There are plenty of milestones our kids reach that we’re well prepared for: the first steps, the first words, the first days of school. And then there are the milestones that may catch us a bit more off-guard, like the first time your child sings back song lyrics that will make you blush.
I distinctly remember the day I picked my two-year-old up from daycare and was told he had been singing, “Pour some sugar on meeeee!” all day long.
I also distinctly remember blaming that on his dad.
It’s usually about that time that parents start to realize just how tough it is to find enjoyable music that has family-friendly lyrics and/or messaging.
But kid-specific music? I know you’re rolling your eyes and hearing a certain purple dinosaur in your head right now.
If it’s not a nauseating purple dinosaur, then it’s some other obnoxious blast from your past or maybe a Netflix character that makes my toddler singing Def Leppard not sound so unpalatable anymore.
Believe it or not, children’s music has come a long way since, “I love you, you love me.”
There is absolutely no reason why you can’t find children’s music that you’ll actually want to listen to with your kids. In fact, you may be surprised to find that you already recognize some of the artists below. None of these are especially new releases, but they have all played a special part in the soundtrack to childhood in my household.
They Might Be Giants
This alternative rock band has been making music since before I was born. They’re also responsible for teaching my kids about nuclear fusion, the human circulatory system, photosynthesis, and the periodic table as preschoolers and grade-schoolers.
In fact, every time that I hear my kids sing, “The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace, where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degreeeees!” I hope those words help them fare better on their college astronomy midterm than I did. They Might Be Giants has a number of children’s albums to their credit, but their Here Comes Science album never gets old around my house. Even my ten-year-old can still be caught singing these songs at the top of his lungs from time to time. As a bonus, most of their songs have fun music videos that you can find on YouTube.
The Barenaked Ladies
Yes, you read that right. You probably associate this band with their iconic ’90s music or even the theme song to The Big Bang Theory, but to my kids, they are just the funniest children’s band that ever walked the planet. I’ll leave it up to you whether you disclose the band’s name to your kids or not! As far as I know, their 2009 album Snacktime! was their only foray into the world of children’s music, but I’m so happy that it exists. I cannot think of a single song on this album that doesn’t make my kids and me smile. I’m especially partial to “The Ninjas” and “Crazy ABCs.” This one is pure gold for all ages, especially those who appreciate clever, albeit a bit off-the-wall, humor.
The Okee Dokee Brothers
Don’t let the cheesy name fool you. I LOVE this band. In fact, of all of the artists on this list, this is the one that I have caught myself listening to even when my kids aren’t in the car. That probably has something to do with the strong bluegrass/Americana vibe in their music. Each of their albums has an adventurous streak that makes my family nostalgic for all of the road trips we’ve taken around our beautiful country and makes us yearn for more. Some of their albums even come with companion books or music video DVDs. This band tours, too, and they’re a lot of fun to see live. If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll put Pensacola on their schedule.
Teenage me in the late ’90s used to play an awful lot of Jewel’s Pieces of You, but mom me in the 2010s could not get enough of Jewel’s children’s music. Jewel’s The Merry Goes Round was on repeat in my car for a number of months at my preschooler’s request, but I didn’t mind one bit. The songs on that album are just the right amount of sweet and silly but without being saccharine. Jewel’s haunting voice is also the perfect fit for lullabies. I spent many a night rocking babies to sleep with her Lullaby album on in the background.
If you ever saw the Curious George movie released in the mid-2000s, you may have recognized the voice of this mainstream singer-songwriter. In fact, his soundtrack for that movie, Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the film Curious George, reached number one on the Billboard Chart in 2006. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Barney ever did that. This album is as chill and inviting as you would expect from Jack Johnson and is perfect for both the Curious George demographic as well as their parents.
Elizabeth Mitchell and Lisa Loeb
Elizabeth Mitchell is a Smithsonian Folkways Recordings Artist with a long list of children’s albums to her name. My family is most partial to You Are My Little Bird and Sunny Day, both of which are wonderful for the younger listeners in the crowd. Her music will especially appeal to fans of folk music and songs with global influences. It’s light enough to listen to at bedtime but happy enough to enjoy during the day, too. Elizabeth Mitchell began her singing career with another singer whom you may remember: Lisa Loeb. Lisa Loeb also has a number of great children’s albums to her name. These two artists even collaborated on a lovely children’s album together in 2003 called Catch the Moon.
Rain for Roots
While I tend to keep my recommendations here mostly secular, I couldn’t help but include my favorite Christian children’s artists on this list. This self-described “collective of songwriters, young mothers, and friends” makes the most beautiful music out of bible stories, parables, and verses. Their Nashville roots shine through in their music but in a gentle and inviting way. While I’m generally leery of kids’ albums sung by … well … kids, the Rain for Roots songs incorporating the littlest of singers somehow manages to be soft and endearing. This is your antidote to VBS CDs and Veggie Tales Silly Songs.
Whether you’re a Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, or even an old-school CD kind of mom, hopefully, you can find some new favorites here to add to your children’s playlists.