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Raising kids in Johannesburg comes with its challenges. On the one hand, the city's reputation for crime concerns both expat and local parents who want their children to be as safe as possible. On the other, some complain that there's not much to do outside its sprawling malls and the playgrounds of its mega nurseries. This couldn't be further from the truth.
There is a wealth of activities for expat children to take part in and which can help them adjust to their new surroundings. While safety is justifiably a concern for expat parents, with the necessary precautions and lifestyle adjustments, their children are likely to be happy and secure in their new lives.
Child safety in Johannesburg
Given the city's reputation for crime, one of the main priorities for expat parents in Johannesburg is the safety of their children.
As is the case in most places, parents should be aware of their children's whereabouts in public places. They should also ensure that their children memorise the phone numbers of both parents, their home address and emergency phone numbers as soon as possible.
Most parents in the city don't allow their children to take public transport, as it's often considered unreliable and potentially unsafe. Some parents also don't allow their children to play in public parks; however, this is largely an area-specific consideration and, in some of the more affluent areas in Johannesburg, children should be safe provided that they are supervised.
The upside of living in Johannesburg is that expat families with freestanding houses in the city's suburbs are likely to have a more spacious garden than they would in a major European or American city, meaning that their children will have space to play and run around outdoors within the confines of their own yard.
Activities for children in Johannesburg
While it may not be the most popular of destinations for family-oriented expats, there are still a number of rewarding activities for children in Johannesburg to enjoy. Given its absence of a beach and relative lack of public spaces, businesses in the city often cater to children, while many parents are willing to drive a bit further to ensure that their children are entertained.
One of the most popular options for parents is Gold Reef City. The area's largest theme park, it offers thrill rides alongside much tamer children's rides. For expats with younger children (or who just prefer having their feet firmly on the ground), there are plenty of other activities to choose from, such as catching a show at the 4D theatre.
Another popular option is taking a weekend trip away to Sun City, a two-hour drive to the northwest of Joburg. It offers a host of activities suitable for the whole family. Children will probably be most interested in the Valley of the Waves, an artificial lagoon with a wave pool.
Closer to home, it is always fun for younger children to feed the ducks and geese at Zoo Lake and Emmarentia Dam, which are also popular picnic spots. Johannesburg Zoo is home to all sorts of different animals and makes for a great day out. Other popular outdoor activities include the Montecasino Bird Gardens, the Cradle of Humankind and, perhaps for older kids, paintballing.
Johannesburg knows how to keep itself entertained indoors, too. There is a selection of large indoor playgrounds which are popular kids' party venues throughout the city. There are pottery and art classes for all ages, and children as young as two years old can go for cookery classes at one of the Little Cooks Club events spread across the city. Finally, but not exhaustively, is the Wits Planetarium, which offers various shows all about the solar system.