Families take a world trip at August's Family Fun Fest

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 | 10:28 p.m. CDT; updated 7:19 a.m. CDT, Thursday, August 21, 2014
The theme "Around the World" set the stage for an international focus at Family Fun Fest at Flat Branch Park on Wednesday.

COLUMBIA — Isaac Gianoli, 4, pointed to the children throwing a large blue ball resembling the Earth at the La Petite Ecole station and yelled "They're throwing the world!"

Chai Chunzi, 27, grabbed a brush at the MU Confucius Institute station and dipped it into some watered down paint on a plastic plate. She slid the brush over some red paper and drew the Chinese character for spring.

"On Spring Festival in China, you always paste [this] on the window and door to welcome friends to your home," Chunzi said as she was painting.

Eastyn Preston, 2, pointed at the blue and gray bounce house and said "Look at the robot!"

A world ball, a robot-shaped bounce house and a station on Chinese culture were a few of the many attractions at this month's "Around the World" themed Family Fun Fest, which took place Wednesday night at Flat Branch Park.

Family Fun Fest, a free event for families organized by Columbia Parks and Recreation, is held every third Wednesday from May to September. Each month features a different theme.

Cassie Dins, a recreation specialist for Columbia Parks and Recreation, said this month's "Around the World" theme was designed to introduce the community to different cultural experiences.

"We have a very diverse city, a lot of different cultures represented," Dins said. "It is always fun to show kids and families all of the international presence in Columbia and show kids something new."

Forty minutes before the event, the temperature had reached about 92 degrees. Most of the attractions were set up in the shadow of the park, giving a slight breeze. A large blue inflatable archway from Columbia Parks and Recreation displayed a white sign hanging from the top that said "Welcome to the Family Fun Fest."

Diyun Sheng, a Chinese language teacher at Rock Bridge High School and member of the Confucius Institute, said it was the first time the institute had been invited to the Fun Fest.

"I think it is a good scene," Sheng said. "The people here need global views so this is a very good window for local people to immerse into global culture."

At least 300 people were present on the warm but breezy evening. Attractions included face painting, balloon twisters, a henna station from the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, a large inflatable slide, and a blue and gray bounce house resembling a robot. Other educational stations were hosted by groups in Columbia, including the Good Shepherd Lutheran School, PeaceWorks and La Petite Ecole, a French immersion school.

At the beginning of the event, rhythmic beating of African drums played by Kunama Mtendaji attracted many spectators. Mtendaji began his session by singing "Family day, it's a fun day, on a Wednesday." Other musical guests included Ehren Oncken, who played the German accordion, and Friends of China, who exhibited some traditional Chinese dancing.

While Isaac was playing with the blue ball, his parents Della and Mark Gianoli described how they had been to many Fun Fests.

"We enjoy the time with our family," Della Gianoli said. "They (the Gianoli kids) like the bounce house, they like to jump around and enjoy the music and activities."

For Erica Haller and her children Sabrina, 4, and Kevin, 2, this was their second visit to the Fun Fest.

"It's fun for the kids," Haller said. "There's lots for the kids to do and it's free."

The next Family Fun Fest, themed "Creative Kids," will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 17 at Flat Branch Park.

Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.

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