Though it may not always seem like it, our area is chock-full of quality entertainment for kids. From the silly to the scholarly, we found something for everyone—even parents.
When Elvis changed the world back in the 1950s, who would’ve thought rock would still have such an impact on kids in the 21st century? Erin Riley, a former music director for WMMR and DJ for WXPN with 30 years’ experience in the music business, might’ve had a clue. She opened Phoenixville’s Rock & Roll After School in June 2009, and her students haven’t been the same since.
Kids ages 7-18 come to Riley’s spunky 6,000-square-foot facility with few, if any, musical skills. Before long, they’re drumming, singing, grooving on guitar, bass or keys, even composing songs and DJing. Ten-year-olds make up the most popular age group, and they often take up several instruments. “Because they’re young, they’re not really afraid of trying stuff,” says Riley, who plays flute and a little guitar and clarinet. “And by two weeks, they say, ‘I play bass.’”
Riley’s 175 students have enrolled for a variety of reasons. Some are simply curious. Others are looking to escape bullying or have limited music programs at school. Naturally, there are the ones who love Guitar Hero. Or—like Riley’s 18-year-old son—they’re more edgy and artsy than sporty and academic. “There’s a lot of kids who write, draw, compose music—all kinds who don’t have the personalized guidance we provide,” says Riley. “This is where they can really shine.”
A 15-year-old boy with an autoimmune disease attends R&RAS. And while his build is much smaller than a lot of his peers, never underestimate the power of Riley’s professional stage. “When he performs at my school, he just comes alive. He says, ‘Erin, I wish I could live here.’ And I say, ‘I’ve built this school for you,’” she says. “It’s really more about self-esteem and friendship making. Great musicians make themselves.”
R&RAS’ 10 instructors are a major part of that growth. And though the kids can’t exactly grasp the fame of some of their mentors—like Hooters drummer Dave Uosikkinen—they learn about the big-time game of touring, what it takes to succeed in today’s music industry, and the importance of a solid work ethic.
Programs for boys and girls include weekly 45-minute lessons, a 12-week band program, summer camps for ages 7-15, and “Makin’ Music” family classes for infants to age 5. In the band program, kids form groups, rehearse, then perform onstage at the school or a local First Friday venue. R&RAS also features a game room, a homework space with Internet access, a candy-and-strings store, and the imaginative murals of Philly artist Kirk Dupuis.
Call (610) 983-4650 or visit rockandrollafterschool.com.
Meet Melita, a 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. Actually, she’s a hand puppet in a wheelchair who talks with kids about disabilities at Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum. She’s one of several additions to the museum born of the national traveling Access/ABILITY exhibit from Boston Children’s Museum.
“We worked with Children’s Hospital [of Philadelphia] to create Melita,” says president and CEO Laura Foster. “Children are naturally very curious. We have a number of staff people in wheelchairs, and they go right up to them and ask questions.”
Running through April 24 at the Please Touch Museum, Access/ABILITY is about spreading awareness of physical and learning impairments, while making people with and without disabilities comfortable around each other. “It would have been helpful for all of us to experience all of that early on,” says Foster. “It makes us less fearful.”
Kids can go through a wheelchair obstacle course, type in braille, use their senses to create art, try out a hand-pedaled bike, and more. And people with disabilities are available at special kiosks to talk about their atypical lifestyles—something Please Touch staffers are already comfortable doing. “They like it [when kids ask questions],” says Foster. “It gives them a chance to talk with the children, and I think they would rather that than no one come up and talk to them.”
Along with Melita, Please Touch is introducing its “We All Make Music” program, featuring instruments designed for various disabilities, plus storytime books with braille and disabled characters. Special organizations that serve kids with disabilities can also sign up for a therapeutic membership that allows their staff members to bring groups to the exhibit.
“Historically, Please Touch has always encouraged families that have children with all sorts of abilities to come to the museum, so we think it’s important that all of us learn how much more similar we are than different,” says Foster. “And it’s important to start that with children.”
To better prepare museum employees for the exhibit, Philadelphia nursing care facility Inglis House provided special training and volunteers to promote positive behavior for visitors. Inglis is also guiding Please Touch with its new Explore-Ability play kit for students who can’t easily visit the museum. Thanks to handy tools like a white cane and visual depictions of sign language, the kit expands the reach of Access/ABILITY so awareness continues to spread.
Call (215) 581-3181 or visit pleasetouchmuseum.org.
We’re right to worry about our children. Toddlers dart toward stairs, the bigger kids explore the streets, and the even bigger ones are born stunt devils. When parents find their heads spinning and wondering what safety topic to cover next, they can look to Safe Kids USA, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to alert the whole family about ways to avert accidental injury.
In our area, Safe Kids Chester County makes its mark at various moms’ clubs, community groups and schools, including the Chester County Intermediate Unit’s Head Start centers, Uwchlan Hills Elementary School, Phoenixville’s Renaissance Academy Charter School, Bishop Shanahan and Bayard Rustin high schools, and West Chester University. Based in West Chester, the branch operates through a partnership between the Chester County Highway Safety Project and the Chester County Department of Children, Youth & Families.
For the younger lot, SafeKids.org offers downloadable lesson plans, coloring sheets and games on fire safety, pedestrian awareness and more. Trained volunteers demonstrate the “10-foot rule” when standing by a school bus and preach the obvious dangers of loitering behind one. They teach proper seatbelt technique in cars and that children should not sit in a front seat until age 13.
“Our biggest focus area is seatbelt usage,” says volunteer co-coordinator Lori Aguilera, who’s the project director for Highway Safety. “It’s surprising for me to [see] that there are less people who buckle up at nighttime—and it’s always the younger teenage kids who don’t.”
That’s why safety education gets more serious in middle school, with crash stats and videos of real accidents in the coalition’s “Survival 101” program. Rest assured, talking and texting on cell phones top the list of no-no’s. And the preteen through college crowds learn how a DUI can, among other things, derail their career plans.
Newborns also benefit from Safe Kids. Expectant mothers can take birthing classes at Paoli and Phoenixville hospitals, or get their car seats installed at one of the two inspections held each month at the West Goshen Township Police Department. Paoli received the Chester County Safe Kids Appreciation Award in July 2010 for hosting multiple four-hour car-seat checks and otherwise proving its commitment to patient safety.
Safe Kids installed 480 seats in 2010, and it also runs a car-seat donation program, with private and grant funding from groups like the Chester County Health Department and State Farm Insurance. Aguilera says two parents personally thanked her after they both had car accidents in which their children came away unharmed.
“I’m teaching people something they have no knowledge about that can save their kids’ lives,” says Aguilera, a mother of a 10- and 13-year-old. “I wish someone did these types of programs when [my kids] were younger.”
For Safe Kids’ tips on how to properly seat your child in a vehicle, click here.
Let’s be honest, driving is fun. And though we may not be ready for our kids to hit the highway, we can at least satisfy their curiosity in a safe environment. “People like speed, and they start out young,” says Sandy Brinton, general manager of Arnold’s Family Fun Center in Oaks.
Named for original owner Ed Arnold, Arnold’s has electric go-karts for ages 3 and older, with two racetracks within its 144,000 square feet. Kart sizes match the ages and heights of the drivers, and parents or licensed siblings can hop in the double-seaters with the littlest ones.
An “indoor amusement-type park,” as Brinton calls it, Arnold’s also has nine holes of ocean-themed black-light mini golf, laser tag, bumper cars, an arcade and redemption prize shop, three inflatable bounces, duckpin bowling, plus a carousel and other rides. There’s even
“I like to see all the people come in and have a great time. It looks like a casino with all the lights flashing,” says Brinton. “It’s a very exciting place.”
2200 West Drive, Oaks; (610) 666-0600, arnoldsffc.com.
MORE LOCAL FUN CENTERS
Tots and tweens can hop, skip and jump to their hearts’ content at this indoor playground filled with inflatable structures. Locations in Exton and Oaks, bounceu.com.
Grand Slam USA
At more than 30,000 square feet, this facility offers batting cages, a pro shop for baseball and softball players, an arcade with redemption games, inflatables, laser tag, a pirate-themed glow-in-the-dark mini golf course, and more. 11 E. Lancaster Ave., Malvern; (610) 647-6622, grandslammalvern.com.
Jumpers Fun Zone
Family owned and operated, this hot party spot features safari bounce houses, inflatable slides, a three-tier soft play unit, and the “Little Cub” fun area. Ridley Creek Plaza, 5117 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square; (610) 353-3377, funatjumpers.com.
Oasis Family Fun Center
This 20,000-square-foot play place boasts a 16-foot rock-climbing wall, a body-bending laser maze, video and redemption games, plus a soft playground with slides and tunnels for kids ages 1-11. The multi-level “Ballocity Arena” (for ages 4-12) includes blasters, cannons and buckets that shoot and dump thousands of soft foam balls. Also on-site: free Wi-Fi access and Old Forge Pizza Express. 35 LaCrue Ave., Glen Mills; (610) 358-3501, oasisfamilyfun.com.
Ashby Evans, 6
Agnes Irwin School
Favorite hangout: Jumpers Fun Zone in Newtown Square.
Favorite restaurant: Christopher’s in Wayne.
Favorite places for a birthday party: John Pancott Gymnastic Center in Malvern and the Philadelphia Skating Club in Ardmore.
Nicholas Hart, 8
Wayne Elementary School
Favorite hangout: Grand Slam in Frazer.
Favorite restaurant: Johnnie’s Dog House in Wayne.
Favorite place for a birthday party: Arnold’s Family Fun Center in Oaks.
Mac Costin, 10
The Haverford School
Favorite hangout: His neighborhood with friends.
Favorite restaurant: Peace A Pizza.
Favorite place for a birthday party: Arnold’s Family Fun Center in Oaks.
Lauren Semerjian, 15
The Shipley School
Favorite hangout: Suburban Square with friends.
Favorite restaurant: White Dog Cafe in Wayne.
Favorite places for a birthday party: POD in Philadelphia, then Max Brenner’s in Philadelphia for an ice cream sundae.
With their fingers on the pulse of our neighborhoods (and their keyboards), local mothers are inspiring lively interaction among suburban families. Their “mom blogs” generate helpful, fun and even enlightening ideas, showing parents the many avenues to happy memories. Hop aboard for the inside scoop on kid-friendly events, parenting advice, product reviews and much more.
Under the umbrella of PhillyBurbMoms.com, this trifecta comes from a couple of ladies with a mission to provide “more local information in five minutes than in five hours of surfing the Web.” Sarah Freymoyer, Shannon Ott and their team of contributors post tips for indoor play, recipes, reviews of items like fabric softener, humorous and reflective stories about their kids, plus discount coupons. Their events calendar includes storytimes and craft workshops at various venues, along with adult happenings like Main Line Health System’s “Mocktails, Mammograms & Manicures” get-together. So get clicking.
Known as “Fun Things to Do with Kids in Delaware County” or just “Fun Things,” this project by Tracey Gilligan was Main Line Today’s “Best Local Blog for Active Families” last year. It features an events calendar, a playground finder, a summer camp list, a section devoted to restaurants where kids eat free, and activities for families tripping to Connecticut, D.C. and (believe it or not) Atlantic City. Don’t miss all the give-and-take on the Fun Things Facebook page, either. One recent post: “Anyone know of a good place for a boy’s eighth birthday party?” Your answers await.
Who better to impart wisdom than a mother of nine? Malvern’s Lisa Corcoran has spent more than 18 years parenting parents on how to effectively communicate with their children, master the morning routine, and triumph over temper tantrums and sibling rivalry. This past January, she launched her stress-busting website with the mission to “unlock your parenting potential.” Employing Adlerian Theory principles, she boosts self-worth and growth in children and parents by touting the benefits of encouragement, constructive behavior and mutual respect. Watch her monthly video posts, read her articles, attend a seminar and, above all, think positively.
When your kids get stir-crazy and the weather is too messy to visit Color Me Mine’s Glen Mills or Wayne workshops, give its Online Bisque Painter a whirl. Your teeny and teen artists will be peacefully creative as they digitally design various “ceramic” objects with a palette of 19 colors and several brush sizes. Save, print and add to the fridge. Visit colormemine.com.
While you’ve got the computer on, check out Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids. It’s the U.S. Government Printing Office’s interactive educational tool for grades K-12, offering both online games like Liberty Bell connect-the-dots and printable mind-benders like the Constitution Crossword. Get everyone costumed in makeshift 1800s garb, and take turns reciting lines from the Gettysburg Address—all before breaking into a tickle war, of course. Visit bensguide.gpo.gov.
Take things to the big screen at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and Phoenixville’s Colonial Theatre. The former holds Saturday kids’ matinees at 11 a.m. This month’s features include Annie (March 5), Mary Poppins (March 19) and The Wizard of Oz (March 12). Parents interested in new releases—but afraid their tot will disrupt the audience—will enjoy Wednesday’s “Going Gaga” matinees, with baby-conscious elements like lower volume and dim lighting.
At the Colonial, the March film theme is “The Many Lives of Batman,” featuring all of the classic pictures. On April 9, ages 4 and up can enjoy the Cat’s Pajamas, a comedic rock-music-and-dance act. Visit brynmawrfilm.org and thecolonialtheatre.com.
If you haven’t already discovered it, 88.5 WXPN-FM’s Kids Corner is an award-winning radio show just for children. Listen live 7-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday for wholesome songs and interactive learning segments. Every second Thursday of the month spotlights former Bryn Mawr College professor Lisa Chirlian and her “Kitchen Chemistry” for kids ages 5-13. You can find her home experiments on the program’s website, making it easy for you and your family to spontaneously create slime, make eggshells disappear, or perform magic tricks with ice. Visit kidscorner.org.
Brandywine River Museum embodies artistry and history—and it makes both kid-accessible through its hourlong Read-Aloud Tours on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. Ages 3-6 gather in a gallery for storytime, featuring books like The Tallest Leprechaun: A Tall Tale of Terrible Teasing by child author Emily Grace Koenig (March 17), and then create a work of art—say, a St. Patrick’s Day collage. The museum also offers free admission on Sunday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon through Nov. 20 (except May 29). To register for the tours, call (610) 388-8382 or e-mail email@example.com. Visit brandywinemuseum.org.
If it’s payday and you haven’t spoiled your kiddies in a while, stop by Nicholas Smith Toys in Broomall. Hours vanish in this toy mecca as soon as kids (of any age) lay their eyes on the “do touch” racetrack, Madame Alexander dolls, puzzles, dinosaurs, stuffed animals, model rockets, and unbelievable train set and collection. A different toy occupies nearly every square inch. Talk about incentive to be good girls and boys! 2343 West Chester Pike, (610) 356-2180, nstoys.com.