Portland Children's Museum lets kids in on New Year's revelries

Dec. 31—PORTLAND — Traditionally celebrated with adult beverages on a grown-up timeline, New Year's Eve isn't the calendar's most family-friendly holiday.

So to accommodate area tots who won't make it to midnight, the Children's Museum and Theater of Maine on Saturday threw its annual New Year's Eve party for young kids and their families.

The event drew hundreds, as many as 1,000 people over the course of the day. They packed into Maddy's Theater on the first floor for the scheduled sea star drops (a paper mache star fish roughly the size of a tall 8-year-old) at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon, while attractions like the museum's aquarium exhibit upstairs, sea star wand-making sessions, shark teeth activities and a snack shack featuring ice cream sandwiches from major sponsor HP Hood held their attention for the rest of their visit.

"It's hard to celebrate New Year's with little ones, when it's past their bedtime," said Lily Gilbert, director of visitor engagement at the venue. "But the theme of starting something new and getting excited for the new year really gets families energized, so people come out for this event in waves."

While the Children's Museum and Theater of Maine has been hosting this New Year's event for decades (so long, in fact, that staffers weren't quite sure exactly when the tradition started), this is their first beach theme for the party. "We figured we could use a little summer warmth in the middle of winter this year," said Gilbert.

"Moving to this location has allowed us to expand our program offerings and to expand events like this as well," said Director of Communications and Marketing Shultzie Willows, noting that the 30,000-square-foot venue at Thompson's Point is roughly twice the size of the Free Street digs it left behind in 2021.

Children's Museum and Theater Deputy Director Lucia Stancioff said the kids were enjoying making educational connections, like visiting the sea stars in the museum's aquarium, then crafting their own sea star wands and finally counting down in the theater as they watched the big sea star drop.

"Kids light up no matter what when they come here to play," she said.

In the theater, little ones sat on their parents' laps, bobbing with excitement as the giant sea star, wrapped in shimmering strings of white lights, descended from the theater ceiling. The kids held their fingers in the air as they gleefully counted down from 10.

Theater staffers Allison McCall and Nathan Lapointe instructed the assembled children to think of a way they can be "nice and kind" in the coming year, and to whisper their plan to a parent.

Asked what resolution she'd settled on, Charlotte Davenport, 9, of Old Orchard Beach, said, "I'm going to be kind to my fellow students and make new friends."

Monica Ibrahim, 3, of Ashland, Massachusetts, was reluctant to disclose her plans, but her parents said she told them she'll give people more hugs and share with her sister.

Sibling love may well be on the rise in 2023. "I'll be nice to my brother," said Leah Karpman, 10, of Cumberland, while her 3-year-old brother, Noah, vowed to reciprocate.

Meanwhile, Keila Kabata, 5, of Lisbon, said she intends to be more cooperative in the new year, no matter what. "I'm going to listen to my teachers, my friends and my Mom and Dad," she said. "Even when they ask me to go brush my teeth in the morning."