Best Kids' Music of 2009: #1 Here I Am! by Caspar Babypants

This is modern folk music at its best, and some of these tunes are destined to become classics. Chris Ballew, formerly of the indie rock band The Presidents of the United States of America, delivers a debut children's album that's full of witty, wordy, silly, gentle, quietly acoustic new traditional tunes. Here I Am!, recorded under the guise of Caspar Babypants, is an endless string of catchy, quiet, and imaginative songs that'll put a smile on your face. It's easy to see that Ballew didn't force the songs, that he didn't set out to write a "children's album:" these are images, tunes, and thoughts that might pop into a real kid's head, making Caspar Babypants' Here I Am! the best kids' music CD of 2009.

Best Kids' Music of 2009: # 2 Family Time by Ziggy Marley

The fact that this album begins with the lines "Lift up your hearts with a smile, Lift up your feet with a dance, Lift up your spirits with a song, It's family time," speaks volumes about the tremendously warm vibes emanating from every tune on Family Time, easily landing it near the top of the list of best kids' music of 2009. Some well-known friends (Paul Simon, Toots Hibbert, Elizabeth Mitchell, and several family members) dropped by to help Ziggy, resulting in an album of loving, fun tunes backed by rootsy, poppy Reggae. Family Time is a great introduction to contemporary Reggae for kids, and Ziggy Marley's message of love and family just can't be beat.

Number 2: Family Time by Ziggy Marley

Best Kids' Music of 2009: # 3 Thank You for Joining the Happy Club by Billy Kelly

Billy Kelly and The Blah Blah Blahs present a super set of indie rock songs for kids on their debut CD Thank You For Joining the Happy Club. Their musical mix will remind you of Jonathan Richman, They Might Be Giants, R.E.M., and Wilco, and those influences perfectly compliment the band's breezy, slyly humorous tunes. Billy Kelly is definitely a new force to be reckoned with in the kids' music field, delivering a 1-2-3 punch of catchy tunes, witty lyrics, and songs that are fun for the whole family, easily landing Thank You For Joining The Happy Club on the list of best kids' music of 2009.

Number 3: Thank You for Joining the Happy Club by Billy Kelly

Intelligence at a price

One child described being gifted as being "vividly alive". Imagine being so keenly aware of everything around you. However, as I mentioned before, that heightened awareness comes with a price, and the higher the IQ, the higher the price tag.

Over excitability and sensitivity were two of the first clues that I was raising two gifted children. I love Webster's definition of excitability- "capable of being activated by and reacting to stimuli; a state of excitement or irritability". It fits perfectly, since there is rarely an in between for gifted children. They are either vividly happy, vividly sad, vividly angry, and the list goes on. Couple this with a deeper sensitivity to stimuli and situations than that seen in most children, and you might find yourself wondering, "What's going on with my child?"

Gifted children may find it difficult at times to find the "even ground" emotionally, especially when they are very young. Things like crowds, loud noises, music, or any kind of environment that is overly stimulating may evoke feelings that your child is unsure how to handle. If you find yourself in this situation, here are a few things that have worked for us.
  • Teach your child self-calming skills. This may even involve you physically sitting with your child in a quiet place when you recognize them getting over the edge.
  • Recognize what triggers your child's over-excitability so that you are better prepared.
  • Make sure you are consistent with rules and consequences when your child crosses the line with their behavior.
  • Even if your friends or family don't understand, remember that you are not alone.

I would love to hear from some of you. Have you found any great ways of helping your children work through these issues?

Best Kids' Music of 2009: # 4 Get Fruity!! by Apple Brains

With the innocent enthusiasm of Jonathan Richman, the eclectic inventiveness of Mr. David, and the general kookiness of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Apple Brains bursts upon the kids' music scene with their debut album Get Fruity!! L.A.-based Allen Bleyle is the brainy apple behind Apple Brains, and his free-for-all, lo-fi, indie rock style is a refreshing addition to the children's music world. Some of the best kids' music of 2009, and definitely some of the most unique!

Number 4: Get Fruity!! by Apple Brains

Best Kids' Music of 2009: # 5 Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants' previous two albums for kids, Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s, were fun romps through the concepts of letters and numbers, but few hard facts were presented. Not so on Here Comes Science, a CD chock full of some of the best kids' music of 2009. The band's trademark quirky, catchy musical style and witty word play meld perfectly with concrete concepts like states of matter, paleontology, the planets, and photosynthesis.

Best Kids' Music of 2009: # 6 Hello Night by Kesang Marstrand

Kesang Marstrand's kids' music debut is touching and playful, mysterious and warm, and is certainly one of the most beautiful lullaby albums you'll ever hear. Full of pastoral scenes of water and wind, flowers and insects, setting suns and rising moons, Hello Night is an aural testament to the power of simplicity, and deservedly finds a place amongst the best kids' music of 2009.

Number 6: Hello Night by Kesang Marstrand

Best Kids' Music of 2009: # 7 Field Trip by Recess Monkey

The fifth album by these three elementary school teachers from Seattle is full of ridiculously catchy songs, witty and silly lyrics, and a smidgen of fascinating scientific facts, all combining to make Field Trip some of the best kids' music of 2009.

Number 7: Field Trip by Recess Monkey

Best Kids' Music of 2009: # 8 Family Photograph by The Dreyer Family Band

Family Photograph is a remarkable collaboration between East and West Coast members of the Dreyer family, who pull together musical influences from across time and around the world to create their impressive kids' music debut, some of the best kids' music of 2009.

Number 8: Family Photograph by The Dreyer Family Band

Why can't they just slow down?

Today's post will have absolutely nothing to do with music (I'm apologizing in advance), but I wanted to continue with my series on giftedness in young children. As a teacher, one of the things that amazes me is the fact that there seems to be so many gifted children these days. I am, by no means, an expert, but it seems like there are more children being given this label than ever before. Perhaps it is because there is more research available, which enhances awareness and earlier identification of these children. Perhaps it is that we have better health and medical care during pregnancy than before, which leads to stronger brain development in the womb. Maybe it is because we offer a greater array of experiences to our children than our parents did, or it could be a combination of all of these items. I would love to read a study about it, but I'm not sure that the subject of giftedness has been studied long enough to adequately answer this question yet.

However, it is widely agreed that giftedness comes from a combination of good genes and the experiences offered to the child. In other words, a biologically gifted child increases their IQ or abilities by drawing on life experiences. You will typically see this child asking lots of "how" and "why" questions as well as actively exploring everything around them. They are keen observers and are often able to understand things well beyond their years. Unfortunately, all of this sensory input comes with a price- emotional sensitivity and over-excitability.

It was once explained to me like this. We all have an "inner cup" that receives the sensory input we observe. Once this cup is full, we feel overwhelmed and will react in order to relieve that stress. Every one's cup is the same size, but the fact that a gifted child has a heightened sense of awareness allows them to fill their "cup" much faster than the average person. This can result in a variety of behavioral issues, and I plan to talk more about this in my next post.

Best Kids' Music of 2009: # 9 Beautiful World by Dog On Fleas

This week and next, we're looking at some of the best kids' music of 2009, and the ninth spot is occupied by Hudson Valley musical ensemble Dog On Fleas. Eclectic Americana at its best.

Number 9: Beautiful World by Dog On Fleas

Best Kids' Music of 2009: # 10 Dizzy by Lunch Money

This week begins a rundown of my picks of the Top 10 Best Kids' Music Albums of 2009. Now, this list is, of course, subjective and totally biased, but these are the platters that stayed on my turntable the longest this past year. Plus, I really believe that these 10 CDs provide kids, and their families, with a great starting point for further musical exploration, no matter what genre.

Number 10: Dizzy by Lunch Money

Friday Free-for-All # 24

Ross King - Words that Rhyme with Orange

On Words that Rhyme with Orange, it's clear that Ross King's strength is pop tune composition, much in the fashion of musicians like Chris Von Sneidern or kids' music star Justin Roberts. Check out "Happy to Be Me" and "I Like to Play Outside" for evidence of King's radio-ready style. King has released several modern worship albums over the past 15 years, but Words is his first CD for kids. Words is a cute, well-produced collection of tunes, but based on his witty wordplay and songwriting chops I really think King's future is in television, so listen for a King-penned children's tv show theme song in the future.

Earthworm Ensemble - Earthworm Ensemble

Eclectic roots music by members of the Los Angeles-based Americana band I See Hawks In L.A. The band bring along The Chapin Sisters to round out their blend of country, garage schlock rock, bluegrass, and folk. The Ensemble's self-titled kids' album is full of songs about trains, the extraterrestrial planet-saving duo Bear and Dog, a hip hop jam about pizza, the rhythm workout "Bang a Drum," the weepy lap steel-flavored "We are Birds," the Muppets-meet New Orleans tune "Little Willy Buffalo," and the sweetly trippy "Goodnight, Little Spaceship." Lots of musical influences, yeah, but Earthworm Ensemble is a cohesive grab bag of great tunes for the whole family.

The gifted child

If your 18 month old is talking in 3-4 word sentences...

If your three year old is already reading....

If your five year old is already learning multiplication...

these are strong indications that you are raising a gifted child! But what does that mean exactly and what are other indications that a child might be gifted?

A gifted child is defined as a child whose ability is significantly higher than average. This ability could be related to intellect, but it could also include musical, physical, or other abilities. Here are a few other characteristics of gifted children:

  • Frequently reach developmental milestones early

  • May talk later that their peers, but later language skills are above average

  • Intense interest in reading and asks a lot of questions

  • Seems overly mature intellectually, but might lag behind in other areas of development

  • May show unusual sensitivities or preferences (i.e. food, clothing, sleeping patterns)

  • Very active with a strong desire to explore things

This list is by no means complete, but I wanted to give you a sample of what a gifted child might look like. Perhaps you are in the same place that I was not so many years ago. I found myself wondering, "Is my child just overly strong-willed? Why don't they act like the other children? Is something wrong with them?" I plan to talk about this and more as I write this blog series on the topic of giftedness in children. Please join me in the conversation! I welcome your questions and comments about your own experiences in raising or teaching gifted children.

New Americana Music for Kids

The sub-genres in Kids' Music are constantly growing and improving, including the Americana field. I've reviewed five of the best examples of new Americana music for kids over at, and I have room to expand the list, so please feel free to send recommendations or make comments.

***Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem***

This here's what gives credence to the fact that music for kids and their families is a force to be reckoned with: kids' bands are now playing tunes by other kids' bands. Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem cover not one but two family favorites on their latest CD, Billy Jonas' "Bear to the Left" from his 2002 album What Kind of Cat Are You?!, and the title track from Renee & Jeremy's 2007 album It's a Big World. But I digress...let's take a listen at Ranky Tanky.

Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem have been making "new roots music" together for a decade, with three previous CDs of fiddle-driven, harmony-filled tunes under their belt. The Middletown, CT-based quartet are adept at their frontporch, old time, loose-jointed but tightly-played style, no matter what song they attempt, and that's what makes Ranky Tanky work. Most of the album consists of covers, including "Tennessee Wig Walk," made famous by Bonnie Lou (Mary Joe Kath), also covered by Dan Zanes on House Party; "Kee-mo, Ky-mo," found on June Christy's "kids' album" The Cool School; New Folk artist John Gorka's "Branching Out;" Malvina Reynolds' "Morningtown Ride," one of The Seekers biggets hits; and "Bushel and a Peck" from the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.

But despite the wide range of sources, all the songs sound like daisy mayhem tunes. Lots and lots of kids' musicians and bands attempt a "stylistic showcase" of sorts, especially on debut albums. Rather than attempt a rockabilly style here and a folk style there, followed by the obligatory reggae misstep, Rani Arbo and band maintain their own unique, cohesive sound, even on covers of well-known tunes like Cat Steven's "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out", The Meters' "They All Ask'd For You", Sheb Wooley's "Purple People Eater", and Tom Petty's "Wildflowers."

Great organic Americana music for the whole family. Let's hope we hear more from Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem in the future.

Happy New Year!

2009 gave us lots of great albums for kids and their families, and it was really hard to narrow down my choices to a mere ten. So, without further adoooooo, here's my Top 10 List of the best kids' music of 2009. Enjoy, discuss, and comment!