How to entertain the young — and young at heart — all summer long

Riverfront Park's North Bank is now a one-stop activity complex. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Riverfront Park's North Bank is now a one-stop activity complex.

How do you keep grandparents, parents, teens, tweens, kids and toddlers entertained simultaneously? The answer may lie in those uniquely intergenerational activities dubbed "family friendly." Spend a day climbing, skating, splashing and sliding without leaving the same patch of ground. Find a spontaneous, shared path to creative expression. Or pass an afternoon beautifying your backyard or balcony with flowers. And best of all, having fun and making memories together doesn't have to cost a fortune. All but one of the activities suggested here require minimal to no outlay.

EXPERIENCE THE REVITALIZED RIVERFRONT PARK

Just in time for summer, Riverfront Park has unveiled a North Bank area that's been transformed into a one-stop activity complex. Key elements of the 40,000-square-foot complex take their design cues from the Ice Age floods that transformed the regional landscape somewhat more dramatically 14,000 years ago.

"There's a three-story play structure, a climbing wall, an inclusive playscape, a sandpit, a splash pad, a signature basketball court as well as a skate and wheels park. It's for basketball players, for skaters, for children who want to run through the fountains or play in the sand," says Riverfront Park Director Jonathan Moog.

"This is the final keystone in making Riverfront Park a fun, must-visit downtown destination — and not just for tourists. The North Bank improvements make Riverfront a neighborhood park. And just like your neighborhood park, this is entirely free. It's really just a great way to spend family time together downtown."

Of course, the arrival of the glacially themed play equipment doesn't mean that the traditional favorites have gone away. The Looff Carrousel recently reopened and will be operating — along with the skyride — on extended summertime hours starting in mid-June.

Should pandemic public health guidelines start to relax a little further, more in-person group events will start to pop up on the schedule. Moog says that the park has already begun hosting smaller, family-oriented activities like Riverfront Moves, a free fitness series that caters to all ages and abilities. Keep an eye on my.spokanecity.org/riverfrontspokane for news along those lines.

DROP IN AT SPARK CENTRAL

True to its name, Spark Central's Drop In program encourages anyone from the Spokane community to simply show up and take part in anything from crafts to card games, writing, drawing, science experiments and coding — completely free of charge.

The evening and weekend events are geared more toward families, but that doesn't mean the morning programs are age restricted. In fact, the only limit is capacity. As of this writing, the center has mask and social distancing mandates in place, which cap the number of guests at 30 for now. Fortunately, some Drop Ins, like the creative writing session, allow Zoom participation.

"Drop In is a program of free activities that are run by our talented volunteers," says Programs Manager Wilson Faust. "Each one has a different creative focus. They're open to all different age groups to come in and do something together. It's a casual opportunity for folks who have shared interests to gather, learn something new and leave with a shared experience."

Later in the summer, Spark will also likely be adding a Minecraft club to its programming. That will give kids an "art prompt" to build something of their own imagining in the block-based construction game. There will also be a digital art club that will help participants hone their skills in graphic design software like Procreate or Photoshop.

And even though the center offers its Drop In events and clubs at specific times during the week, Faust stresses that families are truly welcome to drop in whenever they like.

"Even when a Drop In program isn't happening at Spark Central, we have 31 creative kits that kids can use. Each one provides an activity in a box with instructions written up for a parent or one of our volunteers to walk kids through the activities step by step," he says. Be sure to check the Spark website at spark-central.org for new events, updated public health guidelines and which creative kits are currently on offer.

Summer Parkways is back, but with more flexibility. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Summer Parkways is back, but with more flexibility.

SUMMER PARKWAYS

Summer Parkways says it's gone "virtual" again due to COVID-19 restrictions, but that's only half true. This annual celebration of self-powered locomotion is still taking place in person; it's just that it offers a lot more flexibility in how you participate. Feel free to assemble the fam anytime between June 14 and 20 and have them take their preferred mode of transport — walking, running, biking, skating or scootering — along the event's usual four-mile course through the Manito/Cannon Hill and Comstock neighborhoods. You can consult the route online ahead of time at summerparkways.com as well as the details on how to win prizes in the "Summer Parkways Search & Spot" scavenger hunt.

CLIMATE SCIENCE SATURDAY

Sure, we know that science is real. But did you also know it can be real fun? Climate Science Saturday on June 19 is a free, all-ages event that gathers a wide range of community partners — and where else but at the Spokane Tribal Gathering Place on the western edge of Riverfront Park? — to provide entertaining and educational activities on things like composting, the carbon cycle, food waste and ecological stewardship. Mobius Discovery Center will be there along with environmentally minded organizations like Growing Neighbors, Spokane Riverkeeper, Inland Northwest Nature Connection, The Lands Council and more. Runs from 11 am to 3 pm; mobiusdiscoverycenter.org has more info.

BACKYARD GARDENING

Whether you're doing it for food, aesthetics or a little bit of both, few activities are more inclusive, relaxing, rewarding or closer to home than backyard gardening. All it takes is a few seeds or starts. Stumped for ideas? Several farmers markets across the Spokane area offer a free weekly kids' activity where families can learn about pollinators or companion planting and maybe even take home a plant or two. It's called Kids Eating Right: Nutrition and Exercise for Life — or KERNEL for short. Stop by your neighborhood market and ask about it.

LEGENDS & MYTHS FROM MOUNT OLYMPUS

Join your K-5+ children as they're introduced to the myths of ancient Greece through this virtual performance from Portland's Traveling Lantern Theater. The troupe will act out classic stories like the tale of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun with wings made of wax, as well as brave Perseus, who cleverly defeated the hideous serpent-coiffed Gorgon known as Medusa. This online, on-demand event will be available between July 11 and 18. Families can gain access through the Spokane County Library District's Beanstack Summer Reading Challenge or by registering on the SCLD website. Details and signup instructions are available at scld.org

COEUR D'ALENE STREET FAIR

To mark its 29th year, downtown Coeur d'Alene's annual community street fair is hosting over 250 vendor booths with a variety of food, live music, crafts, outreach and much more. Because the festival takes place along the main thoroughfare on Sherman Avenue, it's fully wheelchair and stroller friendly while also being just a stone's throw from the lake. As luck would have it, the event is the same July 30-Aug. 1 weekend as Art on the Green at North Idaho College. A free shuttle bus will ferry you between the two events. Find out more at cdadowntown.com/streetfair.

SILVERWOOD THEME PARK

A reliable destination for a family outing and something of a rite of passage in any local childhood, Silverwood's 413-acre facility offers a huge choice of rides and entertainment for everyone. Depending on your preferred adrenalin levels, you can take a leisurely ride on the puppy-go-round or rocket through the unrelenting daredevil twists and barrel rolls of Stunt Pilot, the park's all-new coaster. When the summertime temperatures start to rise, the whitewater raft experience of Thunder Canyon or the superfast waterdrop known as Velocity Peak offer a fun and occasionally heart-pounding way to beat the heat. Check out silverwoodthemepark.com for more info plus current deals and events.♦

Car d'Lane @ Downtown Coeur d'Alene

Fri., June 18 and Sat., June 19
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About The Author

E.J. Iannelli

E.J. Iannelli is a Spokane-based freelance writer, translator, and editor whose byline occasionally appears here in The Inlander. One of his many shortcomings is his inability to think up pithy, off-the-cuff self-descriptions.