The old lady DIES??!?#?!
Have you ever noticed that kids' songs can be a little bizarre and sometimes, quite frankly, disturbing?! Like the old lady who swallows a fly, a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a goat, a cow and a horse before she finally dies... Or the tailor who decided to bake his pet mouse in a pie because he *thought* he was going to die. Kinda weird and strangely confronting!
Personally, I never re-appropriate lyrics (I sing about a black sheep, my kookaburra's life is gay and my old lady dies when she swallows that fly). For me, songs give kids a chance to safely think and talk about challenging topics in age-appropriate ways.
Take the song "5 little ducks" for example... I knew a little girl who would burst into tears every time I sang that song and got up to the bit where "Poor mother duck went out one day..." all on her own because her five precious babies were missing. Well, golly gee - that IS pretty devastating - if YOUR child has ever been lost then you can relate to how terrifying that is (at this point I *could* share the story of when I lost my 2 year old son in a shopping centre, then proceeded to run about in a hysterical state until I eventually spotted him holding a balloon and eating ice-cream with the security team but that would be entirely off-topic). The point is that this little girl connected with the story being told in the song. She not only understood the mother's pain but felt it herself. Now, wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone had that level of empathy for people going though a tough time? Of course, the mother of this child could have chosen to never, ever let her little girl hear this song because it was upsetting. Instead, she chose to acknowledge her sadness and notice her empathy. I'm pretty sure that this approach will mean that this little girl (who's not quite so little any more) will go through life being OK with the fact that she is touched by other people's pain and know that this is actually a gift, not something to be ashamed of. She might just learn to carry a tissue in her pocket instead of fighting back her tears. And again, wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone was a little more like that?
And what about that tailor who baked his pet mouse in a pie? Would you eat YOUR pet mouse in a pie? What about just any old mouse? Or any old chicken? Hmmm... suddenly you're having an age-appropriate discussion about food sovereignty, animal rights and ethical eating!
Songs offer a rich chance to introduce kids to words and ideas that are beyond their everyday experiences. Of course, language is powerful and I think it is important to talk about why songs have words and ideas that might not be appropriate to use in day to day life. With slightly older kids, songs give you the opportunity to talk about language and the impact it has. I like to highlight two things - firstly, that the lyrics of songs reflect their time and that the words used were acceptable in the time (e.g. Clap hands, clap hands, til daddy comes home, 'cause daddy has money and mummy has none). AND secondly to reflect on the language we use today, because in twenty years time, words and phrases that we use now will be looked back on as inappropriate. Language is powerful and song lyrics open opportunities for having important conversations.