The Anxious Laughter of Silly Songs
In his 2018 study How to Make Children Laugh, Michael Rosen writes that when he performs silly songs and poems in schools, “I become the channel through which the children can, for a moment, let go of their anxieties about the authority figures in their lives” (23). The laughter mediates between the norms of adulthood and the anxieties of childhood. Although silly songs are perennially popular with children and their caregivers alike, they remain understudied. This article, then, asks how laughter works in the context of English-language silly songs for preschool and early elementary children. Drawing from Rosen’s theorization, it combines the perspectives of literary studies and early childhood music education to analyze well-known silly songs recorded by Sharon, Lois & Bram, Raffi, and others. Grown-up performers invite laughter by acting like goofy big kids who can play along with the children and by inverting the authority relationship between children and adults. Silly songs create deliberately incongruous, cheekily subversive experiences that can help children’s anxieties to be released and rendered nonthreatening.