Once a week, Karen Pinto of Plainview brings her 17-month-old daughter, Noa, to Carolyn’s Dancenter in Plainview — but not to dance. It’s where she takes a Mommy and Me-style music class with West Babylon performer Darlene Graham, a vocalist who accompanies herself on guitar and even “sings” storybooks to the children instead of reading them. “Music is a great way to connect with young children,” Pinto says. And Noa is enthralled. “She loves music, so live music is a really big plus.”
Here are five places to take a kid-and-caregiver music class with live entertainment on Long Island — from a class led by a ukulele player to a class with a four-piece band.
Music for Aardvarks sessions
For ages 4 months to 4 years. Held in Bellmore, Garden City, Great Neck, Melville (new), Merrick (new), Port Washington, Rockville Centre and Roslyn. Cost of a nine-week class on Mondays $225; 10 weeks all other days $250. For information, call 347-231-5653, liqaardvarks.com
Lisa Ammon, 45, of Westchester, ties a lemon-yellow scarf around her head as if it’s a pirate’s bandanna. She tosses a bunch of other colorful, sheer scarves to the toddlers during a recent Aardvarks music class at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, so they can play with them as well. “My name is Pirate Sam,” she sings, as Scott Ferreira, 36, of Farmingdale, accompanies her on guitar.
Ammon, who owns the Nassau County territory of the nationwide Aardvarks franchise, says she employs a singer and guitarist for every class at her eight Long Island locations, including two new locations she says she is hoping to launch this winter in Melville and Merrick. “I spend a lot on payroll but I think it’s worth it for the live music,” Ammon says.
Emily Abrams of Great Neck, at left in photo, agrees. She brings her 14-month-old daughter Kaley to a weekly class. “I think it’s invaluable,” she says of the live music. “A lot of the kids now are watching videos on the TV and phones. That’s not active.”
Says Kaley’s dad, Charles Khabbaza: “The kids want to see the person singing. They don’t understand the music coming out of a machine.”
The Music for Aardvarks program was created in 1997 by a Brooklyn musician and dad of three named David Weinstone, and the classes are based around his original songs.
And the kids learn about the guitar up close, Ferreira says. “A lot of kids want to play the guitar and we let them at the end of class, so there’s a tactile element to the class,” he says.
For ages newborn through 5. Held at Kidville Wantagh at Willow Wood Shopping Center, 1183 Wantagh Ave.; Kidville Roslyn, 250 South Service Rd.; Kidville Garden City, 960 Franklin Ave. Kidville is a membership-based center; memberships run from $125 a month to $225 a month depending on number of classes and playspace passes per week, with a three-month minimum. For information, call 516-409-4558, kidville.com/wantagh; 516-626-3126, kidville.com/roslyn; 516-900-2462, kidville.com/gardencity
Kidville’s four-piece Rockin’ Railroad Band — vocalist, keyboard player, guitar player and drummer — takes kids on a “train ride” each class. Kids and parents visit Instrumentville to learn about a different instrument, travel to the puppet Grandma’s house, and more. Every week also embraces a different musical genre.
“They learn about different sounds, different instruments,” says Tina Flynn of Massapequa Park, at a recent class at Kidville Wantagh with her daughter Sienna, 19 months, where kids on this particular week learned about the bells and also were introduced to the musical concept of half notes, instructed to put their hands down on one, up on two, down on three and up on four.
Flynn says she likes that the kids don’t just learn typical children’s songs. “Last week was The Beatles,” Flynn says.
“That’s what makes it fun for the parent,” says Susan Bellini, manager at Kidville Garden City. “They’re learning about different artists.”
Four-year-old Natalie Calabrese of Westbury definitely has a favorite part of class. “Dance party,” she says. At the Wantagh location, that means the room turns disco with colored lights changing to pink, green and blue, and the kids and parents boogie.
“It’s so stimulating to the children and creates such a richer musical experience for them,” says Jennifer Sarandrea, band manager and early childhood director for Kidville Wantagh and Kidville Roslyn, of why the franchises each offer a four-piece band.
Pictured: Sarandrea, middle right, and Brian Maldonado, right, play music, sing and dance during the Rockin' Railroad class at Kidville in Wantagh, on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.
Baby Music Makers
For ages 6 months to 36 months. Held at Le Play Cafe, 2473B Merrick Rd., Bellmore. Cost is $150 for nine sessions. For information, call 516-308-7053; leplaycafe.com
Andrea Morale’s Baby Music Maker classes focus on some of her passions, including being kind to animals and each other, protecting the Earth, and global languages.
She plays guitar and sings. “I write some original children’s songs about animals and nature, being kind to animals and protecting the Earth,” says the Wantagh mom of three. She also sings song from Korea, France and Mexico, for instance.
She croons old favorites as well, like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” — though she may sing it in Italian. She gives the kids maracas and egg shakers to play along with her. “We do movement songs, we do counting songs, we do a colored parachute with a song I wrote about the rainbow colors,” Morale says.
Rockin’ Tots with Darlene Graham
For ages 6 weeks to 3 years; some classes are geared to certain ages. Held at Carolyn’s Dancenter, 1163 Old Country Rd., Plainview; Bubble Learning, 15 E. Main St., Babylon. Cost is $320, $360 or $375. For information, call 917-648-6891; rockintotsdarlene.com; Babylon classes must register directly with Bubble Learning at 631-587-0050.
“It’s her voice and the way she’s singing that makes the kids connect,” Inbal Haya of Oyster Bay Cove says of Darlene Graham, a Long Island “kindie” rocker who plays her guitar and sings during classes four days a week on Long Island. “She’s approaching each of the kids individually with eye contact, or saying their names,” says Haya, who has been taking her 18-month-old daughter Mia to Graham’s classes for months.
Graham is known for more than just Mommy and Me classes — the former elementary school music teacher and West Babylon mom of four has performed with her Shades of Green Band at venues such as the Jones Beach boardwalk bandshell and Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington. She has appeared on “Sesame Street,” helping to teach Murray, the red, furry monster, about the glockenspiel. She’s got her own YouTube channel and two CDs, and this year plans to start streaming her music classes live.
Graham sings her own original songs and also childhood favorites such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” She adds a bubble machine, kid-sized trampolines, kid-friendly drums and more to the class. She “sings” the kids a book — during a recent class at Carolyn’s Dancenter in Plainview it was Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
Me & You Music by Keri Wirth
For ages newborn through 3. Held at Sandbox Playspace, 51 Gibson Ave., Huntington. Cost is $150 for six weekly sessions. For information, call 631-421-1600; sandboxplayspace.net
Each session features Keri Wirth playing her ukulele and singing original songs about topics as disparate as the Kosciuszko Bridge and beets. “It’s like she has the kids entranced almost at the beginning,” says mom Stacy Keener of Syosset, who attends Me & You Music. “The kids are really paying attention and want to be listening to her music.”
Keener started taking classes with Wirth when her 5-year-old was younger, and now attends with her 2 1⁄2 -year-old son, Jackson. “We’re like her groupies. We’ll follow her anywhere,” Keener says.
Wirth says she and the instrument are “a match made in heaven” and that the ukulele is something different and an attention-getter for the kids. “A lot of them can’t keep their hands off it,” she says. Sometimes she lets them strum along while she’s playing or after class. “They feel so proud of themselves,” she says.
Wirth, 42, of Syosset, is a mom of two, ages 9 and 3.