Essential elements of a rockin' kids' party: moon bounce, popcorn, pizza, hot dogs, cookies, temporary tattoos, deejay, goody bags.

But where do you stage a party for 350 kids and their parents, who happen to be the guests of Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele and their families?

Howard Community College is happy to oblige.

What's being billed as a children's inaugural party at 11:30 a.m. Saturday is the kickoff event for a five-day celebration welcoming Maryland's first Republican governor in 34 years. It's the brainchild of Ehrlich's wife, Kendel, who as the mother of a 3-year-old boy wanted an event geared to kids.

"This administration feels very committed to reaching out to everybody," said Kathy Rensin, chairman of the event and vice chairman of HCC's fundraising foundation board. "It's a great way to start."

Kendel Ehrlich asked Rensin, whose husband, Howard, was the local finance chairman for Ehrlich's gubernatorial campaign, to find a big, accessible location for a celebration for kids 2 to 12. So Rensin called Missy Mattey, HCC's development director, who frequently helps organize special events. It was just days after HCC had held its fundraising gala in the $20 million instructional laboratory, which opens later this month.

The building's three-story foyer was the gala's prime partying spot, and it will go on display again for the children's event, Mattey said. The two-hour event is free but open only to those who registered online on a first-come, first-serve basis through yesterday.

Those attending will receive official inaugural credentials when they enter the door to partake in the high-energy hoopla. Famous children's characters will stroll among the throng, and volunteers will coax kids to participate in games and crafts and pick up an inaugural goody bag.

Robert and Kendel Ehrlich and Michael and Andrea Steele will read stories to kids, and in a display of democracy in action, ask them to vote for their favorite. The Steeles are expected to bring their sons, 11 and 14, to the event.

The party will culminate with a mock ceremony, with Robert Ehrlich and Michael Steele swearing in the children as citizens and leaders of their community. Ehrlich and Steele will themselves be sworn in to office Wednesday.

"It's a way of bringing it home to kids," Rensin said.

HCC is waiving its usual facility rental fee for the event, and college officials will refrain from talking shop with the governor-elect on the eve of one of the toughest budget-cutting sessions in Maryland history.

But they know it can't hurt to have certain partygoers looking around at the college's expansion.

"I think they'll be happy with the space," Mattey said, "and we'd like them out here looking at the space."