Best of the East Bay - Kids
|Photo by Anne Hamersky; Illustration by Peter Hoey|
Young artists can roll up their sleeves and delve into an array of exciting projects at the open studio at MOCHA, the Museum of Children’s Art, in Oakland. A variety of art materials are set up at five or more workstations so kids can choose painting, clay modeling, collage making, stamping, ink blowing, model building, or anything else they can imagine during this laid-back drop-in program. Kids run the show at MOCHA, and adults are encouraged to go with the flow. Of course, that’s easy, knowing that all the messy paints and other art materials stay in the art studio and out of the kitchen, bathroom, and wherever else gooey hands usually end up at home.
There is a downstairs studio for younger artists, ages 18 months to five years; an upstairs studio serves children six years and older. A professional artist guides the kids in their art projects and coaches parents on techniques for interacting with their children about art in a supportive way. MOCHA offers many other youth art programs, including field trips, summer and vacation camps, family art projects, art exhibits, birthday parties, teacher training, and artist-in-residence programs in the schools.
The drop-in program at the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) runs Tuesdays–Fridays, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, 12–5 p.m., $5 per child, free for members. 538 Ninth St., Ste. 210, Oakland, (510) 465-8770, www.mocha.org . —Sandra Ann Harris
|Photo by Anne Hamersky|
Best Creative Play Space
Once upon a time, kids didn’t have parents who would spend thousands of dollars to install play structures in their backyards. The kids would build their own. They’d grab hammers, nails, saws, and discarded wood scraps from dad’s workshop and drag them out to a far corner. There, in a patch of weeds or in the branches of a tree, they’d get to work. The result might be ramshackle, but the kids would be happy to have their secret hideout. Just as important, the structure would stand as a small miracle of childhood ingenuity and imagination.
The Adventure Playground at the Berkeley Marina revives this sort of messy, hands-on creative play. At this city-run play space modeled on playgrounds in Europe, kids are handed tools and paint and are allowed to build their own crawl-through, climb-on creations. They can also balance on rope bridges and sail across the playground on the “trolley,” a rope swing suspended from a cable. The playground is best suited to kids ages seven and older, although younger children are welcome as long as they stay within an adult’s reach. You can also arrange to leave your children, age seven and older, at the playground for up to three hours for $6 per child. Parents must fill out a registration form with a phone number where they can be reached. Trained supervisors oversee the kids as they play.
The Adventure Playground is open 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 160 University Ave., Berkeley, (510) 981-6720, www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/marina. —Martha Ross
This reader pick tells it all. The Piedmont Choirs isn’t just some fun-time glee club. It’s a sophisticated organization in which your child will learn not only the mechanics of music but will also develop her passion for the art of song. Open to any child over age six, the award-winning choirs offer different levels of instruction and performance, from beginning choir to a rigorous and exciting international performance program.
Piedmont Choirs, (510) 547-4441,www.piedmontchoirs.org.
Dance teacher Cassandra Montgomery gets around. When she’s not teaching ballet, tap, hip-hop, and jazz at All That Entertainment, her private studio in Lafayette, she might be dancing professionally in Los Angeles. Or coaching the Miramonte High School cheerleaders. Or catching her husband, drummer Matthias Montgomery, performing at Dan’s in Walnut Creek with the popular ’80s cover band the Spazmatics. The former Los Angeles Laker Girl offers classes for kids age three and up, as well as summer camps and birthday parties.
Cassandra Montgomery, All That Entertainment, (925) 284-3005, www.allthatentertainment.com.
If you want your kids to stay out all night at clubs when they’re in their twenties, it’s important to get ’em started early. No, wait. That wouldn’t be the purpose of Baby Loves Disco—an outfit that throws kid-friendly parties in nightclubs across the country, including at Pleasanton’s Aura, usually from 2 to 5 on occasional Saturday afternoons—would it?
The beauty of the Baby Loves Disco parties is that kids from babes in arms to age nine get to dance and play in a safe, fun-filled atmosphere, and mom and dad get to move a little, too. Oh, and did we mention the lovely coolness of the air conditioning? Think of this when it’s 90-plus degrees outside.
At first glance, the parties don’t seem all that different from any gathering in a nightclub. An hour or so into it, though, toddlers can be found chasing after light spots thrown on the floor and dancing to the DJ-spun classic disco; five-year-olds bounce on the club’s banquettes as though they are trampolines; whole wheat crackers and half-eaten cheese sticks from the healthy-kid buffet litter the floor; a few babies sleep on their parents’ shoulders, oblivious to it all; and kids of all ages shake their hips with the hundred or so Hula Hoops that fill one dance area.
If we could change one thing, we’d like the chill-out room and diaper-changing station—which is ingeniously stocked with stuffed toys and kids books—to be a bit shut off from the music; our gang burned out after an hour and a half. One mom said she was celebrating her birthday at Baby Loves Disco knowing she’d get a better turnout from her friends, who are also in the minivan set.
Aura, 4825 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton, (925) 416-0777, www.babylovesdisco.com . —Michaela Jarvis
Are you mystified by your teenager’s mood swings or worried that she might be having sex? Are you looking for tips to help your fourth-grader deal with bullying or to protect your kids from sports injuries? You can get advice for handling such parenting challenges at workshops sponsored throughout the school year by the Acalanes Adult Education Center.
These topics are among those on the center’s 2007–08 class schedule. Workshops will feature talks by locally and nationally known parenting experts. In the past, speakers have included David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, and author Harlan Cohen, who offers advice on getting your son or daughter ready for college. Sometimes, teens lead classes that are moderated by experts. Last February, female students from the four high schools in the Acalanes school district described how their moms and dads helped them survive the “mean girl” phenomenon that besets girls in middle school.
One set of classes focuses on teen issues, while others deal with parenting tweens and younger kids. “The biggest draw of parent education is that it helps you feel that you’re not doing this alone,” says Vera Babor, the facilitator of the tween classes.
Lunch-time and evening classes take place at elementary, middle, and high schools within the Acalanes school district attendance area. The classes are open to people from outside the district and are free, with the exception of an all-day Saturday parenting conference that will be held in March.
Acalanes Adult Education Center, (925) 280-3980, Ext. 8001, www.acalanes.k12.ca.us/adulted. —Martha Ross
It may be true that girls just wanna have fun, but the girls and boys in a fundraising group at Lafayette’s Stanley Middle School just wanna give back. The 25-plus students, who call themselves Global Relief Outreach, have raised more than $50,000 over the past five years for a variety of causes by holding walkathons, dances, and sales. So far, GRO’s recipients have included Katrina relief, two schools in Africa, Shelter Inc. here in Contra Costa, and an orphanage south of Tijuana.
“They enjoy seeing how they can have an effect in other people’s lives,” says Jack Walton, the group’s faculty advisor.
Global Relief Outreach, Stanley Middle School, 3455 School St., Lafayette, (925) 283-6282. —Michaela Jarvis
|Courtesy of Giggle|
High end meets smart at Giggle, the new baby gear vendor on Walnut Creek's North Main Street. The furniture and retro wooden toys are sleek and creatively designed. Many of the wee outfits are made of 100 percent cotton jersey in happenin' patterns and colors. Even a front-worn baby carrier comes in a fashionable shade of olive drab. Does your little darling need a cowboy-print tepee? Some hip new shades? Giggle has all the basics, plus the fun stuff.
Giggle, 1359 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 746-0300, www.egiggle.com --M.J.
Jann Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe know firsthand how discord can break out in families reconstituted by divorce and remarriage. Nearly 20 years ago, Blackstone-Ford married Jupe’s ex-husband. The two moms didn’t get along, and the three kids they had between them lost sleep and developed stomachaches from all the adult bickering and back-and-forth between two houses. “Sharyl and I realized that we had to do something other than what we were doing,” says Blackstone-Ford. “We put aside our differences and started working together.”
Not only did they make peace with each other, they also started a nonprofit organization, Bonus Families, to help other blended families. “When we first started as a stepfamily, there were no resources for the practical, everyday stuff—[answers to] all the questions I had about stepparenting that I couldn’t find in books,” says Blackstone-Ford, who also works as a divorce and stepfamily mediator. She adds that she and Jupe decided to scrap the term step when referring to themselves and their organization and replace it with the more positive bonus.
Bonus Family’s popular website posts articles on civilized co-parenting and runs message boards and online support groups for parents and kids. Bonus Family also offers private mediation services at offices in Pleasanton and Discovery Bay. But Blackstone-Ford and Jupe might be best known for their weekly syndicated column, Ex-Etiquette, which runs in the Contra Costa Times and dispenses advice on such issues as getting along with an ex’s new spouse and if and how you should discipline your “bonus” kids. Their overall message, says Blackstone-Ford, is that parents should get along after divorce for the sake of the kids.
Bonus Families, (925) 600-8066, Pleasanton; (925) 516-2681, Discovery Bay; www.bonusfamilies.com. —M.R.
History Tour That Kids Actually Like
It’s hard to believe that a group of third- graders wouldn’t get restless and whiny walking up and down Walnut Creek’s Main Street and hearing why certain buildings have historical significance. But they didn’t. In fact, these kids—members of my son’s elementary school class—grew wide-eyed as they listened to their friendly guide, Brad Rovanpera.
Rovanpera, the city’s public information officer, is the chief reason these kids were engaged. He gears his Magical History Tour to kids: He moves it along at a brisk pace, makes the past relevant to kids’ experience with modern-day Walnut Creek, repeats details, and sprinkles in fun facts, such as how a rare snowfall on January 15, 1937, prompted Main Street merchants to close up shop and race outside to have snowball fights.
Rovanpera offers the tour to local third-grade classes. To arrange a tour, call (925) 943-5895. —Martha Ross
Check out the summer classes and camps at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, a perennial Best of the East Bay winner. Preschool classes, which are geared to a preschool attention span at 45 minutes in length, focus on such kid-pleasing topics as animals that live in the ocean, wildcats, and a “nature’s tool box” series on subjects like animal sight, feeding, and defense.
Classes for older kids up to age 12 offer topics such as animals of Native American folklore and a bug’s life—a class that teaches about the life cycles and social habits of bugs.
The museum also offers reasonably priced weeklong summer camps on such themes as what goes on behind the scenes at the museum.
Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-1978, www.wildlife-museum.org.
|Courtesy of Contra Costa Water District|
Chances are, when you get to the Los Vaqueros Interpretive Center north of Livermore, you’ll have the place mostly to yourself. This is an undiscovered gem that will delight curious kids. The center tells the story of how the Los Vaqueros Dam was built in the 1990s, as well as what animals call the region home.
Push a button, and try to identify different birdcalls. Check out ancient artifacts in a room that re-creates how Native Americans lived. On most Saturday mornings, you’ll find a naturalist showing off live animals or taking families on guided nature walks. Check the website for the schedule.
Of course, you’ll want to hike up to see the dam that created the reservoir, but go early in the day before it gets too hot. If you do want to make a day of it, head over to the south entrance, rent a fishing rod, and try to catch a large striped bass.
The Los Vaqueros Interpretive Center is located next to the dam on the north side of the reservoir. It is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays 9 a.m.–4 p.m., (925) 240-2440, www.ccwater.com/losvaqueros. —Susan Dowdney Safipour
One of the sweeter spots on the Diabloland map, Hap Magee Ranch Park feels like the pretty little ranch it once was.
An ancient oak tree shades a huge, flat meadow ringed on one side by renovated buildings from as far back as the 1920s. The park’s mostly wooden play structure is beautifully designed with an extensive variety of bars and ropes for hanging and climbing, and the playground area features two almost-extinct pieces of equipment: a seesaw and a merry-go-round. An enclosed dog park where pooches go off leash, picnic tables and grills, and a tree-covered ridge that forms the park’s western backdrop all add to the appeal of this kiddie heaven.
Hap Magee Ranch Park, 1025 La Gonda Way, (925) 314-3460, Danville, www.ci.danville.ca.us.
Preschoolers don’t need a trip to Hawaii to play in the surf. Just cart ’em over to the mini water world at Osage Station Park in Danville. The man-made, multilevel wading pools will provide all the splashing and cooling off they could want during the dog days, and no plane tickets or suitcases are involved. The runner-up water parks for little kids are Oak Hill Park, next to Monte Vista High School in Danville, and San Ramon Central Park.
Osage Station Park, 816 Brookside Dr., Danville, (925) 314-3460, www.ci.danville.ca.us ; Oak Hill Park, 3005 Stone Valley Rd., Danville, (925) 314-3460, www.ci.danville.ca.us ; San Ramon Central Park, 12501 Alcosta Blvd., San Ramon, www.ci.san-ramon.ca.us/parks. —Michaela Jarvis
More Reader Picks
Pump It Up, 1301-B Franquette Ave., Concord, (925) 969-9663; 2500 Embarcadero, Ste. A, Oakland, (510) 533-7867; 5351 Neroly Rd., Oakley, (925) 969-9663; 470 Boulder Ct., Pleasanton, (925) 600-9663, www.pumpitupparty.com.
Mia and Friends, 1509 Cypress St.,Walnut Creek, (925) 274-0554.
G. R. Doodlebug, 700 Sycamore Valley Rd. W., Danville, (925) 362-1560; 350-A Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 600-1360, www.grdoodlebug.com.
The Storyteller, 30 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette, (925) 284-3481.
Skipolini’s, 901 Fitzuren Rd., Antioch, (925) 757-7770; 1033 Diablo St., Clayton, (925) 672-1111; 2001 Salvio St., Concord, (925) 680-6888; 1535 Giammona Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 280-1100, www.skipolinispizza.com.
Encore, 2490 Sand Creek Rd., Brentwood, (925) 240-1133; 999 Bancroft Rd., Walnut Creek, (925) 932-1033, www.encoregym.com.
Cool Tops Cuts for Kids, 3367 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 284-5360; 5697 Miles Ave., Oakland, (510) 601-6502; 3171-H Crow Canyon Pl., San Ramon, (925) 867-1836, www.coolcutsforkids.com.
The Academy for Martial Arts, 2086 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 943-3936, www.tafma.com.
Sandi and Stevie, (925) 743-9838, www.sandiandstevie.com.
Adventure Day Camp, 2721 Larkey Ln., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-6500, www.adventuredaycamp.com.
Sherman Swim School, 1075 Carol Ln., Lafayette, (925) 283 2100, www.shermanswim.com.
|Photo by Anne Hamersky|