Music is the language of childhood. For centuries, parents have sung songs of comfort and joy to small children. Music demarcates birthdays and family traditions. Children learn the alphabet through song long before they can identify individual letters. They learn colors, days of the week, notes on a musical scale and so much more. Music is at the heart of childhood feeling and learning.
Music in your home is a powerful parenting tool. It creates opportunities for cooperation and self-control in addition to fortifying emotional bonds that help negotiate the sticky day-to-day challenges of living with kids. Recent brain research supports two interesting claims that can make parenting a little easier with music:
- music gives the brain the emotional boost for learning and problem solving from increased dopamine production
- music strengthens basic listening skills by affecting changes in the auditory cortex
Preschool teachers have known for decades that music captures children’s attention and engages bodies and minds in constructive action. So what are you singing in your house?
Every family needs their own love song, maybe even a theme song. Your songs become a soundtrack for your family: think Best Years of Our Lives from the Shrek Soundtrack, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Spamalot or All is Love from Where the Wild Things Are movie. Of course, Let it Go from Frozen works too! Parents and children need go-to songs to shift the focus from all the spilt milk and messiness of family life.
Music is a powerful way to trigger positive emotions in the brain and to strengthen family connections. Here are a few favorite love songs for children:
- On the Day You Were Born by Peter and Ellen Allard
- The Ocean of Love by Ari Frankel
- Our Children by Sweet Honey in the Rock
- Dad Caught Stars by Justin Roberts
- Many Things to Know by Ralph’s World
- Skinnamarink by various artists
- Tony Chestnut by The Learning Station
Of course, the hardest time for toddlers and preschoolers is transitions – prime time for “No-No-No”. Songs can help with waiting, with clean up and with moving from place to place. Consider that songs do far more than distract, they engage brains and imaginations to create lifelong habits of “executive function”, i.e. self management. And they succeed without a dependence on technology or media.
Sitting songs or traditional finger plays can make waiting times more bearable. Here are a few but just google “silly kids songs” to find hundreds more.
Use these songs to help your child leave one activity for another. Change lyrics and improvise according to your specific movement needs. You can also expand your repertoire with marches and animal movement.
Daily Routines: waking, eating, brushing, bathing and bedtime
Lullabies are the cornerstone of musical routines. Sing them while walking to the bedroom, after storytime or in the hall to reassure your wakeful child. A lullaby is the love that plays in your child’s head long after you leave.
Routine songs help children learn attitudes to make just about any boring routine more fun and manageable. Google “food songs for kids” for songs that fit your meal time challenges.
- Bathtub Soup by Brady Rymer
- Splish Splash I Was Taking a Bath
- Brush Your Teeth by Raffi
- Apples and Bananas
- Peanut Butter and Jelly, or
- She Likes Ice Cream by The Rocking Rockets about the girl who won’t trade anything for her ice cream!
The best part of songs for children is that, like books, they help young children understand themselves and the world. Like books, music touches emotions, going beyond any logic and reason. Songs don’t literally have to mention feelings. For example. We Are the Dinosaurs by Laurie Berkner or Upside Down by Jack Johnson capture kid power as well as any song about emotions. Every rainy day song includes some feelings of frustration. Girlquake by Jessica Harper describes living with most 3 year old girls! Some feelings can’t be put into words. For those days, you might need Mahna Mahna by Cake or I Am Slowly Going Crazy. Here are a few other songs for tricky childhood situations:
- My Mommy Comes Back by Hap Palmer
- Don’t Bite Your Friends by Yo Gabba Gabba
- Don’t Be Bossy by Todd Werner
- Show Kindness Every Day by Jack Hartmann
Music, as much as books, holds the key to open new worlds to children.
Grab your favorite download and enjoy your favorite recordings of songs and artists but never underestimate the power of your voice as off-key as it might be. Music is personal, even better to improvise new lyrics or add your child’s name. A singing parent is one that is tuned-in when it counts the most!