Kids
2006 Readers Poll
2006 Critics Picks
Best "Not Going Back to School Day"

On the first day of school, hundreds of lucky kids in Austin converge on Deep Eddy pool to celebrate "Not Going Back to School" Day! These are our legal outlaws: homeschoolers, those charmed children and teens who learn from the living world, the out of doors, their iconoclastic parents, and a variety of hands-on activities. The community has a grand throwdown to celebrate not going back to school: no rulers, no books, no teachers' dirty looks. Just the organic process of learning in one's own way, day by day – and this kickoff gives a hint as to just how grand it is.

Deep Eddy Pool
401 Deep Eddy Ave.
512/472-8546
www.deepeddy.org

Best Birthday Party Entertainment

If your kid won't stand for anything less than the party of the century, you'd better get some kick-butt entertainment. That means booking Penelope Foolish. Ms. Foolish is not only a pro at classic clownery like juggling and making balloon animals, but she's also a storyteller, magician, and a singer who just wants everyone there to have the best time ever. And with someone as talented and genuine as Penelope Foolish, fun is inevitable. Unless it's your son's 16th birthday. That might just be kind of awkward and embarrassing.

Penelope Foolish the Clown
2503 Willow
512/971-3311
www.penelopefoolish.com

Best Education Money Can't Buy

Breakthrough is a great Austin feedback loop: free summer education for kiddos that also creates an army of passionate teachers. Seventh graders from families with a variety of risk factors (like poverty or single parenting) come to learn math, writing, art history, Swahili, physics, theatre, and to acquire an unabashed love of learning. Their teachers are college students at UT, or high school students who apply from around the country. Breakthrough is a national program, but Austin does it in special style. The program includes summer sessions at UT, school-year mentoring, and a six-year committment to students. How many of us make a six-year committment to anything, much less to making sure that kids who might otherwise be forgotten instead are challenged to develop their intellectual gifts? And, this program is free, yo!

Breakthrough Austin
University of Texas at Austin, GGB 1.308, 1 University Station G-6000
512/692-9444
www.breakthroughaustin.org

Best Half Pipe and More

Mabel Davis Park finally reopened last December after five years of toxic-waste abatement and new construction. The site of a landfill that closed in 1955, the centerpiece of the park is Austin’s first city-provided skateboarding bowl that looks like an empty swimming pool. Skateboarding should not be a crime, and here, among the stairs, railings, and benches built especially for the sport, it is OK for ‘boarders to work out their acrobatic skills. The 50-acre park also has an Olympic-size swimming pool, playscapes, hiking trail, open space, and a basketball court.

Mabel Davis Park
3427 Parker
512/974-6700
www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/mabeldavis.htm

Austin Public Skatepark Action Committee
4908 Duval
512/458-6676
www.austinpublicskatepark.org

Best Healthy, Fun Bonding Activity for Parents and Children

Looking for a fun activity to share with children young and old that combines adventure, exercise, high tech gadgets, the Internet, and old-fashioned backwoods know-how? Look no further than GeoCaching. Part hobby, part sport, GeoCaching is a worldwide, high tech treasure-hunting game. Using a GPS receiver (starting at less than $100), GeoCachers search for cleverly hidden caches (usually small containers containing little trinkets) placed on public property at specific latitude and longitude coordinates. Caches are listed on the Internet by ZIP code, and the Austin-area GeoCaching community has placed more than 1,500 caches. Take a trinket/leave a trinket while enjoying the search.

GeoCaching
www.geocaching.com

Best Holistic Approach to Education

So many kids graduate high school with the grades, the award certificates, the extracurricular experience, the friends – all the indicators of a successful, fulfilling life to come. Yet none of these guarantee healthy self-esteem, and without it, those indicators eventually prove meaningless. That's where the Khabele School comes in. Parents of Khabele students marvel at the difference just a semester makes in their children's confidence, leadership abilities, and self-awareness, feats Khabele accomplishes through, among other things, prioritizing individualized attention, empowering students with responsibility and leadership roles, and initiating intensive parent involvement. They understand the importance of ensuring a solid foundation of inner strength in which academics can take root, and as Austin begins to fill with Khabele's self-assured, creatively fulfilled, action-oriented alumni, we think we'll all feel the benefits.

Khabele Studio
701 W. Seventh
512/480-8142
www.khabele.org

Best Kite Selection in Austin

More than 300 different Balinese kites await the connoisseur in an attic room atop a long, turning staircase at Earth Art. When the shopkeeper switches on the light, you are in an aviary of fabric magic: grasshoppers, dragons, monkeys, spiders, and macaws peer down from the eaves, each a handpainted, handcrafted work of art ready to ride the wind on the end of a string.

Earth Art
211 North Loop
512/693-9400

Best Musical Opportunity

Anthropos Arts has been bringing music workshops and lessons to Austin students for seven years, free of change. Each $300 donation pays for one student's lessons for the whole year. As an end cap to the experience, students give a live performance at Stubb's.

Anthropos Art
PO Box 685000, Austin, TX 78768
www.anthroposarts.org

Best One-on-One Indoor Swimming Lessons

Ensuring your child knows how to swim is one of the most important responsibilities you will ever face as a parent. Some kids take to group classes at city pools and health/social clubs like fish. Others need one-on-one attention, and unfortunately, it can be hard to find a reliable, private teacher. Tom's Dive & Swim offers group classes and top-notch private lessons for ages 6 months and older. Their teachers are superpatient and can help your children overcome their fears. Because the pool is indoors, lessons are available year-round. Look no further – just go to Tom’s.

Tom's Dive & Swim
5909 Burnet
512/451-3425
www.austinswim.com

Best Place for Before-Meal Prayer

Some of us were raised to think Jesus isn't all that impressed with public displays of devotion outside of the church hour. On the other hand, what harm is it doing the Lord or anyone else? None. More than any other Austin eating establishment we can think of, the place to spot hands-around-the-table, heads bowed, is Luby's. Admittedly, Southern cafeteria cuisine is probably something you have to grow up on to appreciate. Fewer of our mothers and grandmothers tackle the once-typical family meal, and demand for a lunch of meat, two vegetables, and a white roll is declining. Aware of this trend, Luby's has been cooking to keep its praying customers loyal as it tries to reel in Yankees and food snobs. More offerings of baked fish, fresh vegetables not cooked to a paste, and salads are evidence of the company's attempts to bridge the gap. Grace is optional, as always.

Luby's
1410 E. Anderson, 512/835-9454
5200 Brodie, 512/892-0297
1616 E. Oltorf, 512/442-3785
8176 N. MoPac, 512/346-6040
Sky Ridge Plaza, Round Rock, 512/388-4068
13817 N. Hwy. 183, 512/335-6646
415 Slaughter Lane, 512/590-7540
www.lubys.com

Best Place to Jump Around

Jump around, jump around, jump up, jump up, and get down… Inflatable chutes, slides, ladders, and rooms filled with jumpy castles sound like a dream come true and the perfect place to plan a party. The friendly Pump It Up crew does almost all of the work for you; just let them know what you want, and voilà. With locations in Austin and Round Rock, this "inflatable party zone" is a fun-filled adventure, not to mention good exercise for kids of all ages.

Pump It Up
9330 United #180
512/832-1110
www.pumpitupparty.com/austin.html

Best Place to Take the Kiddos Out to Dinner

The Nutty Brown Cafe has rockin' events most nights of the week, but Tuesday nights are specifically for kids. A kid-centric super fan-damily nutty haven, it's the local version that many a chain wishes it could emulate. Limpy the Clown is on hand to keep the kids' attention rapt in another direction while you steal a long-belated kiss or squeeze from the spouse in your wooden booth. Kids entrées like Lil' Nutty Burger are a mere 99 cents. There's a sandbox and music so you and your honey, tired out from the constancy of parenting, can relax with some good down-home cooking and watch the kids laugh. The night is designed to create world peace and domestic harmony.

Nutty Brown Cafe
12225 Hwy. 290 W.
512/301-4648
www.nuttybrown.com

Best Toy Library

Anyone with a child from 0 to 6 should make a stop at Family Connections, a toy library where you can check out toys, instruments, books, and art. For a $5 annual donation, you can get art to put on walls, prints, tambourines, drums, huge wooden trucks, dolls, and parenting advice to go along with it. Parent educators are available Monday-Friday to answer questions on child development or to listen and assist with the most challenging job in the known universe.

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

Best Way to Get Kids Pumped About Bikes

YBP's all-volunteer staff donated nearly 100 bikes last year to Winn, Andrews, Blanton, and Harris elementary schools, located in the vicinity of its main shop. This year, with the help of an REI grant, volunteers are providing area students with free reconditioned bikes, along with lights and helmets, as part of the Bikes to Schools program. YBP is also teaching kids at Bedichek Middle School the nuts and bolts of bicycle repair and maintenance as part of the Citizen Schools program. In the ongoing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, volunteers donated 62 kids' bikes to refugees living at East Austin's Huntington Meadows apartments – just a small part of larger citywide efforts that provided more than 300 bikes to Katrina victims.

Yellow Bike Project
1216 Webberville Rd.
512/524-5299
www.austinyellowbike.org

Best Way to Help Kids Help Themselves

American YouthWorks has been transforming the lives of at-risk Austin youth for 30 years. Their holistic approach to education and community service has enabled thousands of would-be dropouts to complete high school, find employment that supports them and their families, build life skills that last a lifetime, and gain the self-respect that comes with self-sufficiency and giving back to the community. Clifford Antone founded their Help Clifford Help Kids fundraiser, and through this dedicated support over the last few years, AYW has achieved a higher profile. With the passing of Austin's blues club legend, that torch has been picked up by Clifford's sister Susan, who is insuring that the good works will go on and that AYW will be able to serve generations of teens.

American YouthWorks
American YouthWorks South Campus, 1901 E. Ben White, 512/744-1900
American YouthWorks Downtown Campus, 216 E. Fourth, 512/236-6100
www.americanyouthworks.org

Most Perfect Pandemonium

Although Austin is home to many wonderful things, it does not have an amusement park. Austin’s Park 'n Pizza has many of the great amusements without the whole amusement-park mayhem. There are go-carts, bumper boats, little-kid attractions like the tea cup rides and the Rio Grande train ride. Plus there are more active choices such as miniature golf, laser tag, baseball batting cages, a rock-climbing wall, and video games.

Austin's Park ’n Pizza
16231 N. I-35
512/670-9600
www.austinspark.com

 
Critics: Food
Critics: Media

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle