Dragon Con is a huge event, with more than 52,000 attendees last year. Whether or not to bring your kids is a big decision. Older ones are likely to have a lot of fun, especially with the Kaleidoscope track that started a few years ago. But unless they’re old enough that you don’t care much about what they see (or possibly do or drink), it also means eating some of your own con fun keeping an eye on them. (Read Patricia’s account of taking her 7- and 9-year-old boys last year.) In case you have decided to make this massive event a family one, here are a few suggestions for this year’s con:
Ages 6 and under
Good news, everyone! Children under six are free. Dragon Con used to offer a child care option with kids’ badges, but due to a lack of use, they’ve discontinued it this year, so the kiddos are with you. And let’s be honest: this group isn’t getting a lot out of the con. You’re bringing them because you don’t have a babysitter. I brought my own kids each one time, when they were less than a year old and still nursing. After that, they have to go to the grandparents.
Thus my opinion for this age group is that it’s less important to worry about things they’ll really enjoy and more important to worry about the enjoyment of those around you. I apologize if that sounds harsh, but remember that this is that one big event for a lot of people around you, and they’re not spending hundreds to thousands of dollars to miss what Jamie Hyneman said because your toddler thought it was adorable to sing through the panel. I know you want to hear the panelists too, but if your kids can’t behave, take them out of the room.
Just a few years ago, Dragon Con added the Kaleidoscope track, which is specifically targeted at 9-13-year-olds, but the interest is far broader than those ages. It’s also the track where you’ll find the GeekMom panel! You’ll find me, Marziah Karch, and Natania Barron in “Geek Parents Unite!” on Sunday at 11:30 a.m.
The Kaleidoscope track is on the Atrium level of the Marriott in room 708. Here are a few of their highlights this year (besides us, of course). Those not in the usual track room have the alternate location noted.
Jason David Frank, The Green Ranger: Relive 20 years of Power Rangers history with everyone’s favorite Power Ranger and learn what is coming next. (Friday at 2:30 in Regency VI-VII)
Totally Retro Toons: This one’s for you. Talk about the totally tubular toons of the 80s. (Friday at 8:30)
Voice Acting & The Younger Generation: Voice actors from Disney Channel and Nickelodeon discuss works aimed at the younger viewers. (Saturday at 2:30 in Grand Ballroom East)
Whatcha Doing, Danville Chicks?: Talk to Olivia Olson, who voices Vanessa Doofenshmirtz, and Kelly Hu, the voice of Stacy, about the world of Phineas and Ferb.
An Hour With George Takei: This one’s for both of you. Or in the words of my four-year-old, “Why is the grandpa from Supah Ninjas on Star Trek?” (Sunday at 1 in Centennial II-III)
Theme Song Sing a Long: You cover The Smurfs; they’ll do iCarly. OK, confess. You’ll do iCarly too. I know you see somehow the world will change for me… (Sunday at 8:30)
All the Voices of Rodger Bumpass: Before he was Squidward, our generation loved him as The Chief in Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? and Professor Membrane in Invader ZIM, among a host of many other roles. (Monday at 1 in Grand Ballroom East)
Ages 13 and up
This is the easiest group to entertain, but perhaps the hardest to keep your eye on! They probably have a lot of the same interests you do. For them, I’ll suggest one or two highlights from a variety of tracks:
Costuming: The Costuming track has several good panels for novices, including “Keeping It Safe” (Friday at 11:30) and a series on creating your own patterns. On Saturday at 5:30, Scott Merrill will teach how to create oversized, thin, lightweight fairie wings.
Gaming: Just drop them off in the gaming room. No, just kidding. Mostly. Those with some RPG time under their belts (or sporrans or baldrics) should try The Cheese Grinder.
American Sci-Fi: This track will cover a lot of favorite shows, including Arrow and Once Upon a Time. On Sunday at 1, a panel will be discussing the increasing popularity of the B movie genre in “Beyond Sharknado.”
Robotics and Makers: This is the track for your Lego FIRST fans. You know, the ones who spend all your money on SparkFun. Check out the R2D2 builders on Saturday at 4.
Apocalypse Rising: Your zombie geeks may enjoy the apocalypse simulation on Sunday at 2:30. Make a family team, and I hope you all get out alive.
And that’s just a taste. Spend some time with your paper program guide or the Dragon Con app. Highlight three or four things in a time slot that are interesting, and that gives you the flexibility to change your mind on the fly (usually based on it being Sunday, and the Westin suddenly sounds really far away).
All (most) ages
Shopping! The dealer and exhibitor halls have moved this year from their long-time home in the Marriott to the Atlanta Convention Center at AmericasMart, Building 1, floors 1 and 2. That means they’ll be 20% bigger this year–20% more geektastic goods to drool over and spend your money on! The new location is one block west of the Hyatt and can be accessed by breezeway (aka “habitrail”) from the Westin. It’s also on the Dragon Con bus route.
Dragon Con Events! It’s not all sit-in-a-ballroom around here. There’s Night at the Georgia Aquarium, one of the nicest aquariums in the country. The not-so-often seen Jamie Hyneman will join regular Dragon Con guest Adam Savage in the Mythbusters Behind the Myths Tour. And of course, there’s the parade. Take note, previous guests, the path is a bit different this year.
Contests! Dragon Con is full of contests, and there’s got to be at least one that interests the family. Many tracks have their own costuming contests. The larger ones are the Friday Night Costuming Contest, which foucses on workmanship, and the Masquerade on Sunday, which is more entertainment-based and likely more fun for the kids. There’s also the Comic Book Quick Sketch, Robot Battles, and more.
If you are bringing the younger set, I hope that helps you get started on the schedule planning. Finally, three tips, and a decision flow chart I created two years ago when I first wrote about whether to bring the kids to Dragon Con.
Don’t be that parent. If your kids aren’t able to sit quietly, take them out of the panel.
Costumes are expensive and a lot of work. For some reason, some kids think it’s hilarious to punch costumed characters or pull on their various parts. Have a talk before you go about the appropriate way to approach your favorite characters.
Don’t try to be everywhere. You’ll wear out your kids and your patience. Accept that you may see only a few things a day, then prioritize.
Charity auctions and other fundraising events are a mainstay of many fan conventions, including Dragon*Con. In 2012, they raised more than $45,000 for the Georgia Chapter of the ALS Association. The year before, it was $40,000 for the National Inclusion Project, which helps children with disabilities. And the con’s annual blood drive is a popular event, donating thousands of units of blood over the weekend. This year the con decided to approach charity a little differently by asking the fans where they’d like their donations to go in 2013.
The event asked people to participate in a poll between April 15th and April 28th, during which more than 39,000 votes were cast for one of five pre-selected organizations. The top three vote-getters were named as the official charities of Dragon*Con 2013.
Over the last eight years, Dragon*Con has raised almost $224,000 for charity. This year it will add a matching contribution from the con itself of up to $50,000. In addition to that official charity fundraising during the con, they’ve donated $265,000 to The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta (where Dragon*Con is held) and other organizations.
Dragon*Con starts in just nine short days. I recommend going to just about every geek I meet, especially at this time of year when my life is consumed by furious last-minute costuming. Since the people I interact with these days are often also parents, the followup question is usually, “Should I bring my kids?”
It’s a tough question, and one you have to answer for yourself. It helps a lot to have been and to know whether you’d enjoy yourself and be comfortable with your kids there. It also depends on their ages. My personal rule was to bring them when they were less than a year old (which also meant they were still nursing, and thus much easier to have near me), but after that, we’ve left them with grandparents.
The practical matter: Cost
Kids six and under get in free. If you have a kid that age who is potty trained, you can bring them to Dragon*Con child care for the price of an adult ticket. If you use the full 30 hours available, that’s an unbeatable rate of $4/hour! But child care closes at 7 p.m., and there is a lot to do at Dragon*Con after 7 p.m. You, however, will have an early bedtime. Some parents work this out by taking turns–Mom gets to go have evening fun on Friday night, and Dad gets to go out Saturday night, for example. Of course, then you’re not having that fun together, but at least you’re having it.
Stuff for kids to do
The biggest excitement for kids is seeing their favorite characters come to life. You can’t walk across a hotel lobby without tripping over twenty Stormtroopers, eight superheroes, and That Guy From That Movie I Saw, What Is His Name? (That last one is a popular costume.) After about 8 or 9 p.m., the costumes start getting a lot more risqué. Suddenly at sundown, a foot of electrical tape cut and placed strategically counts as a costume. There’s also a risk of seeing a few of these during the day, so if you really want to shield Little Johnny’s eyes, this might not be the best place for him.
What else can kids do?
They’ll love the Masquerade and the parade for the same reasons as above. They may also enjoy the Friday night costume contest, but it’s about workmanship, whereas Masquerade is more of a short skit performance show, so the Friday night contest may seem slow to the little ones. There are also track-specific costume contests, such as the Star Wars contest.
Gaming of all kinds. Find a Looney Labs Lab Rabbit (who may or may not look like a lab rabbit) and teach your kid to play Fluxx. It’s a great game for any kid old enough to read the cards and entertaining (and occasionally challenging) for adults, too.
For those old enough, there is the aforementioned Young Adult Literature track. Remember that spoilers are likely to be discussed. A few of these sessions lean towards being discussions for adults about kids, such as what literature is appropriate for what age and whether you restrict your children’s reading.
The Science track and Space track–Dragon*Con is educational! The Space track even brings out their telescopes for your young Einsteins to get a better look at the wonders above.
Most of the regular daytime sessions that interest them will be fine. If they’re young and/or impatient, sit near a door in case you have to make a quick exit. An hour is a long time to listen to even your favorite actor wax philosophical about why he became a thespian. Read the pocket program together to find things that interest you both. The Star Wars track seems to be popular with kids, thanks to sessions like “Building the Universe With Legos” and “Saber School,” a session meant just for kids to play with foam sabers.
This year there is a new track for kids ages 9-13, the Kaleidoscope track. This track features Dragon*Con-style programming for the preteen set based on live-action TV Shows from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney Channel. Parents must accompany any kids under 18.
As you can see, there’s plenty to interest your little geeklings as long as you’re prepared to keep being Mom all weekend. For me, Dragon*Con is a great weekend away, where I get to just be me and not worry about who’s not eating his dinner or who needs to go potty. I just ask that you don’t try to be both. I’ve been going to Dragon*Con for nearly a decade, and every year I see parents dragging children into clearly adult sessions. It’s uncomfortable for everyone involved and rude to panelists who may feel obligated to censor themselves. Or they may not, which will make your evening more interesting when your geekling starts asking questions. Just don’t do it.
Finally, if you’re still not sure, I’ve made this handy flowchart to help you make the choice.