Raising Socially Conscious Children Through Music: A Reflection
By Patricia Shih
Most parents want the same things for their children: to be happy, healthy and successful, however you define those terms. But above all that, don’t we want to raise our children to be aware of the bigger world beyond their own small one? How about teaching them to care for others, feel respect and responsibility for other living things and the earth, and to want to help this old world move along to a better place? Along with the best possible physical, mental and emotional states your child can achieve, how about unlocking a social consciousness, compassion and a desire to do good in the world within their little hearts and brains?
Along with other best-parenting practices, we members of The Children’s Music Network know that one of the very best gifts you can give your children is music that not only entertains but teaches and leads them outward to become socially responsible citizens. There is right now a mini tsunami happening in children’s music, with dozens if not hundreds of musicians turning their talents to making music for young ears. CMN is a subset who believes that music is an amazing positive and powerful tool for opening hearts and minds. Parents and educators can reach some of these singers, songwriters and musicians (who may also be parents, teachers, librarians and much more) all in one place: right here at CMN!
Short History of Children’s Music
A quick look at recent history shows that there really wasn’t a separate “category” of children’s music; but it seems music expressly aimed at “juveniles” started in the US around the late 19th -early 20th centuries, starting with musical Mother Goose nursery rhymes. It grew with Disney and cartoons in the 1930s and really came into its own genre around the 1950s with such artists as Pete Seeger and Ella Jenkins. It was then that the educational and social aspect of children’s music really became more important. Styles ranged from folk to the more commercial.
My own work with children and families started in 1986, about a year before my own daughter was born. There still wasn’t a whole lot of the kind of music for children that I was already writing, performing and recording for adults: songs with meaningful lyrics, where lyric content was just as important as melody and the beat. I was interested in writing about ideas and issues, not just love songs. At that time I searched, but the only artists I could find doing this kind of music were Pete, Tom Chapin, Raffi and a few more, that’s it! Just a handful. They were the only ones who wrote about weightier ideas in a fun way to appeal to kids. I wanted to stir something broader within people, especially my little daughter, using the magic tool of music. So naturally when I turned my attention (and subsequently, my whole career!) to children’s/family music, I began writing, performing and recording what I call “Music with Meaning” expressly to teach “Big Ideas.” That is the umbrella term I use for all 18+ shows I present through live concerts and recordings for schools, libraries, theatres… anywhere people gather.
Back then I felt alone in the music wilderness. True, there were groups of musicians all over doing this kind of music for adults: The People’s Music Network, which Pete Seeger himself recommended to me, among others. But where could I find similar-minded musicians working with children? More than a quarter of a century ago a bunch of us within PMN decided to birth an offspring called The Children’s Music Network. CMN is going stronger than ever, now an international organization. Our annual big conference that people travel to from all over North America is supplemented by smaller regional gatherings throughout the year where we can share songs, ideas, resources, challenges and so forth. I no longer feel isolated and have made lifelong friends through CMN and its parent, PMN. Today my daughter is 30 and a progressive, due with her own baby in July. My hope is that she teaches her own kid(s) positive values using music. I’ll start her library off with a collection from CMNers in addition to my own “Lovabyes.”
Children’s Music Today
Slowly the country and the world is discovering and recognizing “music with meaning” and its value in raising socially conscious children. The explosion of the Kindie movement — music today’s parents grew up listening to i.e. rap, hip hop, punk and grunge — has moved to the forefront, and it too recognizes the importance of content along with contemporary musical styles.
My mission has been, along with that of many fellow CMNers, the same: bring high quality, meaningful music to ears of all ages, but my most “important” work is with kids. Roger Miller said, “If you want to change the world, sing with children.” And Pete Seeger, my role model, said, “Singing with children in the schools has been the most rewarding experience of my life.” After all, if we want socially responsible adults running the world, shouldn’t we start raising them from the cradle?
Let’s take a listen to one of Patricia’s socially conscious children’s songs: “The Color Song”!
To hear Patricia Shih’s music and learn more about her work, click here.
Hooray for creating music with meaning! If you have a children’s song that encourages social consciousness, please share it in the comments below; or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured on our Children’s Music Network Blog!