A chance meeting at a park led two Chapel Hill moms to launch a music and art program for babies and up called My SweetArts.
It opened in May at University Mall and now those moms and owners - Michelle Schooff and Rosario Vila - are adding classes and planning to expand. Unlike many similar programs in the area, which focus just on art or music, My SweetArts offers both.
The hour-long class, with sessions for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and families, features 30 minutes of music, movement and stories and another 30 minutes of crafts.
When Schooff, a mom of two and another on the way, moved to Chapel Hill from London about a year ago, she couldn't find exactly what she was looking for for her own kids, 18 months and 3 years. To expose her kids to music, movement and arts and crafts required numerous different programs, time and and a lot of expense, she tells me.
"There's a big void in the market in terms of what you could offer your child," said Schooff, who originally is from Ireland.
Schooff holds degrees in music, art and drama and spent a dozen years working in the music industry in London before becoming a stay-at-home mom.
Vila, a Louisburg native and lover of visual arts and crafts, graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill before launching a career in sales and marketing. She worked for HBO for nearly a decade before moving back to Chapel Hill five years ago. She became a stay-at-home mom when her daughter was born two years ago.
Schooff and Vila quickly became friends after meeting that day in the park. Together, they started informally offering music, led by Schooff, and crafts, led by Vila, for other moms and their kids. After a number of focus groups, they landed on a format that worked and opened My SweetArts.
They invited me and my younger daughter to a trial class last Friday. We both had a great time. I love the combination of both music and movement, followed by arts and crafts.
In her lilting Irish accent, Schooff leads the songs, a mix of her own creations and classic kid songs. There were egg shakers and rain sticks for the kids to play with during a couple of the songs. Schooff told a story and led movements. The kids surrounded Vila while she read from a giant storybook.
Most of the kids and parents who attended Friday's session were regulars and it was clear the kids anticipated the songs and were truly excited to be there.
Thirty minutes later, giant colorful dividers in the room were moved to create a new space for arts and crafts. Vila laid out several different activities for kids. They could make a macaroni necklace, paint a wooden figure or decorate their own rain stick. She encourages parents to let the kids decide what they want to do and how they want to do it.
It's more about the process, she tells me, than the final product. And for parents who aren't crazy about pulling out the paints, glue and other items at home, it's a chance to let their kids get crafty but not have to worry about cleaning up the mess.
"We try to do things that are easy to do. We aren't trying to paint the Sistine Chapel," Vila said. "We are trying to do things that can be done at home."
There also was a sensory table full of beans, lentils and rice for the kids to pour and sift. A giant cardboard box was transformed with blankets and pillows into a space for them to hang out.
Back at home hours later, my two-year-old was very excited to show off her rain stick to her older sister and demonstrate how she banged on the drum during class.
It's obvious Schooff and Vila have done their homework when it comes to finding just the right mix of activities. And, judging by the crowd at Friday's class and their plans to add more sessions, a lot of other parents agree.
My SweetArts' fall sessions run Sept. 7 to Nov. 17. Classes are held for kids 4 months to 14 months; 14 months to 24 months; 2 to 3 years; and families of all ages. Programs are held, depending on the age, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings.
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