What do you do with a three year old who sings constantly? Well, you try to nurture that passion by signing her up for music and singing classes, play a wide variety of music at your place, sing together every chance you get and generally try to expose her to as many good sounds as possible.
That’s what we’ve been trying to do with June who thinks she’s a young Celine Dion, or something. She chirps at the dinner table, in the car, the shower, in bed and during quiet time at Montessori (which I’m sure her teachers just love).
Problem is, most of the CDs for kids I stocked up on early on veered toward “Wheels on the Bus,” “If You’re Happy and You Know It” territory. Not that there’s anything wrong with those songs. I appreciate that they’re a cinch for toddlers to learn and remember and parrot back — but I’ve concluded that listening to them now for months on end is, for me, like being punched in the brain through the ear by a three year old. And the worst part? Most of those songs are performed by adult professional singers trying to sound like toddlers. It’s like going to a dinner party and having to sit next to a grown up who won’t stop talking like Fozzy Bear. You have no choice but to kill him.
Suffering from acute “Wheels on a Bus” fatigue, I began consulting with fellow music lovers about what they listen to with their young children that won’t drive the over 12 crowd completely bat nuts insane.
Turns out there is a robust and growing genre of music specificically produced for kids that won’t become annoying to grown ups after the 5,000th listen. Below is the list we’ve come up with (ranked in no particular order). Some of the selections are old (classics), some are brand new, all guaranteed to get the whole family jamming.
(Interested in learning more about great music for the whole family? Check out the blog Zooglobble.)
"Here Comes the 123s" by They Might Be Giants 1 of 10
These guys make some of the quirkiest and most creative music for kids and grown-ups alike. "Here Comes the 123s" was the band's 3rd children's album and the first album to win the band a Grammy (for Best Children's Album 2009), it's that good. A must buy for every musical families CD collection.
"Rocket Ship Beach" by Dan Zane 2 of 10
The former lead singer of the alt-rock band the Del Fuegos (remember them?) has become one of the most popular kiddie rockers out there. "Rocket Ship Beach" has a fun, folky vibe with lots of accordians, banjos, fiddles layered around wacky story telling plus guest appearances from the likes of Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega. A classic.
"Pioneer Lane" by the Watson Twins 3 of 10
Lots of gorgeous harmonizing from these two Louisville-native sisters. "Pioneer Lane" isn't so much a kid's album as it is sweet, mesmerizing and totally family friendly. Buy this one if you have a strict policy against the very idea of "kid music."
"Frog Trouble" by Sandra Boynton 4 of 10
The popular children's book author and her songwriting partner Michael Ford have put out a number of music CDs. For "Frog Trouble," they've roped in some of country's biggest acts (Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Alison Krauss) for a fun, catchy, silly country album you don't need to be a country fan to enjoy. Right now, the site Noisetrade is offering a free download of three of the album's songs. Eighty percent of all tips donated for the download will benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
"Jump Right In" by The Twigs 5 of 10
We've only been listening to The Twigs latest CD (and their first for kids) for less than a week and already June has the album memorized and asks to listen to it every time we get in the car. Twin sisters Laura and Linda Good -- with vocal assistance from Laura's young daughter, Alena Touve -- have put together 10 well crafted songs with clever lyrics in a variety of song styles, from ethereal lullabies (Pretty Ponies) to snappy, show tunes (Blueberry Jam) that make it all but impossible not to sing along to. (Disclosure: Laura Good is a friend of mine -- she rocks!)
"You Are My Little Bird" by Elizabeth Mitchell 6 of 10
Soothing covers of traditional kid songs without being corny or hokey, "You Are My Little Bird" is almost as much for harried moms as it is for little ones. A friend of mine with two young kids calls this treasured CD "pure bliss."
"Recess" by Justin Roberts 7 of 10
The New York Times dubbed Justin Roberts "the Judy Blume of kiddie rock" because of the deft way he tackles tough subjects (divorce, cancer, moving to another state), but his silly/clever songwriting and power pop playing make him a rockin' time for kids and parents without ever being a downer. (You'll ask yourself, Why am I rocking out so hard to a song about divorce?)
"Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang" by Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang 8 of 10
Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang are big on the L.A. kid music scene for their nutty, irresistible lyrics and Gwendolyn's knack for wacky voices in songs.
"Lullaby Classics" 9 of 10
While not meant for grown ups, "Lullaby Classics" has become my latest "mother's helper" now that June has decided she's afraid of the dark and says she can't go to sleep without hearing mom and dad "make noise" in the other room. I pop this CD in on low and let soothing renditions of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Symphony No.9, New World" lull her to sleep. She's usually down for the count within 20 minutes. Buy this one if you value your sanity.
"Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies for the Film Curious George" by Jack Johnson and Friends 10 of 10
No matter what kind of cynical, music snob you are, it's really, really hard not to like a dude strumming an acoustic guitar and singing about jungle gyms and sharing. Surf folk rock for the whole family.