An Inspired Playlist for Developing Minds

Recently I was on a trip to a northern city in the U.S. to visit some friends (a mixed race couple with two mixed raced children under the age of 4).  We had a lovely brunch, watched the kids begin to play and then begin to have meltdowns.  The father quickly put on the eldest child’s favorite CD and immediately my ears began to hurt.  It was a familiar playlist haunted by lyrics and notes of dominant midcentury white colonial pride with a hint of contemporary attempts of sounding relevant. The soundtrack will remain nameless. 


The conversation moved quickly into school and how my friends could prepare their young children for their formative days in public education.  But I was perseverating on the music that was still blaring loudly in the background as a means to keep the children happy.  So my advice came in the form of what new music they could introduce that might have more appeal to the family as a whole. 


Here are my suggestions from 2,160 days of greeting children in the morning with tunes to awaken their spirits and prime them for the day ahead. 


1.    Free to Be, You and Me! Straight out of the 70’s (like me) is a lifelong cherished compilation of mostly relevant stories and songs created by Marlo Thomas, which has sustained groundbreaking narratives over time.  This is arguably one of my favorite albums as a child, a teacher, and favorite auntie.

2.    Alphabet Rockers  When Alphabet Rocker, Kaitlin McGaw, asked to observe my classroom years back, I had no idea it would inform a range of kid’s music that serves to demonstrate how children can investigate and explore complex content.  The Alphabet Rockets, a hip hop group for kids,  are making waves into the ear space of children and parents nationwide.  I love the issues they are singing about.  Lyrics that explore: racial justice, allyship, bullying, food consumption, friendship, the love for reading and writing, and in general more love!

3.    Ella Jenkins  Seriously, if you don’t know Ella Jenkins, please hit the link and do yourself the great privilege of introducing your child to the warmest, most caring, most nurturing, most adoring black female artist to sooth the your child’s spirit.  She is wonderful and I played her songs everyday for my beloved classes. 

4.    Harry Belafonte  Okay, so you’re catching on that I love me some old school singers.  It’s true.  I have a deep fondness for our elders and for music that came years before I did.  This is true of Harry Belafonte, a revered actor, musical artist, and activist.  In my classroom, there was a season to play Harry Belafonte: October.  The truth is, I have always loved that scene from Beetlejuice when Winona Rider is doing a line dance to “Shake Senora.”  And yes, every Halloween, you could find my class doing a line dance to “Shake, Senora!”  Hey, no shame!
“Shake, Senora” is amazing and so is the Banana Boat Song (aka Day-O) when you are introducing long vowels to emergent readers.

5.    The Jackson Five  Yaaaaasss, queens (and kings).  Do you remember the cartoon the Jackson Five?  I do! Now, if ump-teen years later, one can still remember being moved by the rhythms and songs of the Jackson Five, you can guarantee they also had an impact on my students. I promise you that your young children will adore the jives of the Jackson Five.  You can’t help but dance!

6.    Jazzy Ash  All right, here’s something super fresh for you.  If you haven’t discovered Jazzy Ash yet, go ahead and immediately download.  Had Jazzy Ash been around 5 years ago, this would probably be on repeat in Room 1!  She and her band are amazing!  Check them out!


What I hope to convey is this-share the music that moves you with your young ones! Young ears are drawn to fun, catchy tunes, which help stimulate the brain to grow new neurons and encode information.  Music with lyrics that stimulate vocabulary growth are incredibly important, so introduce them to lyrics that invigorate, nurture and support their development as humans.  Have fun and be sure to leave us a comment for your favorite artists that your children are digging right now. 


In Harmony- Mariah

Photo by MM Productions/DigitalVision / Getty Images
Photo by MM Productions/DigitalVision / Getty Images

Immersed and Versed in the Contemporary Arts! Get your kids thinking!

Contemporary arts make more sense to me than almost everything else on this planet. Contemporary artists interact with the world through creative inquiry, determined to make meaning of complex issues or at least expose us (the rest of the world) to better questions, deeper thinking and more meaningful analysis of the world around us and how to engage with it. 

We all deserve to have more art in our lives.  You need art and your children need art! And not just arts and crafts but contemporary art!  Yes, they need a trip to the museum or the theater to consume massive amounts of art.  Then they need time, space, and supplies to recreate, activate and immerse in arts based experiences.

Here’s why:

1)    They draw you in.  Let me start with my current obsession: Hamilton, An American Musical.  Hamilton the Musical, is Lin Manuel Miranda’s artistic take on Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton.  It is a love letter to hip hop, an incredibly moving piece of choreography, and an unforgettable execution of artistry casting the global majority to tell the stories of our founding fathers. This contemporary take on history is a creative call to understand our past so that we can understand our future.  #riseup

2)    You think better about everything!  When your child consumes art and then gets to make art, they develop the capacity to think better about everything.  That’s because artist develop mental dispositions that foster their ability to be creative critical questioners. Academia has actually researched this.  It’s called Studio Habits of Mind and they are habits that evoke a deeper metacognitive process to develop skills, capacity and will to engage with the world. 

3)    The world is illuminated.  Contemporary artists take us down paths to understand more fully who we are as humans.  If you sit with art pieces long enough you begin to see reflections of you in that space.  If you allow yourself to be more fully immersed with pieces that speak to you, you develop a deeper sense of why it’s meaningful to you and what you are, want or care to be.  When we more fully understand ourselves we illuminate this world. We are illuminated. We are more connected.  There is an undeniable energy shift when we allow ourselves to be engrossed in art that gets us to these spaces of quality questions, believing, trusting and growing into who we are. 

I offer you a look into the contemporary artists that are trending in my consciousness right now and I hope you and your children will be moved by them and compelled to get to know your own favorite artists!

1)    Ai Wei Wei: A Chinese born artist, Ai Wei Wei questions the world so magnificently that you can’t turn your head without being affected.  He is an art activist for human rights exposing the injustices found around our globe. 

2)    Kara Walker: Kara Walker defines racial injustice through collective memory, drawing upon the assaults of 400 years of oppression.  What child wouldn’t want to stand below a towering sphinx made of sugar and ask “why?” 

3)    Mark Bradford:  Mark Bradford’s work takes me to emotional places I haven’t seen inside me.  He speaks to the suffering of communities through the majesty of intricate lines, shapes, and penetrating color. 

4)    Constance Moore:  I love this artist!  She’s my personal friend and shero.  Her current pieces of art investigate the relationship of things as they relate to each other and as they relate to us, essentially. 

5)    Oscar Munoz: Oscar investigates memory, our ancestors and our interaction with time.  I love how he allows you to breathe the ancestors into frame-literally. 

6)    Stan Douglas: Stan recreates historical depictions of riots and crowds in such a compelling way that you are left stunned and wanting to know absolutely more about what just happened and what happened afterwards.  He’s a master storyteller of the moment.  

7)    Tongo Eisen-Martin: A personal friend of mind so I could be biased here but Tongo creates poetry so profound you have to allow yourself to sit with each phrase, like sipping ice tea on the porch in summertime.  And when you’ve made meaning of his words you want to get up and devote the rest of your life to the cause, if you haven’t already. 

8)    Wangechi Mutu:  You humble yourself in the site of Wangechi’s pieces.  She absorbs surreal fantasies with afrofuturistic visions to complete visual pieces that respond to the caves of your imagination waiting to be invited to the table.  

Stay tuned for the next blog on ideas for emulating these artists to kickstart the art inquiry and artist's habits in your home! 


Photo of Constance Moore's "Black and White."