Singing with your Toddler

Toddlers love music. Early on they can develop preferences for certain ditties. Although some enjoy it more than others and show it differently (e.g., my son was never a dancer to beats, but loved to just listen), listening and singing to songs will help your tot become a reader.

How is that possible? In my post Singing with your Baby, I wrote about how singing words can draw them out as well as break them into smaller parts. Both help your child to internalize the pronunciation of the words. When they start to tackle reading, they will recognize the words they sang and be able to easily decode the letters. Those tricky diphthongs and digraphs will be conquered thanks to your child remembering all of those songs you used to sing together.

Singing is just one fun way to help your toddler become a reader. What follows are additional tips and information on singing with your toddler. I’ve also included some interactive songs you can sing at the drop of hat to soothe, amuse, or entertain your toddler.

One more important thing: it doesn’t matter how you sound! We used to have a pianist play during our story times at my library. It was rather nice, but I didn’t want my parents or caregivers think they could only engage in singing if their voices were pitch-perfect or even in tune. Wrong! Your child loves you and will love your voice regardless of its tune or tambre.

Sing songs with motions. It’s important to remember that toddlers learn best when they are in motion. Luckily, toddlers love to move, so piggy back on their insatiable need to move by doing it with singing. Plenty of little tunes can incorporate movement. “Ring Around the Rosie” and “London Bridge is Falling Down” are perfect, easy songs begging to be acted out. But, there are other songs, maybe your child’s favorites, that don’t have well known, or any, movements. So what! Make some up. This combination of physical movements and music will get participation and engagement.

Share more sing-along nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes have endured for centuries for the simple fact they are catchy and silly. Due to the rhythmic nature of them, you can sing most of them. Make up a tune for a nursery rhyme if it doesn’t have one (think “This Little Piggy”).

Sing and sing again. Toddlers have favorites. Hone in on the songs, nursery rhymes, or musicians that they like to listen to. The more they hear, the more they will learn the words.

Remember, toddlers still have a lag time when it comes to responding. You can ask them to join along in your singing, but it may take a while before they are able to. But eventually they will join in with adults.

Whispers and hums. Toddlers are still developing language, including the volume at which they speak it. Practice whispering to them so that they will mimic back. The change in the level will also get your toddlers’ attention. Humming is a sweet sound but will only happen with the more music your child hears.

Responses to the rhythm. You can totally go “a capella” and still keep the rhythm of the beat to songs. Toddlers will respond to the lilt of the words. Clap out, snap, slap your knees, stomp your feet, and more to the rhythm. Toddlers will love trying to follow and dance to the rhythm.

Recognizing songs and different or similar sounds within the songs. Make it a game. The more you repeat a song, the more your toddler will learn the words. Then make a change (for example, change the beginning of a word) during one round to turn it into a game. Your toddler will notice when there is a change and may even be willing to make a change to the song. An example of a song like this is Raffi’s “Willoughby Wallaby Woo.”

Use a variety of songs and music. Just like with reading various types of books, you want to introduce your toddler to a diverse selection of music. This will help build within him an appreciation for differences in music. Of course, your toddler will choose what beats he prefers, but who knows what that will be unless he is exposed to different artists and bands.


These are simple songs with simple instructions to help your toddler follow and develop finger, hand and body control…all the while learning language! Don’t forget children’s artists, too! Check out your local library to dabble in different ones. Suggested hand motions are in italics, but change them to best fit your needs.


I’m Bringing Home a Baby Bumble Bee

1. (cup hands together, moving them side to side as you sing)

I’m bringing home a baby bumble bee.

Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?

I’m bringing home a baby bumble bee.

Oh  no! He stung me! (uncup hands)

2. (mash palms of hands together with a mad look as you sing)

I’m squashing up my baby bumble bee.

Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?

I’m squashing up my baby bumble bee.

Oh no! I’m dirty! (uncup hands)

3. (lick palms, play act washing hands or wipe hands on shirt)

I’m licking/washing/wiping up my baby bumble bee.

Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?

I’m licking/washing/wiping up my baby bumble bee!

Look all clean! (show hands)


Row, Row, Row Your Boats

This can be a little game you play as you sing: face each other, hold hands, and rock back and forth. You can change “gently” to another adjective. Check out Jane Cabrea’s Row, Row, Row Your Boat for more fun actions and noises to change this familiar ditty.

Row, row, row your boats

Gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream.


Itsy Bitsy Spider

The motions to this song are pretty universal. I personally alternate thumbs and pointers, but I use the “pinching” spider as well. There are some variations to the song! 

The itsy bitsy spider

Went up the water spout

Down came the rain and

Washed the spider out.

Out came the sun and

Dried up all the rain

And the itsy bitsy spider

Went up the spout again.

The great big spider… (typically sung in a deep, gruff voice)

The teeny, tiny spider… (typically sung in a high, quiet voice)


I’m a Little Teapot

The actions for this song are also pretty well known. The Wiggles added a stanza to the song that I love to do because you cross body sections. I’ve included it here.

I’m a little teapot

Short and stout

Here is my handle

Here is my spout

When I get all steamed up

Watch me shout,

“Just tip me over and pour me out!”

I’m a little teapot

Yes, it’s true

Here’s an example

Of what I can do

I can change my handle

For my spout

Just tip me over and pour me out!


London Bridge

You can either sing this song as a couple or group game, or do it individually. To do as a couple or as a group, just hold hands for the first and third stanzas.

1. London Bridge is falling down (on the words “falling down,” fall down)

Falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair lady.

2. Build her up with bars of iron, (stack closed fists one on top of the other and slowly get up)

Bars of iron, bars of iron.

Build her up with bars of iron,

My fair lady.

3. Come and take a walk around her (walk around a pretend circle)

Walk around her, walk around her.

Come and take a walk around her,

My fair lady.



Skinnamarink-a-rink (rock elbow in the palm of other hand and wave hand)

Skinnamarink-a-roo (switch other elbow and hand)

I love you. (point to eye, cross heart, point to someone)

Shinnamarink-a-rink (rock elbow in the palm of other hand and wave hand)

Skinnamarink-a-roo (switch other elbow and hand)

I love you. (point to eye, cross heart, point to someone)

I love you in the morning (touch both hands together, make a sun-like motion above head)

And in the afternoon. (rock touching hands in the midline)

I love you in the evening (rock touching hands like a cradle)

And underneath the moon. (swoop touching hands to capture someone in a hug)


Skinnamarink-a-rink (rock elbow in the palm of other hand and wave hand)

Skinnamarink-a-roo, (switch other elbow and hand)

I love you! (point to eye, cross heart, point to someone)

What’s your toddler’s favorite song? Theo’s favorite as a toddler were

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