Friday, March 5, 2010
Do you still remember advertising jingles from your childhood? I know I do. Virtually anyone who grew up in the Washington, DC area during the '70's and '80's remembers "Call USA-1000... Jhoon Rhee means Might for Right... (Nobody bothers me. Nobody bothers me either.)." Catchy tunes are irresistible, and the words just flow right into the brain along with them. Why do you think the ABC song is so popular? (And if you're me, when you had your first job and had to file things alphabetically, you still had to hum a little of the song under your breath to remember if P was before Q.)
When my teenager had to learn the state capitals in 4th grade, her teacher used a song. (Not the one to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw" that everyone else seems to know -- this one was a rap, and it was awesome. We still sing snatches of it all the time. "Hartford! Connecticut!") When we needed to teach her our new phone number, we came up with a little tune (and dance!), which of course we all still remember even though it was several phone numbers ago. The point is, putting something to rhythm and music really helps it get into the brain and stick.
There are two main ways this concept plays out in my house:
1. We listen to sneakily educational music. Note the "sneakily"! No-one likes fun time turning into let's-get-lectured time, so I'm not talking about overtly educational songs of questionable musical quality. There's a lot of that out there -- avoid it. Yuck. No, I'm talking about things like the overwhelmingly brilliant Here Comes Science from They Might Be Giants. I love this album. I listen to it when the kids aren't even around. It's that good. And can I just tell you how many things I have learned from listening to it? Did you know that the sun is not really a giant ball of fire/gas? Did you know it's really a giant plasma? Well, I didn't. But now my five-year-old does. She also could tell you about the functions of blood, that a shooting star is really a meteor, and why photosynthesis is important. And none of it was ever taught, she just picks it up while grooving out to some seriously well-crafted tunes. I will put a little caveat on my recommendation though: If you consider evolution to be a controversial topic, don't buy this album. They lay out their pro-science agenda in the very first song -- "Science is real / From the Big Bang to DNA / Science is real / From evolution to the Milky Way." If any of that rubs you the wrong way, you're not going to like this album. Try Here Come The ABCs instead -- also brilliant.
2. We also make up songs. All the time. I apparently inherited the "Sings at the Drop of a Hat" gene (thanks, Dad!), and when I'm not singing snatches of whatever song's stuck in my head, I'm putting new lyrics to old favorites based on the situation at hand. Case in point: The five-year-old wants to learn how to spell the names of all the family members. Easy! Use the Bingo song, adapting the lyrics to fit each name. Last night in the bath it was, "There was a dad who had to work late / And Daddy was his name-o / D-A-D-D-Y, D-A-D-D-Y, D-A-D-D-Y / And Daddy was his name-o!"
We have songs for everything. Most of it's not particularly "educational," per se, but it helps to move our day along. For instance, we couldn't possibly put our jackets on and get ready to go out to the car without singing a rousing chorus of "Going in the vroom-vroom car / Going in the vroom-vroom car / Going in the vroom-vroom, going in the vroom-vroom / Going in the vroom-vroom car!" Okay, it's not my most creative work, but it gets the job done. Or the socks and shoes song! Or the many diaper-changing songs! OK, yeah, we sing a lot.
Yes, I am that mother you see in the grocery store, the one who's singing to her toddler in the shopping cart, making funny faces and looking as if she doesn't realize she's in a public place. Yes, I do realize you can hear me. No, I didn't realize I had a banana sticker on my cheek, but thanks for the heads-up.
Next time you have something you're trying to teach your child, or have something you need to remember yourself, try putting it to music. Familiar tunes like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" are great for this. And the bonus is, it's fun!
Even if people look at you funny in the grocery store.