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How to Rock Northwest Folklife Festival With Kids

From hip-hop to family dances to multicultural learning, our top Folklife picks and tips

Published on: May 23, 2017

Ana Montes
Tiny Folklife dancers. Photo credit: Christopher Nelson

If you go...

Where: Seattle Center,

When: Friday–Monday, May 26–29

Fee: Northwest Folklife does not charge, but suggests a donation of $10 per person, per day (or $20 for family/groups). (Please consider donating; only 12 percent of attendees donate to Folklife, according to this article.) 

Getting there: Find tips on parking and public transportation on Seattle Center's page.

Full program guideFestival map

If you can navigate the crowds without losing your kids or your cool, the Northwest Folklife Festival is one of Seattle's most amazing (and affordable) family events. Held every year over Memorial Day weekend, it features hundreds of performers from cultural communities around the Northwest, as well as buskers, dance performances, workshops and more, it's an opportunity to introduce your children to the world in the most accessible way possible: through music, art and dance. This year's cultural focus hits close to home: It's a celebration of Festal's 20th anniversary, Seattle Center's cultural festival series. 

Plus, there is a dedicated space just for families: The Discovery Zone (in the Next 50 Pavilion, near Artists at Play playground) boasts an ever-growing roster of activities and performances just for kids, including, this year, an exhibit of a Vedic village that showcases traditional Indian cultural life (complete with cows). 

See the full 2017 Folklife schedule to figure out your Folklife game plan (you can log in and bookmark your faves), but here are some top tips for this year's fest. (Thanks to Folklife programming staff for their recommendations.)

Toy boat building at Discovery Zone. Photo credit: Christopher Nelson

Home base: The Discovery Zone

Ground zero for families at Folklife with younger kids is the Discovery Zone, a fenced area in the Next 50 Pavilion that offers performances, hands-on activities and more kid fun. It will be open Friday–Monday, May 26–29, from 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

CowsSee the website for a full list of hands-on activities, but Discovery Zone highlights include special cultural workshops (in honor of Festal's 20th anniversary) such as lei making and paper flower making; as well as drawing workshops from Gage Academy of Art; toy boat building from the Center for Wooden Boats; instrument making with the School of Rock; a collaborative salmon eco-sculpture; and a full slate of performances

But the most exciting addition to the the Discovery Zone this year is an exhibit that brings a traditional Indian Vedic village to life: On Monday, May 29, kids can meet two special cows from the ISKCON Vedic Cultural Center, learn about the significance of cows to Indian culture and learn to balance a water jug on their heads. There will also be a “spice market” on hand where families can mix and match their own special blend of Indian spices to take home!

And if you need some chill time, the Discovery Zone also features a covered area with picnic tables where the whole family can recoup and plan the next stop.

Beyond the Discovery Zone: Program highlights around the Seattle Center for families

Folklife is by nature a family-friendly festival, but you can also filter the schedule to find the most family-friendly programs. Here are a few highlights.

Friday performances

Miss Charlotte and Tunes for Tots, 11–11:50 a.m., Discovery Zone Stage

All-ages barn dance with Sherry Nevins, 2 p.m., Armory

Creative Kidz Bollywood performance, 5 p.m., Discovery Zone Stage

Saturday performances

Cinderella in Spain,11 a.m., Cornish Playhouse

Storytelling from Anne Rutherford, 2–2:50 p.m., Discovery Zone Stage

Seattle Youth Poet Laureate, 2–2:45 p.m., Cornish Playhouse

Unleashed hip-hop crew, 4–4:30 p.m., Armory Loft 3

Folklife crowd
Northwest Folklife crowd. Photo credit: Christopher Nelson

Sunday performances

American Folksong Sing-along, 11 a.m., Armory Loft 4

Crankie Festival, 1–2 p.m., Center Theatre

Tales of Traditional Tales, 1–1:50 p.m,, Discovery Zone Stage

Children's Flamenco Dances, 3–3:50 p.m., Discovery Zone Stage

Monday performances

Pastor Pat and the Total Experience Gospel Choir, 1:15 p.m., The Mural Amphitheatre

Kindiependent Showcase, with Brian Vogan and his Good Buddies; Recess Monkey; The Not-Its! and Eli Rosenblatt, 11 a.m.–2 p.m., Fountain Lawn Stage

Rope jumping for fun and fitness, 2–2:50 p.m., Discovery Zone Stage

Artists at Play
Artists at Play playground, Seattle Center | Photo credit: Highwire

More fun at the Seattle Center

Seattle Center, of course, is packed with many more family-friendly opportunities to play, explore the arts and learn. Check out these articles for top tips on exploring Seattle Center. 

Seattle Center age-by-age guide

The Quiet Side of Seattle Center

Feat of Clay: 'Terracotta Warriors' at Pacific Science Center

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