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FOR THE KIDS : Club Provides Fun and Draws Families to Mall : Activities include hands-on entertainment such as karaoke, complete with free videotapes of performances.


Matthew Urango, 3, and his twin brother, Marcus, probably won't remember taking the microphone on a stage decorated with balloon bouquets and singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Their parents will. They'll have it on videotape--right down to the "tinkle" instead of "twinkle."

It was kiddie karaoke time at the Esplanade Mall in Oxnard earlier this month, although the brothers paid little attention to the television monitor that flashed the song's words over an animated background.

The sing-along was the latest offering of the mall's Kids Club, which usually meets once a month on Saturday. This month, however, the kids returned to the mall the following Saturday to pick up free videotapes of their performance, just in time for Father's Day.

Kids Club draws about 150 to 300 kids a month--usually the last Saturday of the month--for activities that run from 1 to 4 p.m. at the mall. It's free, and all the children need to do is sign up to become members.

The club has been going three years, and about 1,700 kids have signed up so far. Each of them gets a monthly newsletter in the mail with games, information nuggets (the first modern World Series was in 1903), puzzles and a reminder about what's on the docket for the next Kids Club day.

"They come back month after month," said Cynthia Gibson, marketing director for the mall. "You get the loyalty of the kids." Of course, that's the whole idea, and Gibson readily admits that getting the children to the mall means that the parents will come, too--and spend some money.

"Traffic counts are definitely up on Kids Club days," she said.

The Esplanade Mall wasn't the first to put together the concept as a way of bringing families into the mall. Slightly ahead of them was The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks, which draws in the stroller crowd every Thursday morning.

The Oaks' Kids O.K. Club usually features children's entertainment--sometimes a singing group, or maybe a puppeteer--each week. Mothers park their strollers by the stage for the performance, often filling the audience with dozens of strollers. The toddlers and preschoolers also sign up for the club for free and get special goodies each week.

Gibson said the Esplanade wanted to address a different age group. "We capture the older kids, so ours is on the weekend," Gibson said of the Esplanade's club. "The average member is 7 years old."

The entertainment also involves more hands-on activities, with the kids making something to take home. In recent months, the kids have created finger puppets from gloves and planted flower seeds in clay pots they decorated. Nearly 400 kids showed up for the Easter bunny hunt, Gibson said.

On July 24, the club will feature M. C. Teach, sort of a cool-cat character who promotes literacy and math through hip-hop music and dancing. He wears baggy-jeans overalls, high-top sneakers and a backward baseball cap. The local libraries also are involved in the program.

Gibson said that as the club has evolved, the programs have become more education-oriented. Sometimes they'll tie into events like Earth Day or the Strawberry Festival.

But at the karaoke sing-along, fun was No. 1. Kids got their faces painted and clutched balloons twisted to look like poodles. About 125 kids took the stage and sang, mumbled and whispered the words to everything from "London Bridge Is Falling Down" to "Twist and Shout."

For those struck with stage fright or embarrassment, emcee Jay Schwartz, wearing suspenders and a T-shirt that said Crazy on it, stepped in to coax them along.

But brothers Josh Medrano, 11, and Aaron Medrano, 9, didn't need any coaxing. They belted out the words to "Old Time Rock and Roll," sometimes dropping down on one knee, or spinning around for effect.

Elijah Russell, 15, did fine on the Bobby Brown rap tune, "Don't Be Cruel," until some pals from school walked by and rattled him.

That didn't dim his desire to be a performer. "A lot of people want me to get into hip hop."


Does your kid go to the beach and drag home a bag full of rocks? Little rock hounds will find much to "ooh" and "ahhh" over at the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies' show this weekend at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

Among the gems and minerals on display will be the world's largest topaz, a 22,892 1/2-carat beauty as large as a car headlight. The topaz, on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, is so heavy, it would take two hands to hold, according to Gene Rutledge, show chairman.

At a "touch table," kids will be encouraged to handle minerals. They'll also learn how to pan for real gold flakes and nuggets. Dinosaur-crazed kids will see dinosaur bones and replicas. And they'll see how minerals are cut, ground and polished into jewelry and other items.

The show runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $4 for adults, $2.50 for youths 13 to 18, and free for children 12 and under. For information, call 482-8322.


Any Moorpark kids born July 1, 1983, are eligible for a special treat in connection with the city's 10th anniversary celebration. They'll get a hot-air balloon ride July 3 when the city officially recognizes its anniversary at Moorpark's new Arroyo Vista Community Park.

To be eligible for the ride, the 10-year-olds must have a birth certificate to prove their birth date. So far, only one has stepped forward with the lucky birthday, according to city officials. For information, call 529-6864.


The Esplanade Mall's Kids Club provides activities for children, usually on the fourth Saturday of the month, from 1 to 4 p.m. For information, call 485-1146.

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