A Folklife Festival Guide for Kids

Bringing the kids to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this weekend? We have compiled a guide of suggested activities, performances, and foods to try, a youth-oriented introduction to the traditional cultures of Kenya and China!

Pick up a Festival guidebook at an information booth at the east end of the Festival (Madison and Seventh Street NW), then head east, starting with Kenya: Mambo Poa:

Photo by Hillary Cleary

1. Climbing in the Huts

Kenyan craftspeople are building a few kinds of huts on the National Mall, all open for climbing inside. There’s a thatched hut in front of Living and Working with Wildlife, a glass hut made of beer bottles and bottle caps, and the Pokomo hut from branches and grasses straight from Kenya.

Photo by Sandy Wang2. KENYA PHOTO OP: Flip-Flop Giraffes

In the Art of Recycling tent, take a photo with the eight-foot giraffe made by the artists at Ocean Sole, who collect rubber flip-flops on Kenya’s beaches and carve them into beautiful, colorful animal sculptures.

Photo by Kate Mankowski3. Recycling Games

Next door in the Tuchezeni! Let’s Play! family activities tent, kids can color animal designs, create their own mancala boards out of egg cartons, and craft planter boxes out of plastic water bottles—take it home and let it grow!

Photo by Hermine Dreyfuss4. Henna and Hair Braiding

In Kenya’s Adornment Arts tent, get your hands henna tattooed or get your hair braided by the masters, but be prepared to wait in a line.

Photo by Elisa Hough5. Song and Story Lunchtime

If you’re ready for lunch, grab some samosas from either Spice Routes Cafe or Choma Grill and have a picnic at the shaded Karibuni stage. Presentations here include storytelling sessions, traditional instrument demonstrations, and dance workshops. Kids dig the sing-alongs!

On to China: Tradition and the Art of Living:

Milk carton lanterns6. Family Style Crafts and Games

The Family Style tent is designed just for kids, with a variety of hands-on activities based on China’s seasonal festivals. Make milk carton lanterns for Lantern Festival, paper kites of Qing Ming, scented sachets for Dragon Boat Festival, and play dough moon cakes for Mid-Autumn Festival.

Photo by Sandy Wang

7. People’s Park 

Hang out around the bamboo walkway of People’s Park long enough, and you’ll get to play badminton and shuttlecock (like hacky-sack but makes a jangly noise!), practice tai chi, and learn Flower Drum Song moves.

 Photo by Flickr user Victoria Pickering

8. Dragon-Lions Come to Life

The Dragon-Lion Cart is stationary most of the day, but when the Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe takes the reins, the marionette monsters spring to life. It’s noisy, a bit absurd, and completely captivating. Make sure to get a front-row seat, and you might get a dragon-lion in your lap! (Saturday, 2:45 p.m.; Sunday, 1:45, 3:45 p.m.)

Photo by Sandy Wang

9. CHINA PHOTO OP: Tian Tian Statue

On the west end of the Festival, a 10-foot figure of a young boy named Tian Tian points at the bamboo flower plaque. With the Washington Monument on one side and the colorful flower plaque on the other, you can’t go wrong with photos.

Photo by Kate Mankowski

10. Dance and Dessert

Pick up a mango coconut dessert from Chi Fan Le! Let’s Eat! and catch a performance in the Moonrise Pavilion: marionette dances by the Quanzhou Puppet Troupe (Saturday, 2 p.m.), perplexing face-changer, snake, and dragon dances by the Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe (Saturday, 4 p.m.) or singers mimicking cicadas and other insects in the Dimen Dong Folk Chorus (Sunday, 5 p.m.).

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival has always encouraged participation between our artists and audience, including our youngest visitors. So bring the whole family to the National Mall and enjoy a day of exploring and creating!

See the full schedule online.

Elisa Hough is the editor for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, but watching the Dragon-Lion Cart makes her feel like a kid again.