Plenty to Sing About: Music in Early Childhood

Since becoming a parent, I find myself singing my way through every day. I am, to put it generously, a below-average singer, but my toddler son delights in music, and his joy and enthusiasm are contagious enough to force me to set aside my self-consciousness. Walking down the street, riding on the bus, preparing lunch, playing on the floor-we are always singing, humming, shaking instruments and dancing. We love music in our family, and for good reason.

Music is tremendously valuable for young children in so many ways. Singing to babies and toddlers is precious bonding time that helps deepen the connection between children and their family members. Listening to music introduces new words, teaches the concepts of rhythm and rhyme, fosters language, listening and pattern recognition skills that help prepare children for school, and is a wonderful way to expose children to different cultures. Music can help calm children when they are overstimulated, or enliven and “reset” children after a meltdown. Predictable songs can also help young children with daily transitions, like getting in the car or being put down for a nap. And above all, listening to, and making, music is endlessly fun!

We listen to all kinds of music in our home, and we have found that our son loves plenty of music that is not specifically intended for a child audience (I have yet to meet a child, for example, who hasn’t responded positively to Paul Simon’s Graceland). But while, in my pre-child life, I derided the idea of “kid music,” I have since found some great musicians whose songs are geared for children. They are catchy, with kid-friendly themes and lyrics, but still enjoyable for the grown-ups who are listening too. These are some of Early Childhood Matters’ favorite musicians for kids. If you haven’t checked them out, we recommend giving these artists a listen!

Putumayo Kids These compilation albums of kid-friendly music from around the world are delightful for children and adults alike. “Playground” albums are lively and upbeat; “Dreamland” albums are mellow and soothing. Our favorite albums include Reggae Playground, New Orleans Playground, and African Dreamland.

Elizabeth Mitchell This New York-based “all-ages folk singer” has an achingly lovely voice and sings a variety of folk, international, and classic children’s songs. She began her musical career while working as a preschool teacher, when she discovered the power of music as a profound point of connection between herself and students. My wife and I like her music so much, we actually listen to her albums when our kid is asleep.

Raffi A childhood staple for many of us, Raffi’s songs-at once both silly and gentle-still resonate greatly with little ones. His songs work great for transitions-we sing the “Brush Your Teeth,” “New River Train,” and “The Corner Grocery Store” songs regularly as we go about our days.

Crosspulse Percussion Ensemble We started listening to this group after stumbling upon their album in a Vermont library, but were lucky enough to see them perform live within a week of moving to the Bay Area. Based out of Oakland, this performance arts nonprofit project delivers “rhythm-based, intercultural music and dance.” Their music is fun to listen to, and it is a treat to see them perform live-the artists make music from all manner of unexpected instruments.

Who are you and your children singing along to these days? Let us know!

To learn more about the benefits of music in early childhood, check out the following resources:
"Music and Movement-Instrumental for Language Development"
"Playing With Music at Home"
"10 Ways Babies Learn When We Sing to Them!"

Singing through Transitions

If transitions are turning into power struggles for you and your little one, try singing! Predictable songs for getting dressed, changing diapers, getting in the car, or brushing teeth can ease transitions and make trying times into fun bonding experiences. Here are a few tried-and-true examples that you might try:

Getting Dressed: "This is the way we put on our shoes, put on our shoes, put on our shoes, This is the way we put on our shoes, so early in the morning!"
Changing Diapers: "What's inside your diaper, oh what's inside your diaper, what's inside your diaper, oh what's inside today?" 
Getting in the Car: "Take me riding in the car, car, take me riding in the car, car, Take you riding in my car, car, I'll take you riding in my car!" (credit to Woody Guthrie; learn the full song here)

-Shannon Jerolmon