How Do I Choose the Right Music Camp for My Kids?

These days there are literally hundreds of choices for summer camps and usually several dozen of those are music camps. From Girls Rock Camp, to Intro to Guitar, to Advanced Chamber Music, how is the parent of a budding young musician to decide? As the parent of an eager seven-year-old musician and a music teacher myself who has taught at several different kinds music camps over the years, I know the decision can be daunting.

Obviously the best place to start is with your child. For most parents I have talked to this is where the whole idea came from in the first place: Johnny’s friend did Rock Guitar Camp last year and loved it, Mikayla has always wanted to be in a Broadway Musical and she heard they are auditioning for the Sound of Music at the school down the street. Most camps have clear age and ability requirements as well, add to this scheduling, location and price and it may seem that the decision is practically made for us.

Or is it?

Surprisingly, the one variable that I rarely hear parents talking about in the pick-up line at school is the quality of instruction. I understand that the primary goal for most music camps is to entertain the children while parents are at work, keep them from killing each other and, maybe, expose them to a little music along the way. While this may be fine for many open activity, outdoorsy type camps, music study entails many very refined skills in technique, the development of a good ear and a knowledge of style. The difference between an excellent teacher and mediocre one is the difference between a child who is motivated and capable of reaching their potential and a child that is frustrated, bored or, worse, decides they don’t like guitar (or piano, or singing or whatever) after all.

Before settling on a choice of music camp I would encourage parents to dig a little deeper and check to see that the instructors have experience teaching young children and, preferably, have gone to college to study music pedagogy. Teachers who are certified by a national organization such as Suzuki teachers, or the Music Teachers National Association also are more likely to have some music education training.

Finally, make sure the camp is appropriate for your child’s ability. I remember a budding young guitarist who, after one summer in which he found that he was so far below the other musicians in the Chamber Music Camp, that he dropped out of guitar completely. Consider if a camp that broadens your child’s interest such as a World Music Camp or Improvisation Camp would be better or if they are ready to take things to the next level with something more intensely focused on their instrument.

Above all, try to find friends with first hand experience with the music camp. There is nothing like a little inside information to cut through all the glossy marketing.

How to Have an Awesome Summer Vacation

Vacation Bible School is a great week of Bible stories, games, crafts, music, and more. In these tough economic times, VBS might be the perfect get away for you and your children. Saddle Ridge Ranch is a western themed Vacation Bible School that offers children the opportuntiy to spend a couple hours every evening playing with other children, learning about the Bible, and having fun!

VBS also gives parents a break for a few hours every evening. This gives you and your spouse the opportunity to sneak away to the movies and have free child care!;) You’re able to make sure your children have a great week learning Christian values and you get a week off from your kids. You both win!

Register for VBS at your local church. Most churches do not charge anything for their VBS. They even provide a snack, or for evening Vacation Bible School’s, a meal. You can’t beat a week of VBS for free and a week off for mom and dad!

Vacation Bible School will also give your children the opportunity to connect with new children and make new friends. So instead of having your children stay at home all day long this summer hanging out in front of the t.v. playing video games and driving mom and dad crazy, send them to Vacation Bible School. There they can have fun, play games, get outside some, make new friends, and give you a break too!

My boys love going to Vacation Bible School and my wife and I love it too. Gives us a break from the boys and a time to connect with each other.

Summer Art Fun in the Sun!

Ahh…. The lazy, hazy days of summer are upon us, but what is a child to do? School is out, the weather is hot and boredom quickly set in within days after the last day of school! Every mom and dad cringes when they hear, “I’m soooooo boooorreeed…I don’t have ANYTHING to dooooo!”

Kids of all ages love art in every form, from music to painting, dancing and sculpting, they love making and doing things. For young children it is not so much what they are creating, but providing the opportunity to play and experiment with art. Exploring the many genres of art over the summer is a great activity to keep your child occupied and try new sensory experiences. Here are eight creative ideas to help your little one explore their artistic nature this summer!

Toe Painting Mural

On those really hot summer days there is nothing like a toe painting party! Simply have your child and their friends put on their swimsuits, put some finger paints into pie tin plates, and lay out a an old white bed sheet. Once you are all set up, let them paint away with their little feet and toes all afternoon. They will have barrels of fun and lots of laughter and giggles as they dip their toes and feet into the squishy paint to create their art. When they are done painting, hose them down to get the paint off. The summer heat will quickly dry their works of art so they can proudly display it, or you can hose it off for use on another day!

Rock Painting

Rocks can be found anywhere and in any size. Let your kids paint rocks of all sizes and decorate with ribbons, glitter, beads and glue. Add some wiggle eyes or “feelers” out of pipe cleaners to make a “pet rock pal.” They will have a lot of fun letting their imaginations run free making their creations.

Tie Dye Fun

There is nothing more fun than getting psychedelic with an old crafting classic: tie dyeing. Every parent probably remembers creating a tie dyed t-shirt, handkerchief, shorts or bag when they were a kid. The colorful sunburst patterns never go out of style, and this crafting activity is great for kids of any age. All you need is a little Rite dye, a t-short, pair of shorts canvas tote bag, bandana or similar item, a large metal pot, water, long handled metal spoon to stir with, tongs and rubber bands.

Make and Fly a Homemade Kite

Although a simple kite is inexpensive to buy, Instead of buying a kite, make one! There are plenty of instructions available on the internet for making a standard kite or box kite, and the kite itself can be made out of strong butcher paper or even plastic trash bags. Your kids will have lots of fun coloring and decorating the kite. Once your kite is made, head to a local park or empty field to fly it.

Salt Dough Sculptures

Kids love sculpting and salt dough is very easy to make, easier to clean up than play dough, and it is safe as well for younger children. All you need to make the dough is 2 cups of plain non-self rising flour, 1 cup of fine-grained plain salt and a 1/2 cup of water. Mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly first, then add the water. Knead the mixture until it becomes smooth and elastic. Covering the dough with cling wrap keeps it from drying out. If you would like a dough that is more firm, add 2 tablespoons of wallpaper paste. If your children want to keep their creations, simply let them dry overnight and then they can have fun painting and decorating them the next day.

Make a Pinata and Have a Backyard Party

Summertime is a great time for small parties with other children in the neighborhood. Making a pinata is a lot of fun and easier to do than you would think. It’s a great way to recycle newspaper too! We found a great website that provides instructions on how to make pinatas at: www.fun-pinata-party-ideas.com/make-a-pinata.html. They have some very fun ideas.

If you are worried about too much candy, remember you do not have to just stuff the pinata with candy! There are plenty of “non-edible” ideas to put in your piñata. Visit a dollar tree and purchase things like water guns, yo-yos, bouncy balls, stickers, mini-pack of crayons, kazoos and other fun items. These and coins and dollar bills make great “guts” for your piñata in addition to a little candy! Once your kids have made their pinata, have them invite a few friends over for a lunch time backyard party, and break the pinata as a game.

Stick Vase

If you have ever been on a hike with your children, you know that they never go on a walk through the woods without picking up a stick to carry. This project pulls that stick-gathering impulse into good use, recycles household containers, and creates a fun vase to display on your patio, desk or kitchen counter.

You’ll need a bunch of sticks approximately 1/4 ” round diameter, an empty peanut butter or mayonnaise jar, raffia or ribbon, glue and pine cones or other natural décor. Break or snip the sticks so that they are all approximately the same size and at least one inch taller than the jar itself. Place two rubber bands around the jar: one near the top and one near the bottom. Tuck each stick under the two rubber bands, placing them as close to each other as possible. Once you have surrounded the jar with sticks, slide the two rubber bands to the center of the jar, then tie a piece of raffia around it to make a bow. Glue on a few pine cones, dried flowers or other natural decorations, then fill the vase with fresh flowers and place on your patio table for a center piece at the next family backyard cookout.

Juice Bottle Bug Zoo

This fun craft is wonderful for incorporating a little science in with the art, and a great way to reuse a plastic juice bottle. You’ll need a plastic bottle that has at least one flat side and a lid, scissors, duct tape, a piece of tulle, and natural items for the bugs to crawl on, such as rocks, leaves, twigs. Simply cut an opening on the flat side of the bottle. Mom or dad may need to do start cutting it with a small utility knife until the scissors can take over.

Cut a piece of tulle large enough to fit over the opening— be sure to overlap it by approximately 1/4″ all the way around. Place leaves, twigs and rocks inside the bottle, and even a milk cap with a tiny bit of water for moisture. Place the tulle over the opening, and duct tape each side of the tulle, creating a frame and window screen. As an alternative, you can also use craft foamies or craft sticks to make a frame and glue it in place. Now your kids are ready to catch caterpillars, grasshoppers and other insects in their bottle, screwing the lid on tightly. If you’ve lost the lid, simply cut another piece of tulle and use a rubber band to secure it over the opening.

For added educational activities, have your children write a story or make a video about what they observe. Remember to not leave the bottle in the sun with insects in your zoo, as the plastic will get very hot and cause harm to your “guests.” Your child’s bug friends should also be set free later.

Copyright 2009 Catherine L Pittman – All Rights Reserved (c)