Music. It colors our lives with happiness (and sometimes sadness), and it makes us sing and dance and sometimes laugh. Songs can take us back to places and people from our past. The familiar first notes of my favorite song can bring an instant smile to my face. Music makes my day.
Children’s music, however, has gotten a bad rap. I blame Barney, and the years he spent teaching children that songs about going Looby Loo (whatever that is) were quality music. Kids believed him, and parents all over the world plugged their ears and rolled their eyes. But there is excellent kids music out there, and in this day and age, it’s accessible with the click of the screen of the average smartphone.
As a musician, former music teacher, and lover of music in general, it is my pleasure to bring to you my list of the Top Five Albums for Your Toddler. Some of these may be familiar to you, but there might be a couple of suggestions you haven’t heard of. I hope these bring hours of musical pleasure to your car rides and play times.
- Little Seed by Elizabeth Mitchell. Deciding on one Elizabeth Mitchell album is so difficult. I love every single one. Elizabeth Mitchell’s voice is rich and beautiful. Fans of folk music (or those who like the sound of a banjo even a little) will fall in love with everything she records. This album, however, is special because it’s filled with songs by Woody Guthrie. It received a well-deserved Grammy nomination for best children’s album. I dare you to listen to this album and not get the song “Bling Blang” stuck in your head.
- House Party by Dan Zanes. Dan Zanes makes incredibly fun music for kids. He reminds me of Lyle Lovett, for both his wacky hairstyle and vocal quality. “Hop Up Ladies” is one of the first songs I heard from this album, and I was hooked. I grew up in New Zealand, so Dan’s version of “Waltzing Matilda” makes me feel young and nostalgic, despite the song being technically Australian and not Kiwi. Second favorite album: Rocket Ship Beach, if for no other reason than to play his incredibly singable version of the song “Bushel and a Peck.”
- Baby Beluga by Raffi. Thirty-somethings will recognize this from the days of Full House. We all watched adorable Michelle Tanner walk around her home, driving everyone crazy singing “Baby Beluga.” But I have to tell you, I am a fan. This is one of many Raffi albums that I love, but hearing your little one sweetly singing along to “Thanks a Lot” makes all of the Baby Beluga listens worthwhile.
- Can You Canoe? by the Okee Dokee Brothers. Joe and Justin, the Okee Dokee Brothers, actually took to the Mississippi River for an entire month to canoe, camp, and write the songs for this album. So when they sing about sleeping in a “Thousand Star Hotel,” they are singing what they have lived. It is real, and it is raw. And truly, that’s what all good music is about. This album won a Grammy in 2013, and these guys earned it.
- The Johnny Cash Children’s Album by Johnny Cash. This album is 40 years old, and it is still likable. I mean, it’s Johnny Cash. The album is storytelling at its best, and whether he is speaking or singing, the Man in Black is fantastic, as always. “I Got a Boy and His Name is John” almost makes me wish I had named my son John instead of Jude. Sorry, Jude. We’ll always have the Beatles.
I do need to add an Honorable Mention: anything by Ella Jenkins. Everything about her music is fun and educational. I almost feel the need to apologize for including Johnny Cash and not including Ella Jenkins, who has done so much for music education for children. But like I said before, it’s Johnny Cash.
What are you listening to with your preschooler? Do you have any suggestions to add?