When Melissa Chill, our NJMOMprenuer of the week, was dared to get up on stage and sing with a New Jersey shore band decades ago, she had no idea that she’d become a mega-star in the eyes of the 5 and under crowd. Yet, it’s with her music program Miss Melissa’s Aardvarks and hits like “Runaround Kid,” Brush Teeth” and “Bagel”, she’s reached a groove—to get kids moving and have a ball in her classes taught by her and a rockin’ band of musicians. We chatted with Melissa recently about how she turned her classes virtual when quarantine happened, the silver lining to seeing kids online, and how using fun stuff around the house can be the best instrument for kids.
feature image via Melissa Chill
How long has music and teaching been a part of your life?
I have been teaching for over 20 years. I was a professional musician trying to figure out how to make ends meet and someone recommended I go into teaching children’s music during the day. I taught for six years before opening up MissMelissa’s Aardvarks which was inspired by Music For Aardvarks. I own the franchise which is based out of New York City. I wanted to have the trade name relevant, but also honor the name that everybody knew me as, Miss Melissa.
Where are you based in New Jersey?
I have lived in Monmouth County for over 20 years. Miss Melissa’s Aardvarks has many locations in Monmouth County, New Jersey including Fair Haven, Rumson, Middletown, Brielle, Colts Neck, and Holmdel. We offer classes through the Monmouth County Parks System and the Holmdel Parks System as well.
How has it been staying at home with your family and teaching classes?
Adjusting to quarantine with my business was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. My husband and five-year-old daughter, Delilah, are supportive and it’s been a challenge figuring out all the technology while still running a household. There were a lot of unknowns in the beginning—I had to forecast future goals, make quick decisions and it was a lot of stress. However, it’s all about baby steps and after a few weeks online, I got into the groove. It’s different being exclusively online because now that I’m not renting space if something doesn’t work, it’s easier to make changes. We can see what is working and what is not. However, things are not as personable now and I do miss that. But, with bad comes good—now with our online presence, people all over the country can take our class and we can reach everyone while trying to keep a sense of normalcy. It’s been a very organic change.
What makes your music classes unique?
The Music for Aardvarks class experience is unique compared to other music classes in many ways. All of my teachers, including myself, are full-time musicians. We all play multiple instruments and each teacher is amazing with the children and kids. The other thing that I feel stands out is the music. It’s not an ordinary music class—we cover a diverse range of music genres including rock and roll, rap, country, funk, and hip hop. There are 15 CDs offered so you never repeat the music each semester and you receive a CD, music download, and an app with your class registration. Each teacher has been with me for over five years and they put everything they have into each class—it’s a rock and roll experience, but at the same time, we develop each class based on the children’s needs so that they can develop and grow within the music experience we are creating. Classes are 45 minutes long and the age range is from newborns to five-year-olds. We offer private classes, home classes, birthday parties, beach parties—you name it. We also teach at various preschools in New Jersey.
How have you pivoted classes into a virtual experience?
We are running virtual classes twice a day, every day. Anyone can go to our Facebook page or Instagram page to get the weekly schedule or sign up on our website. You can also receive a weekly email with the days and times and we’re currently offering packages and even last-minute drop-ins for anyone who wants to join—we are so thankful for the support.
What are your favorite local businesses that you are supporting right now?
I am supporting as many yoga studios as possible because all of these teachers need support. I like Ohana Rising Yoga School, they are very focused on the community. Lauren Grogan Yoga is doing yoga, breathing, and nutrition all online now. I also support Country Day Preschool in Colts Neck and we are doing classes with Gan Yeladim Preschool online. Clementine Cycling Studio is another great business in Fair Haven. They are currently helping a lot of small businesses with networking. They are doing a ‘Rally for Retail’ event which helps get the word out about supporting small businesses.
The Alignable website has been an amazing resource for small businesses too. It’s a website that connects you with like-minded businesses and a great networking support group. I have been aligning with dance and yoga studios and we have been helping each other out. My family has also been supporting local musicians doing Live Facebook shows asking for donations. It’s a great way to spend an evening and also aid local music.
Do you have any advice about how to get kids moving at home?
The best thing you can do to encourage a relationship with music and movement during quarantine is to play it—get out pots and pans and make drums or you can use Tupperware. You can even use wooden spoons as sticks. Shakers can be salt and pepper shakers. You don’t have to own anything to jam with your kids. I also encourage everyone to have a daily dance party, where kids pick the music and use scarves, sticks, and drums to keep it moving and fun.
What tips can you offer to other NJMomprenuers?
Go for it—have a clear business plan and ask a lot of questions. Learn to think outside of the box when things aren’t going your way and be open to change. And put money aside when you are doing well—it will come in handy when you are not.