COLUMBIA — Kristen Yu ran around the Douglass Park field with an Elmo kite clutched in her hands. Because she is a passionate fan of the Sesame Street character, many of Kristen's favorite things have Elmo on them. But, as she approaches her fourth birthday, she's rethinking that decision. Saturday, on the way to the park for a kite-flying event, Kristen told her mother that because she is getting older, she's shifting from Elmo to princesses.
Kristen did not let her Elmo kite cramp her style and joined a crowd of about 70 people flying kites. The annual kite-flying event, sponsored by the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, has gone on for more than 20 years. The department provides kites, today alone giving away 60, and hands out prizes for the largest flying kite, smallest flying kite and highest flier. Attendance was higher than average because of optimal weather, attracting regulars and beginners.
Kristen's father, ManSoo Yu, an assistant professor of social work at MU, tried to launch the kite into the sky again after it had fallen to the ground. His 1-year-old son, Jayden, toddled over, fascinated with the foreign object. Once Kristen saw her brother take interest in the kite, she ran over shouting, "I'm going to fly it!"
After a brief tussle, Jayden gave up in favor of playing with dirt.
In the meantime, Kristen and Jayden's mother, Young Hee Yu, was clicking away with her camera. It was the first time that the children had flown kites and Jayden was taking his first steps on grass.
"When I first saw the kites flying, it was a welcoming sight," Young Hee said. "It reminded me of home." She recently moved to Columbia and is originally from South Korea.
A kite was the award for the highest flier, which was given to the Patel family. It was the family's first time at the Columbia event, but hardly their first time handling a kite.
Ami Patel grew up in Gujarat, a state in India, which celebrates a kite festival each year on Jan. 14. She said her family would go on the rooftop and fly kites together. She started flying a kite when she was five, and at night, they would sometimes attach lanterns to kites and watch them float away, glowing in the sky.
"It's the first time for my son, so it's very special," Patel said, who attended with her husband and 2-year-old son, Krishang.
Whether or not their kites actually stayed in the sky, nobody stayed still for long.
"With so much concern about couch-potato kids, this is a thing that can get both kids and parents off that couch," said Bill Thompson, a recreation specialist with the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department and organizer of the event.
Kids and parents took turns teaching each other the ins and outs of kite flying and soaked up the April sun while they learned.
"The parents are having as much fun as the kids do," Thompson said. "It brings family closer together. This is the cheapest recreational activity in Columbia."