Tag Archives: stuff to do with your baby hill3r

Make Some Noise: Your Last-Minute Guide to Kids’ Music Classes on the Hill

11 Sep

I can’t even exaggerate the number of times I’m asked “What is there to do with my kiddo in Chestnut Hill?” Really – it’s like you have a baby and, unless you have a ton of friends with kids who’ve already figured it out, you’re kind of on your own.

Well, let me introduce you to one idea: music classes. [Of course, I use the term “class” loosely. Certainly kids learn a ton by being around other little dudes, listening and looking and playing – but it’s not like they’re actually learning to play an instrument or anything!]

If you’re just starting to think about signing up for a music class – you’d better get your tush in gear, lady! They’re all about to start!

So the first step is figuring out which class to attend – which is tough – because a general Google search for these kinds of things doesn’t really give you a good idea of what’s out there. It seems that, in these parts, most of the intel out there for the taking is exchanged in line at Starbucks, over a board book at the library, or between parked strollers at the ATM. Rather that accosting some stranger you assume to be a parent because they have a sticker stuck to their back, read on!

First – an admission: I am totally biased. I’ve tried the 3 available classes right on the Hill and I have a clear favorite. Second – I am not you! I’ll tell you what’s awesome and not so awesome about each class so you can decide for yourself.

Third – the lay of the land: There are really 3 places that offer music classes for our little ones – Makin’ Music, The Little Treehouse, and The Music Class. All of them have family options that let you bring your whole brood to a single class at a discounted rate. In general, you can expect sort of the same structure for all of the classes – there will be a little bit of guitar playing, some dancing with scarves, lots of singing and banging on things, free play with little instruments, a little lullaby, and general tom foolery. All of the music is awful, but you get used to it! But it’s the subtleties that make each class so dramatically different from one another. Your personality and what’s comfortable for your tiny one are the big factors in this decision.

Here’s a little chart of the basics, followed by my experiences with each:
[lick to enlarge]


Makin’ Music:
This is the very first class we tried, back when my little guy was just 4 or 5 months old.  It’s taught by Mickey Leone, who I think is the only male who runs kiddie music classes like these in the area. Classes meet in the front room of the Grace Lutheran Church on Willow Grove Avenue. It’s a totally fine space. It’s on the first floor, pretty vanilla. Mickey is a great guitar player and fun for the kids to watch. Plus, I think it’s cool for them to see a man leading the class – Babyland is such a female-dominated planet, right? Mickey’s classes are generally very small. I don’t think our class ever had more than 5 other kids in it. And Mickey’s style is interesting. He’s a great performer, but I wasn’t really excited about how he interacted with the kids. Don’t get me wrong – he does a great job – but, you know how there’s always one totally annoying bigger kid who interrupts and wants to give away the answers before the little ones have time to even absorb the question? Well, it’s obvious to me that Mickey is annoyed by these little buggers, too. There’s almost an element of discipline in the way he handles disruptions. It’s just a different way of running the show: he manages the kids’ behavior himself, rather than relying on the parents to take care of it. And, honestly, that is probably appropriate for the general feeling of the class. I didn’t feel free to talk to the other parents or really participate. It felt more like I was there to watch Mickey and the kids do their thing. If you’re looking for a break from participation and for the teacher to really take the lead there, this is the class for you. I will say, though, that some “semesters,” Mickey offer a class out of a church on Chestnut Hill Avenue, and that space is terrible – totally uncomfortable – so stick with Grace Lutheran on Willow Grove.

The Little Treehouse:
I should be up-front and tell you that my experience at the Treehouse was not. good. My problems were eventually rectified, but I’m not sure I’d go back. Here’s the deal: the Treehouse is such a bright, engaging, clean space! I was really excited to participate in the first flight if music classes they held there! It’s so conveniently located and they offer a crazy schedule of music classes – they have some kind of music class every week day – and you choose which class to attend based on the age of your little one. Before class, you’re encouraged to play in the space upstairs – hooray!!! The classes are held in their newly finished basement space, which is really pretty and clean. The woman who leads the class is really loud and bold and silly – she plays a lot of guitar and encourages a good raucous down there!

My issues are many – and some of them may have been rectified, but I don’t know. First, we were asked to wait upstairs in the play area until all of the kids for each class had arrived. Then, we were all marched downstairs, single-file, into the basement. I understand that works best for them, but asking preggers try to carry diaper bags, wrangle their babies, and walk down the stairs fast enough to stay with the group seemed a bit insensitive. Let people get there early and make it down to the basement in their own time. Second, the class size was ENORMOUS. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the room wasn’t so closed off. It’s a beautiful space, but it has no windows – it’s very closed in. So the loud and raucous music lady, her guitar, a ton of kids, and lots of clanging instruments was more than a little overwhelming for my little man and me. Third, I don’t think the room is climate controlled. We were SWEATING. Fourth – I take a lot of issue with the hospitality of the Treehouse to its customer base, in general. One mother was publicly scolded for bringing in goldfish or something else equally benign – the Treehouse, you see, has a cafe, and you’re expected to buy their snacks. Which is even more infuriating because – fifth – this class is $20-$30 more expensive than the other two, but follows the same exact format under less friendly conditions. AND you have to pay an extra $11 on top of that for a CD and songbook that comes free with other classes’ “tuition.” The conditions of this class just didn’t work for us – and, when I tried to get a refund, the Treehouse staff was rude, telling me that “Everyone’s trying to cancel. You took someone else’s spot and now you don’t want it. We’re not giving any refunds.” Finally, I was told that the owner would be calling me, but that never happened. After 3 emails and another phone call – with no response – I approached a manager who refunded me without any problem and was really nice about it. I’m not sure what their deal is there, but I continue to hear nightmare stories about how people are treated at a place that seems like it would have a knack for and special interest in interacting with parental-types. Oh – and their cafe food sucks.

The Music Class: This is the class we settled on and have attended for about a year now – whoa. I just realized it’s been about a year! Yikes! The class is taught by Katie Drake [who my guy and I call Katie-Katie-Music-Lady] and is run out of the United Methodist Church on Germantown Avenue, across from Chestnut Hill Hospital. The space is an above ground basement with plenty of windows and light, and I am pretty sure it’s only used for her music class. She has that brightly-colored foam puzzle piece floor covering down and the room is a nice size. The music is pretty much the same as in the other classes and the format is pretty similar, too. The big difference is Katie. She’s a professional singer who fronts a band here in Philly. She has two elementary school-aged girls who have grown up in this neighborhood – she’s a part of this community. And how do I know so much about her? Because she is welcoming and inclusive and a real part of the class. She engages every child and every parent. She is the only teacher of any kind class we’ve ever taken who I absolutely know remembers my little boy’s name, his favorite songs from class, and generally shows interest in his life. She very clearly loves what she does. She teaches the parents about music and about how music affects our kids’ development. She acknowledges how ridiculous some of the stuff we do in the class is and creates an environment where the kids and parents can interact with each other, play, and not feel stupid acting, well…stupid. She reigns over the class – but in a sweet and positive and effective way.

The Music Class, as a company, really helps here, too. They are so organized! Their website is fantastic – well, it’s ugly, but it’s a great tool! You can sign up for the class online, schedule make-up classes for ones you miss, and even download the CD straight to your iPod. What’s really nice is that you can attend a trial class for free – so, if you hate it, you’re not committed and don’t have to go through the hassle of trying to get a refund. You simply go to the website and get a numerical code to give Katie when you get there – and you’re in for your free class! Also nice, there is a class-size limit, so you’re never in a situation where it’s too loud or too crowded for your comfort.

Two other things I love about this class – scheduling our lives is sometimes rough – The Music Class let’s you sign up for a 4 week session OR a 10 week session. Great, right? And, even better for my little man, we walk to the Friday 9:30am class and head straight across the street to the library for story time at 10:30 right afterward – nice little morning!***

So, clearly, I love The Music Class, am not so into The Little Treehouse, and am fine with Makin’ Music. I’m so interested to know what others’ experiences have been with these same classes – so pipe up!

***UPDATE: As of October 4, 2010, the Chestnut Hill Library will be closed on Fridays, so story time will only be held on Thursdays at 10:30am. (according to the Chestnut Hill Library Children’s Department Facebook page)

the payacomo is the place to be.

11 Jul

Looking for something AWESOME to do with your kids? Then it’s your lucky day.

EVERY single day of the week, at 9:45am, the Fels Planetarium at The Franklin Institute runs a Sesame Street-themed show called One World, One Sky – featuring Big Bird, Elmo, and a character named Hu Hu Zhu from China’s version of Sesame Street.

The show’s makers got the timing just right, keeping the length to 20 minutes – and they added all kinds of really thoughtful touches that make this show perfect for even the littlest kids. For example, rather than starting off in the pitch-black, the show opens at dusk on Sesame Street, and all of the characters watch the sun set and the stars come out together. It’s a really nice and carefully thought out transition into darkness that makes night time  cool and un-scary. Honestly, watching my little dude watch this show might be my favorite thing ever.

The website says the show is appropriate for 4 – 6 year olds, but I really think much younger kids will completely enjoy it. I’ve gotta say – my 18 month old has never even seen Sesame Street and he is OB. SESSED. with it. He’s seen One World, One Sky three times and it’s ALL he talks about. In fact, we went on a vacation last week and he saw all kinds of new things and played with a zillion new kids – but the only thing he wanted to talk about FOR EIGHT DAYS was:

“Pay-a-como. Biggg-ah-bud. Hi, Elmo! Hi, Moon! Hu Hu Zhu! Hu Hu Zhu! Pay-a-como! Haaahht. Boom-boom, boom-boom!”

Translation: “I went to the planetarium [pay-a-como] and saw Big Bird. I waved to Elmo on the moon! And I saw Hu Hu Zhu at the planetarium, too! Aaaand I walked through the Franklin Institute’s giant heart. The heart makes this sound: [beats on chest] boom-boom, boom-boom!”

We have a FamilyMAX membership at The Franklin. We took my parents and the baby there last year and, for a little bit more than the cost of 4 general admission tickets, we were able to get a membership that entitles us to free admission for us and 2 guests for a year + some IMAX tickets and a bunch of other perks like reciprocity at science museums all over the country. So we see the planetarium shows for free. If you don’t have a membership, as far as I know, you have to buy a for $15.50, which gets you into the planetarium. Kids under 4 get in for free. You can buy tickets in advance online, which is probably a good idea, just because, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be running late and the show starts RIGHT at 9:45am – and they lock the doors once it’s started.

But Tea Baggers beware: that evil communist propaganda artist Hu Hu Zhu may teach your progeny a little Mandarin. And we all know that’s from the devil.

***UPDATE (6/7/11): One World, One Sky isn’t playing at The Franklin anymore. We found this out the hard way. Sigh***

“hiiiiiii, story lady!”

28 May

I spend a lot of time out and about, pushing a stroller. And so I talk to strangers a lot. “Why would you do that?” you ask. “Don’t be creepy.” Because I’m new in town and that’s how you make friends, people. Aaaand because I’ve felt new in town for so long that I’ve become “that girl” and will kind of talk to anyone who will talk to me back. Laaame.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that eeevery day, no exaggeration, my complete love for an adoration of the Chestnut Hill Free Library comes up in random conversation with said strangers. The library itself is tiny – everything I want to read has to be sent over from Central – and there’s one mean library lady there who might just hate her life. But….

Then there’s Toddler Story Time with Miss Kate, the children’s librarian. Honestly, my little dude and I have tried all kinds of activities – and Miss Kate’s song and story sessions are arguably the best children’s programming in Chestnut Hill. In fact, largely due to it’s enormous following of baby groupies, [and undoubtedly its low low price tag of exactly $0] there are TWO story times each week, and parents are asked to attend just one of them to prevent overcrowding. But both sessions are always packed – it’s THAT cute!

Here’s the regular schedule:

Toddler* Story Time with Miss Kate
Chestnut Hill Free Library

Thursdays & Fridays
10:30am sharp

*kids 3 and under
[Sometimes a group of kids from a local pre-school who are too old for story time show up. Way cute kids, but it totally changes the mood and keeps the little ones from getting good seats. It’s awesome for little people, but probably not so much for kids older than toddler age. Of course, I’m sure that siblings are a whole different story!]

But there’s a catch! Miss Kate is currently out on maternity leave! Booo for us, yay for the world, i suppose! Her substitute is already assuming her regular library duties, but isn’t quite ready to start story time just yet. Expect them to resurface mid-June. Truthfully, I can’t vouch for the substitute story lady. She might suck. But give it a try in June! If it’s terrible, don’t give up – come back in the fall when Miss Kate is back in the library, priorities in order!

For direct connection to the CH Library Children’s Department and event updates and reminders, check out their Facebook page.