Imagine That!!! Back to Where It All Began!

A Performance of Kids’ Songs at the Children’s Museum Where They Were First Heard

by Jason Didner, children’s musician, creator of the Jungle Gym Jam

Jason performs solo acoustic at Imagine That!!! Children's MuseumTwo years ago we were celebrating my daughter Holly’s 2nd birthday in the party room at Imagine That!!! – A New Jersey Children’s Museum in Florham Park. Holly’s three cousins were there to party along with her. Lunch was eaten and it was time for some entertainment. I had brought my acoustic guitar along with me and something happened for the first time.

There was this new batch of songs that Amy and I had written about new experiences in Holly’s life, like her sighting of a ladybug on the ceiling or her fascination with the disappearing, reappearing moon in the sky. We were playing these songs around the house, but they hadn’t yet been performed publicly. That all changed at Holly’s party. Holly and her cousins were up and boppin’ around to these brand new, kid-friendly tunes. This was my first-ever performance of Jungle Gym Jam music in a public place – at Imagine That!!!

I would go on to give more performances there, playing in the next three semi-annual Mommy-and-Me meetup events that the museum hosts. This is where I’ve made some important fan connections, especially for one family who later traveled all the way from Livingston to Eatontown to see me perform last summer!

So I was very pleased when Karisa from Imagine That!!! (who happened to have worked with me to put together my daughter’s birthday party) invited me back for a return performance at next week’s Mommy-and-Me meetup, happening March 4. I will be the featured performer in the museum’s very cheerful and colorful puppet theater.

You can bet that I’ll be calling on those very same songs that were brand new when I played them at Holly’s 2nd birthday party, like “Mimi the Ladybug,” “Peek-a-boo Moon” and “Five Sea Lions.” You and the kids will also hear new music I’m working on for a new album planned for a summer release. There will be lots of interaction and opportunities to bond with your child over this music.

Admission to the museum on Mommy-and-Me Day is half-price and you’ll have chances to win great prizes for the family. This popular event also features a clever combination of family-friendly vendors who you’re sure to get really good value out of meeting in-person.

Your kids will have full access to a wonderfully stimulating museum that includes a real airplane, fire truck and car that have been converted to interactive exhibits. There are lots more opportunities for pretend play in the pretend grocery store, post office, doctor’s office, dance studio and more.

Plus, one of the CD’s that has remained in the museum’s stereo/CD changer over the past year is my album, “Everyone’s Invited!” which I will offer in a raffle basket you can win that day, and I will have available for purchase.

Get your Imagine That!!! Mommy-and-Me Meetup Tickets Here.

Download three free Jersey rock-inspired kids’ songs that I recorded here.

The Infinite Varieties of Children’s Music

Here’s How to Thrive on Broadening Your Kids’ Cultural Horizons

By Jason Didner, kindie rock musician, children’s concert promoter

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam captivate the kids at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJWhen you think of the term “children’s music,” what comes to mind?

Now I can’t speak for you but as a dad, I can tell you what used to come to my mind and what changed. Back when my daughter was about 1 year old (she’s now turning 4), my instincts on children’s music were to think of nursery rhyme songs, sung by groups of kids, or the soundtracks to PBS Kids and Disney Jr. shows. Of course, images of a certain purple dinosaur came to mind as well.

Thinking back on it, I must have been helping Holly develop her musical tastes on 2 different tracks – music my wife and I love like The Beatles (every Sunday morning), Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Van Halen, and then music we felt she should be learning to have a common understanding with other children, like the nursery rhyme songs.

At the time I had a hint that educational music for kids was out there that also rocked. My brother in Brooklyn had invited Amy and me to see Rolie Polie Guacamole perform Beatles songs along with their own quirky, funny kids’ songs at Stone House Park. Amy and I didn’t have children of our own at the time, but we were happy to accompany our baby niece on outings like this. My mom had sprung for a Rolie Polie Guacamole CD that we’d have handy when a child finally came into the picture. RPG turned out to be our first kindie concert. I wasn’t aware at the time that they were part of a movement; they existed in my mind as an isolated incident.

It must have occurred to me, having grown up on “Free to Be…You and Me” and “Schoolhouse Rock” that there were people making music all along since my childhood that helped tell stories and pass learning along to kids without patronizing them musically, and without annoying the grown-ups.

But as I became aware of some very unique and original music for kids and families, starting with Laurie Berkner and Justin Roberts, it soon dawned on me that kindie artists didn’t have to be limited by genre like more mainstream artists usually do. There are so many genre varieties in kindie: country, rap, hip hop, jazz, rock, punk, powerpop, funk and more. Often, an artist will create kindie songs in different genres all on one record – sometimes even over the course of one song!

Certain kindie artists come to mind who excel at a specific genre and sort of “own it.” For rap, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Mista Cookie Jar and the Alphabet Rockers come to mind right away. If you want rap where you never have to worry about profanity or messages glorifying poor life decisions, check these artists out. They share childhood joys, celebrate thinking outside the box and teach reading & math skills in rap –really, really good rap – rhythmically strong, with clever, intricate rhymes. We may want to cringe when we think about amateurish attempts to rap lessons for kids that come out more like rigid readings of simple poetry, but you’ve gotta hear the rap of these 3 artists, especially. And they often pop up on other artists’ records in very interesting collabs across genres.

In the world of kindie jazz, check out Jazzy Ash, whose ancestral home of New Orleans had a deep influence on her sound. Her lyrics teach about New Orleans culture and share childhood stories and experiences, all while keeping that festive Dixieland sound cookin’. Lori Henriques offers the sophisticated sounds of piano jazz while unleashing her inner joy so it may catch on with the families who are listening. Lucy Kalantari brings the sensibility of the Roaring ’20s to her happy-go-lucky song collection for the younger set.

If your taste is in punk, you’ll see your kids blow out a lot of energy dancing around to the stylings of The Boogers, Ratboy Jr. and The Not-its! There’s something about the energy of punk music that’s a natural fit with kids; I could just picture them bouncing around as if on pogo sticks, so I wrote “Jungle Gym Jamming” to that tempo to encourage lots of energetic movement.

Then there’s an artist like Joanie Leeds, who, over the course of one album will croon an original jazz number, give you a country hoedown, rock out with blistering intensity, share a sweet singer/songwriter ballad and help the kids get down with a heavy funk number.

Reggae and its uptempo sub-genre, ska, work particularly well in children’s music, creating a sunny, happy vibe that can carry a family through a day. It’s very popular as a color in many kindie artists’ palettes, used to great effect by Josh and the Jamtones, Yosi, Laurie Berkner and Rolie Polie Guacamole. My first Jungle Gym Jam song was a reggae number and after having seen Josh and the Jamtones in action, I was inspired to arrange another of my songs with a reggae/ska beat.

There’s so much to like in today’s kindie music that will open your children up to liking lots and lots of musical genres and songs created and produced from the artists’ heart to your family’s hearts, without being distorted by multinational entertainment conglomerates and focus groups. This is kindie. And as a dad, I love this stuff so much for my own kids that I’ve thrown myself into it professionally as well.

Comment below with your thoughts about the diversity of the kindie movement and all the genres it spans.

Would you like to get some free kindie music? Follow this link to get a free three-pack of kindie songs from my own Jungle Gym Jam project for your family’s enjoyment right now!

What a Blast at Maxwell’s in Hoboken!

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam bring a kindie song to a big ending at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJ for kids & familiesWOW! What a way to spend a Monday afternoon!

My original inspiration to create the Hoboken concert series Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays was my very uplifting experience performing at World Cafe Live in Wilmington, Delaware as part of the Peanut Butter & Jams concert series for kids and families. I felt like the surroundings of an honest-to-goodness performance space added to the anticipation of a full-blown rock concert made just for the young audience members. It felt like a real kindie music scene. And I wanted that for northern New Jersey.

So, now that there’s a scene connected with kindie artists and an audience hungry for what we do, I couldn’t wait to jump right in and give a performance for this crowd, now at this concert series’ 3-week mark. And for a band like ours that leans toward Jersey rock, influenced by Bruce Springsteen, how cool was it that we performed on the same stage where The Boss filmed the video for “Glory Days!”

Moms & kids dance to Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJThe moms and kids were all smiles as we launched into our favorite opening song “Your Happy Place.” We got playful and interactive during our next song “Little Yellow Plane,” all about the aircraft that carries a banner for all the beachgoers to see. It was like a little Jersey Shore beach party on a frigid afternoon.

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam leads the kids through a game of "There's a Big Wave!" that his daughter Holly made up.The kids were stretching out their arms to look like airplanes. We also battled some imaginary ocean waves (credit to my daughter Holly for inventing this game!) Plenty of kids were situated on the carpet squares in front of the stage by the time we got to “Five Sea Lions” where they counted down with me as the playful creatures in the song dove into the water. The kids also did the rolling and swimming motions with their hands. We formed a human train in “Window of the Train” and the kids helped me figure out that my cute red insect puppet with black spots wasn’t really a bumble bee. Well, you learn something new every day…

The kids form a big front line in front of the dance area at Jason Didner & the Jungle Gym Jam's performance at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJBy the time we reached our encore with “Down By the Bay” there was a line of kids across the very front of the dance floor, perfect for high-fiving at the conclusion of the song. Giving kids their first taste of a rock concert was a special thrill for me, especially seeing what a positive experience it was.

Maxwell’s concert promoter Dave Entwistle was on-hand to run sound, with his awesome 2-year-old by his side (and sleeping in his arms for part of the time). Little Ben was quite helpful in putting on the show as he reached into my box of carpet squares and followed my lead in placing them out on the floor before the show. My daughter Holly also found new ways to be helpful, like directing other kids’ moms to where they could pick up the free Big Apple Circus clown noses for their kids that I had just put out. It made me proud to see her make new friends of kids she had never met before. It’s a really nice group of kids & families that are coming out to these events.

Heather from Hoboken Mommies was on hand along with her daughter, taking pictures and sharing them socially to the group’s popular Facebook page. One little rock-n-roller brought along his green guitar and took it out of his little green gig bag, ready to rock along with the band! We gave away an “Everyone’s Invited!” CD and a pair of tickets to the Big Apple Circus’ opening night on its Bridgewater, New Jersey stand this Thursday, 2/26.

Next Monday I return to my role of concert promoter (and add sound engineer to my job description) and watch the performances of my very talented friends in the field of rock and jazz for kids & families. On Monday, March 2 my friend and mentor Marc “Baze” Bazerman takes the stage with his group Baze and His Silly Friends. Baze is producing my upcoming album and he’s eliciting vocal performances from me that have caused me to surprise myself in all the best ways.

I’m very excited not just for the artists scheduled to play in the weeks ahead, but also for the families who get to experience the fullness of the kindie music movement and get their kids exposed to a variety of styles, ideas, stories and lessons created lovingly to enrich their young lives.

Maxwell's Mini Music MondaysIf you’d like to keep up with the happenings at this concert series, make sure to like the Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays page Facebook!

Check out our spring lineup at Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays here and get early bird pricing on tickets (through the Friday before each Monday concert).

Download a 3-pack of my songs and get special offers and bulletins related to my upcoming performances and new family-friendly creations.

How Effective Are Child Sponsorships?

Guest post by Vera Mullins

Over the years, controversies have been rife over child sponsorships, but research and numerous studies have shown the vast improvement of kids’ lives in developing countries. According to a report on the BBC, which mainly focused on one aid agency, it managed to yield desirable results for both the sponsors and the organization.

The report specifically mentioned that kids stayed in school longer than those who didn’t have a sponsor, leading them to white collar jobs and even becoming leaders of their churches or communities. 42 percent of the sponsored children in Uganda were more likely to complete their secondary schooling. 83 percent of those part of the program were more likely to finish university. The greatest impact of child sponsorships can be seen with Ugandan schoolgirls. SFGate revealed that on average Ugandan girls stayed in school three years longer than their older siblings and non-sponsored peers.

Schoolchildren in Uganda continue to be blessed with educational opportunities, opening new doors to further develop not only themselves, but the rest of the community. The number of success stories are significantly less in other countries riddled in war, including Iraq. However, organizations such as UnaKids, continue to seek donors and sponsors to keep children in school and provide basic necessities, such as shelter and health care. This organization is a nonprofit that gives aid to children primarily in countries where oil company UnaOil operates.

While all of this sounds promising, people cannot help but still be skeptical about this programs. There is still the lingering notion of “leaving others behind,” only letting a select few children further educational pursuits. It’s a common misconception about these organizations. The Director of Fundraising and Communications of ActionAid International recently visited Cambodia and discovered that child sponsorship not only benefits the sponsored, but also the community. Matthew Beard explained that sponsorships are strategically allocated, so that advocacy will go toward the child as well as community, which will learn the skills to make it self-reliant.

Although the name is misleading, child sponsorships go a long way, making a difference in one kid’s life, and making positive changes in his respective community for a better future. Never stop giving these kids hope.