Sticky masses of people, greasy junk food, livestock, the midway … Going to the fair is fun and exciting and a hallmark of every summer — except this one. The 120-year-old Washington State Fair, usually held in September, is yet another coronavirus casualty.
But we’ve got several ideas for bringing some of the spirit of the fair home, minus the crowds.
Host an animal exhibition
The critters at the Farm at SillyVille are going to be missed: the mama sows with their piglets, the sheep, the llamas, the goats, the cows, all of it.
The fair is where 4-H kids and their animals really get to shine. At home, have your kids show off some animals, whether they’re stuffies or willing pets, if you’ve got them. The kids can clean and groom the animals, then explain how to take care of them. Hand out ribbons for “Best of Show.” If you want to sneak in some summer learning, have the kids look up facts about their animals to present. Really young kids can play with a stuffie petting zoo.
Take everyone out on a nature walk and look for wildlife together. Unlikely you’ll run into any draft horses or camels, but dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, squirrels and insects are all game. Bring along a clipboard and pencil to keep score if you’re counting points, or to let kids sketch what they observe.
Stage a fashion show
Another fun 4-H tradition is the sewing competition, where kids model clothes they’ve sewn themselves at a fashion show. Judges interview the contestants and assign points based on fashion, creativity, originality and appropriateness.
Stage your own fashion show with an on-the-spot contest. Pull out a bin of clothes (so the entire closet doesn’t get ransacked) for material to work with and encourage kids to be creative. Wrap a scarf around you as a skirt or wear leggings on your arms? Award ribbons for most unique, most useful, most creative, best construction and most elegant.
Set up carnival games
While it’d be tricky to build a roller coaster in your backyard, you can pull off fun carnival games using stuff from around the house. Optional: Buy a roll of raffle tickets at any party store to make the scoring more legit.
Don’t forget the all-important prize table, where players can cash in on their winnings. Just like at the real fair, the thrill is in winning, even if the prizes themselves are junky.
The tin-can pyramid: Gather enough cans to make a big pyramid. Knock them all over and win a prize. Tip: Beanbags are easier to use than chasing down balls. You can quickly make your own beanbags by filling crew socks with dried beans and knotting the end. Do you have a kid with a great arm? Rig the game by weighing down the cans with beans so they’re harder to topple (just tape over the open end).
The ladder shoot: Take a 6-foot ladder and assign points to each rung. Toss balls through the opening to score. For a challenge, try landing a beanbag on a ladder rung to score.
The fish bowl: At the carnival, you’re tossing pingpong balls into little fish bowls of real goldfish. We filled drinking glasses with plastic animals and trinkets instead (no fish were injured in our version). Lightweight plastic balls tend to bounce out, so let the kids have unlimited tries until they win a prize.
The duck pond: Fill your kiddie pool and dump in a load of floaty bath toys. Write numbers on the bottoms of the toys, then let the kids try to find matching pairs. For older kids, line up some rubber duckies, hand the kids water squirters and let them “race” their ducks across the pond.
The ball toss: If you’ve got an empty wine box with crisscross cardboard dividers inside or something similar, use a marker to label each section with points and toss a ball inside a slot to score.
Dance with the stars
The fair’s grandstand lineup always includes an eclectic mix of country, pop, oldies. Make a playlist of some of the big names who were scheduled to perform: Macklemore, Carrie Underwood, The Beach Boys, Darius Rucker. Host a dance-off, or have the kids put on their own live performance.
Craft a quilt design
You see a dazzling variety of patterns walking through the fair’s quilting exhibition. Do an online search for design inspiration and let your kids try making their own paper quilts. Younger kids can glue down lots of different patterned scraps for their own crazy quilt. Older kids can use triangles and squares cut from construction paper to make their own geometric designs.
Taste of the fair
Craving fair food? Hit the drive-thru at the Events Center (110 Ninth Ave. S.W.) in Puyallup every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in September, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pick up Krusty Dogs, elephant ears, cotton candy and more to go.
At home, it’s super easy to make the famous Fisher scones using a mix you can get at the grocery store. This is a recipe even the littlest kitchen helpers can make — all you have to do is add water. This year, you can also buy a scone-flavored ice cream (made by Whidbey Island Ice Cream) and a scone “experience kit,” which includes the jam and paper sleeves scones come in at the fair.
Eat it hot and fresh, topped with raspberry jam and butter, and dream about next year’s fair.