Anyone who works with younger children–babies and toddlers in particular–knows that music rules. Kids under 3 love songs and singing, and there’s no better way to get them focused on you in a baby lapsit program or a storytime than to sing to them. If you play an instrument, they focus on you even more intensely. And if you’re singing with older kids, up through middle school, playing an instrument gives you cred you wouldn’t have otherwise.

uke1.jpgI learned to play the ukulele when I was in high school (I discovered early that my stubby fingers – which you can see in the picture – weren’t well suited to the guitar and I wanted to impress the girls that I could play something). But after high school, I put it away until I had become a librarian and started doing kids’ programs. Now I know that a lot of people don’t take the ukulele too seriously, but I wanted to tell all who will listen that it’s a perfect vehicle for musical whimsy. It makes folks of every age smile, and it’s ideal for library programs or doing outreach. It’s small, light, and easy to carry around.

And the great thing about the uke is that it’s easy to learn to play. All you really need is four or five chords and you can play about a hundred simple children’s songs of the Raffi/Pete Seeger variety. Some of the songs I play and sing that work really well for me include “Wheels on the Bus,” “Illy Ally O,” “Six Little Ducks,” “Aiken Drum,” and “The More We Get Together.”

If you do children’s story programs, but have never done any with an instrument, I strongly recommend it.

You can find the chords you’ll need to play songs like these in several places online. But I will be posting lyrics and chord sheets for them over the next few weeks to encourage people to try out the uke.

Many people have old ukes around, or possibly inherited one from a relative. But if you want to buy an inexpensive uke, there are plenty on eBay, although I particularly recommend one seller from Hawaii known as Musicguymic (, who sells everything from the most expensive collector’s ukes to inexpensive ones that are still of decent quality. I bought the pictured ukulele from him, an Ohana longneck soprano, which is the best uke I’ve tried yet for singing with kids. I’ve met Mic, and he’s a good, trustworthy guy. E-mail him and ask him for his recommendation for a good instrument that’s affordable. More uke stuff soon!