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Best Birthday Ball
Dart Bowl

Forget the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking stereotype of bowling – the truth is, it’s hard to beat this game for a noisy, exciting celebration for your kid’s most recent trip around the sun. And it's hard to beat Dart Bowl, with their famous Dart Bowl Enchiladas and those cute, kid-friendly cartoons that pop up with every score. Austin has many good contenders, but we like the retro simplicity of this central-city institution.

Dart Bowl, 5700 Grover, 512/452-2518,

Best Healthy Treat Atmosphere
YoYo's Frozen Yogurt

The interior here is colorful with a playful feel: television set to Disney, a party room with glass walls, and one location even has a Guitar Hero arcade. The wall decor is a list of the reasons frozen yogurt is a positive alternative as a treat but also has spaces for doodling with available dry-erase markers. With whimsical lights and furniture that lends an almost Dr. Seuss feel, what else could set YoYo's apart from other local frozen yogurt stops? Homemade waffle cones!

YoYo's Frozen Yogurt, 201 University Oaks #560, Round Rock, 512/246-2646,

Best Math Tutor for Musicians and Other Dreamers
Taylor-Made Tutoring

We used to think "mathlete" was a euphemism for kids who are supernaturally talented at cipherin' but don't particularly enjoy throwing around the old pigskin. We now know, of course, that your brain needs exercise just like your body, and doing math is an excellent conditioning regimen. Lacie Taylor's Taylor-Made Tutoring specializes in an engaging approach guaranteed to win over math wimps, be they children, college students, or grownups who might have made much hay with their liberal arts backgrounds or artistic talents but are stymied (and perhaps a little intimidated) by high-flying left-brain antics. That Taylor is a liberal arts graduate, longtime Austinite, and a musician herself just raises – exponentially – the probability of students' comfort and success. Way to go, coach.

Taylor-Made Tutoring, 512/454-8034,

Best Place Between High School and a University
Austin Community College

What better way to get that new grad up and out of their own personal couch indention than by encouraging a little local community college action? Affordable, approachable, and accessible from every possible angle in Austin, (as well as Round Rock and San Marcos), the many campuses of ACC are the perfect places to further one's education when in that "real world" transition.

Austin Community College Rio Grande Campus, 1212 Rio Grande, 512/223-3000

Austin Community College Bookstore, 817 W. 12th, 512/474-7528

Austin Community College Eastview Campus, 3401 Webberville Rd., 512/223-5100,

2 more locations

Best Place To Develop Creativity
Austin Bat Cave

In an educational environment defined by shrinking fine arts budgets and a system that places little to no focus on the exploration of creativity and self-expression, all praise goes to operations like Austin Bat Cave. This little nonprofit holds regular creative writing classes at local middle and high schools, teaches songwriting with local artists (we're looking at you, Neiliyo and the Octopus Project), and even holds a summer playwriting and performance workshop. Want to break your child out of the doldrums of a basic education? Enrolling them at Austin Bat Cave is as easy as ABC.

Austin Bat Cave, PO Box 4762, 512/524-1489,

Best Place To Make Merry With Your Artsy Kiddos
The Art Pad

Anyone who's ever covered the kitchen table with oilcloth and made a big, huge mess or tried to make an art studio in a backyard shed will thrill to discover the Art Pad. Located in an old stone house with hardwood floors and near the bakeries, boutiques, and thrift havens of the North Burnet strip, it's a charming, quirky spot for family or solo art-making. In the walk-in mosaic studio, you can bring in your own broken teacups, toy soldiers, and mystery artifacts to craft into a tile landscape of dreams. Staffed by professional artists who adore kids and can inspire grownups, too, you can explore clay, painting, carving, jewelry-crafting, cartooning, and more.

Art Pad Studio, 4520 Burnet Rd., 512/323-0802,

Best Place To Meet Young Swingers
Krause Springs Rope Swing

With a gorgeous, decades-old stone swimming pool and an adjacent creek both fed by chilly spring water, how could this privately owned rural swimming hole and campground possibly be more perfect? Well, by attaching a rope to that big ol' tree hanging over the creek so your kids can explore their inner Tarzan.

Krause Springs, Spicewood, 830/693-4181,

Best Post-Swim Culture
Zilker Summer Musical

No matter how brilliant the script or talented the cast, the thought of watching theatre outdoors in the Texas summer – especially with hot, grouchy children – can seem daunting. Fortunately, the perfect foil for triple-digit weather is just across the parking lot – chill your chilluns’ cores in the icy waters of Barton Springs, then warm their souls with great song and dance from Broadway's most tuneful shows. It’s been an Austin tradition for 52 years now, and with family-friendly fare such as Annie, The Music Man, and Disney's Beauty and the Beast, there's a good chance your kids will be bringing their kids another 20 summers from now.

Zilker Theatre Productions, 2201 Barton Springs Rd., 512/479-9491

Best Swings
The Red Swing Project

Overnight, magically, a place is transformed. A red wooden seat and a pair of ropes appear without warning, and the soaring thrill of swinging swoops up, uniting folks in playfulness. Bring the kids; bring Grandma! The Red Swing Project is the vision of a University of Texas grad who prefers to be known only as "Andrew" and bikes around the world pulling a "swing building kit" in his bike trailer. What started as a class design project has bloomed into a gift on four continents, with red swings in Brazil, Thailand, France, India, New Orleans, under overpasses, outside museums, and in abandoned lots and city parks. In Austin, look for red swings at the Festival Beach Community Garden, the HOPE Farmers Market, the old Cafe Mundi site, a tree hanging over Waller Creek, and many more places waiting for discovery.

Red Swing Project,

Best Way To Overcome Arachnophobia
'Spider: Bryce Manor'

The pointy legs and often-furry bodies stick in our nightmares. Why not walk in their eight shoes for a while? You can thank local video-game developer David Kalina and Tiger Style for the chance via your iPhone and iPad. They didn't make the spider cute and lovable but rather let the eight-legged protagonist be what it is: a flying-pest-eating wunderkind.

Tiger Style Games,

Best Way To Reappropriate 'Nerd'
Central Texas FIRST Lego League

We all know nerd is the new cool. How else can you explain Michael Cera's career? Kids between the ages of 9 and 14 form teams under the tutelage of smarty-pant volunteers and set out to create Lego robots the likes of which you likely haven't seen thanks to our good friends science and engineering. What better way to warm up the gray matter?

Skillpoint Alliance, 201-B E. Second, 512/323-6773,

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