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Who doesn’t like music?

When our kids were little we enrolled our kids in Music Together (classes) and it became a part of our weekly routine for two or three years. Our music teacher was really nice and we loved the songs, CDs, how they taught kids the rythm, etc.; we loved just about everything about it. Then our kids grew and didn’t feel comfortable among younger kids in the group, so that was the end of our regular family music hour (our class was at night so that Daddy could join us too).

We’d listen to children’s music in the car all the time, whether it was English or Czech. I kind of felt relieved when they got older and asked for the radio. We’d listen to some stations with pop music because that’s what they mostly heard at their friends’. But my husband and I grew tired of it too, especially my husband. He said he had had enough of the same hits and small talk he was not interested in. He tuned our car radio to a classical music station. I am usually in a hurry to get somewhere with the kids so when we get in the car I don’t feel like looking for a different radio station. I tell my kids, it’s either this or nothing. Our kids complained but eventually got used to it. 🙂

A few weeks ago when we were taking my kids’ friends to a class (which we do twice a week), one of them asked so innocently “Why do you always listen to the same song?” He sounded seriously concerned about me as if I was suffering from an illness. 🙂 I found his remark hilarious. I explained to him that although the station played the same type of music, it was not the same song. As I was sharing this story with my husband the whole family got involved into a discussion about classical music, what we like and dislike about it. We started talking about opera because our kids know that I sometimes turn the radio off when there is opera playing. I like some operas but I am not a huge fan of it. I don’t find it relaxing and have to be in the mood for it. However, we thought our kids should not have a negative attitude to this type of music because it is really beautiful. My husband went on Youtube and found a short video of Papagena! from The Magic Flute, which is one of the most beautiful operas. Our kids were fascinated with it and found it funny. Our son said they sounded like chickens. 🙂

That night I thought about looking for a nice CD introducing kids to opera. I searched online and I discovered more than I hoped for. You’d probably say, “Sure, I bet there are many classical music CDs for kids, including opera. I suspected that. What I didn’t know is that there is a series of CDs by Classical Kids that introduces kids to different composers by combining a fictional story containing true facts about them with their music. An ingenious idea! Normally kids wouldn’t care much for the music–it would be like another classical music radio station or a regular classical music CD. I requested all of the available CDs from our library and we’ve been listening to them since then. Our kids love them! How come I didn’t know about these before?

We haven’t listened to all of them yet but I will list them here anyway. I’ll let you know later if there was one my kids didn’t like. read the reviews on Amazon to see how other families liked them. I will also list some other classical music CDs that we borrowed from the library to try. It is much easier if you have the titles to request them than if you don’t know they exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think our kids should listen to classical music only. I actually checked out a lot of pop (and rock) music CDs for my daughter from our library. But it would be a shame not to expose them to this wonderful music if we can. Every well-rounded individual should know about these great composers.
Beethoven Lives Upstairs
beethovenThis was the first in the series we listened to. I found also the movie Beethoven Lives Upstairs and asked my kids whther they wanted to watch it. They did. We didn’t mind  the Greek subtitles on Youtube. Click here if you want to watch it there. Then we read a short chapter from Lives of the Musicians about Beethoven (see more on that below).

Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery
vivaldis ring of mystery
Mozart’s Magic Fantasy: A Journey Through ‘The Magic Flute’
mozarts magic fantasy
Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage
mozarts magnificent voyage
Tchaikovsky Discovers America
Mr. Bach Comes To Call
mr bach comes to callSo far this is one that we find the least entertaining. My son thinks this one is boring and I must say that I agree that I enjoyed this one the least. We still have two more to listen to (the two below) so I will give you an update soon.
Song of the Unicorn (renaissance music)
song of the unicorn
Hallelujah Handel!

I also searched online for good books about musicians for kids and checked our library catalog to see if I could borrow them. I think I have found the right ones. So far we focused on Mozart and Beethoven because we listened to those CDs first.

Lives of the Musicians
lives of the musiciansWe read a chapter about Beethoven and learned interesting facts about him (very well written for kids).
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
wolfgang amadeus mozartI had not known about Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series by Mike Venezia until I began looking for biographies for children. We really liked it because it is written in a simple language, very understandable and interesting. We appreciated the pictures, drawings that showed Mozart and his family, places Mozart visited. What we disliked a lot were the cartoons that were trying to make the book funny. My son (6) did not understand half of the jokes and they just didn’t feel right. I would still recommend this book–just ignore the cartoons.
Ludwig Van Beethoven
ludwig van beethovenWe skipped a few sentences now and then because our kids did not enjoy this book as much as the one about Mozart. I think it is good if you are looking for a book about Beethoven for lower elementary grades but it may be a good idea to look at the pictures and read bits and pieces. I must say that although I disliked the cartoons in the previous book, my kids were very curious about what the bubbles say so maybe it is not such a bad idea to use them after all.
Johann Sebastian Bach 

Prokofiev: Peter & the Wolf
peter and the wolf

Children’s Classics
bernstein favorites

Story of the Orchestra: Listen While You Learn About the Instruments, the Music and the Composers Who Wrote the Music! I really love this books although I don’t think it is a book to go through in one sitting. There is not too much information so it is not boring for the kids and the CD is great too.
the story of the orchestra

Beethoven’s Wig: Sing Along Symphonies
Our kids liked the silly songs. The only thing we disliked was the name of the first song because Beethoven did not wear a wig and we found it confusing. My kids even remembered the picture from a book where they could see his wild hair. However, my daughter asked to play the CD again as soon as it was finished.
beethovens wig

While browsing the Internet I have found other great classical music CDs but have not tested them with my kids yet. Come back in a few weeks for more tips.


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Family Bonding

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Here are a few products that are worth buying I think. I stumbled upon these Lunchbox Notes two years ago when my daughter learned how to read. I am so glad I bought them. The notes are very cute, and we have been asked a few times where we found them. My son just started 1st grade and he was SO excited that now he too would be getting the notes in his lunchbox.

Lunchbox Love Notes for Kids
lunchbox love notes These cards are sturdier than regular paper and have an encouraging or loving thought on front, fun trivia or a joke on the back.
Lunch Lines
LunchlinesI just tear out a joke and tuck it in the lunchbox. These are just jokes but I feel that my kids don’t have to read trivia or words of encouragement every day so I bought these to alternate with the Lunchbox Love Notes.
lunchbox lettersI am seriously considering writing my own notes. Not every day, but for a change. Everybody loves receiving letters, especially if they contain words of love and show your kids that you care. It is a way to get in touch with them during the day, to connect, give them a virtual hug or kiss. I might use just a regular stationery sheet or buy this booklet to make it easy: Lunch Box Letters: Writing Notes of Love and Encouragement to Your Children
The Kids’ Book of Questions
kids book of questions
I ordered this book a while ago to use in the car during short rides. As soon as my daughter discovered it at home, she picked it up and began reading the questions. It is a great way to spur conversation and talk with your kids about something meaningful. They pick a question at random and we all answer it. It is perfect for those ten-minute car rides.

Cards for Your Dining Table

 I feel we need to spend more time together as a family (“together” as in talking rather than only being in the same room). My husband comes home late from work every day so we have proper family dinners just on the weekend. My daughter tends to bring her book to the table to read while eating and is oblivious to everything and everybody around her. I think it is okay on busy days but I would also like for us to have discussions over dinner.

I have looked for something similar to the Kids’ Book of Questions to use at home over a family meal. Here are a few things we love. In fact, I had to remind my kids yesterday that we cannot go through all the cards in one night. They are all designed to trigger conversations and they are a big hit with any kids we have over.

Chat Pack For Kids: Fun Questions
chat pack for kids
Choices In a Jar
choices in a jarI took them out of the jar because it was ugly on our table. I think they don’t require as uch thinking as the other questions and are very popular among our visitors because they are easier to answer and quick too.
infomania tabletopicsTABLETOPICS Infomania Family: Questions to Start Great Conversations
We bought this set for our dining table because I originally wanted to buy the family version (below) but it was not available for a reasonable price at that time so I got this one instead. We are happy with it because my daughter also likes to read the statistics each card lists. Update: I checked the Tabletopics prices on Amazon today and this one is almost $45 but the Teen version is for $25. It seems the price changes all the time. Keep checking if you intend to buy them. You can also find them for $25 on their website here.
tabletopics familyTABLETOPICS Family: Questions to Start Great Conversations  As I mentioned above, I wanted to buy this set because the topics are probably better for family discussions. I don’t know how much your kids enjoy reading the type of information my daughter likes. If you are looking for conversation starters, this set might be more appropriate.


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Things We Love

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I have listed several products (such as lunch notes) in the category Family Bonding under Other Stuff. I highly recommend the lunchnotes; my kids love them. To read the post, click here.

Stainless steel lunch container
There are several stainless steel lunchboxes on the market and I am not claiming this is the only best option—but just in case you are hunting for a one, we’ve been very happy with this one for years. I also love the little container that is leak-proof because I make Greek yogurt dips and these containers are perfect for those.
Hydroflask Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle (24 oz)
It took me years to find a water bottle I’d be happy with. I didn’t want plastic for my kids and disliked anything with straws because sooner or later there would be mildew growing somewhere. Since we hike a lot and water gets disgustingly warm in many bottles during summer months, I searched for a stainless steel insulated bottle. This bottle meets all my criteria and we have different sizes at home—the smaller one (18 oz) for school, the larger one for day trips. Please, note that I buy a certain size of lunchbox to fit this bottle in; it may be too tall for your child’s lunchbox. You may want to buy the smallest size (12 oz), which is perfectly fine for most kids. I just like to encourage my kids to drink more water during the day.Hydroflask insulated velka  Hydroflask insulated 18 oz hydroflask insulated small

Both my mother and my mother-in-law liked these bottles so much last summer, especially the fact that water stayed cool in them on hot days, that I left my kids’ bottles in Europe and bought new ones after coming back home. The only drawback I can think of is that they are not as light as plastic bottles so your backpack gets heavier for hiking. But I’d still prefer these bottles to anything else; at least we get more exercise.

Here is something I found when looking for things to do with kids at my daughter’s birthday party. Another two friends of mine used the idea too and it was a success. If you are looking for an easy art project that will feel special, buy small canvas panels (right now $13.10 for a set of 12 on Amazon), sharpie markers and mod podge (to create the glossy finish, it can also be used for other craft projects) and let kids’ imagination run wild. It is not messy but they can take home something more than just a regular painting, something they can hang up on the wall. If the price goes up on Amazon, try for both products (canvas, mod podge) 
CanvasMod podge
markers I must mention this set of scented markers because my kids absolutely loved them and they make a nice gift: Mr. Sketch 20071 Assorted Scented Water Color Markers, Set of 18
towelWhile packing for our vacation in Costa Rica, I was very unhappy about the size of our beach towels. I kept thinking how much space they’d take up in our suitcases and how difficult it would be to take them along on our hikes ending up on the beach. I was complaining to my friend about it when she suggested buying microfiber towels that are very light and small. I had never heard of them before but took her advice and went online to see what was available. Based on the reviews I chose this Sport and Travel Towel (the sport size, not the beach size) in four different colors and couldn’t be happier. We used them all summer during our vacation and trips and simply loved them. Maybe you are like me and it didn’t occur to you that these towels exist and would make your packing for trips so much easier so I added this tip to my list here.
headlampOur kids always envied us when we went camping that we had our hands free at night because we wore our headlamps. These headlamps for kids made a wonderful Christmas gift. I don’t have to tell you that they are fun even in the yard, you don’t really have to go camping.
flippersLong Floating Fin In the past two years we went often swimming in the ocean during our vacation and felt better when our kids wore flippers. They swam faster and felt safer because swimming didn’t tire them out as much and they could stay in the deep water longer. They liked their flippers so much that they used them in a pool as well. If you are looking for great flippers for kids, we are very happy with these.
JanetBasket Twilight Large Aluminum Frame Basket I got a similar shopping basket from a friend probably ten years ago. It is still in a good shape and I have been asked (while shopping) many times where I got it. If you find it at your local Marshalls or see similar baskets online just try it. I don’t really know what brand mine is.


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