My toddler likes music- as most toddlers do, I suppose. He loves it when we sing to him; sometimes he sings along. He has since he was a baby, he kind of “oo-oo’s” along with whatever it is. His favorite song from very early on, as my husband delightfully discovered, is Take Me out To The Ball Game. Especially the Bernie Williams guitar version. When Babyboy was 6 months old, we drove six hours to see relatives, and whenever he fussed, we put on that song… it was magic. He would calm immediately, and even fall into a sort of quietly reverent rapture. It worked when we sang it as well. We demonstrated this party trick for all our relatives, again and again.

 

Now that he’s a year and a half old, I’ve been looking for new musical experiences for him. Our next door neighbor, a reasonable human being with two small children, raved and raved about this program called “Music Together”, where you pay a semester fee and go with your kid to these music classes; they have one for “ages 0-4”. I couldn’t quite imagine what a toddler would do in such a class, but she felt so strongly about it, and the testimonials on the website were so positive, that I decided to try it.

 

I was a bit put off by the expense- over $200 for 10 classes for a 16-month old?? But I plunked it down anyways. The classes are very well-attended, they seem to have no problem filling. I was surprised, however, that first day, when the class was only 45 minutes long, and it seemed, well,  sort of free-form. I got the impression that the instructor was kind of making it up as we went along.

Basically, the class is based on the CDs that you get as part of the fee: some familiar and some new kids’ songs and poems, performed by a folksy (read: kind of annoying) band. In the class, we sit in a circle, sans shoes, on a padded floor and sing songs, beat percussion, and with certain tunes, play with kid-friendly instruments or scarves or drums. The instructor is a very nice person, really; she’s a mom, incredibly cheerful, and plays the guitar. We spend 45 minutes singing, clapping, and banging things, as well as preventing your kid from pulling the air conditioning plug out or from grabbing some other kid’s drum. You’re supposed to go home and listen to the CDs with your kid, then come to class ready to sing and clap along with the tunes.

 

Well, I tried to listen to the Music Together CDs, but the cheesy kids’ tunes drove me nuts. And I realized that Babyboy didn’t seem to care if we listened to the “Music Together” CD, or one of our own “adult” CDs. So I started mining our own collection to find kid-appropriate music, and we have turned up some really great finds.

 

We like CDs that you can put on and forget about, just leave playing for the whole thing, so both parent and child are entertained and soothed. One requirement from my standpoint is no jarring transitions– otherwise Babyboy tends to get agitated. An album should be fairly consistent throughout, should have an identifiable style and rhythm.

 

Here are our favorites thus far:

 

Bob Marley’s Greatest Hits: By far the winner. Great to put on early in the morning, especially when Babyboy decides that 5 a.m. is a fine time to wake up and get the day started. This album is upbeat yet calm, melodic yet soothing; the lyrics are all positive, with no bad words or sketchy references. You can dance to it, or build blocks, or rock in the rocking chair. Excellent toddler choice!

 

Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin: This classic high-energy choice is a blast, especially between getting home from work and dinner, when our house is a bit hectic with playtime and dinner prep and what have you. There is so much good, positive energy here. AND “A Boy Named Sue” is a Shel Silverstein poem, to boot. Now, warning, there are some bad words and references dotted here and there (a few damns and hells and a reference to dope), but there is also gospel music and Jesus references, as well as plenty of self-deprecating humor, so in my mind it evens itself out. I’m no country music fan, but this is Johnny and June at their mesmerizing best.

 

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: Another high-energy choice, a deliriously happy, West-coast-swing-style boppy album that is more like a kids’ album than many kids’ albums. The songs are wacky and fun; you can’t help but wiggle and tap along. Just try to sit still to “Minnie the Moocher”. Babyboy gets giddy as we swing around the room with him.

 

Poncho Sanchez, The Ultimate Latin Dance Party: The title and cover art are misleading, and would have one think they are purchasing yet another lame oversexed-and-underimaginative Latin dance CD—the opposite of toddler music! But on listening, this one is actually pretty musically classy. Our current Latin favorite. (We were once really into salsa and meringue, and we have quite a collection of Latin dance music.) This is delightful, really fun for a little rhythm, but mellow enough to also be background for playtime. A mood-booster.

 

Tony Bennett, Steppin’ Out: Smooth, happy, jazzy, dancy. Benign lyrics, even-keeled, good old reliable Tony.

 

Dave Brubeck, Take Five: Jazz at its best. Generally upbeat, interesting rhythms, identifiable tunes, not discordant, and actually regarded as a work of genius to boot.

 

There are more, including a number of Classical picks, but I’m not 100% entirely happy with any yet, to put them on my list. Be on the lookout for a Part 2 to this, with more recommendations for music for highly enjoyable Parent/toddler listening and playing– We still have a few hundred CDs to go through, so we’ll see what turns up on the favorites rotation!

And, I do not plan on raving about the Music Together experience to anyone… it seems kind of pricey for what it is.I say save your precious dollars and listen to music at home. Pick up some secondhand kiddie musical instruments, or bang on pots and pans with wooden spoons (works in our house).