Three Hours' Sleep members are 11 years old (well, one's 12), but the promise inherent in preadolescence isn't what makes them so great. They keep time and stay in tune better than you'd think, but that's not it either: They're competent, but not prodigies. And novelty value, pshaw. No, what made these old souls' alterna-rock debut at Gaby 'n' Mo's last April so riveting is this: They've got that introverted/sincere rock star thing down cold already. Casual little Thurstons all, they play a crowd like an 8-pound bass, jump up and down with sheer joy, add a load of unironic windmill-type flourishes, then suddenly require themselves to concentrate intently on hitting an effects pedal or a note. They also stick around to honor their ancestors (all four flailing wildly during headliner Lord Douglas Phillips' set later that night) and to ask the nearest mom figure for help finding their guitar cases. They've got a couple of years on Wisconsin's late-Eighties hardcore 9-year-olds, but then Austin's always been nirvana for late-bloomers.
Gullett Elementary is proud to exhibit its permanent collection of children's art in a variety of media: Murals, gardens, and stained glass made by childish hands dot the grounds of this Austin elementary school. Wander around and take in the herb garden dedicated to a former Gullett student, past fifth-grade class murals dedicated to the forest and undersea creatures, and numerous other works of art in landscaping. If you're really lucky, you may even get a personalized tour of the animal pens.
Located in one of those big ol' beautiful houses for which Hyde Park is famous, CDC is great at letting kids be kids. Visits there have found kids covered in paint, splashing in water, making messes, and running around being plain crazy. As well they should. They also learn how to clean their messes up, read stories, and take naps, all under the eye of an attentive, loving staff.
Nothing like a moral with your pizza. Now we're not going to belabor the actual news story of the truck that smashed right through the glass wall that is the entrance to our beloved Conan's. That driver must be humiliated enough (if s/he even survived ...). But we will say that while you and the kids are waiting for your scrumptious pie, you might wish to point out the massive black skid marks that reside just a few feet into the store. See, the floors at Conan's are your typical grade commercial vinyl and those blistering truck-treads burned indelible-scars into it. What remains is a testimonial to bad driving. And, trust us, when you point out the damage and tell the tale, the kids will be very impressed, indeed.
While Junior may have previously been fluent in "Badtz Maru" and "Wufei Chang," after one trip to the expanded restaurant side of this popular West Campus Japanese gift shop, he or she won't be able to keep quiet about "Chubbies," "Bento Boxes," and "Baby Burgers." What? You say you don't even know what those are?? Well, you'd better hot-foot it to Momoko, before the kids get a leg up. After all, "Momoko" means "child of good fortune." How much more fortunate can a kid get than to have a pal as cool as you?
If you're worried about your kid making a mess or being a bit loud, chill out at Margarita's. Families bring their boisterous young'uns to this Tex-Mex hangout everyday and no one seems to mind – in fact, they supply a combination kids' menu/coloring sheet and a handful of crayons. But please, tip the waitstaff well for their patience and hard work.
For the past couple of years, UT's Cinematexas International Short Film Festival has offered a small-fry workshop called Cinemakids. With UT Film prof Mary Celeste Kearney in the director's chair and a supporting cast of local filmmakers and film students, local kids who sign up for this annual gig enjoy not only a non-competition program of short films, videos, and computer animations created by peers 18 and younger from around the world, they actually learn how and get to create a film themselves. We can't imagine anything more inspiring to budding young Spike Jonzes and Spike Lees than actually seeing the work of budding young Spike Jonzes and Spike Lees.
Joyce Hunt, owner of Mitchie's Fine Black Art and Gift Gallery, believes firmly that kids deserve a break when they want to have a little fun. That's why Mitchie's has a never-ending schedule of seasonal arts & crafts activities as well as weekly book readings just for the little ones. To participate, all your kid has to do is show up. During summer and winter school holidays, kids enjoy bimonthly art programs. Also, during Spring Break and Mother's and Father's days, Mitchie's brings out the glue and construction paper so kids can make a personal card for their loved ones. Volunteers read books every Saturday to the enthusiastic group. Afterward, these kids get a free snack and present as well as a discount on any book they buy. Not a bad break from Saturday morning cartoons.
"My job?" says Michele Gorman, Wired for Youth librarian at Carver Branch. "It's part teaching; it's part social work ... it's crazy, and then we manage to insert computer instruction in there, too!" Seven of our local library branches now house WFY centers, each staffed with its own technical information librarian, to provide scheduled events and workshops from word processing for school reports to HTML 101 and Web design. Each center has a number of workstations decked out with hopped-up Dell PCs. This grant-funded (Susan & Michael Dell Foundation) kids' program attempts to address the digital divide, not only along economic lines but along age divisions as well. "Most of our program libraries are close to schools. And most existing library programs are for younger kids. We're providing a place within the library system for kids 8-18. We fill a gap," Gorman adds enthusiastically.
Don't get us wrong, we love twirly baby windmills and pigs in formal wear - we decorate our yard with them, after all - but when a balmy afternoon calls for a round or two or three of mini-golf, we are, in the parlance of industry, nutt-nutt for Putt-Putt. At the multinational corporation's Burnet Road franchise, it's just you and the green, no frippery to disturb your tranquil mission of delivering your ball to the hole. If your kid demands the dancing lights or cartoon characters, well, the Putt-Putt has a selection of fine arcade games, too.
You know the look: that drool-drizzling, eye-glistening, slack-jawed glaze that sweeps over your otherwise effervescent pre-teen or teenager's face when you are desperately trying to wrest control from Final Fantasy LXXVII or Pikachu Goes Poo or whatever mind control device is hot this week with the thumb-flicking set. May we offer some respite? Try board games. No, not bored games. You'd be shocked to know that part of the reason why your sweet little vid-head spends so much time alone in front of the screen is that he or she can't find a pal to play with. Take the kid to Great Hall Games. The gorgeous displays of every form and fashion (boxwood! clamshell! birdseye! walnut! ground stone & resin!) of chess, backgammon, and Go will hypnotize as well as that TV tube – as will the fascinating array of miniatures for collecting and virtual battle. Plus, GHG has been cultivating its own culture of gamers with regularly scheduled events and an ample playing room.
You see, full-scale bowling alleys, like where the league players in the groovy shirts go, have these loud buzzers that go off when you cross the foul line. These tend to scare small children into forgetting that they like bowling. The big bowling alleys also have beer and cigarettes and people who take their game way too seriously. The Millennium has none of those things, perfectly good lanes with electronic scoring, and staff who actually like to watch little kids learn the game.
Austin is a city loaded with great parks, and truth be told, there are several that could compete for this title. But we're partial to Brentwood for a variety of reasons: It's big enough to accommodate good-sized crowds, but not so sprawling that you lose that intimate, neighborhood-park feel. It has a good playscape, large fields for pickup soccer games, courts for basketball, volleyball, and tennis, and a pool small enough to easily keep an eye on the tots.
6700 Arroyo Seco
For only $5 per guest, your child can feel like part of the team at a UT soccer or volleyball game. Each guest receives a game ticket, small drink, small popcorn, and treat, and the birthday girl or boy gets a special Longhorn memento. An added bonus for soccer fans is that the Mike A. Myers stadium has a special birthday seating area. And if you haven't enjoyed a game at the new soccer/track facility, you owe yourself the treat. You don't have to be a kid or even a Longhorn to dig a blissful sunset wrapped around the perfect vantage point for viewing the skyline and the Texas State Capitol at dusk.
University of Texas at Austin
727 E. Dean Keeton, 512/471-3434
Sarah M. & Charles E. Seay Building, Speedway & Dean Keeton, 512/471-1157
UT Architecture Library, 200 Battle Hall, 512/495-4620
University of Texas Department of Art & Art History, 2301 San Jacinto, 512/475-7718
There are only about half a dozen rides at this North Austin amusement park, besides a pony ride and miniature golf. But every one of them is pint-sized (thus the "Kiddie" part) – perfect for small-to-very-small children. Watch 'em grin! Hear 'em beg to "do it ag'in! do it ag'in!" And with the calliope music tooting, the aroma of popcorn wafting, and the arid feel of cotton candy in your mouth, you're awfully glad this kind of innocent, low-tech experience with children is still possible. Kiddie Acres is truly a place where sweet memories are made. Bring your own cake and punch and you have instant birthday party, with no dirty house to clean up afterward. And they're open year 'round, too. (Call ahead to reserve a picnic table and/or order snacks and sodas from the concession stand.)
While Gamefellas could've tanked along with the Pokémon craze or the bizarre shifts and twists of its main location at the Northcross Mall, they didn't. They really know their clients - not through cheesy marketing surveys but from human interaction. They were the first and most thorough at stocking Pokémon stuff a few years back, carrying not just the very limited American releases but also dedicating an entire store space to the phenomenon. Now, they are morphing into a DVD locus, while continuing to do what they've always done best: stock an impossible selection of video games and platforms - including outdated relics like Atari and the original Nintendo. Plus their stock of vid accessories is unparalleled. You need Dance Dance Revolution pads? Come here.
If you're on the south side of the Hike & Bike Trail and you cross the bridge over the inlet which leads to Barton Springs, look down and to the south and you will see a diaspora of underwater greenery which provides a nice gathering spot for the creek's turtle population when canoe and kayak traffic is at a lull. Don't see them there? Then get yourself into one of those canoes or kayaks and take to the water. Go slow and nestle up against the shore. You'll see them.
No, we don't mean undercover, as in subterfuge, though we could certainly close our eyes and imagine ourselves James Bond in his Aston Martin DB5 when we get behind the wheel in one of these mini screamers. No, we mean "all-weather." Thunder Zone, located in Kyle on the northbound I-35 access road, right next to Thunder Hill Raceway (a legit 3/8 mile paved oval stock car race track), features two indoor, covered tracks, plus a bumper cart track, and an outdoor oval track. Not only that, but they have a great 6,000-square-foot arcade and birthday party area, plus outdoor sand volleyball courts. The carts at TZ are well-maintained and uber-suped. You and the kids can haggle over who gets behind the wheel.
We knew the Austin Children's Museum had a way with kids, but now we need to amend our assessment. They know music, too. Their Family Fun Night series features local musicians like Sara Hickman giving what are very nearly private concerts at the museum on Friday nights. Next year, look for their stage to become a performance venue for budding rockers.
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