An Ode to Transitional Songs

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As soon as my daughter was born, I found myself singing to her almost immediately, as if it was instinctive. Considering nursery rhymes are believed to date back as early as the 13th century, the pastime is certainly ingrained in our culture (full article from Wikipedia, here). Today, a growing body of research has demonstrated the benefit of singing or recounting of nursery rhymes as a means to raise children’s phonetic awareness, create their first sentences, learn new vocabulary, and ultimately become more competent readers (Rhymers are Readers: The Importance of Nursery Rhymes). The repetition, intonation, and short duration promote memory and demonstrate how language works (The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes).

Now that my daughter is two, and my son one, I have found I have gravitated towards both traditional and contemporary nursery rhymes as a means to help them self-regulate in times they are bored, tired, or having to transition from one activity to the next (usually from something fun to something less fun). Research has shown that nursery rhymes lead to greater vocabulary, and that greater vocabulary leads to better self-regulation (Use Your Words: The Role of Language in the Development of Toddlers’ Self-Regulation). Admittedly, I didn’t know that when I started, but it has been successful for us overall.

Here are some of the situations and their song pairings in our household.

  • Cleaning-Up – Barney & Friends – “Clean-up, clean-up everybody everywhere. Clean-up, clean-up, everybody do your share”
  • Crossing the Street – Source unknown – My daughter is allowed to walk freely when we are out in certain places, in certain circumstances. However, she always has to hold my hand as we cross the street. The loss of freedom to cross the street used to really upset her. The use of this song has been hugely helpful. She holds my hand when prompted and sings along keenly,
    “Stop, look, and listen before we cross the street. Stop look and listen before we cross the street. We must use our eyes and use our ears, before we use our feet, before we cross the street.” By the time the song is done, we have made it across. And she can go back to being a bit more free.
  • Washing Hands – Source unknown – “Wash, wash, wash your hands. Wash them nice and clean. Wash your pinky and your thumb and your fingers in between.”
  • Brushing Teeth – Raffi – “When you wake up in the morning, and it’s a quarter to one and you want to have a little fun, you brush your teeth. Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch!”
  • Going to Bed – Source unknown – “Au claire de la lune mon ami Pierrot. Prêt-moi ta plume, pour écrire un mot. Ma chandelle est morte; je n’ai plus de feu. Ouvre-moi ta porte, pour l’amour de Dieux.” We use a french lullaby, because our family is billingual.
  • Waiting in line, in a car – we tend to rotate between many – I tend to gravitate towards songs such as the Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald as they tend to carry on and everyone can contribute something on the bus/ farm.

For further reading, The Brain in Singing and Language.

What songs do you sing in your family? Please share!

xo Alana

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16 thoughts on “An Ode to Transitional Songs

  1. My kids love Johnny Appleseed, ABC’s, Number Rock (Greg & Steve), and most of your basic children’s songs… but their favorite (surprisingly) is You are My Sunshine… my mom sang it to me as she’d put me down for a nap and I have done the same for them. It seems to be very comforting for them 🙂

  2. ABC song (with sign language alphabet); Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (Great for learning body parts), Mr. Golden Sun… I’m sure there are plenty more that I used to sing with my older two and now to my youngest.

    1. I’m so, so glad you recommended ABCs with sign language alphabet. I’m going to start that. And, we should get “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” back into the rotation! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. Love this post! We love “head shoulders knees and toes,” “Rockabye Baby,” “twinkle twinkle little star,” and anything by Raffi, but our favorite is “Baby Beluga.”

    1. Oh! Baby Beluga is such a great one. I’m grateful for the reminder of Head and Shoulders. I’ve totally forgotten about it! Will use it the next time we are moving through our repertoire of songs!

  4. Nursery rhymes are so helpful! I love singing clean up clean up everybody everywhere . . . Lol Amelia loves it and it helps to encourage her to clean!

    1. Never would I have imagined 20 + years ago when my brother was watching Barney that one of his songs would become such an integral part of our household! So great it works in your household too, Adele!

  5. Old McDonald has been a life saver for me with my son! Its the song I sang to him in the car to calm him down as an infant. Now, as a 1-year-old, he still loves it.

  6. We are huge fans of singing here too. Such a lifesaver for transitional activities or anything he doesn’t want to do. In fact, I bought the Naturally You Can Sing “This is the Way We Wash a Day” music book which has awesome “chore” songs in it. It’s helped with simple toddler chores and gets him excited to engage in the activity.

    1. Oooh I’ve never heard of this book! Thank you so much for the recommendation! I agree singing has saved us in many moments of frustration 😛

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  8. It may be the teacher in me, but we sing all the time! Unfortunately for my son & anyone else who happens to be around, I don’t have the greatest voice. At least my son enjoys singing with me! His favorites are wheels on the bus & Bob Marley!

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