(Cross-posted from my post on Cherry Blossoms.)
My earliest music memories are two: I remember singing into a tape recorder “Away in a Manger” presumably to a grandparent somewhere, and I remember my “Baby Beluga” record. I was very young, but not too young to sing about baby Jesus and what happens way down yonder where the dolphins play. While I’ve got some mixed emotions about how much of my early music years revolved primarily around Raffi, I’ve come to realize that my mother was doing a good thing and my adolescent self is just going to have to step off.
That’s not to say, however, that I’ve got Raffi playing around the clock for my own kids. In fact, I don’t think my children have heard a single measure of his repetoire. I have, however, decided to buck the trend of many of my friends and not shun children’s music altogether. A couple of decades ago we scorned the music we felt our parents had so rudely forced upon us, and many of us in the music circles proclaimed children’s music as a base thing, hardly worthy to be called music. They now raise their children exclusively with the music they like, or nothing at all.
It’s important to expose your children to a wide variety of music and allow them the freedom to replay it in their minds and move them in unspoken ways. It’s a great way to start them on the path of thinking for themselves and developping their own tastes and styles. We, or the people we chose to influence us, have already made that decision but it would be nothing short of theft to rob our children the opportunity to do so for themselves. They cannot choose, however, if not given the options.
Sure, it’s still possible to play a variety of genres for your children without ever listening to “children’s” music, and your children will still be able to discern for themselves what they like, and you can still pat yourself on the back for that little parenting milestone. So long as there aren’t explicit lyrics in the music you’ve done nothing wrong for your child. Nevertheless, where music written with children in mind comes in, you take the child’s listening experience to a whole new level.
The thing we forget as parents is that it isn’t about us. It’s about the children. Perhaps you don’t care to listen to two and a half minutes about the colours in the crayon box, but for your four year old, that’s her milieu. She could listen to that song all day. The reason kids need to listen to music written for kids is because the lyrics are relatable to them. They’ll surprise you with it, too, because children really listen to the words in the songs. Even if you don’t. Especially if you don’t.
It’s quite possible for you to find music written for children in a genre that doesn’t make your ears bleed. There is quite a renaissance going on right now of talented musicians using their skills for a younger audience. In this modern age you can often hear samples of their music on their websites before you even have to plunk down some dollars. If you live in a city that sponsors children’s music concerts you can get a good sampling of music there (in the LA area I recommend the kids club at the Americana or the Grove, it’s where I’ve found many of my new favourites.) Also, pay attention to the reviews and giveaways on the Cherry Blossoms blog, we’ve had a couple of children’s cds up for grabs already (including Music with Sara’s “Mas Canciones en Espanol,” The Pop Ups “Radio Jungle,” and Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band “A Potluck,” the latter of which is an active giveaway for a couple more days!) and have several more coming out over the next few weeks.
Do play music for your children other than children’s music. My boys have a healthy diet that includes Beethoven, the Beatles, Led Zepplin, and Arcade Fire in addition to their own playlist. We know a pair of boys who happen to really love Mastadon. Children are not too young to have opinions. Make sure you also give them a chance, in addition to listening to music written for you, to listen to music written for them. When you hear them incorporate lyrics to songs into their play, you know you’ve found a keeper for the playlist. As for our household, we’ve got a children’s music playlist of 239 songs and counting.