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Music for Babies and Toddlers A Primer

Music is magical for babies. It has the power to soothe, entertain, engage and teach. From the very first moment you hold your baby in your arms, her favorite voice is yours. Even parents who have never held a baby before their own, will find themselves instinctively adjusting the cadence of their voice to the needs of their baby. Studies show time and again that rhythm, rhyme, repetition and song are important for babies and children.

Here are the songs that every caregiver should have in their toolbox:

Lullabies and Songs That Soothe

Lullabies can help the youngest babies regulate their emotional state. A study from the University of Montreal found that babies "remained calm for longer when listening to singing compared with listening to a regular speaking voice or a voice that used baby-talk." This calming effect comes in part from the way the soothing rhythm of a lullaby slows the heart rate of a distressed baby. Research also shows that music can stimulate a baby's production of "happy" chemicals serotonin and endorphins.

There are so many wonderful lullabies to add to your repertoire but singing one or two consistently can help you establish a sleepy time cue for your little one. If your baby hears one particular song each time she goes to sleep, the song itself will begin to prime her to go to sleep faster and sleep longer. This type of "sleep cue" can be particularly handy when you find yourself traveling and have to put your child to sleep in an unfamiliar place. By having a specific song you use only before your baby's nighttime sleep, the song will signal to your baby that this will be the longest stretch of sleep, unlike their daytime nap.

Some lullabies to choose from? The books Hush Little Baby and What a Wonderful World are both great choices. Each features the title song in a board book format. You can commit the song to heart by first having the book available to you. Then, when your baby becomes a toddler, she will enjoy seeing her special song illustrated and available for her to "read" again and again.


Songs With Rhyme To Develop Phonemic Awareness

Before babies can even babble, their active little brains are developing language skills. It all starts with developing auditory discrimination and phonemic awareness. In layman's terms, babies first need to develop the ability to distinguish which sounds represent words. Then, they need to develop an awareness of the patterns and relationships among those "speech sounds." Songs that involve lots of rhyme help babies develop these skills.

Later, the skills needed to remember and create rhymes help emergent readers understand the phonemic relationship between words like bat and cat. Innately understanding these sorts of relationships, from years of singing and rhyming with mom and dad, makes kids better readers, writers and spellers.

Some of our favorite rhymes? Mother Goose is a great place to start. We love this padded board book version that will get you started with classics ranging from Hickory Dickory Dock to Hey Diddle Diddle.


Songs With Rhythm To Encourage Communication and Literacy Skills

When a baby or toddler taps into the rhythm of a song, by clapping her hands or keeping a beat with musical instruments, she is learning how to use expressive gestures. Studies show that this early capacity for expressiveness translates into youngsters who communicate earlier and better. Plus, making music with babies is just plain fun. Stock up on a few basics like egg shakers, a drum and a tambourine so you can rock out with your little one when the mood strikes. Then break into a round of If You're Happy and You Know It or Row Row Your Boat.


Songs With Hand Motions

Have you ever been stuck in a germy doctor's waiting room, desperately trying to keep your toddler's hands off of the toys? Have you ever waited in line at the grocery store with an antsy 15 month old? Songs and rhymes that feature hand motions can keep babies and toddlers engaged and makes for wonderful bonding. You and your child will often sing these types of songs together and mirror each other's movements, often maintaining lots of important eye contact all the while. Plus, in a world filled with screens and electronic diversions at every turn, it's great to remember that, wherever you are, you only need each other to have fun!

Our favorites: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Itsy Bitsy Spider, I'm a Little Teapot, Ring around the Rosy


Songs That Teach Numbers, Letters, Colors and More

Rhythm, Rhyme and repetition make remembering easy and fun. While you would never try to teach your 18 month old how to count backwards from 10 by rote, he'll pick up skills like that easily via a fun song.

Our Favorites: 5 Little Monkeys, 5 Green and Speckled Frogs, Zoom Zoom Zoom, There are Seven Days, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes


Songs as a Call to Action

Transitions can be hard and cleaning up can be a hard sell to a toddler. Preschool teachers use songs throughout the day to make such tasks less stressful for everyone. If you sing The Clean Up Song every time you want your child to put away the toys he is playing with and move on to the next thing, that song will become a cue that the child instinctively follows when he hears it.

You can also make up your own songs to help with the tasks you find most difficult for your child. Singing the words "It's time to put your jacket on" to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb can make that process go a lot smoother. You might find singing will help you stay calm in stressful situations like this as well!

Music makes life better and you'll quickly find that the songs you sing over and over during your child's early years form a soundtrack for that amazing period of family life. Later, hearing those songs will trigger wonderful sense memories of a time that, while at times exhausting, is so precious and over far too quickly.


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