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All's fair at the fair

I got a sneak preview of the county fair last weekend when I dropped off my kids’ science fair exhibits. The faces of the people working to ready the exhibits, food stands, performance areas, and everything else that makes up this yearly event were glowing with excitement and promise. It was a happy, well-directed chaos.

We got to visit the fair in full swing on Wednesday with my son’s class. I have to admit to being a big county fair fan. When I was a child, the fair was an event of greater importance to kids, because we didn’t have a Boardwalk, Aquarium, amusement parks, and all those other things that our kids take for granted. In the small town where I grew up, we had the woods, skating, bike riding, and rope swings! In fact, the tallest building in our town was, I think, three stories. I believe there were only a few elevators in the whole town. (Aside from the grain elevator, that is!)

So for us, the fair was a fantastic thing. I don’t really remember the animals, the agriculture, or any of the stuff that the fair was really about. I remember the ferris wheel, which took me higher than anything else in town. (We didn’t even have much in the way of hills!) So it was truly exciting to go up on the ferris wheel, then spin around in the teacups till we were sick.

Fast forward and turn everything backwards: I pretty much like everything at the Santa Cruz County Fair except the rides! And thus, I love the fair’s education days: they take place before the rides open at 1.

For this year’s education day, I took my daughter and chaperoned my son’s class. The class met at the entrance and split into three groups. The only three remaining girls in his class came with us, which was thrilling for my daughter, who loves to hang with the big girls. (His class lost three girls this year to the economy, which private schools are no more immune to than public schools, though in a different way.) My son and his bosom buddy were the boys to round out our group.

We started with the livestock. I was successful in making it a “learning experience” by having the kids ask a boy holding a chicken what the difference was between cock, hen, cockerel and pullet. He very kindly and patiently explained that cockerels are males younger than a year; pullets are hens younger than a year.

So much for “learning” — the rest of the time we just had fun. One of the girls didn’t care for pigs and cows, so her friends led her past the stalls while she kept her eyes closed. We all got to rub goats’ heads and marvel at the babies of every breed.

Next we went to the “cultural” attractions: the miniature railroad that they set up every year and that never fails to grab the attention of the kids, a building full of optical illusions and fun physics experiments. We were supposed to get to the museum in that time, too, but the kids went in one end of the model railroad building and took a very long time getting to the other end.

Finally we had a half an hour to do the entire other half of the fair. This is the part that I really love at this point in my life: the art, horticulture, hobbies, collections, and homemaking arts of all of our local friends. Many of the people whose names we read were actual friends. I was amazed at how many of our friends entered something – homeschooling and charter school friends, artists we know, moms and dads who do some wonderful thing just for the love of it. The unfamiliar names felt like friends – they are our fellow practitioners of the art of life on this wonderful coast.

The county fair is another one of those events where I feel I should just black out my calendar for days in order to enjoy it to its fullest. My kids and I stayed on for another couple of hours after education morning ended, but we still hadn’t had enough. We never made it into Yesterday’s Farm, one of my favorite areas of the fair. But our lives are too scheduled up to visit again.

So on Monday I’ll return to pick up my kids’ science fair exhibits and I’ll see the dismantling of what I saw being built last weekend. I’m guessing the faces will be tired, the packing up will perhaps be less directed and a bit more frenzied than the setting up was. But the thing about a fair is that all the hard work creates something. And while dismantling this year’s fair, I’m guessing many of the people will be looking ahead to next year. I certainly am. Look for our work in the vegetable animals display!

Posted in Education.

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