Although she was playing it cool, my friend was panicking when I went to see her the other day. Many people might not have noticed, but we mothers pick up on this panic in each other right away. It’s that I’m – afraid – my – kid – isn’t – going – to – get – something -I-want-them-to-have panic. It’s the kind of panic that fuels viciousness about preschool admissions and fist-fights over Tickle Me Elmos. A week prior to this, I had casually dropped off a copy of a Ready to Rock Kids CD and the activity book that went with it. I mentioned I was supposed to be doing a piece about this and asked her to see if she could get her son, who was just about to turn six, to listen to the CD.
Ready to Rock Kids is an album created by Dr. Mac (Don MacMannis), a singer/songwriter who is a child and family psychologist and the clinical director of the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara. He is also music director and songwriter for the PBS hit series, Jay Jay the Jet Plane, so it’s safe to say he has a sense of what kids like. Ready to Rock Kids is aimed at kids ages 4-9 and does for contemporary mainstream music-including rock, rap, and reggae-what Baby Einstein does for classical music; it adapts it to younger ears. “When I interview kindergarten through third graders and ask them what music they like, they talk about music that is developmentally inappropriate : by artists like Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, and a variety of rap artists. Kids are really attracted to the quality and rhythm of adult music. They’re no longer interested in preschool music and need a sound of their own. Ready to Rock fills that gap.”
What will likely be most important to parents, though, is the lyrics all support social and emotional development. It is for EQ what Hap Palmer was for IQ. Ready to Rock 2, for example, includes songs about handling feelings, dealing with life’s ups and downs, and celebrating diversity. The CDs and workbooks are not just for individual family use, but also provide a curriculum for classroom lessons. According to Dr. Mac, “Happy kids learn better! Hundreds of studies show that even when time is taken away from the traditional ‘Three R’s’ to help children with their social and emotional concerns, academic scores improve.”
All of this sounds like a great idea and the program has gotten recognition from many teachers and parenting groups, including a Teacher’s Choice Award, an iParenting Media Award, and a Dr. Toy Best Vacation Products Award. S.B. parent/teacher educator and nonviolent communication expert Kelly Lee Kist offers kudos of her own. “If I were teaching kids this age, I know I would use it,” she said. “I was particularly impressed that the album talked about friendship as something that needs to be nurtured and cultivated, not just something ‘precious’ that you ‘get’ or ‘have.'”
But however many awards Ready to Rock wins, what matters is whether or not it works with kids. Which brings us back to my slightly panicky friend. Turns out her son had made her promise that she would ask me if he could keep the review copy and if he could color in the workbook. During the weekend, despite the fact that they were all extremely busy, he had listened to it, she claimed, 27 times. In particular, he had listened to the first song on the album, a doo-wop concoction called “Bye, Bye Bully,” over and over.
This song had resonance for him because, as a kindergartener, he had problems with several boys who had bullied him and other students-despite the anti-bullying policy at his school-all year long. His parents had been supportive in talking about it with him and helping him process his feelings, but there is a limit to what parents can do, even for kindergarteners. His mom told me that something happened for him in listening to Ready to Rock. The social support message in the music made him feel much more empowered. She noticed him singing the chorus to himself and found that he was able to talk about his bullying experience with more self-confidence and understanding. Guess what he got from me for his sixth birthday? Now I’m going to have to order a whole bunch more.