If you've never taken your kids bowling you are missing out on a golden nugget of family fun every parent should have in their back pocket. Rainy day cabin fever? Go bowling. Playdate with that kid that leaves a wake of chaos in his path, able to destroy a playroom in a single bound? Go bowling. Birthday party with ten boys under the age of, well, any age really — take them bowling.
It does not matter if you're "not the bowling type." Anyone with kids that need to blow off steam with some full-body play and a bit of structure to keep it focused, is the bowling type. Anyone who loves beer while enduring, I mean engaging, in this kind of activity with their kids, is the bowling type.
How to do it
Bowling is a classic easy-to-learn-hard-to-master type of game. It's pretty simple — put on the fugly shoes, find a ball you can lift and get your fingers into, pick an alias for the score board (my nine year old goes by "Slick" every time, the rest of us mix it up) and you're ready to go.
When to start: Kids can start bowling as early as three years old, as soon as they are old enough to heft the lightest ball — they usually start at 6 lbs. Ask at the front counter if you can't find one near your lane, the staff can usually spot them easier than you can.
Bumpers and ball ramps: For little ones, you can ask to use the ball ramp — a metal frame the kids can use to launch the ball. The policy varies from place to place — some reserve the ramps for special needs patrons (they were designed to be used by wheelchair users.) The ramps are always first come, first served and subject to availability. And you will want to ask for a bumper-friendly lane, meaning that balls will not go in the gutters.
Form: Form isn't important for the little ones, many will use the squat and push method at first, but as they get more comfortable they try to bowl like the grown-ups. It takes some practice to walk up to the lane, swing, release and not tangle your legs up. I'm still working on it. The only other advice I have, being "not the bowling type," is aim for just off center of the front pin, don't step over the line, and if there is a serious bowler next to you, wait until he completes his release before you chuck your ball down the lane. Oh yeah, and it's okay to use the bumpers, in fact, I encourage it.
Life lessons: There are lessons aplenty whenever you engage in any kind of structured game and it's no different for bowling. Kids have to wait for their turn, but the turns are fairly short, keeping that attention focused. There is some math involved, even for the little ones -- it's a perfect opportunity to practice those 1-10 math facts.
Everybody wins: In my experience the game gets the competitive juices flowing, but in a healthy way. Although you play against each other, or divvy up into teams, the emphasis is on beating your own score and there is a lot of encouragement of fellow players -- everybody celebrates when someone gets a strike.
You don't even have to knock down all ten pins to get a sense of accomplishment. At a family party years ago, my then 6-year-old cousin heaved a ball down the lane and it took a painfully slow meandering towards the pins, bouncing every so often off the bumpers until it finally reached the end in a nail-biting finale. When it grazed the corner it knocked over two pins and we all went crazy. She turned to the crowd, threw her arms in the air and proclaimed "I AM AWESOME AT THIS!" And so she was.
Where to do it
Most alleys have league nights during the week, meaning that lanes will get crowded. You may want to avoid that time slot and opt for days and weekends instead. Many bowling alleys have specials on Sundays, a great time for family bowling. In either case, call your local alley and reserve a lane -- be sure to mention you will have kids in tow so they can put you on a bumper-friendly lane.
West Seattle Bowl
4505 39th Avenue Southwest, Seattle, 206-932-3731
League nights Monday-Friday
Specials: Saturdays 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Breakfast and Bowl -- get 3 free games with the purchase of a breakfast entree. Happy Hour weekdays from 3-6 p.m. Family Fun Pack available Sundays -- 2 hours of bowling, shoe rental for up to 6 people and a pitcher of soda for $45 plus shoe rental. Can be reserved on the hour or half hour.
Kid amenities: Bumpers, ball ramp, and kids' birthday packages with pizza, soda and shoe rental included.
2823 SW Roxbury St, Seattle, 206-935-7400
League nights are not an issue.
Kids Bowl Free participant
Specials: Sunday is Family Day with $1.50 games
Kid amenities: Bumpers available on all lanes but ask for lanes 1-6 -- they are more forgiving of those super slow rollers. They offer kid birthday parties. Avoid going on Friday and Saturday evenings for Rock and Bowl, it's loud and geared toward adults.
AMF Imperial Lanes
AMF Imperial Lanes 2101 – 22nd Avenue South, Seattle 206-325-2525
League night almost every night, call for lane availability.
Specials: $10 All You Can Bowl all day, weekdays, before 5 p.m.
Kid amenities: Bumpers, ball ramps and birthday party packages.
North of Seattle
1430 NW Richmond Beach Road, Shoreline, 206-533-2345
League night Thurs
Kid amenities: Bumpers, ball ramp and 4 and 5lb. balls with 5 finger holes--great for little grips! Try their 10 week Learn to Bowl program for ages 8-12. The next session starts January 19th, Saturdays 9-11 a.m. $15 includes shoe rental, three games and instruction. Kids Bowl Free participant.
Specials: Tuesday is $2 game day
Lynnwood Bowl and Skate
6210 200th Street SW, Lynnwood 425-778-3133
League night is not an issue
Kid amenities: A skating rink and the Asteroid Climb make this one of the most fun alleys around--a real kid haven. Bumpers, ball ramps and kids' party packages.
5111 Claremont Way, Everett, 425-259-7206
Kids Bowl Free participant
League night every night, most day times too. Saturday afternoon is the best family time, but call for availability.
Specials: Glow bowling Saturday from 2-4 p.m.
Kid amenities: Birthday parties and bumpers.
9630 Evergreen Way, Everett, 425-353-8292
Kids Bowl Free participant
League nights Monday-Friday (no open lanes)
Specials: Open bowling weekdays only $1.75 per game. They also have coupons on their website.
Kid amenities: Birthday parties, bumpers and ball ramp. They are always family-friendly, so their Rock-n-Bowl on Friday and Saturday nights from 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. is appropriate for teens.
13033 NE 70th Place, Kirkland 425-827-0785
Kid amenities: A family-friendly Cosmic X-bowl on Friday and Saturday from 9:30-11:30 p.m. It's loud and "high energy" with a DJ, music videos and a smoke machine so it's best for teens. They also offer kids' party packages.
Lucky Strike Lanes
700 Bellevue Way NE Suite, Bellevue 250 425-453-5137
League night is not an issue and walk-ins are welcome, but they sometimes book private parties so it's best to call ahead.
Kid amenities: Birthday party packages, bumpers and ball ramp. This alley is kid-friendly until 8 p.m. and becomes more night-life-y after that. Lucky Strike has unusually good food for a bowling alley and features gluten-free and vegan options.
100 Andover Park W, Tukwila Phone: 206-340-2263
League nights are Monday and Wednesday
Weekly specials: Twisted Tuesday $2 games and $3 shoe rental, Saturday and Sunday from 9-11 a.m. $2 games and the BreakRoom Bar and Restaurant serves breakfast in addition to the regular menu.
Kid amenities include bumpers and ball ramp.
2825 Martin Way East, Olympia, 360-357-8808
Kids Bowl Free participant
League night every night
Kid amenities: Bumpers. The ball ramp is reserved for wheelchair users only.
Keep on rolling
Bowling teams: If your kid takes to bowling like a polished ball to waxed wood, you may want to encourage it. There are numerous bowling scholarships to help out with college tuition and youth leagues are a great opportunity to enhance socialization and sportsmanship as well as one more way to keep junior active. To get more serious about the sport you can check out the USBC, the United States Bowling Congress, for all things bowl-related. For a full list of bowling alleys in the greater Seattle area check out their local chapter at seattlebowling.org.
Kids Bowl Free: While it's a great option for the drizzly Northwest spring, winter and fall, don't rule it out during the summer months. Kids Bowl Free is a national summer program a few of our local alleys participate in--you sign your kids up and get two free games, per kid, every day, all summer long. Yes, really, for free. The program also sponsored the Bowling for Teachers program in 2012 and gave $100,000 in scholarships to teachers for classroom supplies. You can sign up online or check it out at the participating alley nearest you.
About the author: Although not the bowling type, Emily Metcalfe Smith enjoys taking her kids to Robin Hood Lanes in Edmonds, WA and wants to send a shout out commemorating their over-50 years in the Edmonds community. You will be missed.