School of Song

Laura Stallard Petza
March 5, 2009

A long time ago, before my kids were in the picture, my husband and I used to pretend we were a band.  I sang, wrote lyrics and sort of banged on the keyboard, while he did pretty much everything else.  We had a lot of fun, crafting brilliant songs about soured love and tornadoes, but when the kids came along, and our lives grew more complicated, we left some of our musical ambitions behind.  But because we are both such huge fans of music, and because-often to my six-year-old daughter's horror-I can communicate very little without turning it into song, our house, even without the screech of feedback, is rarely a quiet place (though seriously, what house filled small children is a quiet place?).  Drop a microphone into our kitchen on an average morning and you'll hear me crooning unapologetically about spilled corn flakes, the need for raincoats, or whatever else happens to be going on around me.  It's a sickness, really, this singing about everything, and I sometimes worry that my poor, embarrassed daughter might report me to Social Services just to get it to stop. 

But. But!  I have found that my children actually learn stuff from my silly, occasionally irritating songs!  And not only trivia, like that the cat clawed the sofa or that the faucet in the downstairs bathroom is dripping, but more important, more applicable stuff, like their address and how to spell their names.  And what, after all, is The Alphabet Song, other than a melodic, mnemonic device?  I mean, people have been teaching skills through song for ages, much to the delight of the preschool set . . . and sometimes to the dismay of older children.

Anyway, do you have a skill or a fact that you'd like your little one to remember?  Try teaching it in the form of a song!  The easiest way, if it's not too awkward, is to choose a tune your child already knows.  Take "Bingo," for example, because it's super-simple.  Let's say, so that we can do this together, that you're trying to teach your child-David-how to spell his name.  Now because his name consists of a perfect five letters, you're pretty much on Easy Street.  If his name were, say, Alexander or Ulysses, this would be a little tougher, and you might have to go with a different song, but let's not go down that road right now.  Anyway, as we want David to learn how to spell his name, let's sing him a little song:

There once was a mommy who had a kid and David was his name, yeah!

D-A-V-I-D!

D-A-V-I-D!

D-A-V-I-D!

And David was his name, yeah!

And yes, I realize that you don't quite get the rhyme, as you do in the real "Bingo" song, but honestly, given that the lyricist behind "Bingo" just rhymed Oh with O, I don't think you're making that great an artistic compromise (no offense intended, kind lyricist behind "Bingo"!).

The important thing is that you get the idea.  By connecting what you want to teach to a familiar melody, you can help your child to make a positive association between fun and information.  And isn't that what good teaching's all about?  And also, by all means, feel free to make up your melodies!  All of the best songs were made up by someone, and you're as much of a someone as anyone!

Oh, and for the record, my daughter has begun to sing her way through her daily routine.  Another little something she learned from me. 

Laura is the Baltimore City Editor for The Savvy Source. You can read more of her work every day at Being Savvy Baltimore.

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From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    I love the idea of changing lyrics in a song for children. I did it and know many others that have. One of my favorites is, How Much is That Baby in The Mirror. The one with the pretty (green/brown/blue/hazel) eyes, how much is that baby in the mirror. I sure think that baby's a prize.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    What a fabulous idea! I am going to try this one (does it matter if you are tone deaf?) <a href="http://minihipster.com/ target="_new">MiniHipster.com</a>

    over a year ago

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