Category Archives for Family Time

5 Tips to Introduce Your Kids to Concert Music

Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Robert Greenburg as a LifeTales guest blogger. Mr. Greenburg is a composer, pianist and music historian based in Califnornia. He offers over 30 music courses, originally made for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series, through his website. He also blogs on Patreon and his website.
Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Robert Greenburg as a LifeTales guest blogger. Mr. Greenburg is a composer, pianist and music historian based in Califnornia. He offers over 30 music courses, originally made for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series, through his website. He also blogs on Patreon and his website.

Want to bring a little classical music in your home? It’s a great way to introduce your kids to music and a long history of artistic excellence.

But first, I humbly suggest you rethink the terminology.

Classical music = concert music

When you think of classical music, you’re really thinking of concert music. Many of the pieces in the standard repertoire was composed by European men between roughly 1650 and 1900. It’s also usually played in formal spaces like concert halls (hence the name).

While this music is often referred to as “classical music,” that phrase is about as helpful as “real imitation margarine.” Why?

When we name something a “classic,” we’re connecting it with the ideals and restraint of ancient Greek art, which immediately rules out the great bulk of concert music. A lot of concert music, often as not, is filled with sturm und drang or angst and exaltation. It’s not exactly restrained.

So, concert music it is.

Why should you introduce kids to concert music?

Concert music constitutes some of the greatest music humans have ever cooked up. As a musical art form, concert music informs, edifies, educates, entertains, inspires, and packs a toy shop’s worth of joy. Introduced at the right time, it has the power to stay with children for the rest of their lives.

Tip #1: Lead by example

One of the great truisms of modern parenting is that children are more likely to read if they are read to and if they see their parents reading.

The same is true with music. It’s incumbent upon parents to set an example by listening to concert music at home and in the car (the latter might require some negotiation, but it is my experience that it CAN BE DONE).  Don’t be afraid of playing the same piece over and over again; familiarity breeds affection.

(Having said all this, don’t play one type of music to the exclusion of all others.  The distinctions we have created between “concert music” and “rock ‘n’ roll”, and “jazz” and so forth are meaningless to children.  They tend to just like music – all music – which is how it should be.)

Tip #2: Embrace noise and buy some drums

You don’t have to go full drum-kit, but playing along with your little maestros is a fun family bonding activity (slip the earplugs in if you need to–we won’t judge). Photo courtesy of Matthijs Smit via Unsplash.

It’s a fact of existence that kids love noise and parents detest it. Yet, I recommend that you invest in some decent percussion toys and encourage your kids to “play along” with recordings and videos. Better still, do it with them.

Picking up a drumstick will make you an active, not passive, participant in the musical process. It’s also a lot more fun than you might think.

Worried about “insulting” Bach or Mozart or Beethoven with your talents? Friends, they’re long dead and beyond insult. Besides, is playing along with a recording any more insulting than the disco arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that was featured in Saturday Night Fever?  

I rest my case.

Tip #3: Introduce kid-friendly movies about music

There are dozens of kid-friendly story that model the role of concert music in modern life that are perfect for kids under six. My three-year-old son and five-year-old daughter love them.

Some examples:

Tip #4: Go to local concerts together

Take your kids to experience music at local events. Many cities and towns hold children’s concerts or musical events geared for families.

Outdoor festival concerts are even better, since they allow kids to run around and move to the music. Try to listen to the pieces on the program beforehand. Music literacy is very similar to written literacy.

A little bit of preparation, even a tiny amount, can pay off big time in terms of intensifying the experience for your kids. 

Tip #5: Get a piano

Bringing a piano into your home will increase your children’s exposure to music.

Don’t assume your instrument has to be an 8’11¾” Steinway “D,” which has a list price of approximately $130,000. A little spinet will do.

Put the piano in a place where the kids can bang away without making the rest of the family crazy. When it’s time for lessons (I recommend you start at age 6 or 7), the piano will be an old friend and not a new torture device.

Speaking of lessons—you’re never too old to start. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa or Whomever should think about taking lessons and practicing together with the kids for a bonding experience like no other.  

Piano or keyboard?

A child practices piano skills while sitting at a Yamaha.
Piano or keyboard? Professor Greenberg has some feels about that.
Photo courtesy of Siniz Kim via Unsplash.

Don’t know much about pianos? It’s an instrument made out of wood, medal, leather and felt.

It breathes. It is real. Its mechanism follows the will of the player’s body.

An electric keyboard is made out of plastic and circuitry. It is not real. It does not breathe. In my opinion, they have no place in your home. 

Unsure where to start? Here’s a starter playlist  

Would you love to bring concert music into your home? Not sure where to start?

Here are some wonderful performances of great works to get you going:

  1. Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertos; Trevor Pinnock conducting, on Archiv.
  2. Wolfgang Mozart, Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, & 41; Neville Marriner conducting, on EMI.
  3. Ludwig van Beethoven, Nine Symphonies; John Eliot Gardiner conducting, on Archiv.
  4. Camille Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals; Charles Dutoit conducting, on London.
  5. Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf; Carlo Rossi conducting, narrated by Boris Karloff, on Vanguard.

Meet Brooke Monks

How one LifeTales mom is creating a flexible life for her family


Brooke Monks. Photo courtesy of BrookeMonks.com.

In February 2016, Brooke Monks had the life she thought she wanted.

She was working full time as an elementary school teacher. At home, she balanced a busy home life with her husband, two children and a wide circle of family and friends.

Then, her grandfather died.

“Looking back, everything started to change with his passing,” Monks says. “My grandfather had several strokes before his death. It became serious very fast. And, my family is tight knit. His illness and then death hit us all hard. I was particularly concerned about my grandmother and my brother, who was very close to our grandfather. Knowing they needed me and being an hour away was incredibly hard.”

What do you do when a career doesn’t make space for your life?

Monks had a tough time finding flexibility in her teaching role. “Teaching is a very structured job. It has to be for the students. But I was riddled with guilt that I wasn’t doing enough for everyone I loved. And I just couldn’t take time off.”

Her frustration was not a complete surprise. “I knew teaching a full class demanded too much from me. I’d switched from teaching Grade 4 to doing prep coverage, which is when you give other teachers time to do their classwork preparation. I taught their French classes. I thought it would give me less homework and grading to do, freeing up my evenings and weekends.” She laughs ruefully. “My plan completely backfired. I ended up with more to do.”

Monks and her family on a trip to Canada’s east coast. Photo courtesy of BrookeMonks.com.

At home, Monks’ two-year old daughter had also developed a severe case of eczema, which caused her tremendous pain. “Dealing with my daughter’s illness, my family’s grief and my job was overwhelming. It got to the point where I couldn’t recall any French vocabulary. Stress was impairing my cognitive function. I went on medical leave.”

While the break was what she needed, leaving teaching was a challenge for Monks. “I’d been a teacher for 12 years. I was so invested. I pushed myself to go back. But I was seeing a psychologist who just kept telling me I wasn’t ready. Then a friend of mine introduced me to lifestyle coaching.”

Life coaching gave Brooke a new beginning

Stylish and outrageously positive with a mega-watt smile, Monks is exactly the person you’d like to have as a coach. Instead of driving to school each morning, she now works from home which gives her the flexibility to honor family commitments.

“Leaping into entrepreneurship was the right decision for me,” says Monks. “I feel like 40 is the perfect time to make a life change. My kids are still relatively young and my parents are healthy. Having flexibility in my life means I can shift gears when they need me.”

And, LifeTales has also changed the way she’s experiencing her children’s lives. “I’m around when they need me,” she says. “That’s the biggest difference. I’ve started using the LifeTales app to make sure I’m capturing all the special, cool little things they do and say. My daughter calls it her mini Instagram. My son calls it his YouTube. I love that they’ve got a private place to express themselves without scrutiny.”

Monks credits LifeTales as part of her effort to be more mindful in everything she does. “I’ve got this great prompt to stop and capture the ordinary and the extraordinary moments. They’re safely stored in the cloud. Knowing I’ve got our family memories so nicely organized makes me super happy.”

Stellar Family Vacations: Experiencing Toronto

Why one of the world’s most diverse cities should be on every family’s list of vacation spots

View of downtown Toronto from the Toronto Islands. Photo courtesy of Cédric Blondeau on Unsplash.

Experiencing Toronto is a highlight for families, couples, and single travlers.

It’s a funny time of year in Toronto. Spring hasn’t fully arrived (oh hey, April snow, nice to see you again, please leave) and summer doesn’t yet feel like it’s around the corner.

Rest assured that it is coming. Your next block of vacation time will be here before you know it. So if you’re wondering where to take the kids for your next vacation or living here doing the staycation thing, LifeTales has you covered. 

Remember your vacation, no matter where you go

Here’s LifeTales founder and CEO Harvey Beck daring the Edgewalk at the CN Tower. Fun fact: the red skyscraper to the far right of the photo is the Scotiabank Tower, where our Toronto office is located.

Vacations almost always feel too short, but the memories they create can last forever—provided you jot the details down while they’re fresh

LifeTales Collections are the perfect perfect way to:  

  • Share your vacation memories with family and friends.
  • Duplicate those stories to your child’s special Child Journal collection. That way, you don’t have to upload everything twice. Add a few private moments here to capture personal details about your child’s experience that you might not want to share with everyone.
  • Collaborate with your family to effortlessly build a shared album of your adventures that you can all keep, share and enjoy. Here’s an example that our team member Aaron created with his mom and brother after their trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in December 2018. 

Anyway, back to Toronto spots you won’t want to miss. 

So, why Toronto? 

Walking is one of the best ways to see Toronto. Photo courtesy of Photo by Eloise Ambursley on Unsplash.

Okay, we admit it. We’re completely biased. Toronto’s undeniably one of the coolest cities in the world (even the New York Times says so). Whether you’re visiting in winter or summer, Toronto has a huge range of activities to offer to families with kids of all ages. 

We asked our team to kick in ideas for some fantastic Toronto family destinations, some mainstream and some a little off kilter. Here’s what they said.

Warm-weather activities: The Usual Suspects

Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto is a popular spot for outdoor skating in winter and food trucks in the summer. You might also spot HBO’s The Handmaid’s Tale filming in the area. Photo courtesy of Photo by Rachael Annabelle on Unsplash.

So let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way: 

Experience a neighbourhood

Graffiti Alley in Toronto’s Queen West neighborhood is a favorite backdrop for many the aspiring photographer. Photo by Julie Laiymani on Unsplash.

You can’t visit Toronto without experiencing a neighborhood.

  • The Beaches in the city’s east end. Enjoy a family stroll along the boardwalk. If you’ve got older, thrill-seeking kids, check out the Donald D. Summerville Olympic pool. Jump off the 10 metre diving platform if you dare!
  • The Annex, Kensington Village and Chinatown—a classic neighborhood cluster featuring old and new architecture, shops and markets. Check out official walking tours like Frommer’s, go with a local tour group, or wander. Near the Annex, Wychwood has a beautiful public park perfect for late evening strolls.
  • Queen West is home to great fashion, a slew of shops and restaurants, and many companies in Toronto’s growing tech sector. It also houses Graffiti Alley. In spring, visit Trinity Bellwoods Park to see some spectacular cherry blossom trees. For a peak experience, grab a cone at la Diperie, bring a picnic blanket and watch the trendy dog-walking, baby-toting masses. Bonus points for spotting the park’s infamous white squirrel.
  • Blood West Village’s High Park, Toronto’s Central Park, also has spectacular cherry blossom trees and formal gardens. If visiting during blossom season, be prepared for crowds. In July, the park hosts Shakespeare performances. For kids under 10, you’ll want to check out the petting zoo and Jamie Bell Adventure Park. The castle structure’s extremely popular with kids, but the poor sight lines make it a uniquely stressful Toronto experience. Grab coffee at Grenadier Cafe and embrace your inner helicopter parent. 
  • St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery District are great places to stroll. They’re popular with condo-dwelling families, young professionals and some of Toronto’s happening art scene.

Get rolling on a bicycle

Toronto’s parks include the city’s ravines and make for perfect places to cycle. Photo courtesy of Matthew Henry on Unsplash.

In spite of its hectic car traffic, Toronto has an ardent and growing cycling community. If you’re coming in from out of town, there are many places to rent bikes and gear.

Areas we recommend include:

  • Don Valley ravine system 
  • Humber Valley ravine system 
  • High Park—the ring road is very popular with cyclists, although the car traffic is heavy in summer. If you venture on the walking trials, be prepared for some steep hills.
  • The city’s Waterfront trail, which is broken into several pieces.
  • The Scarborough Bluffs also have spectacular views and some of the parks have cycling trails. 
  • Tommy Thompson waterfront park, also known as the Leslie Street Spit, is widely considered one of the best places to watch birds and other wildlife. It’s named for the Group of Seven artist Tom Thompson. 

Want to venture further afield? Try a self-guided cycling tour in Niagara on the Lake to sample wineries or the mountain biking trails in Halton Parks

Cold-weather activities

There are several Ontario ski hills within driving distance of the Greater Toronto area, including Hidden Valley. Photo courtesy of Hidden Valley Highlands.

The skiing north of Toronto won’t impress visitors more accustomed to the Rocky Mountains or other notable mountain ranges. But, the hills in Barrie and Collingwood are as good as it gets for Southern Ontario. They’re perfect places to learn for kids and teens increasing their skills. Check out Blue Mountain, Mount St. Louis Moonstone and Horseshoe Valley. The resorts also offer warm-weather activities like hiking and golf.  

Don’t enjoy hurtling down a steep pitch on two fibreglass planks? No problem. Ontario’s ski destinations also provide cold-weather alternatives. Snow Valley has a tubing course. Blue Mountain has a figure skating ring at the top of the mountain through a wooded trail. And, you can opt for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, weather permitting. 

Albion Hills is also within day-trip distance of Toronto. The conversation area is known for its cross-country trails.

If you’re in town, skating in front of the Toronto sign at City Hall or Evergreen Brick Works are sentimental favourite destinations. 

Season depending, you can also try the skating trail under the Gardiner Expressway, check out the holiday lights at Ontario Place or visit the Christmas Market in the Distillery District (December only). 

Nah, I’d rather be warm, thanks

More of an indoor person? We get it.

Visit Toronto in late January and early February during Winterlicious. You can eat your way through the best restaurants the city has to offer as part of this annual gastronomic celebration.

Toronto’s also known for its sports teams. Grab a jersey or a t-shirt in fan colours and see the Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs or Toronto Argonauts play.

Missing summer days in the water? Try your Tarzan skills with the rope swing at the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre (also known as the Regent Park pool). 

Got stories? Get in touch

Want more suggestions for experiencing Toronto? BlogTO has a great list to get you started.

Have more suggestions? Get in touch at hello@lifetales.com. We’d love to feature your vacation destination or hear about other topics we should explore.