I can't believe how quickly this summer zoomed by. Year after year, I suffer from "endless summer" assumption. As summer comes, I behave as though it will last forever; the result is that many of the summer projects on my list are still there when school rolls around. It's too late to finish up those projects. Now, it's time for a new school year. With "back to school" as our theme, I thought I would introduce you to some great new music-all with an educational focus.
MR. QUIZMEE ASKS ABOUT ANIMALS, Quizzenkids Productions, $14.95, www.mrquizmee.com; ages 7 and up.
This CD is in heavy rotation with my 8-year-old son, Matthew. He plays it in his room, he brings it in the car when we're out and about and he's even given one to his pal Andrew as a birthday present. To me, that's a great endorsement.
"Mr. Quizmee" is not exactly a music CD because of its interactive question-and-answer format, but music and special effects do play a very supportive role. So what is "Mr. Quizmee" all about? Basically, the CD is more than an hour's worth of animal questions, with dozens and dozens of questions waiting to be answered. The setting is the Quizzen Kids Pavilion where Mr. Quizmee leads the fun with his assistant, Miss Bright, a large cast of supporting characters and a group of excited, ready-to-play-and-learn kids. There's some friendly banter back and forth before a question is posed. After each question, the kids are invited to shout out answers and then hear the correct answers.
The content is divided into categories: birds, reptiles and amphibians; insects and arachnids; and mammals. You get the feeling you are listening to a game show with enthusiastic kids and supportive characters. But the real value is the educational content. All the questions are animal related and based on math, science, language, geography and history. How do geckos walk on the ceiling? What does a camel store in its hump? How many feet do six pairs of lovebirds have? And one my son brought to my attention: Did you know that there are more chickens on the earth than people? The point is to get kids engaged in learning, and as cliché as it sounds, learning can be fun.
"Mr. Quizmee Asks About Animals" has already gathered a few prestigious awards, including the National Parenting Center's Seal of Approval. Dr. Toy named it one of her 2004 Best Vacation Children's Products, saying: "This is a wonderful way for the whole family to sing, play and learn together." I agree.
H.U.M. (HIGHLY USABLE MUSIC) ALL YEAR LONG, by Carole Peterson, Macaroni Soup!, $15, www.macaronisoup.com; ages 3-6.
Carole Peterson is another in a long list of wonderful Chicago area children's music artists who is making a contribution to the lives of young children. Peterson's latest, "H.U.M.," originated as a series of workshops for parents and teachers who were interested in using music as a springboard for active children's play. After the opening song, the recording is organized with each month of the year having one or two songs (or poems). This is a fanciful mix of traditional and original songs all with tasty musical arrangements that are never over produced or too simplistic. Highlights include "The Mitten Song" (January), one of my favorite Dennis Lee poems, "Alligator Pie" (March), "Sleeping Bag Chant" (August) and the Bill Wellington-penned, "There's a Dog in School" (September).
When I first heard this CD, I thought it was designed solely for early childhood teachers, but this will fit comfortably at home for music play. And I really appreciate what Peterson has to say in her liner notes: "Please, enjoy listening, singing and do-ing this recording, but then turn it OFF. Do the songs on your own. Children need to hear your voice, sing their own words and move at their pace." Yep, good advice from a good teacher!
HUNK-TA-BUNK-TA FUNSIES-1, by Katherine Dines, Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta Music, $15.99, www.hunktabunkta.com; ages 4-18 months.
Released in 2003, and the recipient of six national awards (including Parents' Choice and Kids First!), this is a great example of how music can be the springboard for playful activities for parents and caregivers with very young children. Music play is so important at this age and Dines offers a playpen full of fun music activities. Dines has done her homework. First, she realizes the importance of writing short songs that introduce concepts and skills that can help children develop. Then she is smart enough to test all of the songs with parent-baby groups to find out which songs work. Babies will adore the simple game of "Sooo Big and Sooo Small" as well as other great songs including "Peek-A-Boo" and "Rock, Wiggle and Roll." An added bonus is that music-only versions of each song are included on the CD, so adults can use their own voice.
HUNK-TA-BUNK-TA FUNSIES-2, by Katherine Dines, Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta Music, $15.99, www.hunktabunkta.com; ages 4-18 months.
"Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta Funsies-2" picks right up where "Funsies-1" leaves off. There are more fun playtime songs for you and your little bitty one. Highlights include "Baby B-I-N-G-O," "Ticklebug," "Don't Drop the Baby" and my favorite, "Pat-a-Cake" in which Dines puts a new spin on a very old song. This is one of the strengths of this CD-parents hear new versions of old songs and also learn new, age-appropriate songs for their babies and toddlers. As with "Funsies-1," "Funsies-2" also includes music-only versions of all the songs to encourage parents to sing with their child. What I like about music-only tracks is that it allows the parent or caregiver to either sing the song the way Dines does or to make up or adapt the words.
Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, children's musician and producer. His Web site, www.BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children's music. The Web site also includes an archive of all Koch's past reviews published in Chicago Parent. Please e-mail notes and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.