The executive director of the New Albany Symphony believes that exposing children to music and the arts does wonders for brain activity.

The organizers of Dublin's St. Patrick's Day Parade continually look for ways to make the event more family-friendly. This year the parade and its attending events take place on Saturday, March 12.

Drawing on the success of the balloon inflation pre-event for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, which attracts thousands to the parade launch site on the eve of that historic event, Dublin started its own "Inflation Celebration." Parade-goers are invited to gather at 9 a.m. March 12 at Graeter's Ice Cream on Frantz Road to watch Dublin's giant helium balloons take shape before the parade kicks off.

"They take a while to inflate, but it's really fun to watch them inflate from nothing on the ground to giant shapes," said Mary Jo DiSalvo, the city's event marketing administrator. "Children are mesmerized."

The city brings in balloon artists to make Irish-themed hats and props for children as they wait for the balloons to fill, added Trish Lackey, event administrator for the parade.

Families are encouraged to start the day at the annual pancake breakfast presented by the local Lions Club, a service organization. Highlights of the meal include shamrock-shaped pancakes served with green syrup.

The parade, which kicks off at 11 a.m., is designed to be entertaining, Lackey said. Parade-goers usually begin to set up chairs and claim spots around 10 a.m., she said.

The city carefully selects elements for the parade that children will enjoy, she said. They do not allow corporate floats, preferring to ask companies to sponsor parade entries - like a calliope or musical groups - with lots of kid appeal, Lackey said. The 90-minute parade always includes marching bands, equestrian groups and bagpipers.

"We take great pride in making it something that's very family-friendly," DiSalvo said.

To keep children safe, the city prohibits people in the parade from throwing candy, she added. Any giveaways must be approved by the city and are handed to children, she said.

After the parade, the city encourages visitors to check out local restaurants; many of them will feature Irish music or menu items, Lackey said.

"Dublin is a great place to celebrate St. Patrick's Day," she said.

-Melissa Kossler Dutton