I was reading the blog of our friends at Pied Piper Studio in Iowa and a recent blog entry really struck home. Molly Hagkull mentioned her worry about becoming “The Temple of Large Colorful Plastic” as a result of the well-meaning generosity of family and friends at Christmas time. I look at the chaos of our own playroom and our son’s room —despite ennumerable attempts at organization and tidying — and I know just what she means. She came up with lots of ideas for ways to spend time with kids and maybe add a little token present to represent the promised adventure for leaving under the tree. It was such a good idea, I thought I’d adapt the idea to the Twin Cities. The opportunities for families are so rich in our area.

Consider giving the gift of music and time right here at our own Kindermusik studio. Sign up for a class with your child, young friend, or family member and spend time with them each week in a magical class of music, play, and dance. Classes are a wonderful time for fun and face-to-face time, playing together in an environment of warmth and love. You can email Helen Peterson if you’d like a gift certificate and the home materials for your class in time to put under the Christmas tree! Email Helen at helen.peterson@mchsi.com.

Both the Como Zoo in St. Paul and the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley have gift memberships and events year-round, including over the holidays. The Minnesota Zoo has expanded their exhibits to include a new African penguin exhibit and a Russian Coast exhbit with grizzly bears and amur leopards. The Como Zoo Conservatory makes a nice break from the cold winter weather. Both Zoos have gift shops that carry small stuffed animals, puppets, and animal models that would make a wonderful companion to a zoo membership and homemade coupons for regular zoo visits.

We are fortunate to have the Children’s Theater Company, a beloved and well-respected professional theater company, right here in the Twin Cities. The current production is The Wizard of Oz and spring productions include Harold and the Purple Crayon and Pippi Longstocking. Imagine giving a child a large box of crayons, a stack of paper, and an invitation to see Harold and the Purple Crayon!

The Steppingstone Theater in St. Paul is another high quality professional theater, with the bonus that many of their performers are children. A visit to a Steppingstone performance may inspire visions of a possible career!

The Minnesota Center for Book Arts offers family friendly art classes for families with children as young as 2. My son and I have attended several of these classes, including Valentine making and papermaking. The instructors do an excellent job of taking the children step-by-step through each simple project. The class usually begins with a storytime to introduce the theme of the project.

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater has wonderful evening performances geared to children and families, including the current show for the holidays, “Winter Dreams.” They also offer a creative series of Saturday shows through March that begin with a puppet show at 10:00 a.m. and are followed by a puppet-making workshop at 11:00 a.m. The Puppet Cookbook that IHOTB has assembled has some wonderful ideas for how to create puppet shows at home – from the very simple to more complex projects for older children.

The Cedar Cultural Center also offers occasional children’s performances with talented musicians and performers. You can also keep an eye on the websites of local performance venues such as the Burnsville Performing Arts Center for family friendly performances and concerts. Local libraries also host a wide variety of performances that are appropriate and highly entertaining for families. For any musical performance, a CD of the performer makes a lovely wrapped gift under the tree.

Both the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Art have free family days. The Walker Art Center is the first Saturday in the month, and the Minneapolis Musium of Art lists their dates on their website (http://www.artsmia.org/index.php?section_id=197). Both family days focus on a theme frequently having to do with a current exhibit. There’s a variety of activities that can include music, arts activities, and hands-on exhibits. A children’s book from the museum’s giftshop would make an admirable introduction to a visit to the art museum.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has family events, including special days where dogs are allowed to walk the arboretum with their family. A small potted everygreen or a packet of seeds in a small pot would make wonderful wrapped underneath the tree to celebrate an Arboretum trip.

There are performing groups that are made up of children—the Minnesota Boychoir, the Northfield Youth Choir, Steppingstone Theater, for instance—and make a wonderful outing for an aspiring performer.

We have many wonderful children’s bookstores in the Twin Cities: Wild Rumpus and Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, Red Balloon in St. Paul, and closer to home, a new bookstore opening in Burnsville called BooksMN. Each bookstore is kind of a magic place that has its own treasures: Wild Rumpus has a small menagerie of animals that can be found all over the store, wandering and also tucked into nooks and crannies. Red Balloon has an enormous reading platform right by their picture book section. Birchbark Books has a handmade treehouse that is a wonderful place to read and play. BooksMN will be offering storytimes by our own Miss Helen! A gift certificate from any of these bookstores along with a trip to the bookstore to help pick out some wonderful book-ish treasure would be one of those gifts of sheer fun that are actually good for them!

As a special gift for any promised outing, you can log onto play.kindermusik.com and create your own themed playlist anticipating the fun and adventure to come. Any of our teachers would be happy to make suggestions for you.

When our children start circling the products listed in the shiny catalogs, it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed. Really, what’s most important to your children, is face-to-face time with you and with the others who love them. There are so many opportunities to create those times that build lasting memories of love and warmth.

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