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Music can help us remember to play

Sometimes it can be challenging to relate to our little ones. Aside from our adult obligations, we forget how to play, or don’t know where to start.

One of my starting points was my music collection. I thought at least some of it would be enjoyable and appropriate for children.

The “playlist” got started when our then-1-year-old babbled something that reminded me of “Surfin’ Bird.” I started making mixes for her when she was about 2, and I’ve done several more since then, primarily using songs from my collection.

She really likes them, and will ask us to play them. I sometimes include conventional “children’s music” in the mix, but I also try to make something that stands the test of time and is enjoyable for everyone in the family.

Summer is a great time for some upbeat music, and here are some suggestions for a family-friendly mix that appeals to parents and children.

I’ll start with some sounds kids like, which leads me to “Surfin’ Bird,” as done by The Ramones. The favorite musical phrase here is from an early 1960s song, “Papa Oom Mow Mow” from The Rivingtons, who also did the original “Surfin’ Bird.”

That is probably what got me thinking about fun sounds in songs. Next, there’s “Hikky-Burr” by Bill Cosby and Quincy Jones, which is a funky song filled with Cosby’s wacky noises. I’d also suggest Mongo Santamaria’s version of “La Bamba.” It goes over well with our 18-month-old, who likes to repeat the “la-la…” parts in her own way. Finally, Camper Van Beethoven’s “Tina” has a wonderfully nonsensical chorus repeated for two frenetic minutes.

Songs about animals often work well, and I’d recommend “Monkey Ska” by Derrick Harriott, and “They All Ask’d For You” by The Meters.

Also, sometimes you realize that an artist or band you like has done a children’s song or even an album. “Where’s The Music” by Medeski Martin & Wood, from a child-centric album of theirs, and “Zig Zag Dance” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, from the “Elmopalooza” soundtrack, are examples of this.

“Night Train” by James Brown is a good geography lesson for children of major cities up and down the East Coast of the United States. And “Shout, Pts. 1 & 2” by the Isley Brothers demonstrates “soft” and “loud” through active lyrical instruction.

Of course, I do place some songs from Disney movies, Dora, etc. throughout. So I’ll also mention a song from one of my daughter’s favorite movies, “The Princess and the Frog”: Ne-Yo’s “Never Knew I Needed.”

Just as I educate my daughters, they teach me how to play. Being there and sharing in your child’s imagination is a beautiful thing and may also be something that you didn’t realize you needed. Just as they will like some of your music, inevitably you will enjoy being turned into a frog or prince.

And you will dance together, which is perhaps the best way to play.

Christopher Toller is a father and licensed clinical social worker who has spent about 12 years working with young people in a variety of settings. He lives in North Raleigh with his wife and two daughters. He is also co-founder of a small, local nonprofit, Aidan’s Angels, in honor of his late infant son. For more on the group, go to