Rock-a-Baby for Little Music Lovers

Melody, Rhythm and Harmony - the Rock-a-Baby puppets.

Combine a live band, familiar rock-n-roll songs, and three clever puppets, and you get Rock-a-Baby, a musical learning experience for babies and toddlers. The classes originated in New York City, although watching a video from one of the NYC classes makes me glad I live in the much more low key (and less populous) state of Rhode Island.

Madeline and I joined one of the first Providence sessions this fall with about a half dozen other children ranging in age from six months to three years. Each class, hosted by singer Kate, pianist Marc, and guitarist Benny, focused on a different ‘theme of the week’ with songs to match and a new instrument in the spotlight to explore. The format perfectly balanced the repetition kids need (starting class with the same song and ending with bubble time, for example), while offering some new exposure to instruments or musical concept. Even adults were entertained by the repertoire of songs and the Henson-like humor of the Rock-a-Baby puppets.

Alas, as much as I loved Rock-a-Baby, Madeline is getting a bit old for it so we may try some classes at the RI Philharmonic this spring. I mean, she could be playing Beethoven’s waltzes at four-years-old. As for our new addition, Lucy, I’m sure she’ll be a Rock-a-Baby fan as soon as she can stay awake long enough to attend a class.

The 2011 classes begin in January, but for a preview you can see the Rock-a-Baby group perform as part of the Bright Night celebration in Providence, RI on December 31 at 1:30 and 3:30 pm at the Providence Children’s Museum.

Classes in Providence and Warwick, RI

20 Minutes and $5 at the Wintertime Farmer’s Market

The Yams and one of their biggest fans.

It was 12:25 on Saturday when my daughter said she wanted to go to the Farmer’s Market. “Ok, hurry up, it closes in half an hour,” I said, rushing her out the door. I had only $5 in my pocket, but no time to stop at the ATM. I didn’t think there would be much time for shopping anyway.

We walked hand-in-hand into Hope Artiste Village at 12:40, and it was still busy. First stop, McCarten Violins. They moved across the hall this year to a bigger space, and gauging from appearances, this was needed. The shop was full, and Madeline loved to watch people testing out the instruments.

Next stop, across the hall in the “Greenhouse,” all the food vendors are set up. Thankfully, Tina’s Caribbean is here now too. The Yams are still playing, and Madeline spent our first dollar on a small bag of Nettie’s Kettle Corn. Our time slipped by with dancing, and the Yams got dollar #2. A few minutes before 1pm, we finally walked the hall, and watched everyone finishing up business. I was happy to see that all of the studios lining the market hall were filled with designers and artists, and we stopped in to draw a picture, pet a puppy, and watch a painter at work. The last three dollars were spent on a meat pie at Tina’s, and Madeline and I talked with some friends and listened to the last strains of music. It was a well spent 20 minutes.

Duckpin Bowling in Rhode Island

Bowling for a three-year-old warrants even more enthusiasm than the average adult.

On a recent vacation in France, we made the mistake of promising to take Madeline bowling. After trekking out to the outskirts of Nice, we found the Acropolis only to learn that at age three and shoe size seven, she was much too young and too small to bowl. Somehow that never occurred to us.

To give the kids an advantage, they have a plastic ramp to roll the ball down the center of the lane.

So when we decided to take her duckpin bowling in Rhode Island, we called ahead to confirm their available shoe sizes, operating hours, and bumpers. Satisfied that this might actually work, we headed out to The Bowling Academy in East Providence, RI for an early Saturday night bowl (after 8pm, it’s Rock N’ Bowl).

Duckpin bowling, for those who don’t know, is a variation of bowling with smaller, lighter balls and shorter, fatter pins.  The Bowling Academy is one of a handful of alleys in the state that offer duckpin bowling (see list below).  The place is nothing fancy, but the lanes are gleaming and the employees spray disinfectant in the shoes after people leave, which I personally appreciate. Of course, for a three-year-old, none of that matters. Rather, the easy-to-handle balls; bumpers to keep them in the lane; and even a plastic ramp to slide a ball down the lane more centrally are the things that make duckpin bowling a surefire kid-pleaser.  So, it wasn’t at all a surprise that the next morning, she was already asking to go back.

Duckpin Bowling Alleys in Rhode Island

The Bowling Academy
354 Taunton Avenue
East Providence, RI
(401) 434-5839

Dudek Lanes
409 Child Street
Warren, RI
(401) 245-9471

Legion Bowl & Billiards
661 Park Avenue
Cranston, RI
(401) 781-8888

Meadowbrook Lanes
2530 Warwick Ave.
Warwick, RI
(401) 737-5402

Mac’s Bowlaway
890 Main Street
West Warwick, RI
(401) 828-3279

Town Hall Lanes
1463 Atwood Avenue
Johnston, RI 02919
(401) 831-6940

Wickford Lanes
7665 Post Road
North Kingstown, RI 02852
(401) 294-9886

Also see the Rhode Island Duckpin Bowlers Association at

Underland at the Providence Children’s Museum

Playing in the cozy caves of Underland

Last winter, the Providence Children’s Museum raised funds partly to launch two new outdoor exhibits — Underland and The Climber. Underland has since become one of Madeline’s favorite exhibits. The cave of gnarled trees and dark tunnels with a knotty wood table and wooden chairs appeals to children’s fort-building instincts. Not surprisingly, Madeline’s spent the bulk of her last few visits to the museum in Underland digging in the sand, dressing in animal costumes, and preparing pretend meals with slices of wood and carved cups. She’s been so busy, she hasn’t even yet noticed The Climber…

Underland at the Providence Children’s Museum
100 South Street
Providence, RI  02903

OM Kids Yoga in the Park

Kids enjoy a group yoga class at Brown Street Park.

If you think a 3-year-old is too young for yoga, think again.  I sat amazed as I watched about a dozen children remain fairly focused while they chanted “om” and assumed a variety of positions on their yoga mats.  Led by Elyse Rotondo who will be opening up her own yoga studio in the next few months, the class is a fun and gentle introduction to yoga for kids.  And it’s free.

Yoga teaches the kids how to focus, stretch and relax.

Yoga Instructor Elyse Rotondo

Brown Street Park
Brown Street between Creighton and Halsey Streets
Providence, RI

Note: Since this post, Om Kids Yoga Studio has opened in Pawtucket:

Om Kids Yoga Studio
Hope Artiste Village
999 Main Street
Suite 702
Pawtucket, RI

South Kingston Winter Farmers’ Market

A variety of crunchy apples from Hill Orchards are available year-round at the market.

Next weekend will be the final weekend for the South Kingston Winter Farmers’ Market. A down-home version of the Pawtucket Winter Farmers’ Market, the South Kingston Winter Farmers’ Market features a modest selection of farms, but certainly enough to buy the wintertime basics — eggs, root vegetables, lettuces, apples, jams, sausages, cheeses, meats — and even a few potted herbs and flowers for building your garden. On our visit, we only had about $25 in cash which didn’t seem like much, but it stretched pretty far, enough to buy some homemade johnny cakes, pizza strips from Palmieri’s Bakery, eight apples from Hill Orchards, a bag of spring lettuce, some popcorn and even some homemade shea butter lotion for $15.

You can't go wrong with fresh, local eggs.

Despite the fact that I actually saw snow fall on Friday, spring has technically arrived, and in just a few short months, we’ll be coming upon the summer markets season with several dozen to choose from across the state. But I will miss the winter markets a bit. I’ve loved discovering such incredible bounty from our local farms in the midst of winter — from baby pea greens to tasty crisp carrots. As for the snow, that I won’t miss at all.

South Kingston Winter Farmers’ Market
Saturdays 10 am -2 pm through April 4, 2010
Peacedale Mill Complex
1425 Kingstown Rd
South Kingston, RI

For a list of all farmers’ markets in Rhode Island, view Farm Fresh RI.

Renaissance Gymnastics Academy

2013 NOTE: I can no longer recommend Renaissance Gymnastics Academy due to their poor make-up policy. After paying $72/month in lessons for gymnastics, they canceled two due to snow and one due to February vacation–so that comes to $72 for a 55 minute class. Although they promised a make-up class, they never came through with one.  There are plenty of better places to take gymnastics I’ve discovered — like Aim High Academy which has locations in East Greenwich, RI and Johnston, RI.

Madeline jumps out some extra energy on the trampoline.

During the winter, I decided to sign up Madeline for gymnastics classes to expend all that extra energy she seems to have (too bad it’s not transferable).  So on the advice of some other parents, I decided to try a free trial class at the Renaissance Gymnastics Academy in East Providence.  I figured she’d do a few somersaults, jump around a bit, and have a blast.

As it turns out, it’s even better.  Her teacher Joanna sets up a structured routine (different for each class) that keeps the kids moving constantly and changing activities quickly.  For the Little Tykes program, activities might include an obstacle courses for the kids, some practice hanging from the horizontal bar, and donkey kicks on the trampoline.  The gym itself boasts an impressive array of equipment including several trampolines, balance beams, bars, mats, and the favorite — a large pit filled with foam cubes that the kids jump into and climb out of.

In addition to their classes, the gym is open to the public ($10/child) at scheduled times for Open Play (children walking to age 5) and Open Gym (ages 6 and up).

Renaissance Gymnastics Academy
885 Waterman Avenue
East Providence, RI

A Trio of Libraries: Providence’s Public Library, Community Library and the Athenaeum

The Providence Athenaeum children's section has a cozy reading area filled with children's books.

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight.  The Providence Public Library consists of the Central Library at 150 Empire Street in downtown Providence.  But since July 2009 due to fiscal problems, the other nine city branches (Rochambeau, Fox Point, etc.) have been overseen by a nonprofit organization called the Providence Community Library.  As unusual as this sounds, the two remain linked, so that one can take a book out of the Rochambeau branch with a Providence Public library card.

There’s also the Providence Athenaeum, an independent membership library housed in an 1838 Greek Revival building in College Hill, which shouldn’t be overlooked.  Although there’s an annual membership fee, you gain access to events, borrowing privileges from their collection and RISD’s, and the knowledge that you’re supporting a historic piece of the community.  If membership fee seems too steep, no matter — the library is open to the public and encourages visitors.

With all this variety comes one challenge — keeping track of events.  So if you happen to be looking for a children’s story time, for example, be sure to check the Cradles to Crayons series held at both the main and other branches, as well as the the Athenaeum’s story hours.

Providence Athenaeum
251 Benefit Street
Providence, RI

Providence Public Library
150 Empire Street
Providence, RI

Providence Community Library
See a list of branches.

2nd Story Theatre: Comic Potential

Paula Faber, Kevin Broccoli, Vince Petronio, and Laura Sorensen in Comic Potential. Photo by Rich Dionne.

I adore theatre. Granted, I’ve seen a few shows that I didn’t like (such as Smokey Joe’s Cafe which I had the misfortune of seeing on Broadway). But in general, I love theatres large and small and shows drama, comedy or musical.

The 2nd Story Theatre where I saw Comic Potential last night seems an especially great find. It’s an intimate theatre (not a bad seat in the house) with simple sets and great plays emphasizing writing and acting. It reminded me of the Lyric Stage, my favorite theatre in Boston. They even have a café downstairs serving salad, pannini, and soup. It looked charming, but Geoff couldn’t resist delicious fish tacos at Beebop Burrito next door.

The play — a mix of theatre of the absurd and futuristic allegory — had attracted a full house, which gives me faith that theatre is not dead, after all. Although I was a bit alarmed by the average age of the audience (definitely AARP status). C’mon kids (by which I mean those aged 25-45)! Go to the theatre! Avatar can’t be that good, can it?

2nd Story Theatre
28 Market Street
Warren, RI
Current play: Comic Potential (now through February 21)
Upcoming plays: The Voysey Inheritance (March 12-April 11) and The Underpants (April 30-May 30)

Bebop Burrito
40 Market Street
Warren, RI

Support the Providence Children’s Museum

Climbing in the pretend forest at the Providence Children's Museum.

I’ll never forget the first time I took Madeline to the Children’s Museum in Boston — upon arrival we went directly into the first room which contains a wall of tubes and slides for ping pong balls. She didn’t want to leave.

She’s since learned that there’s usually something even more exciting around every corner so our recent visits to the Providence Children’s Museum have spanned all the exhibits from noise-makers to stacking magnetic shapes to human bones. My personal favorite is “Coming to Rhode Island” where kids (and crouching adults) can weave through Rhode Island’s past to hear stories and role play in four scenes related to families who emigrated to the state. On one recent visit, the Latino bodega became authentically bustling with kids shopping for canned goods, weighing vegetables and ringing up customers.

In one exhibit, kids can toss feathery balls and cloths through a series of air tubes to see where they shoot out.

Currently, the museum is a few hundred thousand shy of their $1.5 million fundraising target for their Play Works Campaign for Kids which will help them accomplish several goals including the creation of two new outdoor exhibits set to open in the summer 2010: Underland, an underground world filled with roots, tunnels and critters’ burrows and The Climber, a custom-designed climbing experience. So if you can, show your support — every small donation gets them closer to their goal.

Providence Children’s Museum
100 South Street
Providence, RI 02903