What’s wrong with Super Simple Songs for children?
Easiest answer to this question is: everything! And nothing!
I sincerely admit – I’ve used Super Simple Songs channel myself many times. I even think it’s one of the reasons my 3-year-old is bilingual now (we’re a Polish family and we choose to speak to our children also in English). If you see the channel as a source of easy songs for children that can introduce English vocabulary to kids, if you play the songs now and then and most of the time you just sing for your children or even better, with them – everything is just fine. But it’s a completely different thing if Super Simple Songs and other similar channels become the main source of music, animation and musical education at your home and instead of singing with children you just play some tunes to them. In that case – and I quite deliberately state my opinion THAT boldly – you bring up a tacky, tasteless generation: daughters in golden jackets and with long artificial nails and glitter in their hair – and sons in silly t-shirts and oversized suits. Grown-ups who build houses with little towers glued to the façade.
I’m planning to write a separate text soon to underline the difference between aesthetically rich environment that helps kids to acquire good taste and musical or animation ‘fast foods’. Today, however, I’d like to focus specifically on Super Simple Songs as an example.
Children’s music taste develops over time
Does nurturing and environment at home affect the development and acquiring of a ‘good taste’? To find the answer to that question a group of children aged 7–11 was examined – these were children brought up in highly cultured families and environments rich in visual arts, surrounded by beautifully printed children books. At home they usually didn’t have access to any bad illustrations.
While looking at a typically Disney-like picture of The Three Little Pigs by M. Karwin, although not sure how to put his impression in words, an 11 year old boy said:
“…it’s kind of ugly, only the pigs in the foreground, and you can’t exactly see anything in the surrounding… and the colors are so fake” – you can see he didn’t really treat these illustrations seriously.
Kids are capable of aesthetic experiences, they have the need and urge to be around things they consider beautiful – but on the other hand they don’t have the ability to discriminate between quality pieces of art and simple tacky pictures, even if they are surprisingly critical and sensitive when it comes to their own works.
To further explore the topic another study was conducted. Children were presented with two pictures – the reproduction of Sunflowers by van Gogh and a postcard of ‘questionable aesthetic value’ – and were asked to choose the one they like better. Children between 5 and 6 years old mostly chose van Gogh, but the older kids tended to pick the alternative tacky picture. These surprising results are considered a proof that the environment (e.g. badly illustrated books and kitschy animations) has a negative impact on children’s natural sense of aesthetics.
The same happens with music. The best comparison that comes to my mind is connected with cooking. Many parents try to cut down salt and hot spices in their children’s diet not only because it’s healthier that way, but also because small kids have the ability to fully enjoy very subtle flavors of braised vegetables and meat and they don’t even feel something’s missing or the food is not seasoned enough. But this goes on only to the point when kids are introduced to strong seasoning and acquire taste for it. For a teenager or even a 10-year-old unsalted potatoes will be ‘unsavory’, broth without bouillon cubes will be ‘tasteless’ and gently seasoned chicken – ‘bland’. The same with music – as long as children are not immersed in ‘fast food’ music, they can fully enjoy all shades of folk, classical, jazz, rock, indie, soul music and so on.
Taste is developed over time, while we grow up – and it happens slowly. We’ve established that Super Simple Songs and other similar channels don’t meet the quality aesthetic criteria (musical or visual).
What’s the alternative for Super Simple Songs?
I’m going to stress this one more time – if you want to use these channels as a tool to teach children English through catchy songs, I’ll definitely recommend them. But today we’re talking about aesthetic side effects of limiting your child’s musical experiences only to a Super Simple Song form. What can you do to ‘detox’ your child’s musical sensitivity?
It’s not the first time when you’ll read on my blog that active participation in music is the key! Children don’t acquire their mother tongue from watching TV, but from listening to their parents talking to them. The same happens with the language of music. And that’s why children should have more access to music and songs played or sung by their parents than to those passively received form CDs, internet or TV. Children learn through imitation, so if your child sees you sing and play, he or she soon enough will want to join and make some music together.
And that’s what matters! In child’s development it’s always better to actively participate and experience creating music than to passively receive it. So, good musical animations for kids should rather open and stimulate children’s imagination than give them everything on silver platter and tell them what to feel and think. To stimulate intellectual development kids need pictures that try to show the world not so explicitly and contain hidden meanings, metaphors – so that they post a challenge to the viewer’s intelligence.
Good animation for kids (music + pictures) should:
– show the context, help to understand the concept described in the lyrics – it’s not the most important thing when it comes to music itself, but it’s a good starting point for visual narrative. It’s not only about depicting the story but also showing its style (Super Simple Songs are limited only to basic depicting of the lyrics – it’s ok when you try to learn a language with these songs, but when it comes to stimulating imagination and intellectual growth neither music nor animations from this series are valuable).
– bring nice and broad associations to mind, preferably not explicit so that our imagination is pushed to creating new content. Pictures are supposed to strengthen the expression of sounds and words – thanks to creative graphic interpretation of meanings (Super Simple Songs don’t leave much to imagination and interpretation, they’re very literal).
– develop child’s taste by introducing different styles in music, as well as in visual arts.
Children deserve direct access to the art of highest quality!
Examples of good animated songs for children:
Now you know what makes a good animation for kids and that it’s important to help develop a good aesthetic taste in children!
This text was created with help and knowledge of Katarzyna Feiglewicz-Peszat – a visual artist, mom of Antek and a teacher who runs visual arts classes for kids and adults. Many thanks!
- Teodoczyk A., Pomiędzy sztuką a edukacją. Ilustracja w książkach dla dzieci i młodzieży [Between art and education. Illustrations in children’s and teenagers’ books], 2014
- Słońska I., Psychologiczne problemy ilustracji dla dzieci [Psychological issues in children’s illustrations] , Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1977, p. 105