station but also includes an emergency services center, farm, marina, library, post office and café that, for now, has taken on the appearance of a Wahoo's Fish Taco.

The children earn money for working at the different services and can withdraw their cash from ATMs dotting "the city."

"She loves it," Star Ramirez, of Rancho Santa Margarita, said of her 6-year-daughter, Melrose Ramirez, who wheeled herself down Curiosity Circle in a tow truck. "She asks to go here every week."

The pretend Wahoo's was bustling with activity as Addison Brown, 6, of San Francisco served her dad, Pete Brown, chocolate cake, French fries and a salad, while her best friend, Kendall Colin, 7, of Mission Viejo, charged him $20 for the meal.

In the veterinary office, Kaylee Weekley, 4, cradled a plush horse and was so focused on giving it medicine that the only way her mother could pull her away was by suggesting they visit the farm. "She wants to work with animals," said her mother, Heather Weekley, of Ladera Ranch.

"Dr. Sue" the bug lady was on hand to teach the kids about entomology, and video game designer Jay Koottarappallil let the children choose their own colors for a video game character to show them how games are made.

Though the youngsters were hard at work learning, they also managed to hold an impromptu dance party at the intersection of Curiosity Circle and Wonder Way.

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