Children's rhymes and songs
October 13, 2016 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Hi! I'm wondering if you all can recommend some children's rhymes and songs that are positive or at least free of ghastly, scary, and offensive things?

I have a baby, but half of what I start to sing contains things I don't want to be focusing the little one's mind on as he starts to understand language. Farmer's wives (whose identity derives from their husband's occupation)? Cutting off the tails of rodents? Jack Spratt (and his unnamed wife)'s disordered eating? "The cradle will fall?"

What songs and rhymes are worthy of being among the first 1000 words this little person learns? I'm open to anything -- nursery rhymes, baby songs, pop songs, songs from musicals -- if its contents merit word-by-word explanation.

I'd love rhymes that communicate progressive values, but answers need not be limited to songs from Free to Be, You and Me. The itsy-bitsy spider is also nice: a spider, a water spout, rain, sun, perseverance. Contrast that to Little Miss Muffet, which either teaches arachnophobia or that Little Miss Muffet gets easily frightened.

And sure, eventually, he'll learn that London Bridge is falling down, that Jack broke his crown, that all the King's men can't put Humpty together again, that "I guess she'll die" and in fact that we ALL fall down. But I remember being scared by some of these as a child. And in these early days I don't want to be over here like "can you say 'ashes'? 'ashes'?"

What rhymes and songs do you recommend? Any albums on Spotify? Thanks!
posted by slidell to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
As I was Going to St. Ives.
posted by Melismata at 9:26 AM on October 13, 2016

ALL the Sandra Boyton songs.
posted by peep at 9:29 AM on October 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hug O' War
posted by Mchelly at 9:32 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

"The cradle will fall?"

My mother-in-law (and, thus, my wife) always sings "and mommy will catch you" instead of "down will come baby," which softens it a bit (then again, her version of "And the Green Grass Grew All Around" ends in the detonation of a nuclear bomb, so ...)

babyozzy was always fond of Open, Shut Them.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:37 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I learned of the old lady who swallowed all of those things, "perhaps she'll cry!"

Baa baa black sheep is gentle!
posted by ChuraChura at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2016

You Are My Sunshine - skip the melancholy second verse if desired.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

I love all of Elizabeth Mitchell's songs.
posted by Safiya at 9:42 AM on October 13, 2016

Old MacDonald and The Wheels on the Bus are perennial favorites with our toddler, with the added bonus (or drawback) that you can sing them pretty much indefinitely.

I'm also a fan of 18 Wheels on a Big Rig and There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea.

Mister Rogers has tons of songs with positive messages, of course.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:45 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Although most of Rathergood's songs are not suitable for work or children, I've Got A Cat (He Has Got Some Knees) is very cute and involves counting.

My mother used to sing The Riddle Song.

The Cat Went Fiddle-Ay-Fee, although I learned it "I got me a cat, my cat loved me".
posted by Frowner at 9:46 AM on October 13, 2016

All of Raffi, pretty much! My daughter also loves The Ants Go Marching, and all my story time kids loooooove Bananas Unite!

Check out Jbrary on YouTube; tons of positive fun songs and rhymes for all young ages.
posted by Knicke at 9:48 AM on October 13, 2016

This version of "Hush Little Baby"
posted by phreckles at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2016

My boys loved "The Noble Duke of York", especially if they were swung up and down when you said "up" or "down" in the song.

Our nighttime routine has involved singing aaaalllll the verses of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" for the last 5 years and is still going strong (we make some very minor edits to make "he" into "they")
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, what about some of the old Sesame Street songs, like Ladybug's Picnic?

Also, I have noticed that many popular songs are funnier or nicer if you rewrite them to be about cats. So for instance, at my house we sing some songs that were freely adapted from the Pogues and are no longer about scheming landlords, drunkenness and violence but are instead about cats. "At the time I was working for a kitten" is much funnier than "at the time I was working for a landlord". Don't underestimate the value of funny family songs.
posted by Frowner at 9:52 AM on October 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

You know, I thought Raffi was terrible until I had a kid and heard some of the stuff he is up against. Baby Beluga, Wheels on the Bus, Bananaphone, it's all good. Family stuff, silly stuff, can't think of anything that's bugged me on the themes you're talking about.

I also really like the kid's albums that They Might Be Giants have put out. In typical They Might be Giants song fashion, some of them are mildly creepy, not not in a "burning corpses" kind of way. More in a "Robot Parade, Robot Parade, robots obey what the children say" way. We sing a lot of them at home. Lazyhead and Sleepybones, in particular, can last for as long as you can think of synonyms.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:57 AM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all. This is off to a fantastic start!
posted by slidell at 10:00 AM on October 13, 2016

"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," if you don't mind the implied religious message. I suppose you could change it to "You've Got the Whole World in Your Hands." There are a variety of different lyrics out there, and it's the kind of song that encourages you to make up your own. (I used to sing, "He's got Indianapolis in his hands," just because it had the right number of syllables and I liked the way it sounded.)
posted by Redstart at 10:04 AM on October 13, 2016

We did a lot of Yellow Submarine and Octopus's Garden. Nice peaceful imagery!
posted by fussbudget at 10:06 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Rubber Ducky from Sesame Street has always been an enthusiastic hit at bathtime in our house.
posted by threetwentytwo at 10:07 AM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I loved singing another Sesame Street classic Oh I'd like to visit the moon
posted by msbubbaclees at 10:08 AM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a little teapot,
short and stout.
This is my handle, and
this is my spout.

Something something
something something
Tip me over and pour me out!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:12 AM on October 13, 2016

^When I get to boiling,
Hear me shout!
posted by threetwentytwo at 10:15 AM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Okay, so no Picture A Cowboy... (and this was a song my father sang to us growing up, though in our version he fell off his saddle to bash in his head, not slipped on a boulder to smash in his head... but I digress..)

Does it need to be nursery rhymes/songs specifically intended for kids? Why can't you just sing songs to them? Normal songs? I'd also be looking towards musicals and broadway. Disney songs too, like "Bear Necessities" and "Chim-chimeree".
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:16 AM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Does it need to be nursery rhymes/songs specifically intended for kids? Why can't you just sing songs to them? Normal songs?

Sure, it could be normal songs. I have a few in my repertoire but would like to add more. Half the time when I try to think of something new to sing, I hit a wall, because I don't want to be explaining what it means for cops to snatch crops (or whatever).
posted by slidell at 10:50 AM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you want to sing pop songs, too, Ob-La-Di is a good one. Simple melody, nonsense words, nothing objectionable. toddlerozzy has heard it every night since she was born, I think.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:56 AM on October 13, 2016

Nobody's mentioned The Wiggles yet. Wholesome songs by and large, and there are lots of DVDs and CDs readily available.
posted by pipeski at 10:57 AM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Elizabeth Mitchell - Little Bird, Little Bird Probably all of her songs, but that is a particularly good one.
posted by soelo at 10:57 AM on October 13, 2016

It's a Small World (After All)
posted by soelo at 10:59 AM on October 13, 2016

Love Grows One by One - bonus fun sign language to accompany the song
posted by Fig at 11:06 AM on October 13, 2016

I really enjoy Patty Shukla's stuff. There are some good YouTube videos, too, that go along with the songs. We bought her CDs for my young kid, and we all seem to enjoy it.
posted by jillithd at 11:54 AM on October 13, 2016

Tom Chapin. This Pretty Planet is his canonical simple soothing song, but he has a ton of material to pick from. My brother, cousins and I can still sing large chunks of his back catalog and we're in our 20s and 30s now.
posted by ActionPopulated at 12:22 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The alphabet song! Seems a bit boring to adults, but my kids love it.

Row row row your boat.

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed.

The Super Simple Songs YouTube channel has tons of other good ones.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 1:53 PM on October 13, 2016

Somehow I know an alternate version of the alphabet song from Monsterpiece Theater (with Alastair Cookie), though last time I tried to find it online I was unsuccessful. Maybe you can? It's great fun to sing.

Do-Re-Mi from Sound of Music. This one is fun to play on my kid's xylophone too, I was surprised I could remember now.

Old MacDonald?
posted by vunder at 2:00 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

^When I get to boiling,
Hear me shout

I know it as:
When I get all steamed up
I will shout
posted by vunder at 2:05 PM on October 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all life
It does taste kind of funny
But it keeps them on my knife

(You can't go wrong with Shel Silverstein)
posted by 4ster at 2:29 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed.
Maybe not a good one. The writer of that post, Azizi Powell, has some interesting points in the Editorial Comment. She does not think currently non-racist rhymes with previous racist versions should be avoided just because of the older version, but that awareness of it is appropriate once you reach a certain age.
posted by soelo at 2:39 PM on October 13, 2016

Hush Little Baby? (Edit: that is a recommendation, not a questioning of a previous commment.)

As far as recorded music for kids that is good, I recommend Laurie Berkner.
posted by tracer at 2:39 PM on October 13, 2016

Wheels on the bus, itsy bitsy spider, BINGO, Old McDonald Had a Farm, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Three Little Kittens, Old King Cole, 5 Green and Speckled Frogs, Pat-a-Cake, Do you know the muffin man,

Our daughter LOVES the Little Baby Bum videos, which have very mild and cleaned up versions of the darker nursery rhymes. I linked you to their website but they put all their videos on youtube, too. Some of the videos have a billion views.
posted by Pearl928 at 3:15 PM on October 13, 2016

When my son was younger song lyrics led to lots of questions.
I started sing frere jacques with made up "french" words but a slower, more sleepy tune. I speak no french but made up nonsense words to the tune. It was a little fun because sometimes trying to get a kid to sleep is boring-it's a little bit of work to make up believable sounding french "words".

Unfortunately he told people I was French and could speak French.

I also took different tunes to familiar songs and made my lyrics different words that were a category. It had to be alphabetical. Foreign countries" Albania, Belarus, Congo, Denmark" Town in my state: "Acton, Boxborough, Canton and Dennis". Sea creature, etc..... It was another way I fought baby brain.
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:06 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Su gan, Sing a Song for the Peace, The Elephant. Also have you seen this Ask Question?
posted by oceano at 9:52 PM on October 13, 2016

My friends toddler is absolutely in love with her mom's rendition of Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
posted by MsMolly at 10:04 PM on October 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a child, I loved the poems in All the Silver Pennies (which was a compilation of a couple of earlier books). Hailstones and Halibut Bones is wonderful as well. Oh, and, Nibble Nibble by Margaret Wise Brown.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:43 PM on October 14, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks again! These have gotten me singing more. And it's funny, the more I sing, the easier it is to make up lyrics, so the benefits multiply. Anyway, thanks!
posted by slidell at 8:59 PM on October 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sharon, Lois and Bram. Sadly, Lois passed away a while back.

Their all-time classic: "Skinnamarink."

Seems like some of their albums are available on Spotify.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:55 PM on October 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Aikendrum is a good one; you can even improvise the lyrics so that when you're describing the various parts of Aikendrum you can include foods that the kid likes.
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:36 AM on October 23, 2016

My daughter loves "A Bushel and a Peck", specifically the part where I pull her in for the hug around the neck.
posted by potrzebie at 3:07 PM on October 23, 2016

Two more albums to try: Pete Seeger's Children's Concert at Town Hall, which is wonderful, although there are some that you'll want to discard (like "Here's to Cheshire, Here's to Cheese), and Woody's 20 Grow Big songs, by, I think, Arlo Guthrie. It has some really great stuff.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 12:39 AM on October 24, 2016

When I sing "Here's to Cheshire," I cut it off with the wedding getting started, before the cat shows up. I also improvised a couple verses before I could check the real thing, and the result is now household canonical. Folk process in action.
posted by Quasirandom at 1:05 PM on October 25, 2016

"At the time I was working for a kitten" is much funnier than "at the time I was working for a landlord". Don't underestimate the value of funny family songs.
posted by Frowner >

"...and he was the meanest bastard that you have ever seen
And to lose a single penny would grieve him awful sore
And he was a miserable bollocks and a bitch's bastard's whore"

That is an... inventive re-imagination... of a Pogues song.
posted by workerant at 3:00 PM on October 25, 2016

I used to derive some fun and mental stimulation by ad-libbing "Hush Little Baby" until I couldn't make a new rhyme. Not all of mine were kid-friendly but you can set whatever personal limits you need.

"If that ox and cart won't pull, Mama's going to buy you a longhorn bull
If that longhorn bull gets neutered, Mama's going to buy you a razor scooter" etc etc etc, Try to make it different every night.


Also I sang Beautiful Boy (John Lennon) to my son every night when he was a baby.

The lyrics are really sweet.
"Close your eyes, have no fear, the monster's gone, he's on the run, and your daddy's here"
"Every day, in every way, it's getting better and better"

And of course it always helps me to remind myself that
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"
posted by telepanda at 12:37 PM on October 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

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