5 Reasons You Should Teach Your Kids Traditional American Songs

I've got nothing against Katy Perry's music. I like a good Taylor Swift or Justin Timberlake song, and heaven knows, I have Miranda Lambert's latest CD on extreme repeat in my car.

But there's nothing better for children than hearing, learning, and singing traditional American folk songs.

Why?

1. These songs contain - and convey - a rich trove of our country's cultural history, heritage, and knowledge. Take a song like "I've Been Working on the Railroad." It perfectly communicates the importance of railroads in the Western expansion of the United States in the 19th century, not to mention the use of banjos at the same time!

2. Traditional American folk songs often have a strong narrative or story. What child can resist the heroic story of "John Henry" or the funny twists of "Froggie Went A Courtin'"? It's no accident that many children's books are based on these songs - the stories are compelling and full of drama and meaning.

3. The tunes themselves have survived centuries...for a reason. The best music is timeless - it sticks in your brain and your soul, and these songs have stuck in the brains and souls of Americans for hundreds of years.

4. Many songs build on the important literacy concepts of sequence and order. Take cumulative songs like "The Green Grass Grows All Around" or "(There's a) Hole in the Bucket" - each stanza builds on the last. While children are remembering details like straw, ax, stone or tree, branch, nest in order, they are also learning how to sequence details, which is an important component of reading comprehension.

5. Language play is central to the songs. Playing with the sounds of language, whether through initial consonant sounds (the "m"s in "Miss Mary Mack") or end-rhymes ("pony-macaroni" in "Yankee Doodle"), helps children hear different sounds in words, which supports the development of sound-letter correspondence when they begin to learn to read.

BONUS REASON: Traditional American folk songs are just plain fun! You can check out CDs from the library or download songs from the Freegal and Hoopla apps through the library. 

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