What To Do With Your Kids At Dragon Con

Zombie Mister Rogers
Zombie Mister Rogers from Dragon*Con 2012. All images CC-BY-SA Ruth Suehle.

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.

Ages 7-12

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.
kid-to-dragoncon
Note that child care is no longer offered, though it was when this chart was created. Amend course as necessary.

See you in a few days!

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By day, Ruth works to make open source software communities better. The rest of the time, she makes things, which means her husband and kids know to watch out for stray sewing pins and to ask before eating anything made of fondant.