It is quite the feeling when you play one of your all-time favorite songs for your kid and they love it. When this happens — no matter their age (or yours) — you and your child add another layer to your ongoing bond.
Traditionally speaking, the “acceptable” songs many parents share, recite, and make a big deal about with their 0 to 3 year-old’s are nursery rhymes. This has always seemed foolish to me.
For example — doesn’t singing a duet with your toddler about a half-egg/ half-British-boy getting dismembered and permanently disfigured from a disastrous fall seem foolish to you?
That’s why I’ve never given my kid the chance to request nursery rhymes while she’s with me. I haven’t outlawed them, but she can listen to that ancient cornball crap with everyone else.
From the day my 3 year-old daughter was born, I knew I wanted to introduce her to the music that I love — the music that has stuck with me through my years. I also knew that I didn’t want to waste any time. Drawing from my own experience as a kid, I know that children usually don’t want to hear what their parents listen to (or have to say) very deep into their adolescent years.
In 1797, America’s first President — George Washington — was in his last year of office. Also in 1797, the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” hit the scene.
Babies wrapped in deer hides under the shelter of their electricity-less log shanties were singing the same song that our current youngins are singing some 44 U.S. Presidents later.
No other age group in the modern world has the majority of its population singing 200 year-old songs.
And nowhere does it say babies and toddlers can only listen to nursery rhymes — but it’s usually what happens. It’s taboo if you expose your young to music others don’t approve of. This way of thinking is unoriginal, boring, and outdated.
It’s not? When Humpty Dumpty first made its way into pop-culture:
- Abe Lincoln was negative 12 years-old.
- Women weren’t allowed to vote or attend high school.
- Juneteenth was still 68 years away.
- Your transportation options were your feet, riding a horse, or sitting in a wagon pulled by a horse.
- A popular side hustle was selling your individual teeth to make dentures for the rich.
While I understand tradition — from 1797 to now — just about every conceivable thing has evolved and changed. Our blindly inherited insistence to limit our 0 to 3 year-old’s musical landscape somehow hasn’t.
Today, in the 2020s — perhaps next to an electric fireplace or on the floor of a home’s air-conditioned playroom — mothers, fathers, and tablets sing the same songs with their babies & toddlers that mothers, big sisters, and family servants in the 1820s sang to their young — perhaps next to a live fire, or on the floor of a blacksmith shop.
FROZEN IN TIME
Never in my life has any adult told me that a nursery rhyme is one of their favorite songs. Aside from the adults who own or rent a place on Sesame Street, no mature human sings or listens to nursery rhymes for pleasure.
Adults — such as preschool teachers — sing these songs because it’s a job requirement. Once these teachers are done with work, I hardly think any of them sit in rush-hour traffic and jam-out to “Hickory Dickory Dock.”
Nor can I imagine any preschool teacher arriving home from a long day at work, pouring a glass of wine, and putting on a nursery rhyme playlist to kick-back and relax to.
That’s because, with every new generation of society comes a new variation of general musical tastes.
Never has any generation of humankind created pop music that sounds like a continuance from the last generation or era, nor sounds unoriginal to its time. We largely enjoy and identify with the music created during ours and our parents’ lifetimes.
Unless you’re a baby…
Tough shit, babies. You’re gonna sing about fetching a pail of water, just like the babies in your family did 200 years ago while they played with their toy slingshot capable of killing someone.
Or a toddler…
Sorry, kid. You’re still a toddler? You know what that means. You’re only allowed to sing and listen to songs that were around back before the invention of the United States railroad. You wanna hear that one about rowing a boat gently down a stream (even though I’d never let you row any boat down any stream), or that one about sitting on a tuffet eating curds n’ weigh (even though I’d have the DCF called on me if I fed you curdled milk)?
Once every single young person realizes that endless music exists, that sounds way cooler than something like “Three Blind Mice,” they drop their love of nursery rhymes fast. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have started them off with songs they will hear and possibly enjoy as adults?
There are so many amazing songs that are relevant — and still will be relevant to your children in their adulthood — that it seems witless not to introduce them earlier in ones life.
With that said, I have a few questions for you…
1.) Have any of you ever been to a club, walked-up to the DJ booth, and requested a nursery rhyme?
2.) Have you called a radio station pleading to hear a nursery rhyme?
3.) Have any of you ever seen a nursery rhyme cover band perform live at a bar or on stage at a local community festival?
If your answer is “no” to all three questions — I believe you. If your answer is “yes” to any of those questions — stop bullshittin’.
There’s a reason why we all answered “no,” “no,” and “no” — no sane person derives pleasure from nursery rhymes, nor wants to hear them. These songs don’t translate into adulthood like so many of the things we teach our toddlerbabies do, (such as having good manners or using the toilet).
The purpose of nursery rhymes is to get our kids familiar with the sounds of our words, the way they rhyme, and the inflection of our language. You can satisfy these verbal teachings just the same with songs that you like. Songs your kids can take with them and enjoy into adulthood – instead of largely forgetting about them until it’s their turn as parents to sing these geriatric relics to their own clueless children.
While nursery rhymes are important songs to the world, our children are more than capable of learning and experiencing their first words and sounds from other types of music, as early as the beginning of their lives.
One’s musical taste is something each and every free-minded person has the ability to decide. I encourage you to let your kids decide what they like by playing them a wide variety of the songs and artists you hold close to you (censored, if needed), starting at birth. I’ve found that while my daughter definitely doesn’t like everything I’ve purposely played for her, she sure does enjoy a decent chunk of it.
And just to be clear, I understand that this force-feeding of the same century(s) old songs to our culture’s youngest humans isn’t a major crisis with impending doom if it’s not corrected.
But I also understand that our toddlerbabies deserve more from us these days, since we as parents are their first teachers of this wonderful thing we all call music. Why not share the best of it from the beginning?