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