Around 5 o'clock every day my 3-year-old daughter Lily bounces into the kitchen and asks me if I want to have a dance party. So I turn the laptop that lives on the kitchen table into a jukebox and we get moving.
I use a number of services to keep our musical selections fresh — and my sanity intact. (One can only listen to so much “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” before developing an aversion to talking rodents.) I thought it might be useful to share my discoveries with other parents in search of some free entertainment for their little ones.
Here are some of my favorites:
Spotify: This is by far our most-used music player and probably could be our only music player if it weren't for the commercials that play every few songs.
Spotify allows you to listen to your own library of songs downloaded from iTunes, Amazon or elsewhere. It lets you stream music from your favorite artists, and create, share and browse playlists from your friends and other users. You can search for a specific song, artist or album or cruise through a trove of children's music ranging from classical to modern.
When I discovered that my 22-month-old daughter Jovie liked dancing to Choo Choo Soul, I created a station for her, and when Lily became obsessed with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” I made another playlist featuring the Burl Ives classic.
Spotify has really spoiled us and if I bit down and paid the $9.99 a month for the premium version we could even listen without those pesky commercial interruptions. Available for free on Android , iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone.
Pandora: This site contains a number of genre stations geared to everyone from babies to tweens. There's Lullabye Radio, devoted to soothing instrumentals, and Family Road Trip with upbeat oldies that should transcend generational gaps (think The Beatles and Van Morrison).
My personal favorites are Children's Indie Radio, which plays the likes of Bob Marley and the Lumineers; and Family Folk Songs Radio, which plays more traditional children's music such as “Skip to My Lou” and “You are My Sunshine” performed by musicians with folk leanings.
My biggest complaint (along with most other Pandora users) is that the music becomes redundant after listening for a long period of time. Register for free on the site and save your favorite stations to access Pandora from anywhere. Listen online or via the app, which is free for Android, iOS, Windows Phone or BlackBerry.
The site and app are easy to use, just browse for the genre you're interested in and tap whatever station catches your eye. If you like it, click the heart icon and it will be added to your favorites.
With so many options it can be overwhelming to find your new favorite stations, but it's also pretty cool that you can expose your kids to radio from Paris to Belgrade to Buenos Aires. Listen online or via their app available free for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry.
YouTube: This might not be the most obvious source for kids' music, but in between videos of baby elephants and whatever Jimmy Fallon did last night, there is a ton of child-friendly fare.
Since my kids have the tendency to be lulled into catatonic states while watching videos on YouTube, I only reserve this in the most desperate of situations (like when I need to style young Lily's unruly curly hair).
Our go-to playlists are Parry Gripp's Mega Party Playlist (a roundup of original songs about adorable animal viral video stars like “Hamster on a Piano (Eating Popcorn)” and “Shopping Penguin”) as well as a collection of all the music videos from “Frozen” and “Happy Feet.” We just have to be careful not to let Lily navigate the site unsupervised – she can easily tumble into a rabbit hole of less than appropriate animated fare.
Growing up, the children's music I listened to was limited to Wee Sing America and the soundtrack to “The Lion King,” so I continue to be in awe of the options available to my little ones. A world of music (or, in our case, a Disney world of music) is literally at our fingertips.