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10 Affordable & Fun Fall Activities for Families [Infographic]

Fun fall activities

Looking for fun fall activities? From all there is to see in nature – leaves changing, apple orchards, and pumpkin patches – to all the fun crafts and recipes you can whip up indoors, this colorful season is the perfect time to start new family traditions.

If your family is on a budget this year, you’ll love this helpful guide. Our list of affordable and fun fall activities will keep your family entertained from September to November without “breaking the bank.” Christmas will be here before you know it!

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10 Affordable & Fun Fall Activities For the Family

1. Have a Fall-Themed Family Photo Shoot

Decorate your Instagram with adorable family photos taken at the nearest apple orchard. Sport scarves and earth tones to make it the ultimate fall-themed photo shoot. You can even get creative and add the pictures to your holiday cards! (See #9 on this list for more holiday card tips).

2. Take a Trip to the Pumpkin Patch

Nothing says “autumn” more than taking a trip to a local pumpkin patch. Try to find one with a corn maze for even more family fun. See who can find the biggest pumpkin and take it home to carve it into something spectacular. Don’t toss out those delicious seeds! Here are some yummy recipes for seasoning and roasting them.

3. Get Spooked Together

Are you a fan of scary movies? Check Netflix around Halloween for new seasonal additions. Grab some popcorn, hot chocolate, and get ready to binge watch Stranger Things! If you’re looking for something on the less spooky side, here is a helpful list of Halloween movies for wimps. (Does “Hocus Pocus” ring a bell?)

4. Craft Your Costumes

Store-bought Halloween costumes can be so expensive, but there are plenty of DIY options that are just as fun and creative. Here are a few easy and unique costume ideas. *Note: Many of these ideas will require a visit to your local craft store or thrift shop. Have fun trick-or-treating!

5. Whip Up Some Pumpkin-Flavored Treats

Pumpkin-flavored muffins, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin pie… the list goes on and on. Now that pumpkins are in season it’s the perfect time to satisfy your cravings. Baking as a family isn’t just a great bonding experience; it also doubles as a learning one. You’ll get to work on your cooking skills together and best of all- enjoy the fruits of your labor when it’s all done!

6. Have Fun Indoors with Group Music Classes

If it’s too cold outside to visit the pumpkin patch, try out free music classes at TakeLessons Live. These online, group classes are taught live by an expert instructor, whether you want to learn a new instrument or work on your singing skills. Children and adults of all skill levels are welcome to join in the fun. *Hint: This time of year, you’ll find unique seasonal classes such as “Spooky Halloween Piano Songs.”

7. Go for a Hike or Nature Walk

When weather is permitting, a hike or nature walk is an excellent way to get in some beneficial exercise while enjoying the colorful scenery. Have the kids collect pinecones or acorns and paint them when you get home for some festive decor. Here are some fun tutorials on how to make DIY pinecone centerpieces, wreaths, and more.

8. Enjoy Homemade Apple Cider

Apple cider is a fall-favorite because it’s both delicious and easy to make. Pinterest is a great place to go for cider recipes. Many of them only require a few simple ingredients! Enjoy this warm and tasty treat around the fireplace and as Thanksgiving approaches, share things your family is thankful for from the past year.

9. Work on Holiday Cards

The holidays are quickly approaching and now is the perfect time to reach out to your closest friends and relatives. Express your sentiments in homemade holiday cards or letters this year for a greeting they’ll always cherish. If you’d like to add a family photo, check out Etsy for customizable, DIY holiday card templates.

10. Make a Christmas Wish List

Does the thought of Christmas shopping overwhelm you? Have family members fill out a “wish list questionnaire” of their likes and dislikes, favorite movies, candies, or places to shop. Wish lists are a win-win. They make shopping easier and ensure your loved ones will enjoy their gifts. *Bonus Tip: You can even organize a “Secret Santa” within your family so that each person is only responsible for buying one gift.

Each of these fun fall activities are a great bonding experience for the whole family. Do you have any more ideas of affordable things to do in the fall? Let us know in the comments below!

 

7 Fun Writing Prompts for Kids During Winter Break

How To Get Kids To Write During The Holiday Break

Is winter weather and Christmas impatience taking its toll on your kids – and your sanity? Get their holiday-inspired, creative juices flowing – and banish the boredom – with these fun writing prompts for kids with a winter theme…

Channel some Dickens.

Have your child write a poem or a story featuring three different versions of themselves getting a Christmas wish granted: one in the present, one in the past, and one in the future.

Make a parody.

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What’s your child’s favorite Christmas poem, story, or song? Parodies are one of the most fun writing prompts for kids, especially if you let them really get creative when choosing a topic. Perhaps siblings can have a writing duel, casting each other off as the Grinch. Children might also enjoy making a mockery of how their parents handle “the night before Christmas.” And what topics couldn’t be creatively blended with a few “fa la la la la’s”? The possibilities are endless. Just be sure to drop a quick reminder it’s fine to be funny – not mean – and keep it in the spirit of the holiday.

Experience a total transformation.

Write a story from the point of view of someone waking up to find themselves transformed into an elf, a reindeer, or another Christmas character. Want to take it a step further? Consider transformations into inanimate objects for an endless array of fun writing prompts for kids that can really help them delve into perspective. Interesting choices might include the Christmas angel atop the tree, a gingerbread man cookie, or a Santa hat.

Write an acrostic poem.

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An acrostic poem features a topic idea running down the left side. Each letter in the topic word begins the line of text, which can be a single word or multiple words. For example, take the word Christmas:

Christmas
Happy
Reunite with family
Icicles
Santa’s gifts
Turkey’s in the oven
Memories
Angels
Singing carols

Get a head start…

Is your child not sure where to start when it comes to thinking of fictional story ideas? Try these Christmas story starters:

  • Granny took the last tray of gingerbread men from the oven. Suddenly…
  • “Ho-ho-help!” came a voice from the chimney…
  • All the elves in Santa’s workshop work hard every holiday season… all but one, that is…
  • A loud noise awoke me with a start. Something red was shining through the window. (Gasp!) It’s a reindeer nose! …
  • After searching every store for 100 miles, I discovered there was not a single tree left – real or fake. But then I had an idea…

Ally yourself with alliteration.

An alliteration is the repetition of an initial consonant in two or more neighboring words or syllables. Comic book writers are often fans of alliteration when naming their characters. Peter Parker. Clark Kent. Bruce Banner. Sound familiar? Have your children create a short list of holiday-themed alliterations, then incorporate them into a short holiday story. For example:

Silly snowmen. Ridiculously romping reindeer. Snarky Santa. Grumpy grandma…

Once upon a time, ridiculously romping reindeer crashed into six silly snowmen, resulting in an astonishing avalanche that ruined grumpy grandma’s garden. Snarky Santa sent his regrets.

Create a few “reindeer games.”

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It’s the First Annual North Pole Olympics. What games would your children create for Santa, the elves, and the reindeer to compete in? What might the awards be?

That’s it. Snatch those “smart” devices that are tuning your kids out and turning their brains to jello. Re-introduce them to the here and now. Sharpen their minds and give your kids the gift of inspiration with these fun writing prompts for kids this holiday season… And give yourself the gift of peace of mind!

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Take the Mystery Out of LA Museums: 6 Discussion Questions for Kids

Los Angeles Museums Taking your kids to a museum can be an educational and fun experience for the whole family — as long as you plan it correctly! You can easily encourage your child’s interest and make the opportunity an enriching and entertaining one if you keep some discussion questions in mind for both during the visit and on the drive home.

Start with these questions:

  • WHO? Who created the exhibit or piece of art? Identifying the “who” often leads to follow-up questions regarding the when, why, and how of items on display.
  • WHAT? There can be many “what’s” to the experience, such as “What did you learn?” and “What was your favorite?” This is an especially fun question for LA museums featuring fine art, like the Getty Center and the Hammer Museum.
  • WHY? Perspective and perceptions of art often vary with age. For example, a cubist Picasso work might have your four-year-old calling out shapes, your 11-year-old daughter commenting on the bizarrely skewed facial features, or your teenage son snickering over anatomically correct parts. In addition, these types of broad questions offer more lively discussions among family members, involving each person in your family.
  • WHY? Discuss the purposes of LA museums before, during, or after your visit, considering why the exhibits are on display for the community.
  • WHEN? When were the artifacts or exhibits constructed? This will lead to further “how” questions, such as how exhibits relate to the present time.
  • HOW? How does the piece of exhibit relate to your child’s world, time period, or culture? How does it make them feel? How would you or your child do it different? Exploratory questions not only increase your child’s understanding of exhibits at LA museums, but strengthen critical thinking skills as well. Want to give your kids a little room to explore on their own? Kidspace Museum encourages exploration through science and art exhibits, classes, and workshops.

Still Overwhelmed?

If you’re overwhelmed or would like something more specific to a particular museum’s exhibits, see if the museum offers a family activity kit or guide to get you started. Many museums offer lists of age-appropriate questions for children, in hopes of both engaging them in the experience and fostering a love and understanding of art. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for example, offers a great family activity kit, tons of great kids programs, and a free youth membership program.

Think your kids are a little young to get a lot out of a fine art at LA museums? You can still encourage their interest in the arts at Zimmer Children’s Museum. Created especially for children and babies, Zimmer offers story time, singalongs, art projects, and more. Introducing children to LA museums at a young age fosters an interest in programs later in life.

Ready for a day out at the museum? Encourage your child’s inquisitiveness, and explore the mysteries at the vast array of LA museums available. Enjoy!

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Why Kids Need to Play | Tips for Parents

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When it comes to activities for kids that promote learning, “play” isn’t usually even part of the discussion. Learn why it should be, in this guest post by Fort Washington, PA teacher Sarah M...

 

As I walk into my Transitional Kindergarten classroom, I see shelves full of toys. There are blocks, puzzles, little toy animals, snap cubes, K’NEX, and many more interesting bins of playthings and activities for kids. As a suburban child, I would have loved to come into that room, pull a toy off the shelf, and create games or buildings. I was able to have fun independently. But when my students enter the room today, they do not engage with any of the toys. They run around the room waiting for me to entertain them.

Play Today

According to pediatric expert Dr. Lynne Kenney, play is defined as “Activities that are freely chosen and self-directed arising from intrinsic motivation.” By this definition, any scheduled activity or structured iPad game is not play. Play is creating, building, thinking, solving problems, and doing activities independently.

Play helps children to “become…successful social animal[s]” (Kenney). My goal as a teacher is to help children become active and social members of society, so I want to encourage them to play themselves for the purpose of learning. Parents also have a huge role in this.

How to Teach Children to Play

1. Make time in the day for play. If adults encourage play and show children how to do it, children will become motivated to try it by themselves.
2. Create simple problems and encourage your child to find a solution.  For example, give your child pieces of a train track and help him or her put it together, so that the train can go on the track.
3. Sit down with your child and offer to play with him or her. Build a house together out of blocks, play board games, play make-believe games, or do puzzles. These are all great activities for kids that promote both being social and learning.
4. Find the types of toys that interest your child. Encourage him or her to pull out toys on his or her own and to be responsible for putting them away.
5. If you don’t have time in the day to help your children develop the social/play skills that they need, consider hiring a tutor to help him or her learn these crucial skills!

Activities for kids that incorporate play are important for development. Follow the tips above to get your own child interested in play. When children play, they begin to create, invent, and learn!

Sarah MSarah M. teaches in Fort Washington, PA. She graduated from Penn State University in 2013, and is a certified Elementary K-6 teacher. Learn more about Sarah here!

 

 

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6 Kids’ Games for Learning Piano Music

piano games for kids

Is your child struggling to stay focused when they’re practicing the piano? That’s normal–it just means it might be time to add something new to the routine! Get some great ideas for music games for kids in this guest post by Santa Cruz, CA teacher John S...

 

Can your 4- to 6-year-old keep her focus through the entirety of a traditional piano practice? Music demands a tremendous amount of attention, in several different areas at once: reading music, being careful about pitch, rhythm, and fingering, and much more! Some children have no trouble keeping on task with all these endeavors. However, if your young child is like the vast majority, you may need to break up their practice with other activities. In between their private lessons, playing music games for kids can certainly help–and most of these you can play with your child even if you don’t have much of a music background!

1. Be an animal
Most young children love pretending to be different animals. Not only that, but the intuitive connection of musical features with an animal’s characteristics comes quickly and effortlessly to most kids. Try something like the following, perhaps while looking at a picture with lots of different animals:

You: Ok, which animal would you like to be?
Child: A snake!
You: A snake, wow! What would snake music sound like?

The child may immediately have a sense of snake music. If so, let ’em play! It may not fit your idea of snake music in any way, but if they’re engaging with their imaginations, let them be.

If a child isn’t sure what to do, you might make a suggestion like the following:

You: To me, a snake is a slithery thing. (Play a stepwise melody that moves up and down the piano in a sinuous fashion.) Do you think this sounds like a snake? What do you think would sound more like a snake?

2. Use a picture book
Books for young children that have great pictures are a nice way to guide an improvisation that progresses through a beginning, middle, and end. Many children will respond immediately when you ask them to look at the picture and think about what it would sound like.

If they get stuck, you can point out specific features in the pictures. For instance, “See the twinkling stars? Can you make a twinkling sound like those stars might make?” or “Those are some big, hairy monsters! How can you make a big, hairy sound on the piano?” You can always play them a little example to get them started. Chances are, they will be impatient for you to stop so that they can get their hands on the piano keys.

3. Make up a story
This is a great game for kids if you know how to play piano as well. Start off by thinking of a story, like the following:

“A man was walking down the street” (play ambling, rhythmic music at an andante tempo) ”when suddenly,” (stop playing) “he saw an elephant right in front of him.” (pounding, ponderous bass line perhaps with circus-like qualities) “The elephant was dressed in royal finery, and being ridden by a man in a suit of armor.” (fanfare, clanking sounds) Let your imagination run wild with bold, big images that you can translate into music.

Next, you can ask them to contribute, either with story ideas, or by playing the piano. Gradually, you can encourage them to do the whole thing, story and music, by themselves.

4. Pick four pitch classes
Restricting the available pitches is a great way to make improvisation sound better. It turns out that four is a perfect number, because all combinations of four pitches can sound musical.

You: Let’s take turns choosing the pitches we’re going to use for this song. You can choose any letter A through G, and you can make it sharp or flat if you want.
Child: A-flat!
You: Good, so you can play any A-flat you want. (play all of the A-flats on the piano) You can be sure you have an A-flat when it’s the middle black key in a group of three.

Then it’s your turn to choose a note, and alternate until four pitches are chosen. Even if it is a cluster, the group of pitches can sound good.

Let your child play on those pitches in any rhythm they like. If they play a note that’s not one of the four you selected, tell and show them exactly what note they played by mistake, and remind them of the notes that were chosen.

5. Repeat after me – Rhythm 
This is another great game if you don’t know much about the piano, because you can play it away from the piano, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Here’s how I play with my students: “Me first, and then you,” I say, then start with simple rhythms, banging the floor or clapping while saying the counts aloud. I chant, “One and Two and Three and Four and,” while alternating hands pounding the floor, L-R-L-R on the main beats.

Look at your kid around beat four and more than likely they will get the right idea and repeat after you. Gradually increase the complexity of your rhythms so that they are fun and interesting, but not too hard.

While using large movements and big muscles is the best way to get started in this game, it need not stay there. When they are comfortable with large movements, ask them to make gentle finger taps. Then, they can start playing specific piano keys; for example, you can play B-flat while the child plays E-flat.

6. Repeat after you – Three pitches
Sitting next to your child at the keyboard, ask him or her to play any three pitches, one after the other. Then play the same pitches, perhaps in a different register. You can spice it up by asking for different dynamics: “Play me really soft ones now,” or “Try three loud ones.” Make sure that your child plays the notes separately and clearly so that you can accurately repeat them.

Use your imagination!
Of course, these games for kids are only the beginning. Taking your cue from your child’s natural creativity, you can develop a whole world of musical games. When your child experiences the power and joy of direct musical expression, he or she will gain confidence in their musical creativity that will last a lifetime.

JohnSJohn S. teaches singing, piano, guitar, and more in Santa Cruz, CA. He received his a doctorate in music composition from UCSC. Learn more about John here!

 

 

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Your Guide to Family-Friendly SF Museums: 5 Discussion Questions for Kids

Children's Museums In San Francisco Looking to make the most out of SF museums on your next visit with your kids? Compiling a list of discussion ideas will help make the experience more fun and educational for the entire family. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be an expert to encourage a lively discussion among family members. Let’s get started…

Encourage your child’s interest in SF museums and enrich the experience with the help of these five discussion-starters:

  • WHO?

Who created the exhibit or artwork? This can prompt further discussion, such as the what, why, when, and how of items on display. A great place to easily involve your child in “Who” questions is the International Children’s Art Museum. The museum features works of art from children around the world in a formal gallery setting, offering a glimpse into various artistic influences, traditions, and cultures.

  • WHAT?

There are “What’s” aplenty to keep your family engaged! “What did you learn?” “What was your favorite?” and “What do you see?” are all great examples that are capable of involving every family member, regardless of age or familiarity with fine art. Broad questions like these often prove highly entertaining as well, as perceptions vary with age. While your four-year-old may notice the shapes in a Picasso painting, for example, your pre-teen daughter may zero in on the skewed facial features, while your teenage son may get in a snort or two over a few anatomically correct parts. There are many great SF museums featuring fine arts displays geared toward children, including the de Young Museum. Here you’ll find collections of American artwork spanning several centuries, as well as free Saturday classes and programs for children.

  • WHY?

Consider why certain objects or pieces of art have been put on display at the various SF museums and what they bring to your community. For example, you could talk to your kids about the cultural significance of the Asian Art Museum, which offers storytelling tours, yoga workshops, and street performances to expose children to a variety of art.

  • WHEN?

At what point in time were the artifacts or exhibits constructed? This will also lead to further discussion as to how each exhibit relates to you and your child’s world. Many SF museums offer family activity kits and age-appropriate questionnaires to promote enhanced understanding and enjoyment of exhibits, such as the Family Guide cards offered by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, one of the few SF museums focused on modern art.

  • HOW?

How does the exhibit relate to the world, the current time period, or culture? How does it make your child feel? How could it be done differently? These types of exploratory questions increase your child’s comprehension of the museum exhibits as well as strengthen critical thinking skills.

Going the Extra Mile

If your child finds SF museums particularly inspiring, consider further encouraging their interests with the help of private lessons with a great teacher. TakeLessons teachers can help your child learn about everything from music to academic subjects to visual arts and more! Keep exploring, and help your child find his or her passion today!

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7 Silly Dance Moves to Get Your Kids Moving

Dance Moves To Get Kids MovingKeeping your child active – both physically and mentally – is one of the most important jobs that a parent has. Teaching your kids some silly dance moves will get their bodies moving while they learn key principles of music, including rhythm, tempo, and more. So turn on some music and try out these fun and silly dance moves for kids!

Animal Dancing

Most children love animals! For this activity, turn on an upbeat song and call out the name of an animal. Encourage your child to dance however they think that animal would dance. Call out a new animal every 15 to 30 seconds, or whenever you sense that your child is getting bored with the current animal. Give them the chance to take the lead sometimes and call out animals for you to mimic. Want to have even more fun? Let your child “sing” along to the music as each of the animals!

Slow Dancing

Exaggerated, emotive movements are fun to do and amusing to watch. Turn on a slower song (some classical music would be perfect) and encourage your child to move as slowly as possible. Try out classic dance moves, such as twisting, disco dancing, or spinning. It’s also fun to incorporate daily activities like pretending you’re walking, running, hula hooping, or making breakfast. This is a great exercise for your child’s balance and overall motor skills!

Freeze Dancing

A classic children’s game that your kids are sure to love is freeze dancing. Turn on some music and let your child dance however they want – but periodically pause the music. Whenever the music stops, your child must instantly stop whatever they are doing and hold the pose until the music starts again. You can make this game more fun by watching your child closely and making sure you pause at a funny moment, like when they are balancing on one leg, spinning, or squatting.

Repeating Dance Pattern

Similar to the electronic Simon game or Bop It, this game is all about patterns and repetition. Start the music and teach your child one simple dance pattern, one step at a time. For example, start by raising one arm. After you demonstrate the move, your child should repeat it. Then raise your arm again, just as you did the first time, and add a new move like jumping off the ground two times. Once your child repeats the string of moves, continue to add a new move and watch the dance pattern grow longer and longer. In addition to the physical and musical benefits to this game, it’s a great way to work on memory skills!

Classic Dance Moves

While they may seem old-fashioned and cheesy to an adult, classic dance moves that everyone knows are new and fun for a child. Try out classic moves of days-gone-by like moonwalking, the Charleston, robot dancing, the twist, raising the roof, the macarena, the running man, and the sprinkler. Not only will your child have a fun time, they will also get a lesson in pop culture!

Dances from Around the World

Learn about the culture and history of other countries around the world by trying out their dance moves. After watching examples on YouTube, you can try new moves from salsa dance, Bollywood dance, or Kozachok (the Russian dance where the dancers squat and kick their legs up). Be sure to turn on music from the country your dance comes from to expose your child to the different sounds heard in music from around the world.

Music Videos

Even the most creative people run out of ideas sometimes. When you can’t possibly think of another dance move, sometimes it’s fun to turn to someone else for some inspiration. Find an appropriate music video on YouTube and have your child try to follow along with the dancers. This activity works best if your child has never seen the video before, so that they will be completely surprised by every new move. This will work your child’s processing skills, as he or she must quickly determine what the dancers are doing and figure out how to perform the move with their own body, all before the dancers move on to the next step.

Did you enjoy trying these silly dance moves for kids and want to find other ways to support your child’s artistic development? One way to keep your child interested in the arts is to sign them up for private lessons. No matter if you choose private lessons for dance, music, or visual art, you will be helping your child grow artistically while learning skills. And who knows – maybe this interest will grow into a career path or incredible talent for your child!

 

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Exploring Kid-Friendly Theaters and Plays in San Francisco

Kid Friendly Plays In The San Francisco AreaEngaging in the arts can be a fantastic and enriching experience, no matter if you’re on stage participating yourself, or watching from the audience. And if you’re in the Bay Area, you have an awesome opportunity to teach your kids about arts appreciation by attending plays in San Francisco! From Broadway shows to musicals and improvisational performances, there are tons of awe-inspiring productions you can enjoy with your child.

New to the Theater?

If your children aren’t the only ones new to plays in San Francisco, you may want to do a bit of research before selecting your first show or venue.

Where to Find Kid-Friendly Plays and Productions

The Children’s Theater Association of San Francisco is an all-volunteer organization that performs traditional storybook stories. An admission fee is charged for Saturday performances in November, December and January, but free school performances are also available for K-3 classes. Past performances have included CinderellaRumplestiltskin, and Enchanted Sleeping Beauty.

Offering both musicals by professional adult actors and productions with student actors in their conservatory program, a typical experience at the Berkeley Playhouse is unlike any other. Audience members can start by exploring interactive displays in the lobby, and then enjoy pre-show entertainment related to the upcoming performance.

The Bay Area Children’s Theatre offers Main-Stage productions in Berkeley, Oakland, Mill Valley, San Francisco and San Ramon, and takes selected shows on tour to schools in underserved communities. They also offer a Youth Education Program, which serves students in Piedmont, Alameda, Oakland, Orinda, San Ramon, Pleasanton and beyond. Productions typically showcase adaptations of children’s books, as well as special performances geared toward the pre-kindergartner audience.

The Wells Fargo Center for the Arts hosts performances in music, theater, dance, comedy, family programming, and renowned speaker events throughout the year. The expansive campus also displays artwork from local and regional artists.

Additional Resources

  • San Francisco Theater

The San Francisco Theater website is a great resource for general information on Broadway shows, opera, classical music, dance, family shows, stand-up comedy, and more. You can view seating and purchase tickets directly from their website.

  • TheaterMania

Visit TheaterMania for news, reviews, and upcoming plays in San Francisco.

Choosing the Best Plays in San Francisco for Your Child

  • Consider age. Many theaters do not recommend bringing children under the age of 4 or 5. For this age range, stick to shows geared specifically toward their limited attention spans, such as with shorter, fairy-tale based musicals. For slightly older children, consider whether or not they can remain still through a typical two-hour show without whining, misbehaving, or otherwise ruining the show for other guests.

  • Recognize the way young children experience storytelling. Because young children live in a world of pretend, they may view plays in San Francisco quite differently from adults, with the line between reality and the performance becoming quite blurred. Choosing appropriate content is essential for getting your child safely involved mentally, emotionally, and (when allowed) physically in the story.

  • Seek out appropriate content. Keep in mind that some shows, like Little Women, may be boring for younger children. In addition, don’t assume just because a show is based on a children’s cartoon, such as The Lion King, it will be appropriate. Many of these shows can still be quite scary for young or sensitive children. Unsure about content? Try renting a DVD of the performance prior to purchasing tickets to these kinds of plays in San Francisco.

  • Discuss expected behavior in advance. Talk to your children about expected behavior prior to attending plays in San Francisco, including when they should remain quiet and when it’s polite to clap. Discuss the importance of manners and how they affect the enjoyment of the show for those around them.

  • Familiarize yourself (and your children) with the story before attending. Learn and discuss the background of the show before attending plays in San Francisco – maybe by reading the book or watching the movie in advance. This may seem counterintuitive, but it allows children to more easily follow the story as you’re watching the play.

  • Leave early for the show, and know when it’s time to call it a night. Allow for time beforehand to find seats, use the restroom, and educate children on the areas of the theater such as the stage and orchestra pit. Understand you may need to depart early if children are having a hard time lasting through the performance, or trade shifts with another adult taking rowdy children to the lobby area so others can continue to enjoy the show.

Initiating Involvement After the Show

  • Discuss what happened. Talk about the plot, characters, and costumes. Consider how the setting, time period, and culture differ from or are relevant to their life today. With older children, be sure to address more serious topics, including conflict resolution and confronting and overcoming fears.

  • Identify certain elements of plays in San Francisco and how they differ from other viewing experiences. Did music, dance, or other factors contribute to or distract from the experience? How was the live performance – acting, music, dance, etc. – different from traditional experiences like radio and TV?

  • Get children involved. Plan an art, music, acting, or dance project related to the show afterward to continue the excitement. It may inspire children to get involved in participating in theater on their own!

Ready for the Spotlight?

If your kids want to try their hand at acting on stage, many production groups and plays in San Francisco offer chances to take the spotlight!

The Young Performers Theatre is a non-profit children’s theatre located at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, offering children’s classics performed by children and puppets, as well as productions by local playwrights. There are also summer camps, workshops, and one-day mini camps for kids as young as 5.5 to work on their acting chops!

This group stages productions with students ranging from kindergarten age to teens, offering opportunities to learn about all aspects of musical theater, in addition to training with professional directors and designers.

The San Carlos Children’s Theater offers drama courses, workshops, and camps, as well as full-stage productions. Show topics are geared toward older kids, with past productions including Annie Get Your Gun, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Wizard of Oz.

This non-profit groups offers great musicals for younger children, as well as stories on stage where school-aged children are invited to share a book and see a play inspired by it. It was voted “Best Children’s Theater Workshop” in the Bay Area Parent magazine in 2007.

This theater’s Rising Stars program invites children ages 6-14 to participate in junior productions, while their Mainstage program features high school and college students. Past shows have included The Wizard of Oz, Shrek the Musical, and Cats.

A strong foundation is of course important before hitting all those auditions! Find an acting coach near you to help your child hone their skills.

 

Don’t just spend another boring night in front of the TV. Immerse your children in the excitement and culture offered in San Francisco. Escape the ordinary and give your children the creative outlet they are yearning for by inspiring them with San Francisco theater!

 

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The Benefits of Reading Aloud With Your Child (and How to Get the Most Out of It)

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How important is reading aloud to children? Here, Chicago tutor Galen B. reviews the benefits and some helpful tips… 

Whether your child is not yet talking or is working on chapter books, reading aloud with her is a valuable exercise. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “reading aloud to children is the single most important activity for building knowledge and eventual success.”1 It introduces vocabulary and word-sound association, which builds the foundation for literacy. It also creates excitement about books, which is essential for developing an avid reader. Finally, reading aloud builds an understanding of how books work and models fluency, which are essential for reading comprehension. Follow these tips to get the most out of your reading experience.

1. Build excitement about books. A child who is excited about books is more likely to choose to read on her own. Ask your child about his favorite page or character, and why he chose it. Be willing to read a beloved book over and over. Find other books by that author or illustrator, and learn about him or her online. Visit your local library together, and build your own library at home—just make sure that it’s low enough for your child to reach!

2. Expand vocabulary. The more words a child hears, the more words she will know. Choose books that have challenging vocabulary to introduce her to new words in context, and read books multiple times to reinforce the vocabulary. Move beyond the words provided by talking with your child about what’s happening in the pictures or how the characters are feeling, and guessing what will happen next. This will help your child learn vocabulary for emotions, describe what she sees, and make inferences.

3. Focus on the text. Familiarizing your child with printed text is important for beginning literacy. Alphabet books are a good place to start, but there’s no need to stop there. Notice the letters in your child’s name, or pick a letter of the day and find words that start with or include it. Books with repetition are especially helpful for early learners. Point to each word as you read, and notice repeating patterns.

4. Learn letter sounds. A child doesn’t have to know her letters before she starts playing with sounds. Point to objects in the illustrations that start with a certain sound (“I see something that starts with /b/… it’s a bunny! Do you see something that starts with /s/?”). Read books with alliteration, and emphasize the beginning sound in each word. Read rhyming books, and let your child finish the line (“Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in _____.”) Help your child connect letters and sounds by picking one word for each letter and referencing it often (D for dog, T for truck, G for gorilla, etc.).

5. Talk about the plot. Make guesses about what will happen next, talk about the book’s problem and solution, and have your child “read” the book to you using the pictures. Along with building vocabulary and interest, these exercises will help your child understand how books work and help him when he writes his own stories.

6. Build reading fluency. Even if your child is putting words together, she may not read fluently. Model fluent reading by reading aloud, and then let your child read a familiar book back to you. By listening and repeating what she hears, your child will learn how fluent reading sounds and become a more confident reader. Reading fluency helps build comprehension, which allows your child to see past the printed word and into the story.

It’s never too early or too late to read aloud with your child. The more words an infant hears, the wider his vocabulary will be in preschool, and the earlier he engages with books, the more he will see them as friends later. The benefits of reading aloud to children don’t stop when they can read of their own, either. Reading together is fun and shows that you appreciate books. Keep these reading tips in mind and make reading aloud part of your everyday routine, and your child will be reading before you know it!

1. Richard C. Anderson, Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Judith A. Scott, and Ian A. G. Wilkinson, Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading, U. S. Department of Education (Champaign-Urbana, IL: Center for the Study of Reading, 1985), p. 23.

GalenBGalen B. tutors in a variety of subjects in Chicago, IL, as well as online. She has four years of experience teaching elementary Spanish, two years of experience teaching ESL, and one year of experience teaching reading and writing to K-12 students. Learn more about Galen here!

 

 

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4 Fun Writing Activities for Kids this Summer

Summer Writing Activities For KidsKeeping a writing journal is a great way to keep your child´s mind active while they are out of school this summer. But unless you have a budding novelist in your family who is passionate about writing, your child may tire quickly of keeping a daily journal. Here are some fun, outside-of-the-box writing activities for kids that will keep your child writing all summer long!

The Never-Ending Story

Work together with your child to write a never-ending story that is sure to get you giggling! Start by giving your child a short, generic prompt, such as “Long ago and far away…” or “This morning I woke up and…”. Don’t be afraid to get creative and come up with a few of your own prompts! Then, invite your child to write a small portion of the story, and take turns adding more. If your child is younger, you may want to limit each turn to just a few words. While you can also set the limit to a few words for older children, you will probably have better results if you each write a few sentences before trading. This is one of the fun writing activities that you can enjoy time and time again by starting with a new prompt.

Design a Children’s Book

Take a trip to the library to check out several children’s story books. After you read the books together, talk about what you both liked about the books and what made it a good story. Then, make one of your summer writing activities to help your child write and illustrate their very own story book! For best results, you may need to guide your child through every step of the process – choosing a story idea, writing the story, and adding the illustrations. Once the story and illustrations are complete, have your child sign their work, and bind the pages to create a book. This can be as simple as putting the pages in a folder with brads or as elaborate as some of the creative ideas that you can find on Pinterest. Place the book on your child’s bookshelf alongside their other books. Be sure to read this book together sometimes as a bedtime story!

Write a Vacation Memoir

Your summer vacation is the perfect time for your child to practice their writing! The new location and experiences are great topics to get your child’s imagination going. Every night of your trip, help your child reflect back on what they did that day and write about it in a travel journal. When you return home, you can combine these writing selections with photos, brochures, and other memorabilia to create a scrapbook about your vacation. There is something special about reflecting back on the fun times you all had together and seeing it through the eyes of your child!

Don’t have a summer vacation planned this year? No problem – encourage your child to document some of the memorable activities that you do together this summer, such as going for a hike in the woods, celebrating the 4th of July, cooking special meals together, and so on. If you want, you can even extend this activity to include memories you have made together for the entire year.

Funny Writing Prompts

For this activity, you will need three small containers, such as boxes or bags, as well as several small scraps of paper or index cards. Start by labeling the containers with “Setting”, “Character”, and “Plot”. Then make a list of different settings that could be used for a story, such as “the moon”, “the beach”, or “school”. Write each of your ideas on a separate piece of paper, fold it, and place it inside the container labeled “Setting”. Then list different characters that could be the focus of a story, such as “an astronaut”, “a ballerina”, or “Grandma” to place in the “Character” container. Finally, list different conflicts that could be the basis for the plot of a story, such as “is a spy on a secret mission to save the world” or “is training to join the circus” and put them in the “Plot” container. Have your child draw one slip from each container and combine these silly ideas into a story.

With these out-of-the-box writing activities, you can keep your child’s mind active this summer. By showing your child the joy of writing, you can create a lifelong passion in them that will help them be successful in school and their future career.

 

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