Friday, August 27, 2010

Good Clean Free Fair Fun

Yesterday I went to the New York state fair with my toddler, preschooler, and my niece who is also a preschooler. We, the parents, tried to find inexpensive things to do with the kids that they found fun and interesting. Many things are meant for much older children, so it’s not always easy. The following is my unofficial free fun guide for tiny tots.

WCNY booth near Chevy Court:

The WCNY booth had coloring sheets, a puppet craft and a pinwheel craft for kids to do, and they were set up to accommodate kids of all ages. They were also giving up free children’s books (Clifford, Arthur, and Curious George) and to anyone that came, as long as they lasted. Since we were there on the first day, there was plenty to choose from. They also gave away frisbees during the weather broadcast.

The play area in the State Park at the Fair:

We chose to eat our lunch here and the kids enjoyed playing with the small playground equipment sample and the giant rock. It was also shady and not overcrowded.

The performing animal shows:

We only went to see one show, the Elephant Encounter, but any of them would have been fine. The shows were short and sweet so they were easy for the kids to sit through and most kids love animals anyway. There was a dog show, monkey show, elephant show, sea lion show, and tiger show located at either Adventure Zone or the Youth Activities Center. It was nice to be able to sit and take a break. I recommend having a blanket or chairs to sit on though, sitting on the pavement wasn’t the most comfortable thing and the bleachers are too crowded.

Historic Train Exhibit:

The kids loved exploring the train and our preschooler talked about it nearly all day after that. They also had a bag with goodies in it including a coloring book to take home.

The 4-H building:

This building was an uncovered gem to our family, I don’t remember ever going in there before, and definitely not since I had children. They had trained dogs to meet and pet, baby chicks to hold, FREE face painting, and crafts. We got there at the end of the day so a lot of stuff was packed up, but from what I could see there was a place to make book marks and a place to make beaded bracelets, and probably more. The face painting was not as elaborate as what you pay for on the midway, but really young kids don’t care, they just want their face painted. Plus while the kids are busy with face painting and crafts, its fun to look at the nearby exhibits and prize winning entries by county 4-H clubs.

The animal barns:

We go in the animal barns every year. The kids always love to see the animals so we make sure never to miss it. One thing I did notice, is it is very hard to see at stroller height. Most cages are too high and fences are too tall for a stroller rider to see well. Although our toddler could see the animal and liked when they peeked their heads over the fence, he would have had more fun in a carrier. Plus you’re not running your stroller through all that animal “waste.” Another bonus is we were watching a girl work at the milking station and she actually let the kids help her as she explained how the equipment worked.

Department of Environmental Conservation building:

The building itself is ok, the kids do like to see the fish inside, but the best part about this building is making a button. They also have big rolls of stickers to be able to let the kids choose a sticker, and coloring books available. This is something else we have never missed, maybe I should start a button collection!

The Lego Experience:

I believe this is the first time this exhibit has ever been at the fair (it’s the first time I have ever seen it), but it was awesome and I hope they come back next year. They set up shop on the long road parallel to State Fair Blvd to the right of the main gate. There were tons of lego tables, taller ones with small legos and short ones with duplo legos. They had a family challenge area where families could work together to build their version of the challenge that they held every 15 minutes. While we were there they made tall buildings and fair food. They also had awesome models set up where you had to search for different things on the model, such as a Lego ostrich or Lego Star Wars clone fighters. We could have stayed there all day.

The Military Area:

Right near the legos is the area where the military has jeeps, trucks, and planes set up to explore, and the kids loved looking around inside and pretending to drive.

Safety Town in the Time Warner building:

The preschool kids loved watching the movie and the puppet show, but it was a little boring for our toddler. He preferred being pushed through the Hazard House. Either way it’s a fun place to go, and theres always coloring books to grab in the Hazard House.

Dairy Building:

Moo’s Place is always fun to check out with the kids, with things to spin and turn and mirrors to look in and lots to learn. They also have fun things on the stage in the center, and we got there in time for a reading of Where the Wild Things are which kept the kids completely captivated while parents waited in line for the rainbow milk bar.

The train exhibit in the Art and Home Center:

Our kids love to just sit and watch the model trains go around and around while we wandered around and checked out the models around the room. You can also alternate sneaking out to check out the art upstairs or the exhibits on the main floor while the kids are busy.

Moo Country in the cattle barn:

We actually missed this area this year. I remembered it was in there, but I didn’t see it, and we also had to say our goodbyes to my niece, which was hard, so we didn’t want to hang out in that building too long afterword. However, it is fun to go and check out and they have more lovely coloring books to take home.

Grange Building:

We missed this too, I looked for it, but I get lost too easily at the fair, and we ended up never going in. However, we went in here last year. It is not a “fun” place to go, but if you have tired kids and want a relaxing place to eat or wind down, this place is great. It’s rarely ever crowded and they always have family friendly shows. Last year we stopped in here to feed the toddler (who was a baby then) his baby food dinner and our preschooler danced to the music and wandered around looking at the different exhibits.


We were in the 4-H building and missed the daily parade, but our kids love parades and would have enjoyed watching it.

Now with all that fun stuff to do, you have to know where to eat. Here is my list of free or almost free food at the fair.

Free samples:

If you go to the Dairy building and the Horticulture building you can almost always find free samples. They have cheese, pepperoni, beef, maple products, honey products, the list goes on and on. If you happen to be on the midway, many places have signs that boasts free samples of a new food they are trying. This year the big free sample was deep fried pickles, yikes! However if you want a snack and don’t want to pay, samples are the way to go.

Free water:

You can always grab a drink at the drinking fountain, but if you want FILTERED water, head over to the Department of Environmental Conservation building where they have big cups and a pitcher of ice cold crystal clear water. It’s a nice change from paying an arm and a leg for a bottled water or drinking city water.

Almost-free milk:

The Rainbow Milk bar STILL sells milk for only 25 cents. They are full 8 oz cups of either white or chocolate milk. Even if the line is long, it’s always worth the wait.

Almost free potatoes:

In the horticulture building, potatoes are still only one dollar. One potato is very filling to an adult so you might be able to split a potato amongst your kids 2 or 3 ways. We bought on potato for each person, and it was way too much. If the 3 kids had split one potato, it would have been plenty, and would have brought the cost down to only around 33 cents for their snack.

Almost free food from home:

If you find yourself still getting hungry you have another almost free option, that is to bring your own food from home. I packed some crackers and water in our diaper bag to ward off hunger, but you can bring almost anything in with you. You could drag in a cooler if you feel like carting it around all day, but even a lunch box with a few ice packs would hold quite a bit.

Saving money on the no-so-free fair food:

If you love fair food, which many of us do, you can still save money by buying meals in family size. It’s cheaper to get a whole chicken or pizza for your family than it is you try and buy each person their own meal. Get family sized popcorn, cotton candy, or deep fried goodies for the best bargain. 10 bucks may seem like a lot, but when you price out a meal and snacks for each person, it ends up being much more expensive. Keeping your cup for refills is a great idea, but our cup was wax paper and ended up being a mess at the end of the day. Go with plastic refill containers if you must have a drink at the fair, or just bring your own in with you. As always, shop around; don’t assume that chicken joint is the ONLY chicken joint. If you plan to look around for food BEFORE you are starving, you can patiently find the best deals. Also check the Fair Guide for useful coupons to save money.

To finish out my unofficial guide, I’d like to note things NOT to do at the fair. The following is a list of tantrum provoking things that should be avoided at all costs:

Do not go near the sinks in the bathrooms.

There are people there charging money for soap and paper towels and have a huge bowl of candy that LOOKS free to a small child. They don’t tell you until AFTER you use their soap and they hand you a paper towel that you have to pay. I don’t remember ever seeing those people in there before. Just someone sitting in a chair available to clean up or give you toilet paper. This year they were very pushy and in your face. Save your sanity and bring hand sanitizer or wipes with you and just march straight out the door after a potty break.

Do not spend lots of time in the other buildings or at adult focused shows.

If you love to see everything else at the fair, either have snacks or toys on hand to keep the kids busy, or take turns with one adult in that building’s kids area, and the other exploring the building. The museum and historical buildings are not at all recommended as there is nothing for kids to touch and they often find them incredibly boring. Either go in to make a quick pass or alternate.

Stay away from the Center of Progress Building.

The people there are very in your face and try to distract you so keeping an eye on your kids is tough, especially since it’s always packed. Plus, the kids want you to buy them everything in the entire building, so this is another one to avoid altogether or alternate with another adult.

Avoid the rides on the midway.

Unless you have gotten a truly great deal at Wegman’s or someplace else for ride tickets, just avoid the rides altogether. As soon as the kids see them they are dying to ride them and all the rides are a total rip off at a dollar a ticket for a ride that lasts maybe 2 minutes. You can get you child’s hand stamped for 25 dollars to ride unlimited rides, but there are really only 5 rides that are for preschool age so they would have to ride each one twice to make it worth the money. Even the “bouncey area” thats 5 dollars for the whole day isn’t worth it because what preschooler is REALLY going to be in there all day. At most they might go in for 30 minutes for so before they are too tired or bored of it. It’s better to save the midway rides for when your child is older so there are more rides to enjoy to make your purchase worthwhile.

Do not forget the essentials.

Be sure to get your Lost Kid Tags at the entrance. This year I managed to forget a stroller, a blanket, sunscreen, hats, a baby carrier and an extra bag for all the stuff we accumulated throughout the day. I did remember changes of clothes, a few snacks, drinks, wipes and raincoats (thankfully we never needed those). We made it through the day, but life would have been much easier if I had remembered to bring everything.

I hope you have enjoyed my unofficial free fun guide for tiny tots at the NY state fair. Even if you haven’t enjoyed it, it was fun for me to write. Pass it on to anyone you think it would be helpful for, and be sure to comment with any ideas YOU have for me to take note of for next year. Have fun and be safe!


~:.Tasia.:~ said...

Haha, I loved this post Cali!! To this day I still go into the 4-H building since i used to be a 4-H'er myself :) It's always a blast to participate in the things the kids have to show/teach/offer. I'm glad you guys had a lot of fun!!