Being the flower child (wannabe) that I am, I have always adored folk music. The soft voices, the perfect harmonies, the message of peace…I was the kid who knew all of Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits before I turned 10, who obsessively listened to Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” all through high school, who fell in love with my husband during my Nick Drake phase (which I’m admittedly still in), and who has now discovered the beauty of folk music for the little ones in my life. Adults are sometimes quick to say that children, especially toddlers, are always wild, loud, crazy, hyper, and exhausting. Yes, I recognize and appreciate and love a true, dirty, energetic little ragamuffin running around screeching in delight, bubbling with life; and yes, they are exhausting.
But I have come to find out that if you choose the proper materials, there can be moments of sweet quiet and tender togetherness. The toddler is still happy, engaged, & excited, yet calm and tranquil…contentment at its purest, fleeting but lasting, carrying us through the days of fits and fights. I recently read a book recommended by a dear friend called “Your 2-Year Old: Terrible or Tender.” I adore this title; it acknowledges that there can be “terrible” moments but that the mixture of “terrible” and “tender” reveal to us that toddlers are in fact the latter: precious, “tender” beings striving to make sense of the world.
I have found that folk music is a wonderful tool to aid in discovering those “tender” times. We recently checked out the Peter Yarrow Songbook: Songs for Little Folks book/cd from the library, and the twins (23 months) simply adore it. (This is the Peter Yarrow from the folk group “Peter, Paul, and Mary.” When Eddie was in Japan all last summer, I listened and cried and stewed in my sappiness to their song ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane‘ constantly. Some serious coping happened via folk! Lol!) These songs are quiet, subdued folk interpretations of children’s classics like ‘Old McDonald’ and ‘This Old Man.’ Are you scratching your head saying, “Won’t my child be bored to tears by something so chill and unobtrusive?! Where’s the energy, the loud voices, the pounding music, the attention grabbers that will keep my toddler engaged?!”
I wrote a post awhile back along a similar vein on why the new, hyper-stimulating Sesame Street just doesn’t compare to the tranquil, trippy little shorts of old. It’s yet again the same truth!! Babies and toddlers love and respond to quiet folk music as much if not more than over-the-top frenetic pop!
The little girl particularly enjoys “The Green Grass Grew All Around.” She dances, sings, cuddles, and giggles to this one. I have a ‘tender’ memory of my mom singing this song to me in my high chair when I was the twins age! The little boy especially enjoys “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” which has a lovely harmony that I sing along with. When it comes time for the harmony he is so intrigued, staring straight into my face, so still and calm and wide-eyed.
We have been working on matching pitches with a little whistle they have & his efforts & successes are so fun to see…these are exactly the sort of things you can do when the music is softer and more low-key. You can engage each other and learn and bond (and even read a story) because the music isn’t competing for your attention!
Also by Peter Yarrow is Puff, the Magic Dragon book/cd. This book is especially precious because the illustration at the end shows Jackie Paper as a grown man who is now bringing his daughter to visit Puff. It’s so beautiful and touching that we as adults get to relive our childhood innocence alongside the innocents that have come into our lives. However, this ending made me even more emotional and then the babies were bawling too upon seeing my tears! Haha!
These next songs are so dear to my heart as my mom and dad sang them to me from infancy. When my mom broke her leg when I was 3, I had to live at my grandma’s house, and I fell asleep to this tape every night (coping through folk yet again!) These songs speak of the pure love between parent and child and how much parents dream for their little ones. I know these by heart; I don’t think I even know many standard lullabies because these are just so perfect and say it all!
“Appalachian Lullaby” is my favorite. The title evokes a tired mama bear with her five gorgeous little hillbilly ragamuffins singing them to sleep in their tiny shack while the West Virginia sunset streaks across the porch…
We as caretakers/parents wish so much to provide these ‘wings’ to carry the little ones through life. I love the cello too. However, the best part is that the cassette tape version (which imo, is much better) has an entire side that has all the music but without the woman singing. Baby can then hear Mama’s and Papa’s voice without another voice in the mix. Perfect songs to bond by and what I picture to be perfect nursing music!
Finally, another childhood staple of mine is Maurice Sendak’s “Really Rosie.” Sung by Carole King, the songs aren’t really folk, but they are delightful! ‘Really Rosie’ is about an expressive, theatrical little girl and her ragtag group of friends who live on gritty Ave P in Brooklyn.
This album explores naughtiness, boredom, dreams, fame, vanity, wanting to be alone, ABC’s, the calendar year, even vampires and death! All handled with charm and ingenuity.
The little girl I take care of reminds me of Rosie: spunky, lively, feisty, and confident.
I encourage you to consider adding some folk music/low-key tunes into your daily routine w/ your baby, toddler, or older child. I hope some ‘tender’ moments of your own will come to you and yours along the way!
xoxo chloe ella