A Day Out: A Kid-Friendly Children's Celebration

By: Lynne Shallcross

What: The Children's Inaugural Ball hosted by Every Child Matters Education Fund and 40 other local and national children's groups. The afternoon, open-house-style event was kid-friendly in every way, from the casual attire to the story-time stage to the popcorn and cotton-candy carts.

Where: Historical Society of Washington in DC's Mount Vernon Square.

When: January 18, 2009, noon to 5 PM.

Ticket price: Free. The 2,000 tickets (one per family) to this informal but very popular event went fast. Weeks ago, the RSVP list was full, and parents who were hoping their children could take part in the only free, family-friendly inaugural ball were directed to a long waiting list.

See more photos of inaugural balls.

Who: Grandparents, parents, and children of all ages from all across the country. There were no A-listers in attendance (unless you count an appearance by Screech, the Nationals' mascot), but that didn't seem to bother the partygoers, who were more interested in face painting and magicians than celebrity spotting.

Food and drink: The menu came straight from every child's dream afternoon at a carnival: hot pretzels, cotton candy, popcorn carts, corn dogs, cookies, fruit, and Good Humor ice-cream carts. In place of the Champagne and cocktails found at other inaugural balls, this one served up milk, juice boxes, water, and soda.

Time in the drink line: Zero minutes. No need to wait—you could just walk up and grab your juice box.

Time in coat-check line: 11 minutes.

Scene: In a week chock full of glitzy, high-profile affairs, the Children's Inaugural Ball was a refreshing exception. There were no limos and no red carpet. There were no fancy ballgowns or tuxes—the attire was anything warm and comfortable. As families made their way through the heated check-in tent and into the building, the excitement was palpable. The youngest of the guests might not have known exactly who President-elect Barack Obama was, but promises of magicians, puppet shows, and yummy snacks kept them smiling from ear to ear. And while their children might not have grasped the significance of an inauguration, parents were excited to share with them the historical moment of welcoming the country's first African-American president.

After checking strollers outside and coats on the basement level, guests grabbed a bite of food as they checked out the scene on the first floor and planned their afternoon of events. The main stage on the first floor played host to everything from a children's folk singer and a magician to a sing-along puppeteer and a singing weatherman. Also on the main level was the story time and puppet theater and the "inaugural classroom," an auditorium where young ballgoers could learn 18th-century dancing with costumed guides from Mount Vernon or recite lines from Lincoln's second inaugural address. Upstairs were more family-friendly activities: kids waited in line for a balloon animal, got their faces painted, and took photos with life-size cutouts of President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden. The atmosphere was frenzied and popcorn littered the floor, but the guests, young and old, had a ball.

Words of Wisdom:

We asked guests of the Children's Inaugural Ball what advice they'd give to President-elect Obama when he starts his new job on Tuesday.

"I would tell him that he's a good person because he loves our community." - Lauren, 8, Forestville.

"I would tell him he's a good president. And help each other." - Eryn, 6, Germantown.

"Do nice things." - Edwin Jared, 4, Germantown.

"I would tell him to try to do his best and always tell the truth." - Sydney, 13, Germantown.

"Make restaurants have lower prices." - Caitlyn, 7, Silver Spring.

"Give kids the right to vote, and make corndogs the national food." - Kyle, 10, Silver Spring.

"If I were him, I'd try to make it so people wouldn't litter as much and recycle more. Make the world more clean." - 10, Amanda, DC.

"He should still try to spend some time with his kids." - Erin, 10, Seattle.

"Carry through on his economic plan. I think a lot more people would have jobs." Alice, 12, Arlington.

"Work. And no more war." Jared, 5, Indian Head.