From Parent Resources

Why play the Piano first? Why not the Flute? A parents guide to Private Music Lessons

Why consider some instruments at an earlier age over others? How does one assess if it is the right instrument?


Piano is the generally the most popular and successful instrument to start with from a young age. Most children can successfully begin at age 4 (this was me many years ago!) or 5. Occasionally, some children can begin as young as age 3.5 (lessons for ages 3-5 year olds generally incorporate a number of off the piano activities to reinforce piano skills in new and interesting ways. Instruments, colouring and movement may be incorporated depending on the teacher and needs of student). Skills to have mastered; Left/Right hands, recognize letters A-G (no need to be reading yet though), strong fingers with a high level of finger independence (how would you evaluate their fine motor skills? can they do up a button or zipper yet?). Piano is a great foundation for all instrument study, music reading is transferable to any instrument, the finger strength, rhythm and theory skills that piano study builds alone are irreplaceable.


Ukulele is a wonderful instrument for young children. Generally speaking, this instrument is best started at age 5 and can sometimes be started as early as age 4. Skills they should have mastered; Left/Right hands, be able to recognize letters A-G. Strong fingers, with good finger independence (though not as important as it is in Piano). Ukulele is also a wonderful instrument for children who would eventually like to move to Guitar. Do you have a child who loves to sing but not yet ready for voice lessons? Children can learn (mostly from example) to sing and accompany themselves at a young age. Take for example my daughter *gushing mother* who is 3.5, she is not ready for voice lessons, but I am considering placing her in Ukulele lessons this Fall so she can have more fun singing along with herself 🙂


Guitar is a great instrument to begin at age 6 or 7, (to note for petite children – only with the right sized guitar – please speak to an instructor about the best size for your sized child). At this age it is best to start on an acoustic guitar with nylon strings, then transitioning into steel strings or electric guitar if desired. Children must have strong fingers (much stronger than Ukulele to fret the notes) and be comfortable with developing calluses.

Flute or Clarinet

Flute is a wonderful great first wind instrument, best started at age 8. Children need time to develop lung capacity and grow their little bodies (holding instruments away from your body for extended periods of time is tiring!) so no earlier is recommended. A wonderful precursor to the flute or clarinet however is the Recorder, which is great to begin at age 6.


The Violin can be very successful at age 5 if the child shows an interest. Unlike the piano, the violin is not as initially gratifying to listen to 😉 However, this beautiful instrument is great for developing a keen sense of pitch and heightened listening as one must be diligent on each sound made being in tune. Fine motor skills must be well developed here for a small fingerboard, good wrist flexibility for careful bowing and acknowledgment that sometimes arms will get tired from holding the instrument. Thankfully violins come in a large assortment of sizes, all the way down to 1/16th of the original size, be sure your child is fitted properly and always playing the correct size. The violin is also a great precursor to the cello, which is best started at age 8 or 9.


Voice lessons are best started at age 8. Much like the Flute and Clarinet, time is needed to develop lung capacity and grow! However, lessons can sometimes be started as early as 6 years old with the right teacher who takes care to guide the voice gently with repertoire and technique that is age, voice maturity and range appropriate. Voice training has many benefits, but less known to point out are – aiding in speech impediments, lisps, dealing with a new retainer or braces and finding a full voice for speech. To note – voice lessons are a wonderful compliment to piano or guitar learning where one can eventually learn to accompany themselves while singing and can provide a sound theoretical base for the voice.


Private drum lessons at age 8 are great if there is strong interest shown. Aptitude for rhythm can be indicated very early on in life (perhaps a gift of a toy drum they love to sing and play with?) and generally speaking you may be able to tell if your child is naturally rhythmic much earlier than 8 years old. Things to look for – strong coordination, beating beats on the kitchen table, love of dance, can clap (or tap, or beat on the table, etc) a steady beat, can clap back accurately what you clap, can clap along in time with music. However, the beauty of music training is – these things we look for to see if there is a natural tonal or rhythmic ability with any instrument – can all be developed with desire & study! Hooray!

-Vashti Fairbairn is a local New West music and piano teacher, owner of Music Box New Westminster’s Music Academy at the New Westminster River Market & a new Second location to serve you at 630 Carnarvon. You can learn more about raising your children musically at

How to prepare a (messy!) home for showings and open houses

A client asked me for advice the other day on dealing with the tornado her three children leave behind in their home, and how it may affect their sale. Unless you can list your home and immediately go on vacation for a few weeks there is no real solution. Try as you may, when your potential buyer opens your kid’s closet something is going to fall out. Don’t sweat it.  We all have children and even the fussiest of buyers understands the impossible task of cleaning up after them for every showing. Odds are, they are going through the same thing with their current home. Besides, buyers get very suspicious if a home looks way too good for a family of five and a dog to actually be living there! Not kidding. So, don’t beat yourself up over the middle child’s pet tarantula or your daughter’s pile of dirty clothes on the floor. A single magnet on the fridge that says….”teenagers live here” should suffice nicely.

5-2-1-0: the cheat code for keeping kids healthy


By Linda M. Tobias

If you haven’t heard of 5-2-1-0, you soon will. It’s an evidence-based message promoting four simple guidelines for raising healthy children. Fraser Health New Westminster, School District 40 and a variety of other government & social organizations are embracing the philosophy to ensure that New West kids thrive. The most important way to affect a child’s life though is at home. So, are you ready to learn about the four easy steps to keeping your child healthy?

5 (or more) servings of vegetables or fruits every day

We’re told that the meals and snacks we give our kids should follow Canada’s Food Guide, but busy schedules, fussy eaters and dietary restrictions can make this tricky. If you’re having a hard time sticking to all the guidelines, making sure that your child has five servings of fruits or vegetables every day is a great place to start. The great thing about fruits and veggies is that they can be eaten raw as a snack, steamed/grilled as a side, or hidden in some of your kids’ favorite meals. A quick Google will give you lots of ideas on how to make veggies fun; here’s one example. For more tips on how to encourage healthy eating to your child, click here.

2 hours of screen time

Whether it’s a favorite TV show, video game or iPad app, screen time can be hard to avoid. And that’s not all bad. After all, it’s a great way to keep kids occupied while you get things done and much of the content for kids is educational. But two hours each day is all that a developing child needs. The rest of the time should be spent exploring the world around them. Want to learn more about the research and recommendations regarding screen time for the under three crowd? Click here.

1 hour of activity

Getting kids active for one hour per day can seem challenging. After all, here in Vancouver, it rains more often than not, and winter doesn’t leave many daylight hours outside of school. But our city makes it easy. Check out the City of New Westminster website for safest walking routes to local schools. Walking to school can be a great way to start your day by being active. Meanwhile, Parks, Culture & Recreation offers a wide variety of programs, including drop-in activities. Check out their Active Living Guide and Affordable Brochure (for low-cost and free activities) online. And you can find lots of fun activities like this to do at home when you’re not up to venturing out. To learn more about Canada’s guidelines on physical activity, click here.

0 drinks with added sugar

Wait does that mean no chocolate milk or Kool Aid… ever?! No, of course not. Sugary drinks can be a great occasional treat, but the idea here is that we use them in moderation and encourage our children to rely on water to quench their thirst. Not only does that make for healthier kids, but it saves you money too. Metro Vancouver has some of the world’s best tap water and it’s free!

To learn more about 5-2-1-0, click here.

Kids New West is pleased to welcome Linda Tobias, a New West mom, writer, and editor. Read more of Linda Tobias’ writing at:

How Girl Guides and Scouts Canada Helps your Kids Build Life Skills

Girl Guides of Canada (and Scouts Canada) is awesome for your kids. I’m speaking from a Girl Guiding perspective as I’m a Guider and very familiar with the program.

Why is Guides so good for your kids? It’s because kids will sometimes fail. Sometimes they’ll have to do extra work to get a badge. Sometimes they have to do things that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar to them. Sometimes it might be slightly risky. How on earth could something that sounds so negative be so good for kids?

Learning to fail and what to do when you fail is an excellent life skill, it teach’s children resilience and pride. It teaches them that sometimes you have to work and hard in order to achieve something. Guiding does not set out to fail children, we set out to challenge them. Making mistakes and stretching comfort zones are big part of that process. And sometimes kids aren’t ready for whatever activity we are doing and they fail. The great thing is there’s always another chance to try again. Some activities we do carry an element of risk. By participating in managed risky activities and learning to evaluate their choices, kids learn limits.

One great example of both of these principals is fire starting. We encourage our Brownies (7-8) to start to learn fire starting in a safe way. This is exactly opposite of the fire department tour where the fire fighters told the Brownies they were to never touch matches. Why were they told not to? Because of the risk they may start a fire.

We start to teach the girls before we even leave for camp. The first thing they learn is to evaluate the situation to see if it’s safe to light a fire. Is there an adult present and engaged? Is there a fire pit? Are there people running around? Is your hair tied back? Are you wearing the correct clothing? Do you have a bucket of water? Where is your shovel? All of these questions have to be answered correctly first. By learning the questions we empower the Brownies to start thinking before they act. Brownies are not encouraged to light fires without an adult present but they are taught they don’t need to be afraid of trying something many people consider beyond their age group. At the same time a Brownie who is not paying attention or is creating an unsafe environment won’t be able to participate and they will fail that portion of program until they are ready to learn.

At camp fire lighting is a controlled and highly supervised activity. I’m not about to let 13, 7 year old girls run around with matches. One by one they’ll try lighting a match and putting it into our prepared fire-pit. There are no second chances on the day if the girl is being unsafe. After they’ve all successfully lit a match the leaders show them how to build a fire and where the matches go in order to have a successful fire lightning (and sometimes it takes us more than one match to get it going!). At the end of the night we get them to help us make sure the fire is out and reinforce fire safety and why we never walk away until we are sure the campfire is out. The girls feel a real sense of pride and accomplishment in learning this skill and the ones who aren’t ready or are unsafe always ask when they’ll have another chance to try again.

Fire lighting is just one example of the many activities that guiding does that take your children beyond the classroom and teaches them how to push their limits. Go ahead and enrol your children in a program where there is a chance they will learn something more than their peers. Where they will have to learn to do things that might be slightly scary. You’ll end up with a more confident and capable adult in the end.

Lighten’ Up!

Before we get into the nitty gritty of it, let’s play!

With someone near you try this. Countdown from 3 and after 1 both people say an animal. Then take a few minutes and discuss what a combination of these two animals would be called, and what it would look like.

Where are you? At work? At home? Of the office supplies on your desk, which one would you be and why? Or if you were a kitchen appliance which one most represents your personality?

Foolish, no?


The work of Dr. Stuart Brown in his book “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” has been one of the most influential reads of my career.

In it Dr. Brown discusses why we play, why it is a vital practice that need not be dropped after adolescence in favour of becoming a “grown up” (whatever that means). Alternatively this book promotes play at all ages for a myriad of health and social reasons. The work of play has become so highly regarded there are institutes dedicated to its study ( and therapy regimens in place for a number of difficulties from depression to relationship crises.

Have we forgotten how to play? Can we remember? Can we help the future generation never lose this ability and create communities where our leaders have grown up with a sense of play and all the benefits it carries?

I believe the answer is yes to all of those questions. One of the most well known facets of performing arts has it right there in the name, a “play”! A dear friend and colleague of mine have found ourselves imparting this awareness to our performance students. At this point they have all heard us say “it’s called “a play”! Not “a work”, not “a suffer”, not “an insecurity”” Let’s play!

It is my firm belief that children who are exposed to performing arts and who choose to continue its study through adolescence, whether it be dance, music, or theatre, are more likely to retain the ability to play. Play, believe it or not, is practiced. Children, of course, don’t know they are doing it, but it’s practiced nonetheless. Myself and my staff are blessed to “work in play”.

It need not be complicated, something as simple as the games outlined above can provide a car ride’s worth of entertainment with hilarious discussion to further emphasize to your child the importance and delight of play. And when can it start! Early! Below is a link of ways to engage your infant in play, long before they are using monkey bars and scaling the slide in the “wrong” direction.

See Dr. Stuart Brown talk about his work in play here:

Engage your infant (and yourself) in play with ideas from here:

And find out a few surface scratch reasons to encourage and emphasize the importance of play in your home here:

Building Character: the Practice of an Actor, the Work of a Child

This may be my longest post of my time as guest curator for Kids New West but felt it was best to do a short introduction. My field is performing arts education. I am an experienced performer with a passion for sharing the benefits of arts education with young people.

Why young people? Because they are in the stage of their lives where the most self growth and exploration is occurring. They are the most receptive and open to fearless self discovery without yet feeling the self consciousness that we all develop over time, for various reasons; and which ultimately becomes a hurdle on our path to life fulfillment.

The time that I’ve spent working with children in the arts, over 10 years at this point, has taught me a lot about what it means to be a human. What makes us who we are, what helps us grow into the people we will become. I’ve witnessed many of my students grow up before my eyes (and yet I stay the same age…not quite sure how that works) and have seen them develop wonderful habits as hard working adults.  I’ve seen them grow out of the “mine phase”, “no phase” and the “run around until I physically cannot take another step and collapse into an exhausted hysterical pile of giggles phase” (although who isn’t still prone to these once in awhile ;); leaving behind character traits that no longer serve them, or transforming some traits into helpful, effective, and useable skills in their everyday lives.  I get to watch character develop in front of me and the process is nothing short of miraculous.

I teach drama, because of it’s innate need for the study of character. The exploration of a human form, the study of one’s past (real or fictional), what it means in the present, and how who we were carries great weight, but also great hope for who we will be in the future is a fascinating subject.

In his book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character” Paul Tough explores how our character is ultimately what decides not only our success in life, but also our happiness.  What are the character traits we need to succeed, and do we possess them? If we don’t possess them how do we build awareness and courage to change them?

Drama, theatre, dance, music and art study from an early age promotes an awareness of self. Further to the point it promotes “practice of self”. To be involved in an environment where you must answer for yourself how you would feel in this particular situation, how you would feel if your experience was that of this characters, is cause to self-reflect, an exercise that many of us are not able (or willing) to participate in even if we understand its benefits to our lives.  The best part of this being, that we are doing very productive, positive self work, while we pretend. We can explore outcomes, no matter how dire, without the fear of real world repercussions.

This practice:

  • builds confidence in our decision making skills
  • promotes in us well rounded thinking where we can see the matter from many sides
  • encourages a think before you act mentality
  • fosters self awareness of our own character and why we think the way we do.

The article included in this post is not directly related to the study of the arts, and are not overly “deep”, but it does outline how development of different character traits begins very early on, and how that development can greatly effect the way in which our future generation thinks about problem solving and learning.

The second article is a list of books that help promote character growth. Stories are an engaging way to open up discussions with your child about how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about others and relating ones own experiences to another.

Stefanie Swinnard
The Stage New Westminster

Mom and Baby Yoga @ the Anvil Centre

New Westminster has a vast variety of opportunity for people of all ages when it comes to arts, culture and fitness. One excellent resource I often find myself perusing for new activities is the New Westminster Parks, Culture and Recreation Leisure Guide. Being currently on maternity leave, this guide has provided me a door to a number of new window of activities I can try out.

After I was cleared from my doctor (post c-section) I joined the Mom and Baby Yoga class that is currently running at the Anvil Centre. I absolutely love this class. Don’t be fooled, I am no Yogi; I could count on one hand the number of times I tried yoga before being pregnant.

The class is an hour long and runs once a week. There is no age-limit for the babies however the more active they are, the harder may be for mom to participate. The instructor is a calming presence and seems to love our babies just as much as we do! She will also help adapt your yoga moves depending on your baby’s needs for the day (whether they want to be held or not).

The class starts off with singing and stretching. My daughter finds these songs to be very calming, even at home when we are outside of the class. Next we do baby yoga! The babies all seem to love this as well. Again, the songs that are sung here have become favourites for many moms and babies.

Once the babies have finished their yoga, it’s moms turn! For me, the day and my babes mood really depend on how much yoga I actually get in. Regardless I always see it as a success as I am out of the house, exercising and socializing all at once!

The class finishes of with a breathing exercise. Again, the babies appear to be mesmerized by the energy in the room.

The class is so flexible; you can join in late if you’re having a rough morning, no one is bothered if your baby happens to cry, you can feed whenever and even change a diaper!

The class is currently being held at the Anvil Centre, in one of the dance studios. The Anvil Centre is wonderful location. The concierge ladies and security always greet us with big smiles and warm hello’s. They make sure the doors stay open to ensure easy and safe passage for the stroller brigade. The Anvil centre is clean and quiet and makes for a peaceful morning excursion!

I look forward to this class every week.

You will Rise Bullying Project – A Resource for Your Parent Toolbox

The line gets crossed.  Playful mutual teasing becomes hurtful, unkind and intentional.  It comes in a variety of forms; psychological, verbal or physical, and it can happen in person, through social media or texting.  As parents we are all horrified when the media informs us about another child or teen who has committed suicide out of the despair caused by bullying. It is one of our worst nightmares.

Art can be a very powerful tool to help both children and youth who have been bullied regain their self-confidence and rise above it’s effect. The You will Rise Project is a website where anyone can submit artwork, short stories, poetry, or any type of creative work about their experiences with bullying.  The focus of the  program seems to be most suitable for teens and in short interviews a number of them are clear that expressing their emotions about bullying through art has helped them.

This is one of those resources worth tucking into your parent toolbox even if you have younger children.  You never know when you may need it.