What do you do when your kids just won't stop singing and dancing?
Joy Brewster has decided to join in -- no matter how goofy or
out-of-tune she might be.
Let the Music Play
Like many parents, my husband Steve and I have been sharing music with our children since the day they were born. We rocked them to sleep with lullabies, sang them silly songs during the day, and calmed them with soothing melodies. We played them our favorite songs, secretly (and probably futilely) hoping they'd come to love some of the same music we do. At least for a little while, we were in the driver's seat. But then our kids started taking the wheel, developing their own musical tastes. Before we knew it, they were requesting tunes in the car, singing along with their favorites, and making up their own songs and dances. For my 4-year-old son Vann, this started early. He was always drumming, humming, and singing his own tunes -- or "jazzing up" old standards like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." (You know, that song can really rock.)
The thing was... it never stopped. Ever. Vann seemed to have an ongoing soundtrack to his life playing in his head. Steve and I found ourselves saying things like, "Please stop dancing and eat your dinner" or "No, your stuffed animals can NOT play us another song -- time for bed!" So, while there are limits, the music rarely stops in our house.
Rock the House
One of my favorite memories as a kid was watching my parents dance in the living room to Perry Como swooning on the radio. Eventually, they let us kids "cut in," and soon we'd all be dancing -- taking turns standing on my dad's feet, trying to dance as gracefully as my mom.
Fast forward a few decades, and my family is having a very different kind of dance party. As a Talking Heads song thumps through the house, Vann sways to the beat, his body jerking in rhythmic waves. Big sister Olivia, age 7, is spinning, flapping her arms, and laughing hysterically. Steve is jumping up and down, his head bobbing as he beats his air drums. As for me, well, let's just say I did not inherit my mom's grace.
Every family has its own style of celebrating music. One family we know improvises a vocal beat box on car rides. The youngest starts with a funny sound or rhythm, like "tah, tah, tah, tah," then his brother adds another beat (UM-pah, UM-pah), and one by one, mom and dad join in. They hum, snap, cluck tongues, whistle -- any fun sound that adds to the rhythm. Watch Sesame Workshop's Body Music video with your child and see what kind of beat box your family can create.
Another family we know parades through their house with instruments. And one friend's 4-year-old son has started a "family band." He hands out instruments -- even the dog gets a bell on his collar -- then says, "One, two, a-one-two-three..." and directs each person when to start playing. Inspired by his dad who plays the bass, he picks at his mini-electric guitar and adds his own dance moves.
Hearing these stories from my friends, one thing was clear -- when it comes to music, nothing is too silly.
Making His Own Music
"One truck goes uuup... a wukah, wukah, wukah, wooo..." sang Vann one recent afternoon.
"What are you singing?" I asked.
"Just a song," he shrugged.
"Which song is it?"
"My song," he replied. Then he picked up where he left off: "Two trucks go down... a wukah, wukah, wukah, wooo."
Okay, so maybe it's not Grammy material, but I love it. Vann has never been shy about making his own music. Since he was a toddler, he could turn anything into an instrument -- a stick on the playground became a guitar. A baseball bat became a saxophone. And just about anything could be a drum set.
Over time, our house has quickly filled with an assortment of real instruments -- from shakers and tambourines to a toy saxophone and violin. For his second birthday, Olivia suggested a ukulele. (She knows her little brother well.) Two years later, it's still his number one toy.
Both kids spend a lot of time at our old out-of-tune piano. Olivia started lessons at 6, which seemed to be the perfect age for her. For now, Vann is happy to play "duets" with Olivia. Of course, he doesn't know the notes, but he mimics her rhythm and fingering. And on the rare occasion he has the piano to himself, he's even started "composing" a few of his own tunes.
Hand-made instruments are a big hit in our family, too. If you want to have a jam session in your home, check out these creative ideas for home-made instruments.
From Show Tunes to Kids' Rock
Music is almost always playing in our house: jazz, bluegrass, classical, reggae, rock... I'd like to say we're deliberately exposing our kids to different kinds of music. In truth, however, we're really just playing what we're in the mood to hear. But listening to many types of music has been a fun way to discover their musical tastes. Olivia's drawn to songs she can sing along with; while Vann's more into music he can rock to. When I ask friends about some of the music on their kids' playlists, their answers range from indie rock and world music to Motown and blues -- even Christmas music at all times of the year.
Of course, there are songs we think are great for the kids -- until they start asking about (or singing along with) the lyrics. These are times we really appreciate children's rock, like Dan Zanes. Well, that, and the fact that the music is really fun. ("I listen to this in the car even when I'm alone," admitted one mom, slipping me a kids' CD recently.)
No matter how much my children listen to a song on the stereo, there's nothing like a live performance. While terrifying for a few, apparently the "mosh pit" at a kid's rock concert is not to be missed -- and a real bonding experience for kids. For some of my friends, the most memorable experiences are productions like The Nutcracker and Annie. (One mom I know remembers her 2-year-old swaying in the aisle at Godspell.) As for us, we enjoy the free performances of our local symphony. The kids can get as close as they want to see and hear all the different instruments.
For an "almost live" experience, there's always YouTube. Steve and I recently went to a U2 concert and the kids wanted to hear all about it. It was impossible to describe the energy and theatrics of the show, so we let them watch it on a YouTube video. It was the next best thing to being there. Of course, it's always good idea to view a video before your kids do. You also want to make sure the videos you watch are available legally. For example, a band's official website can be a good place to start.
Keep the Music Playing
How will my kids celebrate music when they're older? Will they still play instruments, or maybe even create their own music? What songs will bring them joy, inspire them, or remind them of their childhood? What kind of dance parties will they have? I wish I could fast forward and hear that soundtrack. For now, we'll just keep the music playing.