Every fall in Seattle geeks converge on the Washington Convention Center for Geek Girl Con. This year I attended with my four year olds and their grandma. The convention proved to be a great experience for all three generations of our family, and I recommend it for yours.
The Gaming Area:
I was skeptical about whether there would be enough games for young children, but the age range for games was huge: from toddler to adult. I could easily check out games using a bar code on my badge, and only one of the several games we tried had missing pieces (but my kids just made things up, so it all worked out). The tables sat in long rows with signs indicating games or categories for each area. This made for a fun, sociable but organized environment.
This roped off area had several tables with science activities and experiments: solar system bracelets, constellation marshmallows, slime, Mars dust, glaciers, and disaster proof towers. This section attracted mostly kids, but was clearly fun for adults too. My kids loved interacting with the people running the activities because they were passionate about the science topics my children love.
Right next to the noise, crowds and chaos of the DIY Science area and registration, was a quiet room called “Introvert Alley.” Apparently, “Gloriously Silent Escape Room” was too much of a mouthful. The room was silent with a few people looking at their phones or looking down, and made for a welcome respite from the chaos outside. No one made eye contact with us or each other the entire time we were there, and no one spoke. It was perfect.
Speaking of Inclusive and Welcoming:
One of my sons sees beauty in bright colors and loves pinks and purples, twirling skirts and tutus. He often gets questions and comments about his “girl clothes.” Geek Girl Con was a welcome respite from all that gender norming. He wore his favorite tutu on the first day, and blended in immediately with the colorful tide of people. On the second day, when he was in costume and clearly wanted to be noticed, people talked to him about his costume and the superhero he was portraying. It was nice to see him blend when he wanted to do so, and be noticed when he wanted to do so.
Also, when my kids dressed up as their favorite superheroes, several adults stopped to take their picture and engage them in conversation. They asked permission before doing so every single time. They were following one of the rules in place that ensure safety and respect are commonplace, which made me much more comfortable about having my children there.
Other elements that made this welcoming for families included wide age ranges for workshops and games, badges and swag bags just for kids, and exhibits that spanned a huge range of interests and age levels. Furthermore, the con has a clear rule banning brandishing, pointing or aiming weapons, which meant parents didn’t have to worry that some asshole scaring their kid for laughs.
Families of young children will appreciate the large, private breast feeding room and the chairs and couches scattered throughout that make a good place to rest for those whose bodies need it, and as a quiet and calm space for those whose brains need it.
Workshops and Exhibition Hall:
There were fun workshops for kids as young as kindergarten (with lots of adult help), and many workshops more suited to adults. The exhibit hall was full and family friendly. The English geek in me fell in love with a beautiful Jane Austin app from Minerva Interactive, and my kids liked Geeks Out, Harry Potter Alliance, the Vote Bot from the Washington Bus Education Fund, the Museum of Flight, and Living Computers Museum + Labs.
It is expensive:
Between admission, hotels, parking, eating, and costumes, this can get costly. But, Groupon’s has adult admission at a 50% discount. The Groupon single tickets and single day 2-person tickets disappear quickly, so keep an eye out about three months before the convention.
Parking is expensive in Seattle, like any large city. Keep in mind when planning that Seattle’s parking website prices can be confusing since the site doesn’t always indicate if special event parking is in effect (which about double normal prices). The convention center garage exits directly into one of the convention center buildings, but costs $14 for 6 hours, or $28-$30 for 24 hours.
If you want to avoid parking costs, there is a light rail, several buses, and ferries from across Puget Sound that arrive at Coleman Docks hourly. The dock is less than a mile from the Washington State Convention center but it’s all uphill (don’t say you weren’t forewarned).
It can be loud:
The DIY Science area was right next to registration, and between the hordes of children DIY Science and the throngs of people at the registration desks on Saturday, the room was noisy and chaotic enough be impossible for anyone with sensory challenges. So, if noise and chaos are a problem, I suggest tackling the DIY area on Sunday instead.
It was obvious from the start that the planners of this convention were serious about creating safe quiet spaces for people, which really does make the noise a non-problem. We used Introvert Alley twice to avert meltdowns, and it worked well. The nooks and crannies of the lobbies were also surprisingly private and quiet escapes from noise and people.
In the afternoon on Saturday, the gaming room was surprisingly quiet and only 1/3 full. The tables had skirts that hung to the floor (where more than a few sensory sensitive kids took refuge). For those able to handle some noise, but not the constant interaction and volume of the DIY science area, this is perfect.
The panel discussions were not age appropriate for elementary or younger, but they tackle such a wide array of fascinating topics that I would do my absolute best to attend your favorites. One way to do this would be to bring another adult with you. This would allow one adult to attend panel discussions or adult workshops while the other hung out with the kids (then swap).
All in all, this con is a great for even the youngest geek.