Kids
1996 Readers Poll
1996 Critics Picks
Best Adventure You Don't Have To Plan

When the day yawns before you like a chasm of despair, pack up your local wild things and head for Oak Hill. In the time it takes to say, "Stop whining or I'll feed you to the dog," you can be on your way to an afternoon of pony rides and train whistles, exotic beasts and pettable farm animals. Throw in a jar of peanut butter and call it a picnic. With luck, they'll sleep all the way home.

Austin Zoo
10808 Rawhide Trl.
512/288-1490
www.austinzoo.org

Best Environmental Programs For Kids

Green Classroom creator Carla Marshall matched 30 Becker Elementary students with 30 senior-citizen volunteers from the surrounding South Austin neighborhood for an entire semester, creating the "Junior/Senior Alliance for the Environment." The mentors, including jazzman Martin Banks, spent six hours a week with the kids, working on environmental projects such as studying water quality, building a fountain to study aquaculture and helping students at the School for the Deaf and School for the Blind plant organic gardens of their own.

AISD Carruth Administration Center
1111 W. Sixth
512/414-1700
www.austin.isd.tenet.edu

Best Example Of The Peaceable Kingdom

Given the way Austin prides itself on divisions -- North/South, East/West, environmentalist/developer -- you wouldn't figure it to have a place where the lion lies down with the lamb. But it does -- a South Austin hardware store where for years a snake and a mouse shared a terrarium in peace. The rodent was supposed to be reptile food, but when the snake showed no appetite for him, he stayed on as a roommate, much to the delight of store regulars and neighborhood kids. Alas, this summer the mouse died -- from natural causes -- but his serpentine pal lives on, testament that, yes, we can all get along.

Twin Oaks Hardware
1902 S. Congress
512/442-5050

Best Grocery Store Imitation Of A Theme Park

Central Market has gone out of their way to court the kiddos; the patio was a big hit with ours from the start (the adjoining gongs outside of Clarksville Pottery are a big plus), and the grab-a-fruit-to-munch-for-a-quarter pig in the produce section is a nice touch. The newest addition is a very cool playscape in the grassy area behind the patio; built in the shape of a plesiosaur, it's about 30 feet long, with a jungle gym body and head, curved tube slides for flippers, and a balance-beam tail. For you parental types, they also serve beer and margaritas on the patio now, during the Happy Hour live sets, so you don't really even have to go in the store or café to hang out.

Central Market North
4001 N. Lamar, 512/206-1000
4477 S. Lamar, 512/899-4300
centralmarket.com

Best History To Repeat

Austin's very own time machine (one direction: back), the Pioneer Farm stood on some shaky funding topsoil this year. With city budget proposals indicating a 50% cut, rumors of the Farm's demise cast a pall and sent the Friends of Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farm plowing into overdrive. The city reconsidered and delivered a more manageable cut. The future of Austin's outdoor museum of pioneer living is steady for this year, but continued public support is necessary for its survival.

Pioneer Farms
10621 Pioneer Farms Dr.
512/837-1215
www.pioneerfarms.org

Best Kid's Musical Programs

We're not the only ones who appreciate the high priority ASO places on educational outreach -- the National Endowment of the Arts recently recognized the efforts of seven symphony organizations nationally, and the Austin Symphony was one of them! We salute them for the Children's Halloween Concert, Backstage at the Arts, the Master Classes with Visiting Artists and our perennial fave, Children's Day Art Park.

Austin Symphony Orchestra
1101 Red River
512/476-6064
www.austinsymphony.org

Best Kid's Tennis Teacher

With the attitude of fashioning lifelong tennis players rather than ephemeral phenoms, O'Shea teaches kids to play to the best of their ability, to play fair and have fun. And, if they win along the way, so much the better. Pharr Tennis Center offers lots of affordable tennis opportunities for kids and Kevin heads it up with maximum enthusiasm and minimal attitude. If you're looking for good, solid, non-pressured, non-country club tennis for kids, call Pharr!

Best Kid's Writing Program

In addition to weekend kids workshops, the Texas Young Writer's Competition, and the highly successful Writers in Schools programs, AWL sponsors four weeks of summer camp. Each week, up to 20 middle school students spend the morning getting personalized instruction from writers in several different writing genres. A week of camp only costs $20 and scholarships are available. Our young novelists, poets and journalists are eager to sign up again.

Best Kids Acting Program

We know one budding 10-year-old thespian who has taken classes in beginning and intermediate acting, comedy, Shakespeare, stage movement, and creating a play all in the same year. The audition-only Rising Stars performance troupe program gave him great performing opportunities, too. We just hope he remembers us when he accepts his Tony Award.

Topfer Theatre at Zach
202 S. Lamar
512/476-0541
www.zachtheatre.org

Best Model For Light Rail

Everything you really need to know about light rail, you can learn at this friendly toy store. Left of the dollhouses, about knee-level for most grown-ups, Terra Toys provides two mini-railroads -- one Brio, one Thomas the Tank Engine -- with plenty of cars always available for engineers of all ages to fashion their very own trains and send 'em chugging around the circular track. It's a simple route with a flexible schedule, it's accessible to anyone, and it's free. Got that, Capital Metro?

Terra Toys
2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-C
512/445-4489
www.terratoys.com

photograph by Laura Skelding   Laura Skelding

Best Sanity Saver

Cheaper than a sitter, faster than therapy: 10 bucks a head buys parents a full night of downtime every Saturday from 6-11pm. And the offspring think it's their party; with popcorn and a movie plus a gaggle of rampaging peers, they don't even know they're being dumped. Two catches: kids must be at least three and toilet-trained, and you've got to reserve a slot by 5pm Wednesday. Spontaneity? Hah, you should've thought of that before you reproduced.

Hancock Recreation Center
811 E. 41st
512/453-7765
www.cityofaustin.org/parks/hancock.htm

Best Selection Of (non-corporate) Toys

Anna started out years ago in a crowded, tiny space. Now, her brightly lit location on South Lamar is bursting with too many toys to take in in one visit. Lots of daycare-style stuff, too -- like those cool wooden puzzles. In fact, you can get bulk supplies if you run a daycare, or if you just hate to buy little jars of paint and glue. Best part? You can trade in your old stuff -- big or little (toy kitchens, action figures) and get cash or new toys. One five-year-old had a field day in the dollar bin of used action figures (the kind that go for eight bucks and upwards at other retail outlets.) But pay attention -- this isn't the old days when they let you bring stuff in all yucky. It's busy enough now that they are a bit choosy. So wipe down that old stuff before you take it in.

Anna's Toy Depot
2620-B S. Lamar
512/447-8697
www.annastoydepot.com

photograph by Laura Skelding   Laura Skelding

Best Snow In Summer

The audacity of some vendors to call their chunky, teeth-shattering concoctions snow cones! But at the Sno-Beach snow cone wagon in front of Fiesta, they serve up the real stuff -- soft flakes of flavored snow that melt sweetly on your tongue without assaulting your molars. Lots of great flavors -- we love Fuzzy Navel and Hill Country Berry. Guaranteed to deliciously drop your core temperature in a matter of seconds.

SnoBeach
801 Barton Springs Rd.
3402 Guadalupe St.

Best Story Times

From the regular Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday story hours with activity tie-ins to the last Friday of the month "Late Night at Toad Hall" with crafts, guest stars, and refreshments, we can think of no better programs for our favorite young readers. There's always something cool going on at Book People's Second Floor Children's Amphitheater: Clown Camp, Spanish Story Hour in the bi-lingual section, the Angelina Ballerina and Berenstein Bears programs. Three story hours a week are convenient for busy schedules and our young friends love to dress up for Tia's Tuesday Tea Time.

Toad Hall
1206 W. 38th, Ste. 1101
512/323-2665

photograph by Laura Skelding   Laura Skelding

photograph by Laura Skelding   Laura Skelding

Best Story Times

From the regular Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday story hours with activity tie-ins to the last Friday of the month "Late Night at Toad Hall" with crafts, guest stars, and refreshments, we can think of no better programs for our favorite young readers. There's always something cool going on at Book People's Second Floor Children's Amphitheater: Clown Camp, Spanish Story Hour in the bi-lingual section, the Angelina Ballerina and Berenstein Bears programs. Three story hours a week are convenient for busy schedules and our young friends love to dress up for Tia's Tuesday Tea Time.

BookPeople
603 N. Lamar
512/472-5050
www.bookpeople.com

Best Thing The Government's Done For Your Kids

This town has, like, 30,000 kids in day care, but until Connections opened a few years back, the folks providing that care had nowhere to turn for help, guidance or skills-building. Connections -- a joint project of the city and ACC, with foundation support as well -- offers materials, referrals, workshops, meeting space, and beaucoup other services for parents, teachers and child care providers to help improve the quality of life of all Austin's children. With its recent expansion, and acquisition of a van for mobile services, Connections appears to have made the jump from "project" to "institution."

Family Connections
825 E. 53 1/2 Bldg. E-101
512/478-5725
www.familyconnectionsonline.org

 
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