Handbells = Happiness
Given that my parents used to subject their household visitors to impromptu recitals by me and my six siblings (at a point where none of us were exactly musically proficient), I tend to cringe a little when I think of family recitals. However, recently I was overwhelmed by the awesome that was Laurel's assembly of a family recital, thanks to these fantastic Kidsplay handbells that my mother-in-law had on hand.
From the perspective of a former music educator and psychologist, handbells are an awesomely easy way for kids to create music while encouraging cooperative play, timing coordination, and color/letter identification. To keep it simple, you could opt for the 8 note hand bell set and play everything in C major, but if you'd like to work off other music (i.e., not always have to transpose tunes to C), I'd recommend getting the 13-note chromatic hand bell set my mother-in-law used with Laurel. You can either simply write out the letters to some songs your kids love and decide on who plays which bells based on note name (the note name is printed on the top of each bell handle), or, even easier (particularly for younger kids), you can simply take a piece of paper and draw and color in circles to indicate the order of the notes and assign bells based on color.
From the perspective of a parent, it was so, so fun to see Laurel go crazy over these bells. She loved playing, whether in coordination with other family members, or working all of the bells on her own. Quite frankly, I probably should get around to music lessons for Laurel because her interest is definitely there and I know that she feels left out during the (rare) instances when Jon and I jam on guitar and mandolin (and she has made it clear that drums or triangle aren't going to cut it for her involvement). As you might imagine, after 20+ hard core years of violin training, I'll all about not being the parent who forces her kid into lessons of any sort. Meanwhile, handbells are a great, affordable way for Laurel to be able to create real notes without requiring the precision of finger placement or emboucher. (Piano or a portable keyboard is another option of course, but the color coding of the bells and the resonance seems to make the bells extra fun for kids.)
As for the family recital, it was pretty funny. Laurel wrote out an entire program, and it included her grandfather playing clarinet, Jon playing guitar, me singing, and her and her grandmother playing handbells. The recital included an eclectic mix of Christmas carols and Beatles songs and it was all wonky and silly and funny and wonderful.
And now, I can see why (or one of the reasons why) my parents always wanted us to have those family music recitals. It's not so much about the quality of the production as it is about the pure joy and fun of making music together.