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gift-553146_640When you grow up with a mom who has a shopping addiction and a mild case of hoarding you develop a skewed perception of stuff. My mom was one of the most generous people I knew. She definitely spoiled us, but at the same time, stuff started to take over our lives.

The Problem With Stuff

As a mom myself now, I want to get my children things they want, but at the same time I don’t want a massive amount of toys cluttering up the house. I’ve found that experience gifts are a perfect solution.

A Gift Worth Waiting For

My daughter has been asking to attend gymnastics classes for the last two years, but it just hasn’t been in our budget. So for her birthday I prepaid for six weeks of classes and presented her with a card explaining her gift. I also got her a leotard.

At first it felt weird not wrapping up a bunch of presents, but I knew I was getting her something that she really wanted. I had to focus on the quality of my gift rather than the quantity (or lack thereof). Just as I predicted, she was overjoyed. She had her first class last week and she kept telling me, “Mom, I love it!”

It also stirred up some nostalgia for me to see her up on that balance beam. That was my favorite when I was a gymnast. Watching her felt like I was passing my legacy on to her.

If you want an alternative to traditional gifts like toys, clothes, or books, here are five great reasons to give kids experience gifts.

1. Something To Look Forward To – After all the other gifts have been opened, played with a handful of times and pushed aside, an experience gift is still there, promising something fun and exciting is still waiting for them.

One of my favorite gifts my mother gave me when I was in high school was tickets to see Les Miserables in New York City. I had been listening to the soundtrack CD for months and when I finally got to see the play, it was amazing! I didn’t mind that I had to wait a few weeks for the play. If anything it felt like it extended my birthday.

2. Less Clutter – As I mentioned before, I really don’t like too many toys hanging around, especially when they aren’t being played with very often. Experience gifts like a special trip, art, dance or gymnastics classes won’t contribute to the clutter in your house.

3. Give Something That You Normally Couldn’t Afford– So many extracurricular activities are expensive. They certainly don’t fit into our tight budget, so we’ve had to be very selective about which activities my kids do. Since I would normally spend money on birthday presents, I was able to use that money to give my daughter something I normally couldn’t afford.

4. More Memories – How many of your toys do you really remember from your childhood? Maybe a handful if you’re lucky. No matter how much our children beg us for toys, they typically don’t occupy our children for long. Giving an experience gift gives children memories that will last them a lifetime.


5. Quality Time – Experience gifts usually give parents or other family members quality time with the children. Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, an art class you take together or just watching them twirl around the floor at their dance class, what the giver receives is time. Time to watch your child really enjoying something, seeing them light up with excitement. Sure, maybe it’s hard to run them to classes on a weekly basis or to and from their favorite sport, but it’s also time that you get to spend with them.

Years from now, they’ll remember that you were there with them. Even if you were just in the background watching from the bleachers or sitting silently in the corner of the room, you’ll become part of those happy memories.

I can’t for the life of me tell you what badges I earned when I was in Girl Scouts, but I’ll never forget that my mom volunteered to be my troop leader. While it wasn’t a birthday or Christmas gift, her willingness to give me and the other girls her time every week is something I still think about proudly.

I would love to ditch a lot of my kids’ physical presents in favor of experience gifts. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get my husband on board for Christmas, but at least for birthdays it’s become a great alternative.

What experience gifts have you given your kids that they loved?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.


Music PlaylistModern Mom

Ever catch yourself in the moment driving down an open road, wind whipping through your hair and music blaring? You are belting out a tune like you ARE the next American Idol? Maybe the lyrics are something like, “I took a pill in Ibiza…and when I finally got sober I felt ten years older.” Suddenly you remember the kids are in the car. Whoops! Personally, I can tune out the colorful lyrics as background noise and just get lost in a good beat. But my kids will hang on to every single word and ask me a million questions about what it all means.

My kids already listen to a variety of music genres, but there are some concepts I just don’t want them to soak in. Like club scenarios, gun violence and drug culture. Plus, there is only so many times I can listen to Daniel Tigers snappy little rhymes before I actually snap. So what are parents supposed to do? Where can we find kid friendly music that we can enjoy too? Well, I did a little research and here’s what I found:


First, sort through your own collection. What do you already have that you enjoy listening to and the lyrics aren’t offensive? My current CD collection (yes I still actually use those) spans all different types of music like: Bob Marley, Barenaked Ladies, Dave Mathews, The Beatles, The Monkees, REM, Neil Diamond, Simon & Garfunkel and so much more. Pulling out my own favorite music to play helps to expand my kid’s musical taste, and keeps me from loosing my mind singing the ABC’s for the 4,000th time.


The beauty of a Google Play radio station is that you can select a station that plays only children’s music. Everything is filtered and it is a mix of music adults can tolerate and kids will love. We especially love the Shake Your Sillies Out station.


Similar to Google Play in that you can select a specific genre, except you build your play list through a thumbs up rating system. Pandora’s music library is limited compared to Google so there is a greater chance of repeats and wearing out those familiar tunes quicker.


You can select the music option in the sidebar menu and search for children’s music. This will pull up musical play lists lasting between 40-120 minutes. We especially like the Kids Party Music 2015 channel. It includes popular Disney favorites, popular oldies radio hits and songs adults are sure to recognize.


This website is a popular tool for parents to preview ratings for kid-friendly material for music, movies and video games. A quick search turned up an amazing list of parent approved albums recorded by recognizable artists. Each listing is categorized by age and subject matter, it also includes family talking points. Find bands like Barenaked Ladies, Andree 3000 from Outkast, The Verve Pipe, Jewel, Lou Rowels, Debbie Harry, Lisa Loeb, Issac Hayes, They Might Be Giants and even Def Leopard. Yes, Def Leopard made a kids album. Every song on this list is fun and it won’t leave you pining for grownup music! You can purchase directly from the site using an affiliate link and create a custom mixed CD.


Download the latest soundtrack to your kids favorite movie. The music is especially written to be catchy and appeal to the whole family. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played my Aladdin CD over and over… totally for the kids. It’s a fun way to relive your treasured movie moments as a family. Don’t forget to include musicals in the line up. I can still sing a set of show tunes I learned when I was a kid. (Thanks mom!).

There are many other radio stations and music subscription services to choose from. These are just some of the ways we bring family-friendly music into our day. Music doesn’t have to be annoying and repetitive and only sung in tiny kid voices. Family music can come in all different genres and sounds. What’s on  your list favorites!?

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 





Giving children the musical advantage

Researchers are providing us with an unprecedented understanding of how we think and how we learn. Now we know that music is a vital part of a complete education.  Children and adults can benefit greatly from making music.

There is a direct correlation between improved SAT scores and the length of time spent studying the arts.  College bound seniors who’d had school music experience scored 52 points higher on the verbal portion of the SATs and 37 points higher in math (89 points combined) than those without music instruction.

Studies have also linked active music making with better language and math ability, improved school grades, better adjusted social behavior, and improvements in “spatial-temporal reasoning”

Because music is a basic expression of human culture, every person should have a chance to experience learning a musical instrument!!!

As the owner of the New York School of Music, Donna had put every ounce of herself into maintaining a positive, energetic environment for music education and appreciation. Growing up, she played violin (seems unfair, but the girls just couldn’t seem to get placed on the drums back then!), and ultimately traded in her violin for a guitar. For a number of years, she played guitar in a local band called Hot Line, but still felt the urge to tackle the drums. She picked up her first pair of sticks as an adult many years later and started studying under the direction of David S. Napoli. Donna continues to expand the music programs at NYSM.  After a trip to Austin, Texas to see the home of the original Rock Camp USA, Donna decided to bring   Rock Camp USA to New York. Under her direction, NY School of Music, in Walden, is now the New York State division of Rock Camp USA.

Aside from running the New York School of Music and Rock Camp New York, Donna is also a member of Percussive Arts Society (PASIC), the Vic Firth Educational Team, NAMM and is also a recipient of the Vic Firth Educational Endorsement. She believes that learning never stops and thrives on learning new things for herself. She has been known to attend upwards of ten clinics each year. Other musicians that she has studied under include Dom Famularo and Jim Chapin.

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by Judith Muir

A remarkable new music program is benefiting children and adults with autism in Dutchess County, NY. Called the Music for Life Program, it gets participants to sing with seniors at Green Briar Adult Home in Millbrook, providing therapeutic as well as musical benefits for both participants and the residents of the home.

The program is run by Peter Muir Ph.D., Director of Center for Personal Development through Music in Verbank, a music center which pioneers this kind of therapeutic approach to music-making. The music outreaches are not like a regular concert performance, but are very informal, with participants and residents closely interacting through the music, often one-on-one. Because of this, the program, which has been running since January 2004, was at first controversial. “People kept telling me that it just wasn’t possible for those with autism to interact as closely as this kind of program requires,” says Dr. Muir. “However, what they hadn’t figured on was that music-making, particularly in the way we approach it, helps those with communication challenges feel safe and far more ready to communicate and socialize than in normal day-to-day situations.”

And, indeed, that is what happens. Donna Zuckermann, mother of program participant Dan, a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome, believes that the program is the only time her son interacts with people he doesn’t know well. “It just seems so easy for him in that situation,” she says. Another participant is eight-year-old Niklas Watkins who suffers from Fragile X Syndrome, a leading cause of autism. His mother Amy is impressed with his response to the music outreaches: “they allow him to push past social and environmental issues of presenting in public,” she says.

The program is popular with the participants. “I learn lots of interesting songs,” says Michael Beck, 15, who also has Asperger’s, and his father Tom adds: “Michael has a wonderful time. He always looks forward to singing with the seniors.” And just as the participants like singing with the seniors, the seniors love the music and the interaction. “Our residents love the Music for Life Programs,” says Ellen Riccardi, activities director at Green Briar, “it helps stimulate them and encourages them to be active.” Course participant Dan Zuckermann agrees: “It makes them happier. Any time we go, they’re singing along and eager to get up and dance.”

The Music for Life approach is based on the work of John Diamond M.D. Dr. Diamond, a pioneer in the field of holistic medicine, is the world’s leading authority in using music and health modality. Program director Peter Muir has been associated with Dr. Diamond’s work for sixteen years. “It is unique,” he says. “Dr. Diamond has developed a whole new approach with music that is easily accessible for those with special needs and has tremendous benefits for all concerned. And what’s more it’s for everyone. You don’t need to be an experienced or skillful singer to take part. I feel privileged to be among the first implementing this new approach.”

One of the most exciting aspects of the Music for Life Program is that the benefits are not just musical. Indeed, the idea is that the ease of social contact facilitated by the music-making can be generalized into regular communication. This in turn can lead to a marked lessening of the autism. For instance, program participant Kevin Leonard has improved remarkably as a result of the music-making, according to his father Peter, a professor at Vassar College. “Since doing the Music for Life Program, he has become a happier person. He talks more–and eats less!”

The program is currently jointly funded by Autism Directory Services and the Life Energy Foundation. This funding has meant the financial burden to the participants has been minimized. CPD Music, which is running the program till mid-June, plans to restart it in the fall on an expanded basis.

For more information on Music for Life Programs, check out the website of CPD Music:

Do you know someone who might like to join the program? If so, contact the program director Dr. Peter Muir on (845) 677-5871.

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