I find it unnecessarily difficult to find good music for my infant and toddler that doesn’t make me want to barf.
There, I said it. Browsing through songs online, there is so much of that nauseously upbeat, helium-induced nonsense that claims to be “good children’s music”…
Honestly, I don’t want my child to grow up thinking that that’s what music is.
Musical experiences for children can be diverse and varied. Melodies, rhythms and harmonies can be complex. As a speech-language pathologist and a mother of young children, I believe strongly in the power of music – both to promote interaction between a caregiver and little one, and to promote early development. Music has the power to promote holistic learning, bringing all areas of development together. It allows young children to focus on patterns, be immersed in new experiences, move, exercise, and engage in movement and sensory experiences, and learn all about language!
What the research says
A 2003 study looked at the effects of maternal singing on states of infant arousal – essentially, whether singing to your baby can promote his attention and interest or help to lull baby to sleep. Here’s what they found:
“Playful maternal singing […] may promote arousal levels that are optimal for sustained infant attention or interest. By contrast, soothing forms of maternal singing may reduce arousal levels and, in so doing, induce sleep.”
I absolutely believe that there are many more categories of music that are great for children than “children’s music,” but here’s the thing – there is a reason why some music is made for kids – when it’s done well, it follows the same guiding principles as those I discussed in the podcast episode, “Infant-Directed Speech.” Play songs and lullabies do a beautiful job of exaggerating pitch variations, changing the rate of speech, repeating vocabulary, etc. I’m not saying that you can’t create beautiful musical experiences for young children using, say, classical music (or any other kind for that matter!) – and, by all means, play ALL the music for and with your child. HOWEVER, “infant-directed music” inherently creates an opportunity for you to integrate those qualities that hold a young child’s attention and allow her to focus on your voice and the speech sounds you use.
I’ve put together my top 10 favorite musicians and musical groups whose music does a beautiful job of engaging both child and adult in diverse musical experiences – some are classics, some provide a new take on old favorites, and some are altogether new! All are really easy to recreate in your home, with nothing more than your voice or a few simple instruments.
This is not an exhaustive list!
There are plenty more wonderful musicians that you and your young child can enjoy together (and many of them are not even in the category of “children’s music”). I have many more favorites and recommendations, but these my own top 10!
The Strength In Words Playlist: Good Children’s Music
Here is a playlist for you to enjoy some of my favorite examples of songs by each of these recording artists. I imagine you’ll have a great time singing along with some of them, or at least making your own rhythms and music with a few of our DIY Instruments!
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1. The Clancy Children
Traditional children’s songs sung by adorable Irish children and members of the Clancy family. I love that there is a real sense of home life in these sweet rhymes that can be easily recreated in your home!
2. Ella Jenkins
An American folk singer with a soulful, warm voice, Ella Jenkins focuses on children’s rhythms, rhymes and games from all over the world. She is a true music educator, and welcomes her listeners to become active participants in the songs on her albums. There are many call-and-response songs and repeated lines of verse on her albums, which also feature the voices of children.
3. Elizabeth Mitchell
Part of the newer generation of American folk singers, Elizabeth Mitchell is a former nursery school teacher who integrates many traditional songs from all over the world. Her gentle voice makes use of familiar and new songs, with simple words and lovely melodies that will stay fresh in your head.
One of the most popular children’s singers for children born from the 1970’s – 1990’s, Raffi’s voice and guitar have played some of my own favorite tunes growing up, and it is such a joy to share this music with my own children! The tunes are catchy, sometimes silly and sometimes sweet, and can be enjoyed by many generations of listeners!
5. Barbara Milne
Another wonderful music educator, Barbara Milne has a welcoming, open voice. Many of her songs feature wonderful vocabulary for young children, including math concepts, directional concepts, and letter sounds.
6. Ayelet Marinovich
Many of the songs on this album are familiar… but some are re-conceptualized to show how easy it is to actually use music with young children – we all know that finger plays and rhymes are great for little ones, but what we’ve tried to do with our album is to maximize enjoyment and attention, inspiring caregivers and educators to try new things with music and learning! If you’ve come to love Ayelet’s voice on the Strength In Words podcast, this album is a must!
7. Nancy Cassidy
With a rich voice and songs that make even the most serious of adults giggle, Nancy Cassidy has been singing songs for families for several decades. She sings a nice mix of traditional classic folk tunes and originals with clever lyrics.
8. Peter, Paul & Mary
Few artists for children feature the simple harmonies of a man and woman singing (along with lovely guitar). Peter, Paul & Mary are responsible for bringing some of my favorite childhood classics to life – especially those I’ve featured on my playlist, above! Joining in with their voices, for me, feels like I’m singing along with a family band!
9. The Laurie Berkner Band
Another former preschool teacher, Laurie Berkner seems to know just how to make music that gets young kids (and their grown ups) moving! She’s that fun and friendly voice in your living room who keeps you engaged, moving and learning together.
10. Anna Stange
A lovely, mellow album full of great classics – all the songs you forgot you knew from your childhood, and a few more! Looking for another set of songs and rhymes to sing with your little one? This is your album!
Now tell me, what are your favorites?
Share them in the comments below!
Download The Playlist!
Want your own printable playlist of our favorite songs from these great musicians? Here ya go!