For the Child Who Loves Music (and the Mom Who Loves Alone Time)

The Birdhouse Song

By Oliver, age 3.5

Accompanied by some beautiful guitar strumming

The trees are falling

And I don’t know why we can’t go home

The light switch is broken

And the piano is playing

The heart is broken when the house falls down

The light switch is broken

The light switch is broken

The light switch is broken

I kid you not: My preschooler wrote that song. It’s deep, right? And maybe even a little haunting. So when I tell you my child loves music, I’m not just implying that he smiles and claps when “Happy and You Know It” comes on. I mean that he’s got a serious love for melodies and lyrics. Oliver enjoys music from many different genres, and he often points out changes in pitch, speed, or use of instruments that would go unnoticed by most adults. He wasn’t quite three years old when he could sing Mumford and Sons “Winter Winds” all the way through on his own. Well, almost. We never corrected his misunderstanding of the original lyric, “The flesh that lived and loved will be eaten by plague.” We preferred he keep to his interpretation: “… will be eaten by planes.”

We knew early on that Oliver had a love of music. I sang JJ Heller’s “I Get to be the One” to him every day of my pregnancy, starting when he was the size of a poppyseed. And when the nurses put that screaming baby on my chest for the first time, I instinctively started singing. I’d barely finished the first line of the song when he quieted in response to the familiar tune and listened quietly as he nuzzled against me.

Another moment that is forever etched into my heart came when he was only six months old. I was rocking him, singing “Hush Little Baby.” Something about the melody or tone of my voice triggered big emotions in his tiny body, and I looked down to see tears streaming down his face, even though he stayed completely still and quiet, his tear-filled eyes locked on mine. He continued to react that way to this song for months. He had the same reaction the first time he heard Adele’s “Hello.” Silent tears flowed down those chubby cheeks from the first two syllables.

Music is emotional and calming, steady and stimulating. It enhances intelligence and creates sentimentality. I wanted to foster his natural love of it and find more ways to work it into his everyday life. And I ended up finding the perfect avenue. When Oliver was only two years old, I bought him a pirate treasure chest CD player for his room. Then I got to work, creating six mixed CDs full of music for him. Each CD was labeled with a sticker only:

A Bible for his Kids’ Sunday School CD

A mouse for his Nursery Rhymes CD

A hippo for his Hippo CD

A Christmas tree for his Christmas CD

A cross for his Worship CD

A heart for his Family CD

Let me point out a few things about that list before I go on to tell you how this has been one of the best parenting decisions ever. The Hippo CD: Yes, it’s possible to create an entire CD full of songs about hippos. Thanks to Amazon’s .mp3 downloads, you could probably do the same for your child’s favorite animal, too. The Family CD has one special song associated with each family member on it. It includes the songs that Oliver’s dad and I each sing to him, as well as the lullabies that each Grandma chose as their favorites. My hope is that he would think of each person in his family as he listened, and that he’d be calmed and lulled to sleep by hearing these naptime/cuddletime/bedtime staples.

The first three CDs on the list are kid-centric. But the others are completely void of kid songs. The Christmas CD is a mix of Burl Ives, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and the like. The Worship CD includes songs by Christian artists like Mercy Me, Third Day, and Chris Tomlin. And even the Family CD has a more grown-up version of Grandma’s lullaby, You Are My Sunshine, which is sung by an adult instead of a chorus of kids.

This.Decision.Rocked.Our.World.

First, teaching Oliver to operate a CD player just before his third birthday came with all sorts of benefits. He was practicing fine motor skills as he changed the CDs and pushed the delicate buttons. He was learning responsibility and natural consequences as he scratched CDs and had to go without his favorite songs for a few days, until I had time to remake it. (PRO TIP: Create a playlist or folder of songs for each CD so that remaking them is quick and easy!) And he was mentally categorizing and organizing as he learned to associate each sticker with the set of songs it brought.

Second, Oliver’s vocabulary and comprehension of a variety of topics SOARED. He was listening intently to the lyrics and asking lots of questions about the songs. From defining unknown words to having deep conversations about big topics, this boy was thinking and learning constantly.  His memory and number recognition were taking off as well. He could read the numbers on the digital display and could tell me (or sing to me) with shocking precision which song was #13 on the Christmas CD or #7 on the Hippo CD. For every single song.

And last… this is a big one… naptime wasn’t a battle. Bedtime wasn’t a battle. Alone time in his room was lasting longer. And this mama found some alone time of her own. As long as he had his music, he was perfectly content to shut the door and listen until he fell asleep or until rest time was over. And if he did push the envelope, I would simply suggest that his music might be keeping him awake ,and I might move the CD player for the night. He would hightail it back to his room, and I wouldn’t hear another peep. Did it keep him awake some nights? Maybe. But so do a million trips out of his room for water.

We’ve graduated now. When he turned five, I took songs from over a dozen CDs that had been added to his collection, and I downloaded them onto an .mp3 player. It’s connected to his very own Bluetooth speaker. We still reap many of the same benefits as before, but as is true of most things, the old school way was my favorite. That scratched up, sticker-labeled CD collection and the memories it brought us is something we will both look back on for years to come.

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