The Infinite Varieties of Children’s Music

Here’s How to Thrive on Broadening Your Kids’ Cultural Horizons

By Jason Didner, kindie rock musician, children’s concert promoter

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam captivate the kids at Maxwell's Tavern in Hoboken, NJWhen you think of the term “children’s music,” what comes to mind?

Now I can’t speak for you but as a dad, I can tell you what used to come to my mind and what changed. Back when my daughter was about 1 year old (she’s now turning 4), my instincts on children’s music were to think of nursery rhyme songs, sung by groups of kids, or the soundtracks to PBS Kids and Disney Jr. shows. Of course, images of a certain purple dinosaur came to mind as well.

Thinking back on it, I must have been helping Holly develop her musical tastes on 2 different tracks – music my wife and I love like The Beatles (every Sunday morning), Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Van Halen, and then music we felt she should be learning to have a common understanding with other children, like the nursery rhyme songs.

At the time I had a hint that educational music for kids was out there that also rocked. My brother in Brooklyn had invited Amy and me to see Rolie Polie Guacamole perform Beatles songs along with their own quirky, funny kids’ songs at Stone House Park. Amy and I didn’t have children of our own at the time, but we were happy to accompany our baby niece on outings like this. My mom had sprung for a Rolie Polie Guacamole CD that we’d have handy when a child finally came into the picture. RPG turned out to be our first kindie concert. I wasn’t aware at the time that they were part of a movement; they existed in my mind as an isolated incident.

It must have occurred to me, having grown up on “Free to Be…You and Me” and “Schoolhouse Rock” that there were people making music all along since my childhood that helped tell stories and pass learning along to kids without patronizing them musically, and without annoying the grown-ups.

But as I became aware of some very unique and original music for kids and families, starting with Laurie Berkner and Justin Roberts, it soon dawned on me that kindie artists didn’t have to be limited by genre like more mainstream artists usually do. There are so many genre varieties in kindie: country, rap, hip hop, jazz, rock, punk, powerpop, funk and more. Often, an artist will create kindie songs in different genres all on one record – sometimes even over the course of one song!

Certain kindie artists come to mind who excel at a specific genre and sort of “own it.” For rap, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Mista Cookie Jar and the Alphabet Rockers come to mind right away. If you want rap where you never have to worry about profanity or messages glorifying poor life decisions, check these artists out. They share childhood joys, celebrate thinking outside the box and teach reading & math skills in rap –really, really good rap – rhythmically strong, with clever, intricate rhymes. We may want to cringe when we think about amateurish attempts to rap lessons for kids that come out more like rigid readings of simple poetry, but you’ve gotta hear the rap of these 3 artists, especially. And they often pop up on other artists’ records in very interesting collabs across genres.

In the world of kindie jazz, check out Jazzy Ash, whose ancestral home of New Orleans had a deep influence on her sound. Her lyrics teach about New Orleans culture and share childhood stories and experiences, all while keeping that festive Dixieland sound cookin’. Lori Henriques offers the sophisticated sounds of piano jazz while unleashing her inner joy so it may catch on with the families who are listening. Lucy Kalantari brings the sensibility of the Roaring ’20s to her happy-go-lucky song collection for the younger set.

If your taste is in punk, you’ll see your kids blow out a lot of energy dancing around to the stylings of The Boogers, Ratboy Jr. and The Not-its! There’s something about the energy of punk music that’s a natural fit with kids; I could just picture them bouncing around as if on pogo sticks, so I wrote “Jungle Gym Jamming” to that tempo to encourage lots of energetic movement.

Then there’s an artist like Joanie Leeds, who, over the course of one album will croon an original jazz number, give you a country hoedown, rock out with blistering intensity, share a sweet singer/songwriter ballad and help the kids get down with a heavy funk number.

Reggae and its uptempo sub-genre, ska, work particularly well in children’s music, creating a sunny, happy vibe that can carry a family through a day. It’s very popular as a color in many kindie artists’ palettes, used to great effect by Josh and the Jamtones, Yosi, Laurie Berkner and Rolie Polie Guacamole. My first Jungle Gym Jam song was a reggae number and after having seen Josh and the Jamtones in action, I was inspired to arrange another of my songs with a reggae/ska beat.

There’s so much to like in today’s kindie music that will open your children up to liking lots and lots of musical genres and songs created and produced from the artists’ heart to your family’s hearts, without being distorted by multinational entertainment conglomerates and focus groups. This is kindie. And as a dad, I love this stuff so much for my own kids that I’ve thrown myself into it professionally as well.

Comment below with your thoughts about the diversity of the kindie movement and all the genres it spans.

Would you like to get some free kindie music? Follow this link to get a free three-pack of kindie songs from my own Jungle Gym Jam project for your family’s enjoyment right now!

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