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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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First Night holds much fun for kids

Virginia De Leon Correspondent

It’s a New Year’s Eve bash designed for the whole family.

There’s something for everyone at First Night Spokane, downtown Spokane’s annual community celebration.

It’s especially appealing to kids – a segment of the population that’s often left out of the New Year’s Eve revelry.

With First Night Spokane’s family-friendly and alcohol-free atmosphere, moms and dads don’t have to stay home or hire a babysitter. Instead, they can bring the kids along and celebrate together.

The entire event – from the crafts in the afternoon all the way to the fireworks show at midnight – is free for kids age 10 and under when they’re accompanied by an adult with a First Night button.

This year, even more children will be able to take part in the festivities.

Avista Kids Night Out – a special area with arts and crafts, drama, dance and other entertainment in the Spokane Convention Center – will offer extended hours.

In the past, this children’s section closed by 5:45 p.m. in time for families to take part in the masquerade parade along the streets of downtown.

This year, to accommodate working parents and others who can’t bring their children in the afternoon, some of the Kids Night Out activities will still be available at the Convention Center from 7 to 9 p.m. in a smaller space known as The Kids’ Zone.

First Night Spokane is also accommodating children who aren’t able to go downtown at all.

A new collaborative effort with Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital will enable kids with illnesses or injuries to take part in the Kids Night Out fun.

While families in the Spokane Convention Center create hats, crowns, fairy wings, swords and other crafts, children at the hospital will be able to make the same creations as they watch a live stream of the downtown event in the hospital classroom.

At the same time, a webcam at the hospital will enable people at the convention center to view the kids at Sacred Heart from about 3:30 to 5 p.m.

“They’ll be able to see each other so they can all feel like they’re together,” said Lona Barnum, First Night’s associate director. “It’s going to be great for the kids.”

Many of the children who come to Sacred Heart have decreased immunities as a result of their illnesses, said Tammy Powers, nurse manager at the hospital. Taking part in large, community events often isn’t an option because they can’t risk exposure to the H1N1 virus and other infections.

Participants will include children from both the outpatient and inpatient units – kids who receive regular treatments for cancer, cystic fibrosis and other serious illnesses as well as those who are in the hospital because they need surgery.

About 40 to 50 families are expected to be at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital to take part in First Night. Earlier in the day, they’ll receive a special invitation in their hospital rooms and will later gather in the classroom, which will be full of crafts and decorations.

“Our primary goal is to provide all the fun and excitement that First Night creates for every child for our children here,” Powers said. “Anything that’s being offered downtown, they’ll also get at the hospital.”

The collaboration also will enable the roughly 4,000 adults and children who take part in Kids Night Out to become more aware of the kids at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital as well as other youngsters who don’t have the option of coming downtown for New Year’s Eve.

“There are kids out there who need help and want to participate but unfortunately are not able to,” said Barnum.

Establishing these kinds of connections might inspire kids and families to become community volunteers and to make a difference, she said.

In addition to the hospital collaboration and extending the Kids Night Out hours, First Night also has designed a special area called “Lilliput” for children ages 2 to 4.

Along with their parents, they can play in a small castle and sandbox, make necklaces out of cereal, play games and participate in other activities suitable for toddlers and preschoolers.

This year, the older kids will be able to choose from 21 different crafts found in five different stations, according to Fran Menzel, a longtime First Night volunteer and co-chair of the kids’events.

All are based on the theme “In the Land of Make Believe” and are designed to be educational and to promote creativity, Menzel said.

In the Castle of the Ice King, they can make an abominable snowman puppet, an ice skater, even a dragon that they can later bring to a nearby track for racing.

At another station called The Enchanted Forest, they’ll have the chance to create birds, ogres and marmot stick puppets before moving on to the fairy and sprite wings, flowers and other offerings of the Faerie Queen’s Garden.

They can complete their ensemble with a wand, sword, knight helmet, princess hat and other accessories they can put together at the Madhatter’s Workshop.

And at the Magical, Musical Manufactory, they’ll be able to make the noisemakers they’ll need for the masquerade parade – tambourines, castanets, drums, finger banjos, kazoos and shakers.

During Kids Night Out and throughout the evening, families also can watch a variety of dancers, musicians, comedians, drummers and other performers.

“With many arts programs going away, this is one opportunity for families to get a real sense of the type of visual and performing artists in the area,” Barnum said.

“I would like to invite families to come down and join us for a great evening. It’s fun, it’s educational and there’s so much for everyone.”

Virginia de Leon is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Reach her at You can comment on this story and other topics related to parenting and families by checking out The Spokesman-Review’s parents’ blog:
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