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Contest: See The Colorado Ballet’s Dreamy “The Nutcracker”

Sink yourself into the glow of a dreamy, witty production of “The Nutcracker.” There is no better way to hit the pause button on a frantic holiday season. Year after year, Colorado families have folded “The Nutcracker” into their traditional celebrations. Why?

The Colorado Ballet breathes fresh, innovative life into Tchaikovsky’s charming Christmas fantasy. These aren’t your kids on their tippy-toes leaping around your living room to “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” As fun as that is, The Colorado Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” showcases strong, athletic dancing while remaining lovely, delicate, and enchanting. The choreography is inspired, along with tiny elements of whimsy. A facial expression, a sip from a shimmering champagne flute, or rats performing CPR—The Colorado Ballet has nailed the production from top to bottom.

Seeing “The Nutcracker” live is a sensory experience. You don’t get the same effect from watching it on TV or a DVD. The Ellie Caulkins Opera House, housed at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, is a storied, beautiful venue. From the heavy red velvet curtains to the orchestra pit, experiencing a ballet there feels like a sumptuous treat. The Colorado Ballet orchestra is top-notch as well. The warmth and tone of live music enhances every majestic element on stage. The beauty of ballet isn’t just in the dancing. Music, costuming, and set design are nearly as nimble and enchanting as the dancers themselves.

Dana Benton and Gregory Gonzales by Mike Watson

When you go to The Colorado Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” watch for your child’s eyes to light up like the magical Christmas tree. They’ll see a whimsical battle, a flying sleigh, a blizzard of snowflakes, a trove of dancing sweets. They’ll debate whether Clara’s adventure was real or just a dream. They’ll go home wishing for a few things, too:

1. To take ballet lessons, if they don’t already.

2. To have a closet full of eye-popping twirly dresses.

3. To be singled out to receive a magical toy.

4. To fly off to a wonderland of color, flavor, and beauty.

5. To sleep under an enormous, magical Christmas tree.

Parents can feel that way, too. If it were socially acceptable to go to the grocery store encased in 25 yards of glittering violet chiffon and toe shoes, I would. Maybe that’s why, year after year, “The Nutcracker” reigns as one of the more beloved holiday traditions. The Colorado Ballet company’s production charms the child in every harried grown-up.

Take a break. Give yourself a treat. Go.

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Could your holiday season use more leaps, twirls, and whimsy? Yes. We are thrilled to extend a chance for our readers to become a child again, for at least two hours. Tutu not included.

To buy tickets, check availability, or for more information on “The Nutcracker” and future productions, visit The Colorado Ballet’s website.

(Photos provided by The Colorado Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” copyright Mike Watson)

Contest

Enter to win a 2-pack of orchestra level tickets to the Thursday, December 17th, 2015 7:30 pm performance of the Colorado Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”. Please, only enter if you can attend this specific performance. A winner will be chosen on December 10th, 2015. You may enter as many as five times.

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First Look: Grand Reopening of Children’s Museum of Denver

If you can think of a happy adjective, you can use it to describe the Children’s Museum Denver Marsico Campus: It’s engaging, beautiful, whimsical, clever, delightful, yummy, charming, eye-candy, eye-popping, challenging, silly, lovely, splashy, splooshy, amazing, and accessible.

That might seem over the top. Nothing could possibly be that much fun, but somehow they did it. It’s almost as if the team of big kids at the museum asked actual kids what they like to do and waved a wand. They kept the familiar classic and beloved features and exhibits, of course. The exhibits they added not only enhance what is there but take the museum to a new level of awesome. It’s a truly top notch must-see destination for all ages to enjoy.

Eighteen exhibits are divided into four types of play. They are Explore, Imagine, Investigate, and Create. No matter what your kid—or you—are interesting in doing, there is a perfect place to settle in for playtime.

Have an artsy kid? The improved Art Studio is larger, craftier, and features a couple of life-sized paintable bison. Kids are encouraged to get messy and add their touches to the space. Feel like painting a window? Go for it!

Is your kid a climber? Strap on a helmet and turn her loose in the three-story enclosed Altitude climbing structure. From the outside, it looks like chicken wire and plywood tacked together by a four-year-old, but on the inside it’s a solid maze-like challenge that beckons kids to the top and give them a rush of accomplishment. Grown-ups can try their hand at it, too.

What if your kid is a budding space explorer? There’s a rocket for that in the Kinetics! exhibit. Little engineers can experiment with air pressure to launch paper cone rockets up to the stratosphere. Actually, it’s a peaked ceiling with dangling planet targets. My little boys adored the vacuum hoses, which makes me hopeful for the future.

Are you raising a future Julia Child? Make sure to stop by the Teaching Kitchen. Real chefs teach kids how to make delectable foods, try different flavors and textures, and learn to appreciate the art and science of cooking. It’s a beautiful, relaxing space, too. Why can’t my kitchen be that cool?

Maybe your kid never met a puddle or stream they didn’t like. The Water room has enough burbling, swirling, and splashy fun to enable your kid to nearly convince you they’ve had their bath for the day. Don’t worry, it’s not too sopping. Roll up those sleeves and watch as they learn about how water flows and floats. Marvel together at the giant clear tanks that mimic how the potty at home works. Pull the rope and watch the deluge. The nice thing about this toilet is that nobody can flush a small stuffed animal creating work for a plumber on a Sunday night.

A dozen other fun things to do are ready to roll on November 20, 2015 when it has its official Grand Reopening. It has become a destination landmark in Denver, the kind of place people vacationing from other states and countries must see with their kids when in town. It is that good.

Families can easily spend an entire day at the Children’s Museum Denver Marsico Campus. To plan your next visit, check out their website for pricing, hours, and amenities.

Make sure to check out the photo gallery to get a preview of the wonder in store.

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Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS is a Can’t-Miss Summer Spectacle

Here in Colorado, we are used to seeing peaks surrounding us. Most are rocky and snow-capped. Our major airport reflects this in it’s iconic white-tent roof. The newest and most colorful is located in the heart of Denver meaning one wonderful thing: Cirque du Soleil has returned to the city with yet another whimsical, jaw-dropping show. KURIOS-Cabinet of Curiosities is tumbling, flying, and bending in steampunk style until July 26, 2015.

If you’ve seen a Cirque du Soleil show, you might think you know what to expect. Cirque experiences are always packed with humor, oddities, fearless feats, joyful music, and eye-candy costumes. KURIOS delivers all these treasured elements. I’ve seen other Cirque shows and was continually surprised by creative innovations in this new-to-Denver touring show. How can they top themselves over and over? I had a big dumb grin on my face from start to finish. I clapped like a seal and oohed and ahhed like it was the Fourth of July.

If you’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, now is an excellent opportunity to make the plunge into its fantasy oddball world of character, color, and the best circus acts in the world. Maybe you’re picturing old-school trapeze and tight rope? Maybe you think there couldn’t possibly be anything fresh or fun about bendy people performing in a tent?

Imagine flying bicycles, fish soaring to the blue and yellow peaked roof, living dolls, an airplane landing on stage, tumblers defying gravity and good sense, and laugh-out-loud comedy bits. Now, pair that with lights, live music, special effects, and a trampoline that makes your backyard model look like a kitchen sponge and you begin to get the idea: Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS is special. They are richly blessed to showcase some of the most talented performers from around the world, hailing from 15 countries.

cirquedusoleilkuriosdenver_2We visited backstage and met some of the people behind this enormous spectacle. They live and breathe their art, whether its performing, costuming, music, or production. You can see how much love and dedication they have and that translates into a wonderful experience for everyone who gets the privilege to watch Cirque du Soleil in action.

KURIOS-Cabinet of Curiosities is located in Denver’s Pepsi Center parking lot. You can’t miss the arena-sized blue and yellow tent. It’s quite a sight, built to withstand all weather conditions. You might be worried about our rainy weather pattern and how it might effect the experience. We saw KURIOS on one of the most rainy nights in recent memory and stayed safely warm and dry.

Hurry and get your tickets to see KURIOS! It will only be here until July 26th, and then it heads to Chicago. Don’t let it escape your summer-in-Colorado experience. Your kids will write the most stellar “what I did this summer” essays for their new teachers. It’s appropriate for all ages. Concessions are available in the lobby and they have an intermission to stretch your non-bendy legs.

For more information, visit Cirque du Soleil. You can buy tickets and learn more about the story of KURIOS-Cabinet of Curiosities.

Get Freaky and Fanciful at the DMNS Mythic Creatures Exhibit

From sea, sky, and land, they’ve come!

Mythic Creatures have invaded the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. From now until September 7th, your family can encounter some of the most legendary beasts concocted by the human imagination. Some are really scary. (Chupacabra, I’m looking at you.) Some are majestic, like the Unicorn or Griffon. Others are comical, colorful, creepy or all of the above.

dmnsmythiccreatures_2The newest exhibit at the DMNS brings together history, geography, oral tradition, mythology, and the fossil record in one of the most innovative collections I’ve ever seen. Massive life-sized creatures rise from the floor, swoop from the rafters, and pose as if they are about to kick off the best fantasy epic this side of Lord of the Rings.

Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids shows that science and the fanciful can coexist beautifully. Each creature is explained with wonderful clarity, using art, fossils, literature, and even today’s pop culture to complete a picture of a world that has faded away. It’s easy for our 21st century mindset to dismiss our ancestors as wide-eyed children who believed in elephant-sized birds and fire-breathing dragons, but this exhibit doesn’t insult or disrespect those cultural differences.

Along with the huge models of the most famous mythic creatures, the exhibit offers families opportunities to create their own mythic creatures. A large art station invites kids of all ages to create their own Mythic Creature to hang up on a wall for all to admire. Little ones can play with whimsical puppets. You can design your own dragon on a touch screen and release it to fly. Story tellers share exciting legends. We stopped at a booth dedicated to Colorado’s own mythic creatures. Have you seen a jackalope? A furry trout? Bigfoot? All live in our great state. Maybe. Probably not. But it’s fun to think about.

When you visit Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids, there are a few things to keep in mind.

~ Younger kids could be scared by some of the larger, more detailed creatures. My older kids thought they were fantastic and beautiful, but my toddler flipped out when he saw the chupacabra. It’s small, but he noticed.

~ Strollers and photography are allowed (no flash, though!).

~ Admission into the exhibit is included in the price of museum admission.

~ Make sure you get a green screen photo on your way out. Hilarious!

~ The exhibit is a great size for families. It’s long enough to leave you feeling like you learned a lot, but short enough to accommodate the attention spans of kids.

~ It is open every day until September 7th.

~ For more information, visit Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids

Your Guide to Celebrating Easter and Spring in Denver

When I was growing up, Easter meant that the crocuses were in bloom and we were going to look for a new dress to wear to mass and brunch on Easter Sunday. What I looked forward to the most, however, was the scavenger hunt my father put on for us, with challenging clues we had to answer to move on to our next treasure. And the fact that spring had arrived.

In the Christian faith, all over the world, Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. This celebration merged with pagan beliefs in 15th century Germany. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate. When German immigrants settled in the United States, they brought with them their Easter holiday traditions, which included the pagan rabbit hiding eggs in the garden.

In Denver, there are many fun ways to celebrate this important religious holiday with your family, whether to honor Christ, the pagan Eostra or merely, the coming of spring. Here are our top ten ideas:

1) Perform acts of kindness by celebrating Easter through community service. The Food Bank of the Rockies has a simple campaign: For every social media Easter post that includes #CEPGiving, CEP will donate a dozen eggs, up to 25,000 dozen, to Feeding Colorado food banks. Or volunteer with your family at the Bannock Youth Center’s Easter celebration for at-risk youth on April 4, 2015. The Colfax Community Network, Metro CareRing and others are always looking for food, toiletries, clothing and more. Check out their websites and make a plan with your family. You may want to clean out your closets for spring or call to see if they will accept Easter baskets for the children who come through their doors.

bunny2) Swim and dine with the Easter Bunny? Get some Spring shopping done and have an Easter Bunny Breakfast on Friday, April 3 at the Outlets at Castle Rock. Kids will stay busy with crafts, activities and admission is free but a canned food donation is appreciated. The Downtown Aquarium will host Easter breakfast with the Easter Bunny on April 4, 2015 (reservations are required). On April 5, the Easter Brunch will feature delicious buffet items, Easter egg hunts and photos with the Easter bunny.

3) Get inspired at sunrise. Unique to Colorado, you can attend the Sunrise Easter Service at Red Rocks on Sunday, April 5, 2015. Gates open at 4:30 a.m. The non-denominational service is open to all and is a wonderful way to celebrate.

4) Every holiday is an excuse to read with your children. Great books for Easter include: E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core by William Joyce (chapter book), Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, My First Easter by Tomie dePaola (for the youngest in the family) and Petook: An Easter Story by Caryll Houselander.

5) Throw a Cascarones Party. After a visit to Houston, our family now celebrates an Easter tradition celebrated there and adopted from Mexico. Cascarones are colorful, hollowed-out eggs filled with confetti. To celebrate Easter, friends throw the eggs or crush them over each other’s heads, showering each other with confetti. Having a cascaron broken over your head is supposed to bring you good luck. Be warned, while this is a huge hit with the kids, you will be picking up eggshells and confetti in your yard for the rest of the year. (You can purchase them online or turn it into a craft project.)

Colorado's largest Easter egg hunt at Copper Mountain

Colorado’s largest Easter egg hunt at Copper Mountain

6) Take in spring with a family walk through a park, open space, Hudson Gardens (free admission year-round) or around the 3-acre Mordecai Children’s Garden at the Botanic Gardens.

7) Be quick like a bunny and run in the Bunny Bolt (5K or 10K) in City Park on April 4, 2015  The event includes an Easter Egg Hunt for the golden egg, along with more eggs hidden along the race route, as well as face-painting, balloons, the Easter Bunny, and prizes. (http://www.runningguru.com/EventInformation.asp?eID=4755)

8) Hop along the bunny trail at the Children’s Museum. The Museum will host its annual “Bunny Trail EggVenture” on April 4 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Young children will enjoy dying eggs and creating fun Easter-themed crafts. Also, all aboard the Bunny Express Train on April 4 at the Colorado Railroad Museum where the Easter Bunny and Spike the Railyard Hound will be on-hand with special spring treats. 

9) Head up to the mountains for Colorado’s largest Easter egg hunt. For those EGGstreme youngsters 7-11 years old, check out Copper Mountain’s Center Village Egg Hunt with 65,000 eggs on April 4 at 10 a.m. Don’t worry big kids, there will be few special “Copper Eggs” for you to find hidden on the mountain. And little bitty peeps have their very own hunt around Copper’s Climbing Wall at 11 a.m. Get a photo with the Easter Bunny at at West Lake in Center Village. They’ll have tons of EGGcellent prizes and a Noon Egg Decorating party with all of your leftover treasure. P.S. If your kids (ages 6-14) want a real adventure, sign them up  for the Kids Adventure Games Winter Edition on April 5 in Breckenridge.

10) Decorate a flowerpot and then plant vegetable or flower seeds. A spring does not go by in our house without at least one attempt (many failed) at growing grass, pumpkins, or flowers in a paper cup. It is fun to watch the kids peek at them every morning to see if anything has sprouted.

And, of course, there are a number of Easter egg hunts so be sure to go here for a comprehensive list.

Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

Happy Thanksgiving From the Mamas!

Today’s inspirational quote:

Thanksgiving comes to us out of the prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and all faiths. At whatever straws we must grasp, there is always a time for gratitude and new beginnings.

~J. Robert Moskin

Today’s not-so inspirational quote, as shared by Mile High Mama Connie via Twitter:

Ordered my Fresh Free Range Thanksgiving Turkey…feel good knowing it was raised in a caring environment before it was beheaded.

We’re grateful for your continued support of Mile High Mamas. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Ultimate Family Activity: Geocaching!

Are you forever on the lookout for something your whole family can enjoy without spending a fortune?  Look no further, because I have the answer for you right here in this blog post.  Are you ready for it?  Here it is…GEOCACHING

 Geo-WHAT?

Geocaching (jee-oh-kash-ing) is a global treasure hunt.  No kidding, although I’m taking some liberty with the word “treasure.” All over the world, including your very own neighborhood most likely, are hidden containers (“caches”) ranging in size from a large snowflake to a 2-3 qt jug.  All you have to do to find them is download this $10 app  or purchase a handheld GPS device.  If you would like a comprehensive look at the pros and cons of the options, this website has some great advice.  Full disclosure, our family uses and loves the app.

 HOW do you find them?

Each cache was hidden by a person who thought it would be fun to do so.  That person entered the GPS coordinates for the location they chose into this website.  Once the cache is registered, anyone with a GPS device has the capability to find it.  You can search for caches near you, specify the range of difficulty you want to tackle, choose one you think looks fun/doable and use your device to get you as close as possible.  Once you are within a few feet of it, roll up your sleeves and search!

What do I do when I find one?

If you find a tiny cache (a “micro”) you either pat yourself on the back or jump around cheering like a maniac, depending on how long you’ve been searching.  There is usually a very small piece of paper inside (the “log”) on which you can write your name.  Then you put it back and either search for another or go out for a celebratory ice cream.

 If you find a larger container you do all of the above but also open it up, check out the collection of trinkets inside and trade something for a trinket from the collection you will have brought along.

How does it get the whole family involved?

When we go searching, my husband drives and I navigate until we are close enough to walk.  We hand the phone to our 6 year old who takes over as navigator.  When we get within a few feet we all, including our 3 year old, search until we find it. The kids trade trinkets and then beg us to look for another…and another…and another.

I can’t tell you how many new parks, open space trails and beautiful views we’ve discovered since adopting this hobby.  One of the best parts is, aside from purchasing the app, we spend ZERO dollars on this activity.

At the end of a long day of geocaching, we collapse together on the couch or treat ourselves to a milkshake, rehashing the highlights…and I can’t help but think there’s no better way to get to know one another.

Sarah Stith lives in Boulder with her husband and 2 children (3 and 6).  Before moving to Colorado, the family lived in Brooklyn, NY where Sarah worked as a dresser at The Lion King on Broadway.  She now works as Assistant to the Producer with BASHO & FRIENDS on an educational web series focused on teaching kids Spanish through music.  She is also the founder of Raising Little Heroes, a group devoted to finding volunteer opportunities for families with young children.

 

 

 

 

 

New Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center opening!

There’s a new kid in town and he is about 65 million years old.

discoverycenterThe new Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center near Red Rocks will be officially open to the public on Sept. 23. In 2013, the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge obtained this new property on the west side of Dinosaur Ridge, an ideal location for viewing the western flank of Dinosaur Ridge where Arthur Lakes and his colleagues excavated dinosaur bones from the Morrison Formation.

Joe Tempel, executive director of the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge, says the new facility is intended to compliment the main Visitor Center (near C-470) and not replace it.

“Whereas the visitor’s center expands upon the environment of the dinosaurs, the new discovery center focuses on the animals from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.”

There are several dinosaur replicas that include hands-on exhibits, a children’s area with games, coloring and books and some fossil collections on loan from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. There will also be guided bus tours of Dinosaur Ridge.

dino
giftshop
models

Children's area

Children’s area

Though the Discovery Center is jam-packed with fascination information, it is small–the exhibit hall and gift shop are just 2,000-square feet on the main level with an addition 2,000 feet downstairs, which will be used for classes on natural history and earth sciences.

Admission is free.  However, there will be a “Wine and Cheese Party” from 4-7 p.m. on September 23 to celebrate the grand opening. A $15/person donation is requested. 

Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday thru Saturday; Sunday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The Dinosaur Center is also conveniently located just northwest of the junction between CR 93 and the north entrance to Red Rocks Park.
 

 

Choosing a charter school in Denver: Fantastic choices abound!

“Have you thought about any of the Charter Schools in our area?” the Preschool Director asked me, a helpful lilt in her voice. I’d told her we were trying to figure out where to send our daughter in the fall, and I knew the process started early. We still had more than enough time to figure it all out, but it was something that had been weighing on my mind. She could tell from the look on my face I had no idea where to start.

I looked down at the packet of information in my hands. The preschool had provided us with information they’d gathered over the years on all the different neighborhood schools around us, and for various reasons, we weren’t too keen on sending her to the school closest to our house. As it was, the way the boundaries were drawn, our official “neighborhood school” wasn’t the closest to our house anyway.

If I was going to be taking her to school every morning anyway, we may as well choose a school that felt like home to us.

Jefferson County allows every family to choice enroll into whichever school would best fit their needs. It was lottery-based, so applying wasn’t a guaranteed spot, but the odds of us getting into at least one school at the top of our list were pretty high.

But, which schools did we put on that list? The choices were daunting.

“Well,” I said, searching for the right words. “I just can’t justify the expense of tuition for a private school education, especially for something that’s not college-level,” I said. “I love supporting public schools.”

Her whole face broke into a smile, and she laughed. “Charter Schools ARE public schools; they’re not private,” she said. “They don’t have tuition! They’re free!”

I was stunned. What? I gasped out loud. “Well, let me rephrase my answer,” I said with a smile, the possibilities opening before my eyes. “Please tell me more about Charter Schools!”

That conversation was the beginning of MY education into the choices available for us in Jefferson County.

Why was a Charter School so appealing to me? It fit our needs perfectly in the following ways:

I love the curriculum.

Charter schools provide a curriculum that differs from a typical neighborhood public school. (Despite having differing curricula, Charter Schools are still required to meet State Standards.) Some examples of the different types of curricula would be: Waldorf, Montessori, or Core Knowledge, to name a few. Our school does the Core Knowledge (it’s not Common Core, despite the similarity in names) with a mix of Saxon Math and Shurley Grammar, and I love it. It’s been the perfect fit for our child.

Because we were looking at starting the school in her Kindergarten year, the fact that Specials were being offered to the Kindergarten classes was also a big plus. As a Kindergartener, she would be exposed to Spanish, Technology, Music, Art, Physical Education. Many of the neighborhood schools I visited started offering the full-range of Specials to children in First Grade and beyond.

Charter School Pic2 MHMLevelized Learning

Along with a robust curricula, our charter school provides levelized learning. My daughter was “ready” for Kindergarten well before the time she reached the magical age dictated by the Jefferson County School Calendar. Because the Charter School accommodates different learners at different levels within the same grade, she’s always been challenged. The needs of those in her class that struggle are met, as well. The way the teachers get things to flow so nicely in class never ceases to amaze me.

Class Size

Speaking of teachers and how well they work with the kids, a typical class has 28 students with a Teacher and an Assistant. So, for a majority of the day, the student to teacher ratio is amazing. Many Charter Schools operate with Wait Lists. According to their charter agreements, they are only allowed a certain number of students. Enrollment is based solely on the luck-of-the draw. In Jefferson County, the Choice / Open Enrollment process starts in January.

A level of parental involvement that was not only tolerated but encouraged

Many Charter Schools request a certain number of volunteer hours per year, per family. Not only does this provide the schools with creative cost-saving measures, it builds a sense of community.

A budget overseen by a Board of Directors and available to the public at any time

Another draw toward the Charter School, for me, was how well they are able to maintain their budgets. Charter Schools have the ability to be fiscally conservative in certain areas in the face of looming budget cuts at the district level. Despite being a public school, the funding they receive is not equal to that of a neighborhood school when it comes to PPR (Per Pupil Revenue), so it can be tricky at times. The flexibility to be in charge of all that is refreshing. All of this is done with a transparency that has been required since Day 1, and I love that.

For us, Charter Schools are the best of both worlds.

They provide the feel of a specialized learning environment but do so in a public school setting. The minute I walked through the doors at our Charter School, I knew it was our home. As we start our fourth year there, I am so incredibly thankful for this option!

JoAnn as been writing at The Casual Perfectionist since 2007. On Twitter, she is @ThisJoAnn. Offline, she can be found writing, watercolor painting, cajoling hedgehogs, conducting covert missions, decoding secret messages, and pretending her life is more exciting than it may very well be.

Kids in Colorado are having a ball playing youth-friendly tennis

For young children, tennis was always a difficult proposition. The size of the court — 78 feet long, 36 feet wide (27 feet wide for the singles court) — was just too large. The rackets were too big, the balls too heavy and too bouncy. Most tennis players didn’t take up the game until their teenage years, when they were strong enough to handle the racket and athletic enough to cover the court.

But thanks to a retrofit of court sizes and new racket and ball technology, tennis has become a kid-friendly sport.

And in Colorado, tennis for young children has become all the rage.

More than 500 public and private tennis courts in the area have been “rezoned” in the past three years. Instead of 78 feet in length, the newly striped 10-and-younger, kid-friendly dimensions are 60 feet long and 21 feet wide. For kids 8 and younger, there are 36-foot courts on which to play. Lower-compression, orange-colored balls that weigh about half what a normal 56- to 59-gram yellow ball does are easier for kids to control, making for longer rallies. Lighter, smaller rackets also help elevate the quality of play among kids.

All of that has added up to about a 60 percent increase in participation among kids 10 and younger in Colorado’s United States Tennis Association tournaments since 2010. In 2013, there were 11,199 junior-age players registered with Colorado USTA, only the second time in history the number surpassed 11,000.

Instead of just one or two volleys on big, intimidating adult courts, kids now stay better engaged with much longer rallies on smaller courts. One look at some of the kids playing on the 60-foot courts last week at the Crestmoor Community Association, and it was obvious: These kids were having fun.

“I like hitting the orange balls better, because I feel like I can have more control over them,” said Luke O’Drobinak, 8, who was practicing with his 6-year-old brother, Liam.

Their father, Jon, wishes changes such as these had been made when he began playing tennis.

“I grew up playing with a full-size ball on a white concrete court with a cyclone fence,” Jon O’Drobinak said. “The only question I would have is how they transition to the regular ball, but as far as how they’re playing now and progressing, I couldn’t imagine it being any better. With the bigger ball, every other shot was going out. Now, they can have rallies. I mean, think about that: a 6-year-old having rallies!”

Leanne Palmisano has been teaching tennis for 25 years at Crestmoor. In the past couple of years, since the new dimensions and lighter balls have been added, participation among kids has soared, she said, as has the kids’ enjoyment of playing.

“They can play — have points and actually rally,” Palmisano said. “With the adult-size ball, the ball bounces so high that it goes over their head and they can never keep a rally going. What would happen was, they would stand around a lot and become bored. Now, this all just brings everything down to their size.”

The lighter balls and smaller courts were implemented in Europe about 15 years ago. That might help explain why young European players have generally advanced further and faster than Americans since.

“This group of kids that are transitioning with the new stuff, I see better stroke production, I see where they’re not afraid to hit the ball and really swing through the ball. I’m seeing a lot more parents even hitting with their kids, and having rallies,” Palmisano said. “The kids that dismissed (the newer dimensions and equipment) are still struggling with stroke production, because they swing a lot above their shoulders, because that’s where the ball was.”

The tighter dimensions are also bringing older people to the courts.

“It’s not just for kids. I’ve had some older ladies who never picked up a racket before coming in,” Palmisano said. “They don’t have to move so much on the newer court. I think the older-age divisions are going to start really picking it up too.”

But it’s the kids who are flocking to the courts.

“It’s just so much easier for them to learn now,” said Lisa Schaeffer, assistant executive director of Colorado USTA. “When I grew up, you spent more time chasing balls than actually hitting them.”


Tennis 2.0

A look at the new game of tennis, for kids 10 and younger.

New court size

60 feet long, instead of 78

21 feet wide, instead of 27

( For kids 8 and younger, 36-foot long court)

Balls

Red ball: For kids 8-and-younger, 23 percent larger than normal yellow tennis ball, 65 percent lighter. Bounces 75 percent lower than normal ball.

Orange ball: For kids age 9 and 10. Same size as normal yellow tennis ball, 50 percent lighter, bounces 30 percent lower.

Adrian Dater, Photo: Karl Gehring, The Denver Post