Laurie Berkner’s Daily Livestream is Exactly What Kids and Homeschooling Parents Need Right Now

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

If you’re like most urban or suburban parents in America right now, you’ve recently entered into the world of “distance learning” — aka “homeschooling” — for the first time. But whether if you’re already a stay-at-home parent of wee ones or a boss mama who’s trying to manage the insane balance of working from home with keeping kids educated, you could probably use a little more music and joy. 

You’re not alone. One of our favorite children’s musicians Laurie Berkner is also stuck at home. Fortunately for us, the artist — known for her awesome, catchy kindie-rock tunes like “We Are The Dinosaurs” and engaging live shows — has sprung into action with a free, new virtual series that can help families find a routine, get up and move, and learn and play together.

Every day for the immediate future, Laurie will be streaming LIVE “Berkner Break” concerts, most weekday mornings at 10 p.m. EDT on her Facebook page. 

[SEE RELATED: Superhero Mom Laurie Berkner: 20 Years of Making Cool Tunes in the Ever-Evolving Kids Music Soundscape]

Additionally, each weekday on Laurie’s social media, she’s posting a video of one of her songs for a morning “Berkner Breakfast” (7 a.m. EDT), an afternoon “Berkner Break” show (3 p.m. EDT), and an evening “Berkner Bedtime” show (7 p.m. EDT).

Here, Laurie tells us more about the importance of enjoying music right now, and how her shows can enhance distance learning for kids and more.

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Rockmommy: I was so excited to see you are doing a virtual morning show. Why did you decide to do this?

Laurie Berkner: It’s a terrible feeling as an artist to have to cancel concerts and disappoint fans, especially when those fans are kids! I was looking for a way to reconnect with people who listen to my music and hopefully soften the blow of the cancellations. I also realized how many people are looking for fun, active, positive things to do with their children right now, and I hoped I could offer that to them. It seemed clear that this would be a good way to do it, because so many people were asking me to. It has been an incredible feeling to know that while things are so difficult, I can still do something that brings joy.

Rockmommy: Why is enjoying music so important right now?

Laurie Berkner: Music gives people a way to connect with each other, to temporarily let go of the things that are hard, and to just be in the moment. It can be a way of expressing feelings, moving our bodies, feeling pleasure, and sharing an experience. I also think it helps to lessen some of the anxiety that is everywhere. Kids who may not fully understand what’s going on will at least be feeling that from some of the grownups around them, and music can help to diffuse that as well.

Rockmommy: What do you think of all of the online shows and gatherings? I happen to playing my first Facebook Live concert next Wednesday — it is helping me deal with the temporary loss of my band.

Laurie Berkner: I think it’s great! It’s such a testament to human creativity, the desire to make lemonade out of lemons, and the need to keep connecting — even when it seems impossible to do so.

Rockmommy: What can kids expect from your live broadcast?

Laurie Berkner: I’ll be singing songs, reading books, encouraging lots of participation and movement, and maybe doing crafts or other things yet to be decided. It will all depend on how long this lasts — the longer I do the live concerts, the more creative I will have to get with the content! Each live concert is about 25 minutes long.

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My son Logan, 6, taking a break to listen to Laurie Berkner during a recent 10 a.m. Facebook Livestream.

Rockmommy: Will you be playing classics like “We are Dinosaurs?”

Laurie Berkner: Yes! I already played that on Day 2. I am going to be sprinkling in the hits every day.

Rockmommy: How is music and performing online helping you get through tough times?

Laurie Berkner: It’s great to have something to plan for and look forward to each day. It also feels so fantastic to see kids singing along with me in videos that parents post, and read about kids’ positive reactions. Seeing the kids respond with so much joy to my music is one of the things I love most about doing live concerts, so I’m grateful to get a little glimpse of that, even though I can’t perform in person right now. I also feel like I need this connection to people, so I feel very lucky to be able to have it. And finally, still getting to play music with kids and families reminds me that what I do, actually matters.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Balancing Band Life and Raising Boys: How Much is Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Five years ago, having a few moments to myself to strum my guitar — without getting interrupted by a toddler — was a bit of a miracle. 

Fast forward to 2020 and my two young sons are no longer toddlers. They’re 6- and 7-year-olds with their own interests who need me less and less. This is bittersweet: While I don’t want to repeat the baby years — the diapers! the sleepless nights! the 2-hour nursing sessions! — I miss our constant time together. I miss reading to them big chair, snuggling on the couch, pushing the double stroller to the park while clutching a mug of coffee. The whole bit.

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Baby Nathan, sometime in 2013, and my guitar.

One positive development that’s come out of their independence is my ability to nurture interests of my own again — namely music.

[SEE RELATED: New Year’s Goal #1: Making Time for More Joy and Spontaneous Jam Sessions]

After Nathan was born in 2012, I pretty much put #bandlife on a shelf, save for teaching guitar and the playing occasional solo gig or reunion show with my longtime D.C. pop-punk band Grandma’s Mini. But in 2018, I was ready to fire up the old Fender Stratocaster — and the new Gibson SG — and play out again. The only thing I was missing was bandmates. So I asked the universe to help me find them.

The universe granted my wish. In November of that year, my guitarist pal Anna and I met with rock daddy bassist (and guitarist) Doug E. through Craigslist, scored rehearsal space in a studio, and soon after, brought my friend Jason’s brother Nick D. into the group to play drums. Several rehearsals after that, our band Trashing Violet became a living, breathing, gigging machine. 

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Me, rocking out with my band Trashing Violet at Cafe 9.

Yet amid the sheer joy of playing songs every week in our rehearsal space, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would actually play shows — not just occasionally, but ALL THE TIME. About a month ago, we were asked to play so often that I started getting that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach when I’d have to ask my husband, yet again, if he minded that I got booked for yet another show. 

As I explain in this interview (below), filmed over the weekend at our gig at Sage Sound Studios, the fact that my bandmates and I found each other in a similar time in our lives was nothing short of pure serendipity. That I could find bandmates with intense day jobs and parental responsibilities who understood that I’m a #mommy first and a #rockmommy second was amazing. 

 

But of course, as we rehearse weekly and gig weekly, my sons are undoubtedly seeing less of me. I’m not there 2 nights a week to tuck them in. My older son, who is especially independent, is OK with this; my younger son gets a little clingy each time I leave (he’s been known to shout “band practice is dumb,” according to dada). It was a bit of a wakeup call when I realized this morning, while scanning photos on my phone, that I have taken more pics of my bandmates than Nathan in the last two months. As I gazed into his dark-chocolate brown eyes, my heart swelled, and I felt a tinge of guilt: Am I playing out too much, and missing out too much on the little things?

[SEE RELATED: ‘I Started a Band with my Toddler’: The Nap Skippers’ Julie Rustad on Life and Gigging with a Wee One]

I realized then that achieving absolute perfect balance in every area of my life would be impossible. At the same time, there are limits. I need to make sure I’m considering the feelings all of the people who need me before I overcommit myself. Time is more precious than ever. Every minute I spend away from my loved ones better be worth it because it’s a minute I’m missing out on being with them.

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My younger son Logan, playing the keys at the local movie theater.

So, yes — I can play consecutive shows if the opportunity arises. I can practice once a week with my band because it makes me happy. I can go on tour for a weekend or even a few days … should the right opportunity arise. But I can’t rehearse every single night and play every Friday and Saturday — nor can (or should) I say “yes” to every opportunity that comes my way. 

When my kids are 14 and 15, I might find that I’m needed even less, and there’s more time to pursue music goals. Maybe I’ll go on a two-week tour. Maybe I’ll do a lot of things — travel to Greece, surf in Hawaii, learn how to play the drums.

But in the immediate future, I need to pause and reflect, and see things through the lens of motherhood: Is a gig I’m being asked to play good for me and my band? Is it worth taking time away from our families? Does it fill my heart with joy?

Putting my family’s needs first is important, even if it means saying “no” once in a while to creative endeavors. And it makes the stuff I say “yes” to all the more special. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

Sukey Molloy Discusses ‘Five Little Oysters’ and Using Music to Engage Children

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Children’s music artist Sukey Molloy brings joy and music into children’s lives on a regular basis, but when she got her start in 1985, she was more focused on leveraging the power of movement. More than 30 years later, Molloy can’t imagine her life or career without music (or movement), and has written dozens of engaging songs for the littlest listeners.

Here, she catches up with Rockmommy about her latest project, Five Little Oysters.

Rockmommy: You began working with children in 1985. How did it occur to you to bring music into the picture?SukeyMolloy07-72+photo credit Dyana Van Campen

Sukey Molloy: My work with young children began with an interest in exploring movement activities to nourish the developing brain. As the program developed, it was a natural step to include music and singing as part of the overall ‘learning through play’ emphasis. I first adapted and created new lyrics for familiar traditional tunes, and then began writing my own songs to accompany the movement activities I was exploring with children. It became clear early on that music and movement together create an atmosphere of play and learning that complement one another in a very natural way — and serve as a remarkable invitation for children to learn while having fun!

Rockmommy: How did you create ‘Five Little Oysters’?

Sukey Molloy: The album ‘Five Little Oysters’ was created with my co-producer, Larry Alexander, and is intended to feature favorite, traditional tunes, along with original tunes, poem, and story. And of course, I adapted many new lyrics for the traditional songs, but the melodies remain as known, along with lots of special nuances and fun sound effects with surprising twists and turns. We are very proud that the album won the NAPPA Award! As for the Five Little Oysters audio picture book and animation, I created those images in my felt art studio, and once the book was completed, I worked with my animation friend Mark Marshall to create the “Five Little Oysters” animation video for YouTube.


Rockmommy: What do you love best about what you do?

Sukey Molloy: There’s a special look that appears on a child’s face when an activity calls the attention, and the child becomes fully engaged. That particular quality of participation, when the child attends completely voluntarily, is the most rewarding moment for me. And particularly when it happens to a whole room of parents and young children at the same time! There is a deep resonance for me when what I am bringing attracts the attention in the room, and allows a group of children and families to feel the joy of learning through movement, music, and play. I believe that this experience helps them to feel acknowledged and respected, and to feel the encouragement and permission to relax and enjoy the moment.

Rockmommy: From where do you draw your inspiration?

Sukey Molloy: I feel we all have a little child within who remains there from our birth, and it is that small child in myself who I call upon to help me locate the melodies, lyrics, felt art images, and movement vocabulary I bring to my work. Also, along with that childlike ambiance, I have studied developmentally based music and movement education, and I make sure to include that understanding when I am creating songs, stories, books, videos, and movement programs. But most importantly, I draw inspiration from the children and families I have had the privilege to work with over the years who are my greatest teachers!

Rockmommy: What do the best circle times for children have in common?

Sukey Molloy: Learning through doing, hands-on materials and activities, full engagement and participation, fun and laughter and a feeling of ‘I can.’ And so much more!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Inside the Loog Guitar: Not Your Typical Preschooler’s Instrument

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Most kids these days learn how to play “guitar” by playing their parents’ ukuleles, or strumming off-key notes on a cheap plastic instrument featuring animated characters. But while wielding these would-be guitars makes for cute Instagram videos, much of the time, kids playing with them aren’t actually learning how to play guitar.

I would know. I have two sons ages 4 and 6, and about one zillion videos of them aimlessly strumming my ukulele. And does either one of them know how to play guitar? Unfortunately, the answer is a big, fat “no.” They both think it’s too hard.

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Loog Guitar (shown here in red)

What I’m describing is actually a common scenario in the households of musician parents with the best intentions for their offspring, according to Rafael Atijas, founder and CEO of Loog Guitars. 

“There are ukuleles, and they’re great but they’re not guitars,” Atijas told Rockmommy. “And then there are other guitars that are cheaply made and come apart.” 

In creating Loog Guitars just three years ago, Atijas’ intention was to design something that would be fun, stimulating, simple to play and easy to learn. The result is a bold, cool-looking three-string guitar that’s easy to play. Strings are made of nylon, not metal, and are easy to push down. Designed for ages 3 and up, the Loog is the ideal, personalized “starter” axe. And it’s so fun to play that even adults like it. 

We recently caught up with Atijas, who is now a father of two, to talk about why the Loog line of guitars — which start at about $60 — are a solid investment for burgeoning rockers. 

Rockmommy: So how and why did Loog get started? 

Rafael Atijas: I saw the same gap that you saw. There are ukuleles, and they’re great but they’re not guitars. And then there are other guitars that are cheaply made and come apart. So I thought, you know, what if there were a guitar that was fun to play, easy and stimulating? So we made a guitar with three notes in its most basic form (GBE strings). At first [the guitar] had open tuning, with more of the lower strings. But then we decided that for [kids] to learn, it was good to have standard tuning. 

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Loog Guitar Founder & CEO Rafael Atijas

Rockmommy: Can you tell us about your background? 

Rafael Atijas: I’m a musician – I was in a band when I was younger. I created Loog guitars when I was working on my master’s at NYU, because I wanted to do something related to music. It’s a business, but it’s inspired by the fact that I play guitar and am a musician. When I came up with the guitar idea, I didn’t have kids yet but I had a niece. It was up to me to teach her the basics. And I realized then, because she was 6 at the time, that you can’t teach kids on these [bad] guitars, or even 3/4 size guitars. The six strings is too overwhelming when they’re that young. 

Rockmommy: What was the response from music teachers and the parents? 

Rafael Atijas: Music teachers have been very responsive, which is great, because as you know, some guitarists can be music snobs … there are some kids that can play out of the box with a standard guitar, but 90 percent of kids can’t. In fact, 90 percent of people who learn to play guitar quit. So we are trying to solve that in a way that makes people want to graduate to a standard, six-string guitar. For a five-year-old, six-year-old, eight-year-old, [starting with a Loog guitar] makes it easier for them to learn guitar. We have many music schools using our guitars. Even smaller guitars, like ¾ guitars, are just more difficult – and it’s easier to grasp three fingers than six fingers. We even have some adults using our guitars. 

Rockmommy: What about the argument that it’s better to start with something harder?  

Rafael Atijas: I started with bass guitar – which was something harder – but we’ve found that when learning guitar it’s better to have some sense of accomplishment, or mastery [built in]. 

Rockmommy: What about your own children? 

Rafael Atijas: I have a three-year-old son and he loves it. My six-year-old girl likes it when I play, but I try not to push it on my children. If you push it on them, they will see it as something they are being forced to do. One of my kids is really into music, and the other is, just a normal amount. 

Rockmommy: What’s your advice for parents? 

Rafael Atijas: Be aware of the music they like. As parents and musicians, we like to think we’re really cool, but kids are kids and have their own taste. Don’t force them to listen to Velvet Underground. Let them listen to Disney. 

For a limited time, Rockmommy readers get a 10 percent discount off their Loog Guitar purchase [Use the code ROCKMOMMY at Checkout]. 

Your Toddler Would Ditch the Rattle for an Hour with This Musical Toy

by Francesca Farruggio

Rock babies deserve to benefit from most innovative music technology out there in order to help them improve sensual skills and increase brain development, which is why we want to show you to this weird-looking, but apparently super-powerful new toy in development.

Introducing… The Magical Musical Thingy-Majigger!musical thing

Yep, Dr. Seuss Fans. Feast your eyes on this beauty. Unfortunately, it’s not available yet (but you can see prototypes here), but we’re hoping it gets the crowdfunding it needs soon.

Invented by Australian entrepreneur and rockdaddy Stuart McArthur, with the help of his four-year-old son Kai, this new toy reintroduces traditional, hands-on sensory activities and creates an opportunity for children to be more imaginative and inventive.

The backstory: Stuart watched his son day after day have the time of his life forming all sorts of shapes out of the most simple household items. Kai referred to his experimental creations as “Magical Musical Thingy-Majiggers,” and Stuart instantly fell in love with the idea. He saw the amount of potential the concept could have in the toy industry and decided to turn Kai’s thingy-majiggers into a reality.

For budding engineers, scientists, musicians, actors, dancers and entrepreneurs, ages 3 and up, there are no rules for building and playing with The Magical Musical Thingy-Majigger.

Its magical, vibrant, tactile, stimulates curiosity, which leads to the fun of exploring, the excitement of discovery and the marvel of creation.

Your rockin’ toddler can select how many pieces and color combinations she’d like to use and connect them together. Then, twist and turn the creations into all sorts of Magical Musical Thingy-Majiggers.

Best of all, this toy is designed to ensure it clips together and separates easily and is still robust enough to stay together when changing shapes, adding pieces and playing.

We’re hoping it comes out of the crowdfunding phase and into boutique kiddie stores soon.

Francesca Farruggio is a contributing writer for Rockmommy.

My Kid Doesn’t Want to Be a Rockstar

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

He’s only 6, but my oldest child, Nathan, has made it quite clear he doesn’t want to play guitar, piano or drums. He doesn’t want to sing either, or be in any kind of musical group or glee club. 

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My little rockstar Nathan (who doesn’t want to be a rockstar) 

Part of me is a kind of bummed about this. Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of making music, and when I finally joined my first band in my early 20s, couldn’t wait till my first gig. I loved singing and writing songs. Even poetry, my truest love and most intimate artistic expression, was a gateway to songwriting and music. 

So of course I assumed I’d pass on this love. I keep my collection of guitars and amps in the play room, with instruments of all sizes scattered about. There’s a drum kit and a piano in the basement. I’m not unlike other musician parents — like Julie Rustad, Trish and Chris of The Natch!, or rockdaddy Philip Dickey — who have played instruments or formed bands with their kids. I envisioned days spent making tracks on Garage Band with my special guy. 

[RELATED: ‘I Started a Band with My Toddler’: The Nap Skippers’ Julie Rustad on Life and Gigging with a Wee One]

But aside from singing a few little lyrics here and there, Nathan shows no urge to play along with me. Like most little dudes, he identifies with my his dada — a baseball lover. He wants to play all sports all the time. I love sports too, but still: I can’t help but envy other parents whose minis want to be in their bands. 

As I navigate his instrument-free, singing-free life, I hope to remember that the most important thing I can do is encourage my child to try new things. Maybe my little guy’s destined to be a painter, computer programmer or an engineer. Maybe he needs another mentor who isn’t his mother, to guide him into a life of gigging or playing. 

Maybe I shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about these things. 

There’s still time for him to come around, to pick up a microphone or a guitar and fall in love.

He’s only six, after all. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

The Most Danceable Kiddie Record for Ska- and Punk-Loving Parents is Coming in September

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Kids Imagine Nation — an Orange County-based, three-piece kids’ music group with members from ska band Suburban Legends — is releasing its second album, a cheerful party record that should be played while your 6-year-old frolics about in a bouncy house (or in the kitchen). The record, simply titled Kids Imagine Nation Two,  comes out in September. I’ve already listened and can attest that it’s loaded with lots of super high-energy tunes — my favorites are “Rock Party” and the hilarious kiddie workout accompaniment “Exercise.” 

TWO album artwork

The album is the perfect anthem for Southern California parents who skate or listen to lots of ska, surf rock or West Coast punk fans. Preschoolers will vibe on the good energy. Think of it this way: If Gwen Stefani launched a kiddie music side project, this is what it would sound like. 

Speaking of which, if you’re in Los Angeles, check out the group’s early morning performance at The Grove on October 4, filled with more original songs and stories that entertain and inspire kids.