Whenever children’s music is mentioned on the wisp of a passing wind, without a doubt:
Children’s music gets a bad rap in the music community. It’s every parent’s punching bag and I don’t blame them when their experience is clouded by mass-marketed refuse such as Dora the Explorer or awful collections of “traditional” songs collated by corporations like this travesty of Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Fisher Price. Rest assured, there’s no need to listen to this garbage when you have a beautiful rendition by Rob Newhouse on Songs for Wiggleworms. Here, watch this baby jam:
The past decade has seen a wonderful upsurge of quality kids music harking back to the slower tempo of Raffi and Mister Rogers and the upbeat–but not explosive–music of Tom Paxton. While kids music has always been educational, we are now seeing well produced and well written music for kids with an uptick in creativity and variety. Unfortunately, children’s music is still trailing the stigma of 90s synthesizers and hasty basement recordings, of musicians that chose to write kids music as a hobby or because they thought their grandchildren were huge fans. Although their intentions are kind-hearted, the results can sometimes be ghastly. Fortunately, this poorly produced and grating music is being overshadowed by much greater musicians with backgrounds in musical performance, a passion to educate and entertain kids, and, also, access to real instruments.
In conjunction with Riff ‘n Ralk Music Tock I have decided to start reviewing some of these fine examples of the Children’s Music genre starting with the best there is: Old Town School of Folk Music based in Chicago, IL. Their Wiggleworms program is for early childhood and the teachers have banded together to make two phenomenal CDs: Songs for Wiggleworms (2000) and Wiggleworms Love You (2005).
These collections are exemplary in three ways:
- The musicians know what works – They have tested this music in advance in their programs for children (for ages birth-5 years). They also have educational backgrounds in musical education for children and have put a lot of research behind their choice of music.
- If you don’t like one singer’s voice there are 40+ other songs to listen to on each album!
- Enormous celebration of traditional songs, including some in other languages. Knowing traditional songs and rhymes allows your child to participate with other children, encouraging the unity of communities through song as encouraged by The National Association for Music Education.
Underlying all these reasons is the encouragement for dance, movement, and singing that courses throughout the collections. Songs such as “Little Red Wagon” by Tim Knuth (Wiggleworms Love You 2) and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” by Rob Newhouse (Songs for Wiggleworms 2) can be used in the lap for baby bounces. More guided dancing for older kids include the upbeat acoustics of “If I Was a Bird” (Wiggleworms Love You 28) by Stacey Buehler that encourages children to flap like a bird, swing their elephant trunk, hop like a kangaroo, swing from the branches like a monkey, slither like a snake, and run fast like a cheetah. Buehler even quiets her strumming for the ground snake movements, giving a fun contrast for kids to jump up and start running fast like a cheetah.
Participating in music allows a child’s brain to fully comprehend music. While we may only want to listen to our favorite music with our children, music FOR kids has an enormous bounty of benefits for children. These include a verbal invitation to participate, clearly spoken lyrics, and repetition that allows a child to predict and participate. And when you participate with your child, you are fostering a loving and fun atmosphere around music. For example, the rollicking fast “Drive the Firetruck” (Songs for Wiggleworms 25) by Rob Newhouse isn’t the most exemplary achievement in musical composition. But when you add super fast movements to the lyrics, kids will be rolling on the ground in their creative laughter (which I’ve seen and it’s adorable).
Final Review: A+
Audience: Birth-5 years
These teacher musicians know how to revamp classic tunes with original songs mixed in. The blend between upbeat and calming will get your kid rockin’ without overstimulation. The best part about a compilation? Skip the musicians you can’t stand.
While the general perception of kid’s music is negative, that is most certainly not the case. I hope to provide guidance in finding great, accessible music available for your kids that won’t cause your face to melt (and not in the good metal music way).
Still curious? Check out this excellent article by PBS Parents, “What Music Should My Child Listen To?“