“Lullabies are love songs,” says music educator Mary Thienes-Schunemann in her book The Wonder of Lullabies. She goes on:
It is through the warmth of our own voices that our love for the child is most truly revealed. To a child in the cradle or in arms, these love songs are the first melodies they hear. They are sung at times when the soothing sound of a loving voice means peace, comfort, tenderness, and safety.
Like most babies, my daughter got sick over and over again during her first year. I remember the first time she threw up in the night it felt like a crisis; I held her in my arms, climbed into the bathtub, and as I rocked her without thinking I started singing . . . “Don’t worry, about a thing, cos every little thing, is gonna be all right . . . ” (cheesy choice, I know). Really I was singing to myself as much as to her. Those long sleepless night, as we paced circles around the house with baby in our arms, my husband and I sang rounds, tried to harmonize, made up little songs in Spanish playing with her name. As I rocked her, all night long, feeling like I must be the only person on earth still awake in this darkness, singing soothed me as much as it soothed my baby. In a mothers’ circle, when the level of fussy cries started to rise, all of us joined in ‘Row, Row Your Boat’ and all the babies quickly hushed.
As a mother I sing, as a love song to my baby, and also to mother myself, when I need it. I remember my mom singing lullabies to my baby sister. I remember my dad bringing his guitar into our room to sing us folk songs before bedtime. At my summer camp as a pre-teen, as we sang old hippie songs in a circle, I felt a unity, connection to a community and something bigger than myself, that was so absent in teen social life back at school. When we meet other Ecuadorian families (like my husband’s) the first thing they recall, ¡paisano!, is the impassioned longing of the pasillo, the classic beautiful songs. Singing reminds us of family, and reminds us who we are.
There is much research on reasons why nursery rhymes, folk songs, singing, and live music benefit babies and children on many, many levels: language development, educational success, literacy, sharing culture and community, creating rhythm and routine in a child’s day, expressing love and community, and many more therapeutic outcomes. And who really needs a reason! It is so fun and it just feels so good!
When my now two-year-old daughter wanders off to play by herself, within minutes I hear her singing and chanting to herself, repeating the songs and rhymes I sing to her in English or in Spanish. Sometimes the words and tune are clear; sometimes a garbled phrase seems familiar but it takes a minute before I recognize it. Her little chipmunk voice is so beautiful to me!
To encourage my daughter and her toddler friends to use their Spanish, I host a weekly ‘rueda de rimas’ with other Spanish-speaking families. We sing songs and rhymes, bang drums, play games, and dance around the room to latin rhythms. Click below to download the current song sheet with our favorite songs and rhymes. Hope you’ll sing along, too!
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