New Year’s Eve doesn’t have to be an adults-only affair.
At First Night, downtown Spokane’s annual community celebration, children are very much a part of the festivities.
It’s an opportunity for kids to party, be creative and take part in activities that encourage originality and imagination.
“It’s not just fun, it’s educational,” said Fran Menzel, a longtime First Night volunteer and this year’s co-chair of the kids’ events.
“Our goal this year is to use crafts as a learning experience and to focus on the process of creating.”
About 4,000 youngsters take part each year in First Night Spokane, according to Lona Barnum, associate director of the annual celebration.
“It’s a family event, so there will be kids (participating) until the fireworks at midnight,” she said.
Alcohol-free and kid-friendly activities and performances will take place at various venues throughout the evening. But the highlight for most children, especially the younger ones, happens earlier with Avista Kids Night Out, which features music, arts and crafts, dance, drama and a masquerade parade down Spokane Falls Boulevard.
The entire event is free for kids age 10 and under as long as they’re accompanied by an adult with a First Night button.
According to organizers, the crafts tables often draw the biggest crowds.
“Everything is tied to art,” said Barnum, noting that some children don’t always get the chance to focus on creativity, even in educational settings.
“This is an opportunity for kids to gravitate toward art, both performance and visual,” she said. “It will be a fun experience.”
This year’s theme is “Somewhere In Time.” In addition to offering ways to create unique objects that fall under the categories of past, present and future, the crafts tables will supply mostly repurposed, recycled materials collected this past year or donated by local organizations and businesses including Spokane Recycling.
To honor the past, kids will get a chance to make Viking helmets and shields out of plastic gallon milk jugs, paper plates and paper horns. They also can decorate tunics or aprons made out of used tablecloth runners.
Another craft project from the past includes primordial creatures that children can fashion out of egg cartons, pipe cleaners, stickers and crinkly papers and wrappers.
Volunteers from the Spokane Indian Tribe will engage children in a beading project. They’ll also bring along a large dream catcher, so kids can write down their dreams on pieces of paper and place them in the net.
In the “present” section, families can construct objects they’ll use during their New Year’s Eve celebration. They’ll be able to create masks, hats and spinners out of cardboard, and buttons and wallpaper from old sample books, as well as signs displaying their “Earth Resolutions” (ways they will help care for the environment) made from cardboard circles affixed to wooden paint sticks.
Craft projects that can be found in the “future” area include fashioning a space helmet out of paper grocery bags and colorful, non-skid shelf liner; cosmic kazoos using toilet paper tubes; and robots, by putting together yogurt and paper cups, cocktail straws, plastic golf balls and other materials.
Organizers also plan to have a time capsule. Kids will be able to write down their goals for 2009, crumple up the paper, insert it in a piece of toilet paper tube, wrap it in tissue and throw it into a large painted box. They’ll be able to retrieve their resolutions a year later during the next First Night celebration.
When the kids are finished with their crafts, parents can take photos of them as they pose in front of a Viking ship or a spaceship with an alien.
“Kids just love to put things together,” said Menzel, whose professional experiences include many years as a preschool teacher, pediatric nurse practitioner and catering chef.
“It’s not so much the end product, but the process,” she said. “Doing crafts helps kids learn reading, math and other skills.”
The crafts tables also involve collaborative work among family members, friends and new acquaintances, she said.
This year, more than 250 people from area high schools, Girl Scout troops, the Kiwanis Club and other organizations have volunteered to spend a few hours learning how to make the crafts, then facilitating the tables and projects on New Year’s Eve.
Many others helped collect the recycled items and materials that fill about two storage rooms, each one the size of a two-car garage. Dozens more have assisted with the craft materials by cutting bags and milk jugs and doing other prep work.
The craft projects will take children a little longer to complete this year, but the goal is to make it more “open-ended” to allow kids of every age to use their imagination, Menzel said.
Menzel, who first became involved with First Night as a craft table volunteer, has worked since March with co-chair Kristine Meyer of Avista to organize Kids Night Out.
In addition to researching ways to expand on the theme of “Somewhere In Time” and coming up with all the craft projects, Menzel and Meyer had to work around some of the restrictions in the new convention center – which meant finding alternatives to glue, paint and markers that can leave lasting marks on the carpet, walls and floors.
To be safe, volunteers will pass out glue sticks, crayons and double-stick tape to kids, Menzel said.
As part of the environmental focus of this year’s Kids Night Out, sponsor Avista will give away free LED lightbulbs to families. Wattson, Avista’s “energy watchdog,” will be on hand to offer tips and tricks on how to conserve energy.
Other fun activities at Kids Night Out include the bubble wrap room, a Graffiti Wall and performances by local artists, dancers and musicians including the Rainbow Fiddle Kids, Silver Spurs, Peter Irish and Cecil’s Magic.
At 5:30 p.m., the crafts tables will begin to close down and families will be encouraged to line up for the Masquerade Parade, which will feature a platoon of marmots this year.
As families sing, dance, thump on their drums and make music during their stroll down to River Park Square’s main entrance at Main and Post from the Convention Center, a group of teens dressed in marmot costumes will scurry along with the crowd while “eeping” and making other marmot-like noises, and engaging people in marmot drill activities.