Singing Together Is Soothing And Fun

We’re big on nursery rhymes and children’s songs in our home. In all three languages: English, Romanian and French. I enjoy singing with my little gosling. It relaxes me, makes me feel happy. Any tension quickly disappears singing. Little gosling enjoys listening, he has been asking me to sing certain songs and he enjoys singing, too. It helps him with vocabulary acquisition, to fix notions and create a special bond with all three languages. It fosters a playful, loving bond between us. We sing, we laugh, we improvise, we dance, we repeat a lot…It has helped me soothe little gosling when tired or agitated and to entertain him when bored, particularly during long(ish) car rides. 

I’ve been singing to him since he was really tiny. I’ve been singing him melancholic songs  (“romanțe”) to sleep, with some effectiveness :P. It gets him settled down and in the mood for sleep, but nothing can compete with breastfeeding to sleep 🙂 or, recently, with daddy’s bear hug, depending on the mood. I used to sing “Pe lângă plopii fără soț”,“Numai una”, “Ciobănaș cu trei sute de oi”, “Barca pe valuri”, or “La oglindă”. They are all dear to me for different reasons and bring back memories from different stages in my life. I remember my mum singing “Pe lângă plopii fără soț” to me, but granted, when I was much older. I still sing these songs to him. They are soothing, particularly when sung in a low tone, just perfect for sleeptime. Lately, however, he’d rather have me sing nursery rhymes at bedtime: “Podul de piatră”, “Row, row, row your boat”, “Coccinelle, demoiselle”, “Twinkle, twinkle little star”. 

Nursery rhymes were part of my “weapon arsenal” when he got agitated, particularly during car drives. As a baby, he could not bear being in the baby car seat more than 10 minutes straight. He got very bored and agitated. I used to carry with me lots of different toys and books to distract him. When we were done with those, which was fairly quickly, I started singing nursery rhymes to entertain him. I remember various car rides (3 hours +) when he was between 4 – 12 months of age. He had me singing “Tăranul e pe câmp” (with onomatopoeia added in especially for him) again and again and again for good stretches of time :))). He loved it, he was chuckling and squealing. “În pădurea cu alune”, “Oac oac diri diri dam” or “Vulpe, tu mi-ai furat gasca” were also big hits. The last one still gets requested regularly. 

When he was around 8 months, we flew from Joburg to Durban – in principle, a short flight. For whatever reason, the plane took forever to leave the runway. And this was the middle of the summer, hot hot hot and the air conditioning was off.. So my smiling, happy little baby turned quickly into a desperately crying red ball. He was hot and uncomfortable. The flight attendants kept looking at me funnily and asking whether he was ok (?!). I started singing to him in a very low voice “Podul de piatra s-a daramat”, “Iepuras coconas”, “Melc, melc, codobelc”, all rather soothing. This helped him calm down enough to accept lying down and breastfeed. I remember one traveller in front looking back at me and saying “I feel sleepy as well” :). 

Learning nursery rhymes in three languages

It took him a few weeks after starting going to an English-speaking nursery at 15 months to bring home English nursery rhymes and ask for them. I wrote about our journey with English nursery rhymes here.. We expanded our repertoire in the meantime. The current favourites are “Row, row, row your boat” (with crocodile, polar bear and lion included) – he loves to hear it when tired or upset, “Horsie, horsie” – which he recites/sings on his own whilst riding on his dad’s or my knees, after waking up, and “Hickory, dickory dock”. For the last one, he tells me which animals he wants to have going up the clock (mouse, monkey, giraffe, lion, bee, frog…) and what time the clock should strike – relevant for the times I imitate a church bell chime. We have lots of fun with this one. 

When he’s not asking us to sing to him, he starts singing or reciting the nursery rhymes that he knows on his own. Particularly early morning. He’s an extraordinarily early riser, to his dad’s exasperation – he’s the one who has to entertain him from 5.30 to 7.00 a.m.. Or right before falling asleep, on daddy’s watch.   

With all this in mind, it was hardly surprising that his first words in French, upon starting a French-speaking school, came from “comptines” (nursery rhymes). First came “bateau = boat” (“Bateau sur l’eau, la riviere, la riviere/ Bateau sur l’eau, Touni est tombé dans l’eau.. plouf”). During the first lockdown we used to sing it with the names of his colleagues. One by one, in his order of preference, they would fall into the water :))). Good way to remember their names and talk about them, and keep school on our radar. Next came “crocodile” (“Ah, les crocodiles”). This is a funny one, about a crocodile on the Nile going to fight the elephants and ending up running away, jumping into the river.  There’s a fun clapping of hands that accompanies this song and little gosling loves doing it. I was so amazed the first time he said the word. We had barely spoken about crocodiles and he wasn’t using the English pronunciation.. 

Some months later, some weeks into the resumption of school after the lockdown, little gosling again started coming home with rhymes. “Mummy, sing petit lapin”; “mummy, sing les poissons”; “mummy, sing le moulin”; “mummy, please sing soleil”. At one point, every day he was asking for a new song :)))). What I did was explain I did not know the songs, but that I would do my best to learn them. The next day I took him to school, I asked the teachers what songs he was referring to, then went home, looked them up on youtube, wrote them down and added them to our treasury. And, of course, repeat them several times, on my own, to remember the melody. I find the French nursery rhymes incredibly mellow, with hardly memorable tunes.  

“Soleil” was a difficult one to find. I asked the teacher on the first occasion to sing it to me, so that I can look it up on the internet. But I could not find it. So, I explained the situation to little gosling and asked him if he could, please, learn it in school and then teach it to me. He agreed. Aaand… one evening, at the dinner table, he asked for it: “mommy, sing “le soleil””. I reminded him of our deal and he said: “bebe learned it” and off he went: “le soleil brille brille brille/et moi je dors dors dors/[cute little snores and his little hands together under his leaning head]/je me reveille, veille, veille/et dis fort fort fort/Bonjour soleeeeil!” :)))) He can also sing “Frere Jacques” on his own. 

Special songs

Some weeks ago, little gosling was having a distressful afternoon. He did not want to be hugged or touched and I was out of ideas to soothe him. I suggested I sing him a “special song”. He liked the idea of having something special, so he acquiesced. I ended up singing “What a wonderful world” several times in a row, whilst he leafed through Tim Hopgoed’s boardbook. Ever since, when he feels blue or tired or upset, he asks me to sing a special song, “another special song”. So I had to keep being creative and find new ones. I’ve tried Judy Garland’s “Over the rainbow” from “The wizard of Oz”, but the one that stuck the most and gets requested the most often is Julie Andrews’ “My favourite things” from “The sound of music”: “no no, mummy, sing the one with the dog that bites”. 

Our music treasury

With all this wealth of songs we’re singing together, I’ve been building our own Nursery Rhymes/Song Treasury. I got the idea from little gosling’s French-speaking creche. When we did the insertion days together, I saw the teachers using cards to sing with the little ones. One side, which they were showing the kids, had drawings so that they could guess the song and make word associations; the other side had the lyrics. “What a good idea!”, I thought. I decided to write down all the different songs and rhymes we sing together on individual cards and draw something meaningful next to the lyrics, so that he can choose what he wants us to sing. 

I find this very useful, particularly for the new songs and for the songs in French, until I learn the lyrics by heart and he learns that we can sing the song together. It’s also great to have all our songs together in the same format. We sing songs in three languages; songs that we learn from books or from youtube videos, songs that I remember from my childhood, as well as songs that he brings home from school. I think it’s fun for little gosling as well, browsing through many cards and picking the song he wants to hear/sing. Not to mention that I find it relaxing and take great pleasure in putting together the cards: writing down the lyrics, looking for inspiration and (easy) drawing. 

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