Category Archives: Parenting

Snow day—a good day to print our coloring pages

Open and print these PDF pages for some fun and creative activities:

Free to Be...You and Me Coloring Page
Illustration by Hannah Tuohy Illustrations
Everyone's Invited! Coloring Page
Illustration by Melissa Bailey
Free to Be…You and Me Coloring Page Everyone’s Invited! Album Cover Coloring Page
The Pick Song coloring page
Illustration by Rickman Graphics
Peek-a-boo Moon Coloring Page
Illustration by Hannah Tuohy Illustrations
The Pick Song Coloring Page Peek-a-boo Moon Coloring Page
Mimi_the_Ladybug_Coloring_Page_Thumb Five Sea Lions Coloring Page
Illustration by Emily Clapham
Mimi the Ladybug Coloring Page Five Sea Lions Coloring Page
Jungle Gym Jam song title word find
Find Jungle Gym Jam song titles!
Jungle Gym Jam Maze
Help the pick find its way to the guitar!
Word Find Maze

The weather will be much better to get around this Saturday 11/29 when we host Holiday Family Fun Day at Immaculate Conception Church in Montclair. The Snow Queen from Frozen will lead a sing-along of “Let It Go” and the Jungle Gym Jam will introduce a new song. Doors open at 1PM. Music at 1:30.

Traveling with the Family and Making Music – a Cultural Exchange

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam arrives in Wilmington Delaware with his daughter for a gigTraveling with family is one of those special rituals that a person can take with him/her as an important childhood memory; travel days stand out against a backdrop of time spent at home. I agree with Jeff Bogle, creator of the Out with the Kids parenting blog and contributor to many high-profile parenting resources as well, when he says that it’s all the little things that happen on trips that add up to a total childhood experience and influence a life. He adds that a child is not too young to start soaking in these experiences even if that child may not entirely recall the trip later in life from such a young age.

I’d like to add something to that; because at this stage in life, as a dad, I’ve found a new way to engage my passion as a musician – by sharing it so intensely with my own daughter and with kids and families everywhere – and am enjoying music career success like I’ve never known before. This has opened up the opportunity to travel occasionally to perform. What this brings to mind is what happens when traveling with a young child with two purposes in mind: sharing with your child the local culture and travel experience is what families usually have on a trip; and In our case, offering our very own creativity to these different places. I get to demonstrate for my daughter the interchange of culture — soaking up the local flavor while also sharing our flavor and leaving something of ourselves behind on the trip.

Today the band and I will perform at World Cafe Live at the Queen in Wilmington, DE for the Peanut Butter and Jams concert series (Doors open at 11:00). This will be my southernmost public performance of music in my life, and, if this pattern continues, this is the beginning of a geographic expansion of our family and musical travels. At this show my high school friend Mara Gorman, creator of the Mother of All Trips blog will offer her perspectives on traveling with the family as well; she’s authored a book on the subject.

Next time you travel with your family, what cultural elements might you and your child soak up together? In what ways can you exchange bits of culture with the people you’re visiting? How can you involve your child in this exchange of creative energy? Please discuss in the comments below.

Get Your (Name???) To Mars!

Since I was a child, I was always fascinated with space travel. Star Trek and Star Wars were one thing, but to learn that just one year before I was born, people had begun walking on the Moon…

My younger brother Matt and I used to play the Apollo 11 crew in our backyard. Of course I played Neil Armstrong and Matt was always Buzz Aldrin. My favorite Halloween costume was a very official looking NASA space suit. Speaking of Buzz, he’s originally from my current hometown of Montclair, NJ; he recently got our town’s first ever ‘key to the city.’

Now that we’ve “been there done that” with the Moon, our next sights are on Mars. Today NASA revealed a project where it will send the names of all interested parties from all over the world along on an unmanned mission to the red planet. Here’s my “boarding pass.”

Here’s where you can get your name added quickly, easily, for free.

Other favorite memories include a family trip to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, seeing an exact replica of the Lunar Lander at the Smithsonian, and launching an Estes model rocket with my dad in the school parking lot across the street from my first childhood house. The taste of that freeze-dried ice cream kind of grows on me too. I look forward to sharing these experiences with my daughter as she grows.

What are your experiences with all things space related? Is it a big part of your family’s imagination time? Have you travelled to the Kennedy Center, Smithsonian, Intrepid, Mission Control or anywhere with a space history?

Jason Didner's boarding pass to Mars in NASA's Send Your Name project

My Key to a Young Attitude – Keep Having “Firsts”!

“For the first time in forever…” sings Princess Anna in the Disney movie Frozen, feeling like her life’s just beginning.

Jason Didner playing bass with Suzi Shelton in Scotch Plains, NJ

My first time playing bass in front of an audience since college – with Suzi Shelton. Picture by Elaine Harrison-Yau

I suppose I didn’t have a preconceived notion of life in my 40s but I will say that I feel pretty young and vital on a daily basis. One thing that keeps me feeling young is to keep having “firsts” in my life – as in first-time-ever or first-time-in-a-long-time experiences. Here are some firsts that I had this summer as a kids-and-family music professional and as a dad:

  • First time playing bass live in front of an audience since college in the early 90s. I got up on stage to join Suzi Shelton at her concert last week. In my college days I played bass in the pit orchestra for a few summer musicals like “Grease,” “West Side Story,” and “Olkahoma!”
  • First time running through a sprinkler since I was a kid! Spending the afternoon like this with my daughter and nieces was a joy!
  • First time giving a rock concert at 7:00 in the morning, easily a record for me. Thanks to some vocal warm-ups, my voice cooperated about as well as I could have asked it that early in the morning! This concert was 2 weeks ago at Sports Authority’s Grand Reopening in Springfield, NJ.
  • First time sitting on the deck just to watch the fireflies since I was a kid. Holly is the perfect firefly-watching buddy!
  • First time giving a ukulele lesson this week (while still new to the instrument myself). Soon I’ll reveal a surprise on how these uke lessons are being used.
  • First time licensing a cover song for official release as a single. This song will be released this fall as a duet with a very well known, respected and fabulous kindie artist.
  • First time using the wireless headset-mic in a full-band live setting. This gives me a whole new level of freedom to move in a song like “Jungle Gym Jamming!”
  • First time running my own podcast and interviewing fellow artists. The podcast is called “Make Kindie Happen – The Kids-and-Family Music Career Podcast.” I’ve interviewed Joanie Leeds and Miss Nina, as well as publishing two solo podcasts. Both guests offered very valuable experience and insight to the kids’ entertainment community.
  • Just last night, the first time rehearsing the Jungle Gym Jam with keyboards. Casey added a great new texture and sophistication to our sounds by sitting at the keys! I can’t wait to share it with you!
  • First time submitting an album for a Grammy award!
  • First time being Holly’s “running buddy!” This child is going to get me back into regular exercise. I don’t mind!

What are some “firsts” that you’ve had lately? What “firsts” do you want to have this summer? Discuss in the comments below.

Free to Be You and Me – a Bold Gender Equality Kids Album from my Childhood

Free to Be You and MeThe upbeat rhythm and big melody of the opening number stay with me from the days of my mom filling the house with these tunes and skits on the family turntable. So much so that I’m preparing to perform my own cover of that title song “Free to Be You and Me.” The excitement of liberation is electric in this song and deserves to be heard by a new generation of young listeners.

Here’s my cover of the song as a solo acoustic performance on YouTube:

In the 70s, kids needed to be freed from gender stereotypes. A boy who wanted to practice nurturing on a baby doll. A princess who insists with her father the king on her right to marry who she wants, if she wants. A poet who tells kids and parents not to believe the hype about the smiling lady on TV washing dishes with the latest and greatest detergent, but rather, to share in the housework as a family and get it over with because everybody hates housework.

William wants a doll - Free to Be You and MeI’m now a little girl’s daddy with a heart full of memories of bottle feedings, burping, diaper changing and bathing as bonding time with our baby. Flash forward three years and I’m painting my young one’s fingernails pink and purple. In turn, she’s equally comfortable dressing up Barbie dolls and pushing the lawnmower with me. I live in a time, place and family where gender equality is a living success story. Not everybody does, but it’s my normal reality.

Listening to that landmark album today brings up ways in which it participated in social changes that paved the way for my free thinking about gender equality. The energy of that opening number brings up thoughts to the freedom kids may need help experiencing these days. They need to be free to be kids, to have honest-to-goodness, unstructured, unscheduled outdoor physical play time. They need freedom from dependence on video games and gadgets to mitigate boredom.

Kids still need freedom from the fear of bullying, both in person and online. Skits like “Dudley and the Principle” paired with “It’s All Right to Cry” sung by uber-masculine football/action hero Roosevelt Grier can still be a welcome source of comfort to a child caught up in a vicious cycle of feeling persecuted, crying and then being persecuted for crying.

Fun fact: I played Dudley in a middle school production of “Free to be You and Me.” it was my job to cry over being held after school for a sand table I didn’t knock down.

Here’s a TV interview with creator Marlo Thomas about this special project she created, where she discusses why she and her friends felt the album needed to be made, and about the challenges she had in convincing TV producers to include “William Wants a Doll” in the special broadcast based on the album. Producers feared the potential emasculating effects of publicizing a message that it’s OK for boys to play with dolls.

Check out this lively and enjoyable classic kids’ album “Free to Be You and Me” on iTunes.

What are the important songs from your childhood that influenced the person you are today? Let’s discuss in the comments below.