When talking about ACL Fest, the benefit-to-value ratio is a pretty dang fair one, with dozens of bands per day at the cost of what most headliners charge for a single touring gig, $10 lunches, and reasonably priced tallboys. But the best value of the entire festival is the heavily endorsed free entry for kids 10 and under, along with the fest’s exceptionally curated Austin Kiddie Limits that will appease the grouchy flock between sets with hair painting, temporary tattoos, drum circles, art activities, and all the organic food samples that their parents are too cheap to buy, at least in the bulk amounts they offer to each tot at ACL.
Although Pranathi missed advancing to the championship round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee last May in Washington, D.C., the seventh grader from Kealing Middle School made history by winning Austin’s first regional spelling bee hosted by the West Austin Chamber of Commerce. In prior years, spellers from the Austin area had to travel to Houston for the regional competitions. An interesting note: Texas has produced more National Spelling Bee champions than any other state. We hope to see Pranathi’s name added to the list in coming years.
Founded in 2015 by a trio of Austin-based slam poets, Speak Piece Poetry Project provides a safe place for youths of all backgrounds to express themselves freely, without judgment. Meeting weekly at the Dougherty Arts Center, this nonprofit hosts free workshops where the finer points of poetry, writing, and performance are taught. Speak Piece also trains a competitive team of high school poets who represent the Austin at both regional and national poetry tournaments. Snaps to that.
Every kid in Austin yearns for a small spot of joy between the bookends of Ms. Gnarlclancy’s boring first-grade Linear Algebra labs at the ol’ schoolhouse and the nagging parental din of demanded chores at the ol’ homestead. Few things bring as much childhood respite as one of Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs, which are actually fluffy little hills of nearly disintegrated ice covered in pure-cane syrupy satisfaction. There is nary a miss with more than 50 flavors of the classic, ballpark choices, along with about 15 specialty cream flavors that inspired the business moniker itself. Being incredibly indecisive beings by nature, the youth-beloved "rainbow" flavor will likely be your child’s go-to. Rainbow is a real team player.
Gifted The Impossible Winterbourne Presents ... the AlphaBots, our 4-year-old already knew his ABCs and that said middle letter stands for "Bots," but he’d never glimpsed a DoomBot, EcoBot, or FreezeBot. Behind streaming-service-ready visuals, NeedleBot “just wants a hug,” OctoBot sloshes, QuakeBot pounds something fierce, and TeleBot catalogs the skies. Alas, the Austin street artist behind the giant steampunk head couldn’t stump our li'l man on ZombiBot. “They eat you after you’re dead,” nodded ours serenely.
Some people are damn good at their jobs. As the operations and programs director of Out Youth, a nonprofit that supports more than 15,000 LGBTQ youth across Central Texas, Kathryn Gonzales has surpassed good and become a champion for queer kids. Whether it’s helping these youth learn to embrace and love who they are or testifying against bathroom bills at the state legislature, Gonzales’ fight for what’s right is tireless, but does not go without notice. She’s a resource for every local media site, and her hands have touched numerous other programs and partnerships in town to ensure our baby queers – and our adults – are seen, heard, and supported.
Blame it on development. Hundreds of thousands of flighty purple martins who used to pepper the Highland Mall (now ACC's Highland campus) skies in late summer evenings moved to a Round Rock shopping center this year. The good news? The Travis Audubon Society followed them, setting up chairs near the Sam's Club and enjoying the bliss of true bird nerd-dom.
It’s the 10th day of rain in a row and your tykes are climbing the walls. Give them something more constructive to climb – say, a three-story playground, an elevated ropes course, or a junior-sized rock wall. Those are all on the menu at Epic Fun, a giant new indoor playscape and party place in Southwest Austin. There are more earthbound pleasures to be had here, too (bumper cars, an arcade), and the parental units can enjoy a different kind of terroir among the draft beers and wine options at the on-site cafe.
Are they the work of elven developers? An Ent with an architectural bent? A witch running Airbnb rentals? Actually, the fanciful wooden structures in Custer's Meadow were built by North Carolina "Stickwork" sculptor Patrick Dougherty on commission from the Pease Park Conservancy. Constructed from 10 tons of ligustrum, Roosevelt willow, and ash, and titled Yippee Ki Yay, the sculpture looks like something found in the woods of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. And with people free to walk around its twisted huts, touch them, and climb through their openings, it's an ideal immersive fantasy getaway for kids of all ages.
Austin Public Library’s new fleet of bookish transportation – including a book bus, book trike, and book trailer – proves that everything is better on wheels, even books. Occasionally, these mobile libraries appear at special events like the monthly Nerd Nite at the North Door and storytime in the park, but day-to-day you can find them parked in front of local libraries closed for renovations. Housing a collection of materials specially curated based on the neighborhood, the fleet allows communities to maintain their access to books and information even when their main library building is closed.
Austin Public Library
Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/472-7312
Twin Oaks Branch Library, 1800 S. Fifth
Oak Hill Branch Library, 5125 Convict Hill, 512/892-6680
Ralph W. Yarborough Library, 2200 Hancock, 512/454-7208
Will Hampton Branch Library, 5125 Convict Hill Rd.
Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez, 512/974-7400
Sure, as parents we’ve been brainwashed into believing our kids can’t sit through a single, 60-minute dinner service because Daddy Shark and Johny Johny have melted their brains into buffering autoplay putty, so it is a huge relief when the whole family can go out for a tasty meal while also letting the kids let out some pent-up kinetic intensity. Home Slice’s playscape is unlike all the others, however. Instead of those stale plastic playgrounds that slime your kid with BPA and butt chafing, Home Slice’s landscape masterpiece is a series of synthetic hills, valleys, tunnels, and a Lord of the Flies caste system that promotes a healthy imagination. Get the meatball sub!
Quick: Name your congressman. OK, great. Now name the man in Washington who represents your next door neighbor. Is it someone different? Mine is! And that’s because of gerrymandering, the highly partisan map-making practice that rigs elections toward one party that … well, we don’t need to get into what that party’s doing to our country. But the good news is that the Youth are taking notice, particularly in the far-flung northwest corner of Texas’ boar’s-leg-shaped Congressional District 10, where the kids in the Lafair family built Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, a board game that teaches about the effects of gerrymandering by letting you, the player, be the power-hungry lawmaker who gets to crack and pack voters into non-representational districts. The Lafairs put their idea on Kickstarter and to date have raised $67,490 from 1,468 backers. You can order the game there.
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