Introducing Toddlers to Music

tod_musicMusic is a natural part of life for toddlers. They might sing to their stuffed animals, tap their feet to the rhythm of nursery rhymes, and enjoy the sound of their parents singing to them – even if mom and dad can’t quite carry a tune.

But this early introduction to music does more than entertain. It can kickstart learning, serve as an important cue in a child’s routine, and offer lifelong benefits.

Music contributes to what experts call “a rich sensory environment.” This simply means exposing kids to a wide variety of tastes, smells, textures, colors, and sounds – experiences that can forge more pathways between the cells in their brains.

These neural connections will help kids in almost every area of school, including reading and math. Just listening to music can make these connections, but the biggest impact on comes if kids actively participate in musical activities.

Of course there’s another reason to introduce music into your toddler’s world: It’s enjoyable for both of you. That will come as no surprise to parents who sing songs with their child, sway and twirl together to favorite CDs, or listen to lullabies as they rock their child to sleep.

I Got Music, I Got Rhythm

Between the ages of 1 and 3, kids respond best to music when they actively experience it. Passive listening (like in the car) is fine, but look for opportunities to get your child rocking, marching, rolling, tapping, clapping, and moving to the beat.

Share songs that go along with simple hand motions or dance moves, like The “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “The Wheels on the Bus,” “Two Little Blackbirds,” or the “Hokey Pokey.” For younger kids, a parent’s lap is a great place to put music and movement together. Have your child face you and be sure to smile as you bounce your knees to chants like “Trot, Trot to Boston” or “To Market, To Market.”

Itsy Bitsy Spider

At this age, kids can sporadically keep time – you’ll notice this if you give a toddler a pot and a wooden spoon and sing a song or play some music that has a steady tempo. You can encourage this by grabbing your own spoon, inviting your toddler to bang out a rhythm, and then imitating what he or she does. Extend the game by tapping a slightly more complicated rhythm and inviting your child to follow or by asking your child to tap on different surfaces – the floor, your back, a pillow – and seeing what sound these different taps make.

Music Can Soothe

Once your toddler is familiar with music, it can be a source of comfort and soothing. Don’t be surprised if you hear your child singing in bed or while playing, or serenading dolls or stuffed animals, especially if you have made a habit of singing to him or her yourself.

When music is part of the everyday routine, these songs can help your child know what to expect and feel more secure. For instance, if you always sing a lullaby at bedtime or nap-time, your child will come to see this as a cue for “go to sleep.”

Here are some other ways music can help your child make transitions through the day:

  • picking up toys (“toys away, toys away, it’s time to put the toys away”)
  • brushing teeth (“brushing, brushing, brushing teeth,” sung to the tune of “London Bridge Is Falling Down”)
  • taking a bath (“Now it’s bath time, now it’s bath time, yes, it is” sung to the tune of “Are You Sleeping”)

In addition, you can use music to alter your child’s mood — and your own. While soft, gentle music seems just right for bedtime, louder, bouncier music could be just the boost you both need when it’s time to clean up the toys.


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