Monday, February 25, 2008

Sing, Sing a Song

Singing with our children is something experts agree is terrifically beneficial. Not to mention that is makes little moments faster and more fun, something any mom can appreciate.

What makes singing so great? Well, songs have a few preliteracy benefits, for starters. They are often based on rhyming structures, as well as breaking words up over notes into the syllabic parts. These things make us pay attention to the sounds of words, and help with what we call phonetic awareness, or being aware of the sounds in words. They can also help you remember to put vocabulary to what you are doing, singing about things around you. Hearing words has huge impact - and is a large factor in future reading success. And of course, the tune can help you remember words for rhymes and songs better than a rhythm alone can.

You may also have noticed how a song will draw an immediate response from a baby or child in terms of attention, which can be helpful when parenting. When Pumpkinpie was a baby, I liked using songs to fill the wide-open void in conversation, to put words to what we were doing, to pull us along through a task or a walk, to hold her attention, and to basically, keep myself a little closer to sane.

But what if you don't know a host of songs?

Well, there are a few things you can do. First, I always encourage people to make up songs or alter tunes they know. This may mean turning Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush into This Is the Way We Put On Our Shirt, or making up entirely new words to something like Brahms' Lullaby, describing the day as you get ready for bed. It may mean making up things that go with your current activity, which is great. Remember, you can use any music you know and love, too. It doesn't have to be Raffi-approved, though it is nice for them to know those songs, too.

And if you'd like to learn some of the traditional songs sung by young kids in Canada? Libraries and music stores carry bundles and bundles of CDs, and even some DVDs, so you can sing along until you know it. You can find songbook collections of them, if you can read music. Some of these books below even come with CDs, and many have the music at the back of the book. What I love the most about using these song books is that they give you the words, which can help you learn them, help you if, like me, you sometimes get stuck, and give you something to point and look at with your child.

And finally, I'd like to note that there are a host of wonderful lullaby books and song collections, but I will save them for another post or two in future for the sake of keeping this post manageable. Sort of.

Raffi series

Raffi has a series of song books that partner well with the kind of songs that are typically found on CDs of sing-along songs for toddlers and kids, including his own. These include favourites like Down By The Bay, If You're Happy and You Know It, Baby Beluga, Shake Your Sillies Out, and so on. There are a variety of illustrators, so the results vary, but overall, these are a great bunch of standards.

Nadine Bernard Westcott

Westcott has a fun, jaunty, style full of silly details that are fun to find. She has illustrated several song books, some of which are also available in board format, such as The Lady with the Alligator Purse and I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. She has also spun some songs into longer versions to include a bit of narrative, as she did with Skip to My Lou, a favourite of mine. For more fun, check out her takes on some less-used songs like I've Been Working on the Railroad, Peanut Butter and Jelly, There's a Hole in the Bucket, and Miss Mary Mack.

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, by Simms Taback

Another version of this old standby comes from Simms Taback, who brings to it a style very similar to that employed in his Caldecott winner, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. The paintings are darker, with black backgrounds and ochres, rusts, and greens heavily employed, but the die-cut holes in each page add a fun element, as we can see the growing menagerie in her belly as we move from page to page. Unlike Westcotts' version, though, this one doesn't sugar-coat it, and she dies in the end, a clear case of one bite too many.

My Favorite Things, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, ill. James Warhola

This lovely old Sound of music favourite has been illustrated in warm browns and roses, with the treasured objects flying through the air in a whirl as the song picks up pace. It's a beatiful book, and parents like me who can't remember all the words can use it to share this song with their own. Pumpkinpie loved it, and was sad to see it go back to the library.

Little White Duck, by Walt Whippo, ill. Joan Paley

This is one of my favourite song books, illustrated with richly coloured, gorgeous collage, and giving me the words I can never quite master. It's a great one to share with even smaller kids. It took me one look to fall in love with it and buy my own copy. If, like me, you don't read music, find or borrow the CD of the same title by Burl Ives.

Turn Turn Turn, by Pete Seeger, ill. Wendy Anderson Halpern

This classic folk song, sprung from words in the Book of Ecclesiastes, is reimagined as a picture book, and comes with a CD of both the spoken word and the song. The book inlcudes music and some notes from Pete Seeger. For a younger child, this is a lovely song, but for an older child, there are worlds of detail in the illustrations, and months of deep discussion in the concepts opened up in the song.

Rosemary Wells board books

Wells, of Max & Ruby and McDuff fame, is the illustrator of my favourite nursery rhyme books, and has extended her considerable empire into the area of early literacy, including several picture books of simple nuresrey rhymes and songs. These includes simple old standards like Twinkle, Twinkle, The Bear Went Over the Mountain, Old Macdonald, and BINGO. There are few words on a page, charming illustrations, and a nice small board book format to recommend them. They make a great baby gift, too.

What Will We Do With the Baby-O?, by Theo Heras, ill. Jennifer Herbert

This collection of fun and sometimes unusual songs and rhymes makes my list even though I'm not talking song collections for the fact that it has a couple of songs I love but haven't often seen in books, such as Ally Bally Bee, which Pumpkinpie loves and requested night after night for months. I'm not in love with the illustrations, to be honest, but the content is strong enough to make it nearly irrelevant, and some may love the bold style. The book also has an available CD of Heras singing the congs she chose to include. (And, in the spirit of full disclosure, Theo is a Toronto librarian that I know and love - she is wonderful, so even though it would normally make me uncomfy to talk about the product of someone I know, I am going ahead here.)

The Wheels on the Bus, ill. Paul O. Zelinsky

This is the go-to version of the common song for most librarians - it has pop-ups and movable bits, it's fun and rollicking, the kids know it, love it, and chime in willingly. It's a great book for sharing. I do recommend it with one caution, though: being a movable book makes it both more expensive and more fragile than your average book, so save it for shared reading or for children old enough to handle books with care.

Find these and other wonderful books of songs in your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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