Importance of Play Men In The Arts

How Justin Roberts Celebrates the Wonder of Being A Kid … And Maybe Even A Monster

Justin Roberts
3-Time Grammy-Nominated Musician, Songwriter, Family Entertainer and Author

Justin Roberts’ music has been the soundtrack to my kids’ lives since before either of them could walk. When you’re a work-at-home-dad of toddlers, you quickly become acutely aware of how long the work day is and the need to fill it with fun, creative activities for the little ones – and for your own sanity.

So, to make our days at home more enjoyable, not long after RocketteGirl was born in 2007, I scoured iTunes and loaded our pre-Alexa iPod with music that would feed her childlike wonder, nurture her imagination, and get her moving. Just as importantly, I searched for music I thought I could endure whenever she – and, eventually, her sister Lightning McQueen – insisted it be played ad infinitum during our daily song and dance parties.


Justin Roberts


Justin Roberts’ addictive, humorously insightful tunes fit that bill. And it didn’t take long for him and his Not Ready for Naptime Players (NR4NP) to become our household favorites.

The three-time Grammy Award nominee Roberts started his music career in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the 90s as an indie rocker with the band Pimentos for Gus. While “moonlighting” as a Montessori preschool teacher, he soon he began writing and singing songs for his students, and they inspired him to record them. In 1997, Justin released his first professional album Great Big Sun, and critics raved almost as loudly as the millions of young fans rocking to his music in “kiddie mosh pits” worldwide.

Roberts’ compositions are heartwarming and heartfelt celebrations of unbridled kid wonder. Even now that RocketteGirl, 10, and Lightning McQueen, 8, are older and have become Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons fans; Roberts’ songs of quirky, relatable animals and the daily delights and challenges of kidlife are still fixtures in our ever-growing playlist.


Justin Roberts


The exuberance of songs like Cardboard Box, Trick or Treat, Maybe the Monster, Pop Fly, Backyard Spaceship, Stay At Home Dad, Recess, Lemonade, and Cartwheels & Somersaults continue to inspire us. In fact, Cardboard Box inspired an article I wrote last year for titled, “The Toys That Have Captured Kids’ Imaginations for Decades.”

Above all, Roberts is a masterful storyteller. His music and characters not only capture but also fuel all our imaginations. Their energy brightens our outlook. His stories help us make sense of (if not embrace) the challenging world around us as we dance, sing, and play along.

Knowing I was about to take the family to hear Justin Roberts and the NR4NPs perform, I decided to reach out to him and see if he’d be willing to share his insights on play and childlike wonder for Raising Nerd’s February/March focus on The Importance of Play. Here’s what Justin had to say about how play has influenced him:

Justin RobertsRaising Nerd: Tell us about an experience where you learned through play and how that may have fueled your passion for your career?

Justin Roberts: In elementary school, my 2nd grade teacher used to encourage us to improvise in class. If we all finished our work early, she would allow a group of us to perform a made up show for the rest of the class. I don’t remember much about it other than I would put my jacket on backwards and be weird, but I remember the laughs and the energy of trying to make it up as you are going along. I think that experience made me want to be on stage and probably had something to do with some of the silliness that happens in our shows.

RN: What was one of your favorite childhood toys, games or activities and why?

Justin Roberts: We had an old fashioned metal jungle gym at my school. And though I remember a few broken arms and dangerous moments, there was definitely a thrill to running out to that metal monstrosity and racing to the top. That image was definitely with me when I was writing the song Sign My Cast. I never broke my arm but I was always a little jealous of the person who got people to sign their arm. Probably not worth the pain though.

What family music inspires your kids and fills their Amazon, iTunes, or Spotify playlists? Check out Justin’s most recent release (his 13th!), Best Children’s Album Grammy-nominated Lemonade HERE. Go HERE for his complete collection!


Justin Roberts


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