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2013CriticsKids

Best Bank for Your Buck
Austin Diaper Bank

Imagine stretching the dollar so tight that it means stretching a single diaper an entire day. That's the reality for too many low-income Austin families. At around $100 a month, and not covered under federal aid, diaper need ranks high for a family’s physical and emotional well-being. Austin Diaper Bank couldn't have arrived soon enough. In just the first few months, they’ve distributed more than 5,000 diapers. They are helping to keep our babies clean and dry, because a happy bottom means a happy baby, and a happy baby means a happy home.

Austin Diaper Bank, www.austindiapers.org

Best Big Lego Builder
Bacon Bricks

You know how you make a model in Lego: brick by brick, layer by layer. But Evan Bacon, aka Bacon Bricks, isn’t following the instructions on the box. The 15-year-old is building a big name for himself with his full-scale plastic block creations. From life-sized superheroes like Batman and Superman to real-life heroines like a breast cancer survivor, complete with pink headscarf, he's putting all the pieces together.

Bacon Bricks, www.baconbrix.com

Best Everything and the Kitchen Sink Gaming Store
Gamerz Galaxy

Whether you're getting your retro-game fix, looking for that random wire, or just want to play for a bit, Gamerz Galaxy has you covered. Atari or Wii, n00b or 1337, all are welcome. Got something gamey to sell? They'll take most anything that works. Got a scratched disc that needs a little TLC? They can do that. Want to be rewarded for your good grades? Get free gaming time with every "A." Want to have a party in-store or a gaming related event off-site? No problem. Got a bum screen on your handheld system? Handled. Wondering if you can pull off that fedora? That might be a bit out of their purview, but we're sure they'd be happy to try and help.

Gamerz Galaxy, 1000 E. 41st, Ste. 200A, 512/467-7529, www.gamerzgalaxyatx.com

Gamerz Galaxy, Lakeline Mall, 512/250-0756

Best Fenced Playground for Small Humans
Mueller Lake Park Playground

When the wiggles get the best of parents and children, the only sanity-saver is a super rad play area with a big fence. Designed as something fit for a space station, the Mueller playground boasts tethered flying saucers, spinning rings, swirling stand-ups, several slides, a sandbox, and more. With artsy structures perfect for climbing, benches and shade for worn-out adults, and a location surrounded by one of the city’s most lovely planned parks (complete with ducks and green parrots), it is a favorite for everyone. Plus, on Sundays, the Mueller Farmers Market is a quick stroll around the trail ... and they have Popsicles.

Mueller Lake Park, 1829 Simond, www.muelleraustin.com

Best Imagination Hour
Storytime With Phillip

No one loves a good old-fashioned storytime experience more than kids, and at the flagship Whole Foods, it’s a sure bet that every Wednesday morning finds a gaggle of pint-sized poppets filling the mezzanine waiting for their weekly read. Phillip, the occasionally animal-eared children’s storyteller, leads them on epic page-turning adventures, delivered with the perfect combination of gusto and imagination, and then follows it up with inspired activity time. Epic and engaging for the little ones, with Whole Foods-provided wholesome refreshment, to boot. And it’s free. Awesomely free.

Whole Foods Market, 525 N. Lamar, 512/476-1206, www.wholefoodsmarket.com

Best Kid-trepreneurial Biz
Mikaila's BeeSweet Lemonade

What do you get when you cross an old family recipe and a precocious 8-year-old? The best darn lemonade in town, served up by the most inspiring entrepreneur we know. BeeSweet Lemonade was born when kid-trepreneur Mikaila Ulmer, then 4, came across a recipe for the sweet heat-beating treat in her 88-year-old grandmother's cookbook. Mikaila took the recipe and added her own touch to create the mint-, honey-, and flaxseed-infused liquid that is the envy of every lemonade stand in town. When not dispensing tall glasses of her signature drink, Mikaila is harvesting honey or teaching others about the importance of honeybees. Indeed, Mikaila believes in the importance of giving back: 20% of the profits from the sale of her lemonade (available in fine establishments all over town) are given to the Texas Beekeepers Association in an effort to help save the bees she loves.

BeeSweet Lemonade, 512/689-2203, www.beesweetlemonade.com

Best Kiddie Calm-Down
The Little Yoga House

It is no secret that kids are full of energy, and the Little Yoga House is a perfect solution to help them focus some of it. The Little Yoga House has a multitude of programs for children of all ages that are designed to teach not only yoga, but also other valuable skills like how to eat healthy and explore creativity through art, dance, and music. They also offer great ways to bond with your little lieblings through parent/child classes. So sign up your future little yoga guru, and get a bit of relaxation for yourself.

The Little Yoga House, 1211 Parkway, www.thelittleyogahouse.com

Best Kids' Social Club
Spilled Milk Social Club

There are many options from which to choose when it comes to summer camps for your kids. Amid the cacophony of expensive sleepaways to specialized sports camps to "throw 'em all in a pile and let God sort 'em out" day camps is a little oasis called Spilled Milk Social Club. Founded and operated by seasoned child-care experts and educators Stella Maxwell and Ali Epperson, Spilled Milk offers kids carefully curated themed weeks, from animation to "salivation," that emphasize creativity and collaboration and strike a balance between mind and body.

Spilled Milk Social Club, 3310 Red River, 512/317-6408, www.spilledmilksocialclub.com

Best Maker/Tinkerer
Kami Wilt, Austin Tinkering School

Inspired by Gever Tulley, who started the original Tinkering School in California, Kami Wilt has dedicated her career to giving children hands-on experiences in the interest of developing their creativity and confidence through art, glue guns, and power tools. Wilt, who also organized the 2013 Austin Mini Maker Faire, offers camps, classes, and parties through the Austin Tinkering School, infecting kids today with a love of DIY and messy creativity.

Austin Tinkering School, www.austintinkeringschool.com

Best Mother's Little Driving Helper
The Cool Store

It's every new mother's quandary: Your kiddo has finally fallen asleep, only you're still in the car, and you don't dare move them. How do you get that fresh-squeezed juice, lotto ticket, pack of batteries, six-pack of beer, and bag of chips? The team at the Cool Store has you covered with an old-school drive-through and personal service at the window. To respect your sleeping babe, they'll even conduct the entire transaction in a whisper.

6th Street Cool Store, 1900 E. Sixth, 512/524-2665

Best Nature Education for Kids and Families
Austin Families in Nature

Founded on the principles outlined in Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, Austin Families in Nature is a club dedicated to, well, getting families out into nature in an effort to build community, promote creativity and curiosity, and reconnect families in the midst of busy lives. Under the direction of Heather and David Kuhlken, a former middle-school science teacher and Eagle Scout (respectively), the group’s outings range in scope from building bat houses and backyard habitats to marine biology trips in Key Largo, Fla.

Austin Families in Nature, 512/454-9237, www.austinfamiliesinnature.com

Best Pizza for Exhausted Parents
Pinthouse Pizza

It’s Friday. It’s been a long, tough week at the office and you just want to unwind with a few brewskis. Oh, but there are those pesky offspring, always wanting to be picked up from school and fed and interacted with. Luckily, there’s Pinthouse Pizza, owned and operated by a beer-and-pizza-loving dad who’s got your weary back. Belly up to a picnic table after ordering a handcrafted pizza – go simple with a pepperoni and basil, or go crazy with The Works – and a pint of handcrafted microbrew. Give the kids some quarters for the video games and relax. Two outta three ain’t bad.

Pinthouse Pizza, 4729 Burnet Rd., 512/436-9605, www.pinthousepizza.com

Pinthouse Pizza, 4236 S. Lamar, 512/502-5808, www.pinthousepizza.com

Best Spot to Feed Your Nursling
Nordstrom

Nordstrom: home to the fashion-forward and well-(high)-heeled set. Also home to the poshest spot to nurse your little one. In a lounge far enough away from the toilets, there's always a comfortable, quiet cushioned seat for mom and babe to relax. Just the right amount of discreet to duck in and feed your little without fanfare or fuss. Located around the corner from the family-friendly bistro to tuck into for a post-feed recharging snack and upstairs from that fantastic shoe department. (Now go on mama, you deserve a little treat!)

Nordstrom, 2901 Capital of TX Hwy. S., 512/691-3500, www.nordstrom.com

Nordstrom, 9607 Research, 512/651-6180, www.nordstrom.com

Nordstrom, 5601 Brodie, Sunset Valley, 512/697-2600, www.nordstrom.com

Best Way to Get Across the Sea
YMCA Global Teens

With service, a homestay, and a spate of activities and opportunities, the YMCA's Global Teens program is one of the best ways to see the world as a nontourist. The intention is to expand your worldliness, 14 to 18 year-olds, without breaking the bank. Participants engage in fundraising efforts (money doesn't grow on trees, y'know, but a lot of folks would willingly invest in your experiences abroad). Should you make it through the application and interview process, you'll have the summer experience that'll blow all your mates away when that perennial question inevitably pops up: "So, what did you do with your summer?" Oh, you just became a fully committed global citizen, that's all!

YMCA Town Lake Branch, 1100 W. Cesar Chavez, 512/542-9622, www.austinymca.org

Best Zen Tutoring
Smarty Pants Tutoring/Total Mind & Body

Has your child ever been so stressed about an upcoming math test that she or he can barely concentrate? Recent studies at Georgetown University show acupuncture can relieve stress. If there were only a way to put the two together. Oh, hey! There is! Louise Lacoste of Smarty Pants Tutoring and Total Mind & Body is not only an experienced teacher with a master's in education, but a trained and licensed acupuncturist and herbalist. Her main tutoring subjects are math and reading/language arts for grades 2-8, although she can tutor as high as high school English, algebra, and geometry.

Smarty Pants Tutoring, 512/971-5065

Best Zilker Serenade
Woode Wood

Practically everything that can be said about our beloved Zilker Park has been said. So it’s fitting that to the singer go the spoils. Woode Wood, the harmonica-blowing, guitar-playing entertainer, is as much an Austin fixture as the Zilker Zephyr. And it’s on the Zephyr that scores of young Austinites get their first experience with the multi-instrumentalist, blowing and strumming as the train passes by. As the solo headliner of his grassy knoll, known affectionately as “Woode’s Point,” he’s repaid tenfold by his pint-sized fanbase in awestruck toothy grins and waves.

Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Rd., 512/974-6700, www.austintexas.gov

Coolest Summer Camp
Girls Rock Camp Austin

Girls ages 10-17 come from around the state for a frenetic week of songwriting, headbanging, and self-esteem building; by the time they perform their original songs at the final showcase (held on illustrious local stages like Emo's East), they have become a relentless tornado of confidence and optimism. Girls Rock Austin celebrated its fifth year by adding a new week of Junior Girls Rock Camp for girls ages 7-9 and continuing sponsorship of the Esme Barrera Unlimited Possibilities Scholarship, created in tribute to one of GRCA's most devoted and beloved volunteers. What better city to groom a generation of assertive, positive rock stars onstage and off than the live music capital of the world?

Girls Rock Camp Austin, PO Box 300897, Austin, TX 78703, 512/658-9021, www.girlsrockaustin.org

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