Laurie Berkner gives kids a musical outlet at SeaWorld Orlando's Just for Kids

When singer-songwriter Laurie Berkner taught music to preschoolers, they were a tough crowd. Sometimes, kids would pooh-pooh her song selections with this powerful critique: "That's for babies."

So she changed strategies.

"I just started making them up. That was a lot easier," Berkner said. "Then I realized I enjoyed writing the songs, and the kids seemed to really like them, so I kept doing it."

Her original works have gained in popularity to the point that she'll be playing three 30-minute concerts at SeaWorld Orlando as part of the theme park's Just for Kids festival on Saturday.

The songs — usually upbeat, a bit silly and frequently with play-along body movements — are frequently seen in video form on the Nick Jr. cable channel.

"I do try to find something in the song that if I were a kid, I would connect to. It might be the words, it might be the rhythm, it might be on little hand movement," said Berkner, 43. "Whatever it is, it should make you want to come back to it."

A crowd favorite is "We Are the Dinosaurs," she said.

"I think it gives kids a chance to — with their parents' blessing — be angry and stomp around. I think that's a very exciting thing to do." she said.

More mysteriously popular is her "Victor Vito."

"I have no idea why people like that song. I enjoy singing it, but it's almost weird to me how many people love that song. It's, like, about rutabagas and collard greens … and spaghetti," said Berkner, who lives with her 8-year-old daughter, Lucy, in New York City.

The SeaWorld Orlando performance is a solo gig for Berkner, who usually appears as the lead singer of the Laurie Berkner Band. Being alone can change the vibe and her playlist, she said.

"I'll pull out songs that I may not have rehearsed with the band if someone asks for them," she said. "I tend to also do more a cappella songs than I would with the band."

Although she plays guitar on the stage, she grew up playing piano. She wasn't very good on keyboards, she said, "but it definitely instilled in me a lot of understanding about the music in me."

Later she earned a degree in psychology from Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Her first big break came with a TV booking on the "Today" show in 2001. The exposure was valuable.

"Suddenly, then, I was selling a lot more, and I was able to get my own office and not sell out of my one-bedroom apartment anymore," she said.

Eventually Nick Jr. — then known as Noggin — commissioned her for kid-friendly videos.

"I just always loved music. And the connection between psychology and kids and music, that has all formed how I write and how I work with kids," she said.

The Just for Kids events are included in regular SeaWorld admission ($89 general, $81 ages 3-9). Concerts are at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday at the park's Nautilus Theater. Tickets are distributed at 9 a.m. across from the venue.

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