Todd Hoffman is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York. His writing focuses on the intersection of educational policy, cognitive development, and academic research with a special interest in literacy outcomes and early childhood education. He is also a graduate student in the Cognitive Studies in Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. When not writing or studying, he can be found exploring the five boroughs with his lovely and brainy wife. For more information please visit toddmichaelhoffman.com.
Does the song “Wheels on the Bus” make you want to drive the bus off a cliff? Is another round of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” about to send you to the funny farm?
While parents and children may not share the same taste in music, almost everyone agrees that music is an important part of a child’s development. According to Shauna Tominey, a performer of children’s music (storytimesongs.com) who also happens to be working on her PhD. in Human Development and Family Sciences at Oregon State University, music is not only fun and entertaining, but also a great learning tool. “It is through songs that children learn the fundamentals of reading,” she says. “Most children also learn the days of the week and the months of the year through songs.” Tominey also suggests that music is a wonderful way to encourage physical activity and teach social skills such as paying attention and following directions.
Don’t just take her word for it, however, plenty of research also speaks to the importance of music in a young child’s life. “Research is showing that music activities engage the left, right, front, and back portions of the brain; which is important in early childhood because 85-90% of brain growth occurs by age five,” Tominey says. “Studies have linked music to improved attention and memory, spatial awareness (a key component of math), and phonological awareness (important for early literacy).”
But does this mean dads have to spend their children’s formative years repeatedly listening to songs about rainbows and unicorns in order for kids to gain all the benefits music has to offer? According to Tominey, the answer is no. While she believes songs with simple melodies and lots of repetition are best for young children, she also thinks exposing kids to different types of music is a good idea. “Just like with developing taste in foods, children begin to enjoy hearing different kinds of music as they grow and develop,” she says. “As long as lyrics are appropriate, I recommend parents share a variety of music with children, ranging from classical music to whatever the parent has on their own ipod.”
To make the most of your musical moments together (and to stop your ears from bleeding), keep the following in mind the next time you are about to hit the play button:
This Isn’t Your Father’s Kid’s Music: Kid’s music is a thriving industry. Because of this, plenty of big name artists have branched out into the world of children’s music. Popular artists such as Jack Johnson and Jewel have released children’s albums, while groups such as Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants have also released albums for kids. Some artists such as Dan Zanes–formerly of The Del Fuegos–have even traded in the indie rock creds to concentrate on making music for the preschool set. With a little effort, parents should be able to find music that everyone will enjoy.
Become Your Own Producer (insert P-Daddy joke here): Just because they’re kids, doesn’t mean they only have to listen to kid’s music. Instead of buying the latest Wiggles CD, Nipper Knapp, a Los Angeles-based writer and actor, made a six-disc compilation of songs he felt would be appropriate for his two-year-old son. The collection includes songs from artists as diverse as Wilco, The White Stripes, The Beatles, and even the Ramones. “He digs a lot of fun, peppy acoustic music,” Knapp says, “He loves any White Stripes acoustic stuff. Same with a few Wilco songs.” His son’s favorite? “He’ll listen to the White Stripes’ “We Are Going to be Friends” a thousand times in a row in the car.”
Take a Virtual Trip to the Smithsonian: Everyone knows the Smithsonian is one of the world’s great institutions, but did you know that it also has its own record label? Smithsonian Folkways is a treasure trove of music and music history that is perfect for kids of all ages. Not only does the Smithsonian Folkways website have recordings from the likes of Pete Seeger, Son House, and Ella Fitzgerald available for purchase or download, but it also includes free lesson plans and activities for use with some of your favorite recordings. The Smithsonian Folkways Children’s Collection album–which features songs from Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and The New Lost City Ramblers among others–should be a required part of every child’s musical library.
Expand Your Horizons While Expanding Theirs: Let’s face it, not many of us can tell our nocturnes from our preludes. Fatherhood provides the perfect opportunity to learn about things we might have otherwise chosen to remain happily ignorant about. Take classical music, for example. Although music by Mozart and Mendelssohn may not be everyone’s cup of tea, listening to it every now and then may help both you and your child become more well-rounded people. And keep in mind that there are many types of classical music. If Beethoven and Brahms are too much for you, the collection Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music is a great way to introduce kids to symphonic music while reliving your dreams of playing halfback for the Chicago Bears.
Image credit: Gary Simmons