How do you expose your kids to new things?

Tracy Chappell takes her kids to the symphony—a first for all of them.

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Avery and Anna try something new. Photo: Tracy Chappell

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

It’s not that I wished them to grow up too quickly, but I admit, when Anna (now eight) and Avery (now five) were younger, I looked forward to them being old enough for us to do cool stuff together. You know, things that might require them to pay attention for a period of time, go one hour without a snack, and stifle their “I’ve gotta pee!” proclamations.

It took a while. There have been many fun excursions at play centres and museums and performances that allowed them to jump around and explore and be loud, but I live just outside of Toronto, and I’ve been itching to take advantage of some of the cultural opportunities we’re lucky enough to have close by. But you can’t rush these things—I knew I would get turned off of the whole mission if I started too young and they (we all) fell apart in hunger-and-frustration-induced tantrums on a downtown sidewalk.

But I was reminded of this quest when I got an opportunity to take the girls to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Young People’s Concert this weekend. My husband, who was going to be out of town for the day, wondered if they’d enjoy something like this. I told him there was only one way to find out, so I pumped them up for a girls’ afternoon downtown. I was going to try out someplace adventurous for lunch, but decided to stick with a pub that was close to the event so we could walk around a little and they could fill their tummies with something familiar, rather than chancing some kind of food war before the symphony.

And then it was showtime. Before the concert, there was a chance to see the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra Chamber Group in the lobby. We huddled around to watch these young people perform and also get up and talk to the kids about their instruments and musical techniques. It was a great warm-up to the main event and, because I hadn’t talked a lot about what we were going to see, I was thrilled to see how interested they were.

Soon after we found our seats, the orchestra took the stage. I was excited (I’ve never been to the symphony, either.) Anna was completely amazed by the size of the bass (“That’s what I call a big cello!” she exclaimed) and both girls were captivated by the music that swelled up from the many different instruments. The performance was called Case Closed, and there was a storyline running through it, with a narrator coming on stage between arrangements to introduce a murder mystery: A composer was killed, and we had to sort through clues to find out which instruments were responsible. Was it the woodwinds? The brass? The percussion?

It wasn’t that Avery completely lost interest, let’s just say I was grateful our row had lots of extra space (and no one behind us) so she could wander a bit, and that we had picked up kids’ activity booklets and crayons at the front desk. She seemed to really enjoy listening, but also wanted to colour, and didn’t get invested in the murderous plot. But Anna was quite enthralled, trying to figure out where the story was going and asking lots of questions about the instruments and the performers (“The saxophone player and the tuba player get very red faces when they play!” and “I can’t wait to find out who killed the composer!” Spoiler: It was the conductor, of course. The narrator joked that conductors were always murdering composers’ masterpieces).

Read more: Can music make your child smarter? > 

The show ran about 45 minutes, which I thought was the perfect length to hold kids’ attention. I wish I’d thought to ask if there was an opportunity to check out some of the instruments afterwards, as I think the girls would have really enjoyed that, but they had a great time regardless. I did, too. I’m relieved that this foray into something very different than what they’re used to doing on a Saturday afternoon was such a positive experience. A trip to the movies is great, but this felt like such a special, inspirational event to share with them. When I brought up the idea of music lessons on the way home, it was the first time they both were enthusiastic.

There really is so much to see and do, especially when you live near a major centre like we do, but also in most cities and towns. I look forward to branching out in our entertainment in the years ahead. Maybe I’ll finally get to the opera one day, with two little ladies as my dates.

What types of out-of-the-ordinary experiences have you done with your kids? Leave your ideas here or tweet me @T_Chappell.

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