Traditional fun for the littlest fairgoers

Kayla deBettencourt was a fast corn shucker at last year's competition. — File Photo by Susan Safford

Kids look forward to the Fair all year, imagining visions of bright lights and cotton candy. Although the carnival rides are iconic, there’s much more for children to do at the Fair, much of it focusing on community, agriculture, and simple fun.

Last year, my daughter cried because she was just a little too short to ride the Ferris wheel, but the dogs waiting for their spot in the show distracted her soon enough, and the barn was only steps away. This year, there are more free children’s activities along with old standards like entering exhibits in the hall. Kids who haven’t entered anything might be interested to see what their peers have been making and growing this summer, too.

The Animal Barn is a perennial favorite for people of all ages. Baby pigs nap and suckle, impossibly cute next to their sleepy mothers. Kids — the goat kind — frolic and munch on hay while human kids look on. The animals, from puff-balls of baby chick feathers to enormous draft horses, give visiting children a chance to see farm animals, and children with their own poultry and livestock can exhibit them. Barn Manager Bob Hungerford stresses that it’s important for children to behave appropriately.

“They have to be respectful and not poke or tease the animals,” he says. “It’s all common sense to us — no running, yelling, making loud noises.”

In general, there’s little trouble — everyone is there to have a good time.

The Pet Show at 1 pm on Thursday is open to children of all ages — and their pets. Dogs and livestock such as sheep, chickens, rabbits, and others that are eligible to be included in another judging competition cannot be entered here, but young puppies are welcome. Children who would like to show their pets need to sign up at the stage before the show starts.

André Bonnell, master of ceremonies since the 1980s, says that it’s open to anyone who can walk and hold a pet.

“Some of them, it may be the first time they’ve been up on stage,” he says of the children who participate. “Very rarely do I have someone who’s really shy. They seem to open up a little when they’re talking about their pets. Some have cats, gerbils, snakes. Then we have the kids with the imagination, the starfish, the crickets, things they find in the backyard.”

Two creative and zany puppet acts on the stage delight children every year. Youngest fairgoers will love the wacky antics of Toe Jam, where little audience members are encouraged to get into the act. Shows are on Saturday at 12 noon, 1:30 pm, and 3 pm. Although the Puppetoke Puppets feature some grown-up themes and clever humor, their shows will bring plenty of giggles from toddlers too. Performances are on Sunday at 11 am, 12 noon, 1 pm, and 2 pm.

In the past few years, the Fair has added a handful of free organized events for kids. The most formal of these is the Corn Husking Competition on Friday at 2 pm, outside at the back of the Ag Hall, for ages 6 through 12. “You have to pre-enter so we have the right amount of corn,” says organizer Nancy-Alyce Abbott. It’s a timed event, and each contestant husks five ears of corn. In case of a tie, the one with the cleanest ears of corn wins. The corn, donated by Morning Glory Farm, will be used for animal feed after the event.

In front of the Hall on Saturday at 2 pm there will be Sack Races — a new event this year. “There are prizes for participation,” Ms. Abbott says. “There’s no sign-up for it. We hope it becomes an annual event, just a fun thing that costs no money.”

Karen Ogden will organize vegetable car races, again with no sign-up required, at the back of the Ag Hall on Thursday and Saturday at 12 noon.

“I provide a variety of vegetables which already have holes in them for the axle,” says Ms. Ogden.

The vegetables include corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, jicama, and daikon radishes, some of which work better than others. Ms. Ogden saw vegetable car races at the Bolton Fair in Lancaster a few years ago, and thought it would be fun to try at the Fair here.

“It’s free, informal, untimed racing,” she says. “We have three- and four-year-olds, and grandmother types.” The vegetables, wooden wheels, and carriage bolt axles are re-used, so, “you don’t get to walk off with your winning car.”

Back out towards the animal barn, the Fiber Tent houses sheep, alpacas, and goats. Exhibitors demonstrate how to spin, weave, and knit the animals’ wool into fabric. Glenn Jackson says that the people in the tent are there to answer questions. “Someone shows an interest, we’re going to spend time with them,” he says.

“All ages can try spinning yarn,” says Anna Marie D’Addarie, one of the exhibitors. “Children receive a one-of-a-kind hand-spun bracelet just for stopping by.” Check the daily schedule board at the tent for demonstrations of felting, weaving, sheep-shearing, and dying, as well as knitting and spinning competitions.

Last year, I had a hard time dragging my then-almost-two-year-old away from one fascinating activity: dropping gravel into a drain. Much of what’s special about the Fair isn’t unique to this long weekend event, but it’s amplified here. It’s one of those places where people gather, year after year. Children, like adults, can meet old friends and new under the trees around the picnic tables, and enjoy dancing to the live music on the stage. You don’t need a ride ticket for that.