When my three sons were little, we spent hours singing together. Songs like Little Black Bull, Leatherwing Bat, Old Blue, and Abiyoyo were just a few of our favorites. Each day, whether my kids were sitting in high chairs or walking down the street, I’d sing and they’d pay attention, giggle, and ask for more. It was a daily ritual and one of the most intimate activities we did together.
New moms and dads may know that singing to their babies is important, but many are stuck singing the same old songs over and over again. Twinkle Twinkle, ABC’s, Wheels on the Bus, and Itsy Bitsy Spider—these are like “old friends” that we learned from our parents and pass along to our own children. But there’s a whole world of children’s folk songs waiting to be discovered that will bring you and your baby hours of fun!
The Seeger family—Pete, Ruth, Peggy, and Michael—is the “first family” of American folksongs for children, and their albums are a treasure trove of songs to sing together. Pete Seeger, who passed away this year at 93, spent a lifetime teaching songs for young children, and his recordings are filled with vibrant melodies, a range of emotions, and rich vocabulary and story. Several recordings focus exclusively on children’s music, such as Pete Seeger Children’s Concert At Carnegie Hall; Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes Little And Big: Animal Folk Songs; Stories and Songs for Little Children; and American Folk Game and Activity Songs for Young Children. I would start with Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes—that was always our favorite!
Here are some other great artists and collections to consider:
Smithsonian Folkways Children’s Music Collection: An assortment of artists, such as the great Ella Jenkins (whose work is worth exploring on its own). You’ll also find songs in Spanish, Yiddish and Swahili. Such a treasure!
Songs from the Old School: A funky, soulful collection by Ivan Ulz, which includes the new favorite tune “Fire Truck” and musical accompaniment to the classic Ruth Krauss book, The Carrot Seed.
Leadbelly Sings for Children: This album features the sounds of classic blues master Leadbelly, who plays the twelve string guitar for adults and little folks too.
Going to the Zoo: Tom Paxton’s wonderful world of soothing kids’ songs for kids, which is also a great book written by Paxton and Karen Lee Schmidt.
Peter and the Wolf: Narrated by David Bowie, this is can’t-miss album is a great way to expose your child to classical music and great storytelling.
So go beyond Twinkle Twinkle the next time you sing to your children—although I wouldn’t erase the classics from your repertoire. Whatever you choose, music is crucial for well being and language development and a simple pleasure your children will enjoy for years to come.