Rachel Griffin Acasso was rushing to buy some pastries on her way to the recording studio one spring morning in Manhattan. As she exited the subway in the scorching sun, she felt so hot that she took off her jacket without a second thought.
Just like that, she unintentionally transformed into her alter ego.
With her signature blue jean overalls, pink t-shirt and matching headband, she became that friendly lady in the video. She happily pronounces words and teaches her little audience by speaking, waving and singing when necessary.
She has morphed into Ms. Rachel in public and was playfully described as “Beyoncé for toddlers” in a TikTok comment. For many, her children’s video “Songs for Littles” skyrocketed in popularity last year, earning her over 4.8 million YouTube subscribers and making her name a household name. .
“I’m stuck trying to make a video for everyone,” said Griffin Acruso, gasping., She arrived at Midtown’s 10th-floor studio a few minutes late.
“But I don’t mind. I’m so happy to be able to help enrich people’s lives,” she added.
And she is ready to show her charm.
She chatted with everyone on set, whether it was the cast or the technical staff. She asked: What time did the actors’ Broadway show start that day? What have people been watching on TV lately? Wouldn’t it be cool to shoot in a real studio instead of her one-bedroom apartment?
When the lights, the cameras and the call to action came, she smiled broadly and her voice rose an octave.
“Can you be a crab?” Rachel nodded at the camera. “Come on, let’s be a starfish!”
I made her look easy because the work that made her an internet celebrity is more than just a performance for her. “People call me Ms. Rachel is acting, but she’s actually me, except in a more rousing version,” said Griffin Akultso. “I have found my vocation.”
Ms. Griffin Acruso said there is little money spent on advertising and publicity for “Songs for Littles.” She is also very popular on other social media platforms, tick tock and InstagramGriffin Acruso has the most followers. YouTube, continues to be the platform where her work generates the most revenue from paid advertising. The venture has been so successful in recent months that Griffin Ackleso’s husband, Aaron Ackleso, has quit his full-time job as assistant music director and assistant conductor of Broadway’s “Aladdin.”
road to success
Growing up in a small community in Springvale, Maine, Griffin Acruso wasn’t sure what her career would look like. But she knew she loved serving her children and people. Her work with children at the Boys & Girls Club gave her the idea to combine these interests with music, but it took her two passions several years to come together.
She moved to New York City on a whim in 2009 after reading a Mark Twain quote about people coming to regret not chasing their dreams.
She worked as a nanny and got odd jobs. Then, less than a year later, she met and hit it off with Mr. Acruso at the Unitarian Church in Upper Her East Her Side.
Mr. Akruso has a distinct memory of when on their second date she asked him, “Don’t you just love Mr. Rogers?” She was referring to her favor for Fred Rogers, the friendly TV host who has spread the message of kindness to children for generations.
She and Akruso have pursued collaborations, composing songs about mental health and producing musicals. Ms. Griffin Acruso received a master’s degree in music education from New York University and began working as a music teacher at Bedford Park Elementary School in the Bronx. The two married in 2016 and had a son, Thomas, in 2018.
Griffin Acruso quit teaching full-time to spend time with his son. Around his first birthday, she noticed that he was falling behind on important milestones, especially speeches. “His mouth wasn’t connected to his brain,” she says.
The couple sought the services of a speech pathologist, but Griffin Acruso wanted to supplement his learning. Her search was unsuccessful, so she started making videos.
She took close-ups of her mouth to show how the words were pronounced, and recorded a version of the nursery rhyme, making sure to incorporate voice, sign language, and visuals. She also recorded her direct-taught music lessons, and the couple posted the videos on her YouTube. They figured that if other people found it useful, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.
The video resonated. “For others it makes a lot of sense, but for me it just seems like a coincidence,” she said of her own success.
Maura Moyle, Associate Professor of Speech Pathology and Audiology at Marquette University, said the videos she saw of Rachel include things like speaking slowly, saying simple sentences, and repeating them that speech therapists use to teach children. He said it had built-in key techniques he uses to help us.
According to Dr. Moyle, infants have been shown to be attracted to “parent talk” and “mother talk,” a type of “baby talk” with high-pitched and exaggerated facial expressions featured mostly in videos. Yes, said Dr. Moyle.
“She’s getting young children to pay attention to language and sounds,” said Dr. Moyle. Videos aren’t a substitute for speech therapy or interaction between children and adults or parents, she says, but they can be “a great tool to use.”
Joseph Villamontes and his wife, Christil Parker, struggled to secure speech therapy and other treatment for their two-year-old daughter Aranea. He went to bed many nights feeling like he was failing because her daughter had frequent temper tantrums and neither he nor her wife understood what her daughter was trying to say. It says.
Villamontes, 29, tried to come to terms with the desperate thought that she might never hear her say “I love you” again.
Even programs in the state of Texas, where he lived before moving to Pennsylvania recently, were booked more than a year in advance and his insurance denied him additional autism testing, he said. Villamontes said his wife found out about Rachel on TikTok.
Aranea’s parents noticed a change within a month of Aranea watching Rachel’s video. Instead of yelling at her when she was hungry, she rubbed her belly and used words that, in his words, “flowered communication.” She even said those three words Mr. Villamontes wanted to hear.
From ideas to videos
Whether it’s teaching nursery rhymes, discussing emotions, or helping children talk, each “Songs for Littles” video begins with a theme. And each theme contains a bucketful of research on related topics.
For an upcoming video on the skills teachers look for in pre-kindergarten children, Ms. Griffin Acruso spent several weeks analyzing various state requirements and reading research papers. She said she wanted to get it right.
Griffin Acruso and her husband collaborate on writing scripts, sketching scenes, and determining the actors needed. Acruso works with outside editors to edit and write the music for the videos, as well as produce the animation. A couple rehearses a song. The songs include popular children’s songs performed in Rachel’s style, as well as original songs by her and her husband, who also plays the role of Harvey the doll.
The team wants each video to include comprehensive content on gender, disability, and race. One of the regulars, Jules Hoffmann, is non-binary, causing a backlash among some viewers earlier this year. Although the negative reaction pushed Griffin Akolso aside, take a break from social mediashe says, is unflinching in expressing a wide range of perspectives.
Brandis Elliott, 33, first discovered Rachel through an online mothers group. Having just returned to full-time work after maternity leave, Elliot needed time for her chores. So she tried the video and it worked for her.
Elliot said her 1.5-year-old daughter, Adya, said her focus shifted to the screen when she heard Rachel’s voice. If toys are put away in the video, Adeya puts them away. If Rachel yells “March of the Ants”, Adya will march for her. And she clapped to the beat of “Icky Sticky Bubble Gum” and imitated the gestures of gum stuck in her hand.
“MS. Rachel has been a real lifesaver for us,” said Elliott. “These videos show that Rachel can teach as well as sing.”
Elliot is even more amazed at the magnitude of what the video can offer. She understands her sign language and notes her tone of voice. She, like Ms. Rachel, found herself asking her own toddler if she was hungry and got her reply.
“MS. Rachel is our Mr. Rogers,” said Ms. Elliott. “She’s really changing the way her kids learn these days.”
Griffin Acruso often stays up at night wondering what he can do to help children who have no access to education.
She wants to continue speaking and singing for little children.
“I can sing ‘Icky Sticky Sticky Bubblegum’ over and over again,” she said.