Sing your science lessons

Music - November 2005


 
 

Fred Koch

We all know that science can be fun. Some of us even may have been fortunate enough to have teachers who made the curriculum come alive. Now, we as parents can help stoke that fire of excitement for science through songs designed precisely for that purpose. Here are two great CDs I recommend. A fondness for science is not a prerequisite.

Like all good "educational" recordings for children, these two gems get the kids hooked with good songwriting and music production and slip in the educational values.

I WAS A SUPA-DUPA-PUPA! by Lucas Miller, independently produced, $13.95, www.lucasmiller.net; ages 7-10.

The idea is simple and admirable: Create a recording with songs that stimulate children’s interest in animals, insects and the natural world.

To be honest, I was skeptical when I first gave this new Lucas Miller CD a spin. I have heard so many similar attempts fall short either because the music was weak when the content was acceptable or the concepts were not accurate and strong enough when the music was acceptable.

So when I come across a recording that is solid in both areas, I jump for joy. As a parent and teacher, I know that the connections made by introducing and reinforcing science concepts through music can be appealing—especially when accompanied by supportive music and good songwriting. Miller, who has a degree in zoology, states his mission: "I try to help kids realize how much we depend on the natural world. Once they are interested, they’ll be more willing to take care of the world around them."

The CD starts with "Living in Symbiosis." Sung from the point of view of a sea anemone, it tells the story of his symbiotic relationship with the clownfish. In the last verse, Miller makes the connection between humans and the earth we live on and the respect and care that are vital.

Next is the very clever "Chimichanga Song," a fantasy visit to a Tex-Mex food stand where Miller finds himself in line with a kangaroo, a frog and a snake. He uses this tale to explain insectivores, carnivores and herbivores as the customers place their orders and explain exactly what they want in their chimichanga. Again, it is important to point out that even though this is clever in its lyrical approach, it is the relationship with the singable and catchy music that makes Miller’s songs memorable.

Kids and parents alike will also enjoy "All About the Hive!" with its funky, spoken verse and its groovy-sounding chorus. If you listen carefully, you will hear important, detailed science content, though the overall message is easy to understand and repeated in the chorus: "It’s all about the hive/We wanna stay alive/So we take care of the hive."

I am also willing to bet the farm that kids will enjoy "Out on the Prairie." Scientifically speaking, it is about the ecological importance of … buffalo dung, bird droppings and earthworm poop. Now before you stop reading and turn the page, please realize that Miller is not just stooping to get kids’ attention, he is seriously trying to teach them about something important. He is smart enough to know how to hook them first. Yes, there’s lots of references to "poo-poo" and "doo-doo," but hey, it’s science.

Other highlights include "Deer in My Cadillac," a bouncy, country-western flavored song set in Yellowstone National Park, which helps to explain why the deer population has grown. The highlight is a spoken-word section in the middle that tells the story about the relationship between the elk, wolves and the Aspen forest as it addresses the importance of the balance of nature.

"Metamorphosis," with its reggae-island feel is sung from the tadpole’s point of view as he transforms into a frog. Here Miller seamlessly creates a simple story about a not-so-simple, but amazing, act of nature.

The CD ends with "Mutually," a perfect bookend fit to the first song, "Symbiosis." The song explains the role of the Egyptian plover bird that flies down and eats the pesky, wormy parasites off of the Nile crocodile’s tongue while reminding us "We’re in this mutually/I help him and he helps me."

I am more impressed each time I hear this CD and plan on using quite a few songs with my students at school. Find out more about this "singing zoologist" at his Web site, www.lucasmiller.net, where you can hear samples of all the songs and read through lyrics before you decide to buy the recording. You won’t be disappointed.

MY BODYWORKS, by Jane and Steven Schoenberg, Crocodile Audio Books, $16.95, www.interlinkbooks.com; ages 6-9.

Recently while listening to WBEZ-FM, Chicago’s National Public Radio affiliate, I heard a review of the new audio book, My Bodyworks. I missed some of the piece, so when I got home I went to the NPR Web site (www.npr.org) to look for the review. I found it and listened to the whole interview and remembered that a preview copy was sent to me, but was still in the pile of "hope to get to" CDs.

It is a simple songbook with an enclosed CD. On the left page are the lyrics and on the right is a colorful drawing that represents the theme of the song.

And the songs are great. Like many science concepts, the human body is often difficult for children to understand and appreciate.

Jane Schoenberg, an educator, teamed up with her musician husband, Steven, to help children understand some of the systems of the body through the use of songs.

Favorites around our house are "Bones, Bones, Bones," "Brainpower," "Have Fun With Your Hair," "Amazing Senses" and, of course, "Everyone Passes Gas." The CD has a pop-music feel to it without being overproduced and the vocals are clear and pleasing. Accurate and fun facts fill "My Bodyworks," and the book includes kid-friendly drawings with simple explanations of the body, including bones, muscles and some important internal organs.

You can purchase the CD through the NPR Web site for $11.53 or from the publisher’s Web site at the retail price.

 

 

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 fred@bestchildrensmusic.com.

 
 





 
 
 
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