Why I Built This Kit:
Whether playing the piano or singing around a campfire, music has always played an important role in my life. I married someone who also holds music dear and has made his career around celebrating music. Together, we try to incorporate music into our family life as much as possible. I am enamored of the ways in which music connects people and communities, releases emotions, and tells stories. I hope this kit offers some ideas of how listening, movement, and language can be used to appreciate music with even the youngest musicians.
Childhood is musical. Children are naturally drawn to music and are less inhibited than adults, and we have the wonderful opportunity as parents and caregivers to encourage and bring out their innate musicality. For most people, lullabies are probably the first thing to come to mind when thinking of young babies and toddlers and music. Many nursery rhymes and children’s books are also rhythmic and have distinct sound components such as repetition, rhyme, and patterned language and sounds that are important to music.
Music benefits young children in multiple ways:
- Teaches language development, both receptive and productive
- Encourages parental attachment
- Enhances spatial awareness
- Develops social skills
- Raises cultural awareness
- Promotes gross and fine motor skills
- Teaches counting and patterns
- Increases memory
Read more about the importance of music to babies and toddlers in more detail from this article, available through the National Association for the Education of Young Children: “Beyond Twinkle, Twinkle: Using Music with Infants and Toddlers” by Rebecca Parlakian with Claire Lerner.
Spark Their Interest
For most babies and toddler, all you need to do is begin to hum or sing or give a rattle a shake to spark their interest in sound and music! One thing worth mentioning, though, is to make the time and space for your child to listen to the music. That is to say, make listening the main activity sometimes as opposed to putting music on in the background while doing something else, like driving in the car. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t drive anywhere without music playing, but it is important to make music a primary activity, too, sometimes, and not just the thing we do while doing something else. Lay your baby on a blanket or in your lap and simply listen to music. Dance with your toddler while listening! Focusing on listening as a skill will benefit your child not just when it comes to music, but as life-long communicators.
- Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler, illus. by R. Gregory ChristieWith a simple clap of hands, an itty-bitty beboppin' baby gets his whole family singing and dancing. Sister's hands snap. Granny sings scat. Uncle soft-shoes--and Baby keeps the groove. Things start to wind down when Mama and Daddy sing blues so sweet. Now a perfectly drowsy baby sleeps deep, deep, deep. (Publisher) The rhythms and rhymes in this book were among my son’s favorites from the time he was about 18 months old. A fabulous celebration of family and jazz!
- Baby Beluga by Raffi, illus. by Ashley WolffA board book rendition of one of Raffi’s all-time classics about a little white whale in the deep blue sea. Check out other Raffi board books such as Wheels on the Bus and Down by the Bay. Perfect books to sing along to!
- Drum City by Thea Guidone, illus. by Vanessa Brantley-NewtonA summer parade, a drummer parade, a magical bucket-and-bowl serenade! What begins with one boy’s beat on a kettle soon spreads to pots and pans and cartons and cans all across the neighborhood. When everyone joins in, together they create the catchy, driving tempo of a bright, hot DRUM CITY! Get ready to make some noise! (Publisher)
- Arrorró, mi niño: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games by Lulu DelacreIntended to be used by adults as they sing young children to sleep, this book presents fifteen lullabies and fingerplays collected from fourteen different countries. The short, rhythmic compositions are accompanied by large watercolor illustrations showing Hispanic mothers and children in an interesting variety of settings, including neighborhood tiendas, an art museum, and a strawberry field (being harvested by laborers). Warm colors and nurturing situations work well with the rhythms of the lullabies to produce a reassuring whole. Music for the melodies is given for eleven of the offerings, scored for the original Spanish versions, but with English translations given in the wide left margin. (School Library Journal/Zoobean) The songs are also available for purchase as individual tracks!
- Dancing Feet! by Lindsey Craig, illus. by Marc BrownClickity! Clickity! Long green feet! Who is dancing that clickity beat?Lizard is dancing on clickity feet. Clickity! Clickity! Happy feet!Introducing a get-up-and-dance toddler book-so catchy and rhythmic, you'll almost want to sing it.Lindsey Craig's rollicking text features funny sound words (Tippity! Creepity! Stompity! Thumpity!), dancing animals, a singsong beat, and a guessing element just easy enough for preschoolers to anticipate. Marc Brown's artwork is bright, textured, and joyful, a collage of simple shapes for kids to find and name.So grab a partner and tap your feet to this read-aloud picture-book treat. (Publisher) A favorite since my son was a baby, this book will have little ones clapping and stomping in no time! Follow up with Barnyard Beat!
- Violet’s Music by Angela Johnson, illus. by Laura Huliska-BeithThere's nothing Violet loves more than music, and she plays or sings every chance she gets. But where are the other kids like her--kids who think and dream music all day long? As a baby, in kindergarten, at the beach and the zoo, she never gives up looking for companions. And then one summer day...Bright, lively, and lyrical, this is a book for kids who march to a different drummer. Violet's Music sings to us that the right friend is always out there--as long as we keep looking and hoping, and above all, staying true to ourselves. (Amazon)
- All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illus. by Marla FrazeeA series of rhymed couplets narrate a young family through a day of discovering that "all the world is wide and deep." Prismacolor pencil and watercolor illustrations depict the family as they dig in the sandy shore, choose a tree to plant at a farmers' market, sightsee, and are caught in a thunderstorm. They dry off and have dinner in a restaurant, then return home as the sun sets. Family members gather for a musical get-together and mutual enjoyment. The message of pleasure in the world around us is clearly stated: "all the world is everything. Everything is you and me. Hope and peace and love and trust / All the world is all of us." (Children's Literature) While not about music per se, this book is full of musicality and ends with a joyful music-making session among family. A treasure.
- Baby Danced the Polka by Karen Beaumont, illus. by Jennifer PlecasDown on the farm, Mama and Papa are trying to get Baby to go to sleep. "But instead... While Papa shaved his whiskers, / And Mama washed her wig... / Baby danced the polka / With the polka-dotted...PIG." Mama and Papa keep putting Baby back to bed, but the peppy toddler only finds more animals to dance with, including a boogie-woogying goat, a cha-cha-ing cow, and a shooby-doobying sheep. Cleverly, though, the parents realize that maybe they should "have the best ol' polka-fest / In all of Arkansas!" instead, and when the moon finally comes up, a tuckered Baby snuggles up "With dreams of polka parties / Still a-dancing in his head." There are colorful, lively illustrations throughout, and large flaps that reveal various animals cutting a rug. (Barnes & Noble) Dance and music are a natural pairing, and this is a perfect introduction!
- Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! By Wynton Marsalis, illus. by Paul RogersWhat’s that sound? The back door squeeeaks open, sounding like a noisy mouse nearby — eeek, eeeek, eeeek! Big trucks on the highway rrrrrrrumble, just as hunger makes a tummy grrrrumble. Ringing with exuberance and auditory delights, this second collaboration by world-renowned jazz musician and composer Wynton Marsalis and acclaimed illustrator Paul Rogers takes readers (and listeners) on a rollicking, clanging, clapping tour through the many sounds that fill a neighborhood. (Publisher)
- Sing-Along Song by JoAnn Early Macken, illus. by LeUyen PhamA young boy finds delight in all the things around him, on an average day. From a buzzing bee to a drowsy dog to his daddy coming home at night, this little guy has lots that makes him happy -- and he just can't help singing about all of it! (Zoobean)
- Hula Lullaby by Erin Eitter KonoAs another tropical night unfolds, a little child is rocked to sleep by the rhythmic chants of the hula. Drummers' beats, starry skies, ocean breezes, and the gentle sway of beautiful dancers complete this lush symphony. Embraced by the sights, sounds, and smells of Hawaii, no sleepy-eyed child can resist the beguiling Hula Lullaby. (Publisher)
- My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie, illus. by Rosemary WellsA delightful collection of Mother Goose rhymes with illustrations featuring some of the same mischievous and lovable characteristics as Wells’ Max and Ruby series. The large text size, layout, and great index to the rhymes make this a child and parent winner. The next installation, Here Comes Mother Goose, is also worth adding to your reading list!
- Hush! A Thai Lullabye by Minfong Ho, illus. by Holly MeadeIn this Caldecott Honor book, a mother who has just gotten her baby to sleep tries to hush the various sounds of animals around her in a lilting lullaby that will captivate children and parents alike.
- Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown, illus. by twelve award-winning artistsThis beautiful compilation of 12 of Brown’s formerly unpublished lullabies is lovely as a read-aloud of lyrical poetry, as well as an illustrated guide to the cd that accompanies the book. Tender and sweet and perfect for winding down.
- Barnyard DanceAn adaptation of Sandra Boynton’s beloved board book, I love the music that accompanies but doesn’t overpower this energetic and dance-full story. Sure to get little ones clapping, stomping, quacking, mooing and finally asking for more!
- Little Fox Music BoxI love the opportunities for creativity and play in this app! The fox studio with its combination of playful musical sounds around the fox's charmingly animated tree house and voice recording is loads of fun. The karaoke and recording options within the songs are the perfect way to get your little one singing, too. Heidi Wittlinger's animations are full of surprises -- from kites swirling through the evening sky to leaping mermaids beneath the London Bridge -- and humor. Mooing sheep and an improvised human bridge are bound to get some giggles!
- Sago Mini Sound BoxAn outstanding introduction to sound and music through self-directed exploration that’s fun for even the youngest app users. This app allows kiddos to select a type of sound (barnyard, piano, chimes, traffic, etc.) from a picture and then make these sounds pop to life as they touch the screen and release balls of color and the occasional animal. Simple and well-designed.
- Yellow, Red, Blue and If I Get Angry, GreyThis wordless story relies on color and music to explore and express feelings. An adaptation of Alessandro Sanna's book by the same title, I love this app's interweaving of characters, colors, music, emotions, and self-directed play. This is a truly inventive exploration of visual and aural storytelling.
- Cat Doorman’s Little Red WagonThis app delivers an absolutely beautiful rendition of a favorite traditional children's song with charming and humorous details in the interactive hand-painted illustrations. I love that the story depends on a child's initiative to load up the little girl's wagon with picnic supplies as she travels along. And the highlighted lyrics and musical notes help develop musical literacy! The youngest users might need help loading up the wagon, but they will still delight in the song and animation along the way.
Watch, Listen, Learn
Listen and dance to music created especially for children. If I’m completely honest, I find some music for children just plain annoying. But there is also plenty that I love! Among my favorites are the songs from Music Together program. Although their complete cd sets are only available as companions to the classes, they have a few albums for sale that include family favorites. Laurie Berkner is another fabulous singer and songwriter for children. Listen and dance to her songs and check out Laurie’s tips for loving and learning with music that she offered to Zoobean on one of our Expert on Air sessions! I am also a major fan of Raffi, whose music I grew up with and still adore.
Multicultural and International Music
Music is a fabulous way to introduce babies and toddlers to other cultures and countries. As a starting point, explore the website of award-winning and internationally known folksinger Daria. Her site includes lyrics and samples of songs from different countries and in different languages, images and sounds of instruments from around the world, and many activity ideas. Some of her songs are also available to watch as animated music videos on YouTube and Vimeo. Another site of hers, Multicultural Kids Music Vids with Daria, has a well organized compilation of music or music-related videos from around the world. Use the headers to explore countries, regions, languages, instruments, and more!
Introduce your kiddo to the sounds and sights of the instruments that can be found in an orchestra. The Instruments of the Orchestra section by the Khan Academy is a thorough and nicely designed set of videos about each type of instrument with clips of music and interviews. It’s actually great for all ages, and babies and kids might not have the attention span for all of the videos, but even the first couple of minutes will give them nice visuals and sounds! For example, the Brass segment begins with the French horn: it starts with a clip from a performance, and then switches to talking about the history and what the horn sounded like when people went fox hunting or when the mail was delivered!
Carnival of the Animals
An oldy but goody. This video and cartoon with narration of Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals from 1985 brings little ones through an entire piece of music and is full of animals and storytelling!
Music That You Love
Let your baby or toddler listen to the music that you love. Music does not have to be especially designed for children for them to enjoy it! You’ll find that kids love listening and dancing to everything from classical to folk to rock and roll music. For me, there’s nothing better than an after-dinner family dance party to the Carolina Chocolate Drops!
One of our favorite activities of the moment is playing “conductor,” of the music rather than the train variety. You do not actually need to know how to conduct to do this activity, but it will still expose your child to different styles and pieces of music, help them develop a sense of beat and rhythm, and tune in to changes in music: is it quiet vs. loud, slow vs. fast, exciting vs. soothing, etc. To help your child conduct, hum a favorite melody. Show your child how to move their hands or two pointer fingers in time to the music, using bigger gestures as the music grows louder or smaller as it is quieter. Play classical music in your living room and have a family conducting party—we love the energy and boom of the Carmen Overture by Bizet--or watch an orchestra on the television so your child can see an actual conductor and instruments in action, and help the conductor do their job! Try one of these videos for starters:
- Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Early Music Education
There are all sorts of early music education programs out there that are designed for newborn babies through preschoolers. Each of these programs is slightly different than the other, but they all focus on providing children with a strong foundation in music and movement that will help them throughout their lives. In addition to sensitivity to music, some of the benefits of early music include stronger communication skills, social skills, and more flexibility in new or unfamiliar situations. My son and I shared wonderful experiences in the Music Together program. We began taking a class when he was five weeks old, continuing until he was nine months. The class itself became a highlight of both our weeks and the music (which you receive on cd with each new session) quickly became and remains one of the few ways he would calm down during the most terrible of meltdowns. When we moved to a new state, there was no longer a Music Together class near us, but we found a class following the First Steps in Music curriculum, developed by Dr. John Feierabend, and are loving learning all sorts of bouncing rhymes, fingerplays, lullabies, and other types of songs. Books based on Feierabend’s collections are also available for purchase. Another program I have heard good things about is Kindermusik.
Free Concerts/Local Events
Look for opportunities in your community to hear and dance to different types of music. Free concerts and concert series, outdoor concerts and festivals, live music at restaurants, and library programs involving music are all possibilities and ways to hear new bands and ensembles. Check with local orchestras—professional, community, and youth—to see if you could attend a rehearsal if not an actual performance with your little one. They might not be able to sit still in a seat and listen to an entire concert program, but they might still love to watch and listen to a live performance for 20-30 minutes or longer!
Hopefully this goes without saying, but sing with your kids! Don’t worry about how you think your voice sounds or whether you’re in key. Babies and toddlers still love the music. And they will learn to sing, too. Sing favorite songs or make up silly songs about whatever task is at hand. There are other perks, too: ever the impatient one during a diaper change, my son stop has always stopped wiggling if I start to sing to him!
Find a couple of brightly colored scarves or other squares of fabric in lightweight material (i.e. not a winter scarf). Give one to your baby or toddler and hold on to one yourself. Now put on some music and dance! If your baby cannot yet sit up on their own, lay them on their back on the floor in front of you, and still let them hold a scarf, even if they’re just gumming it. They benefit from the feel of different textures. And they’ll love visual stimulation of the scarf dancing in the air above them as you make it sway and swirl to the music. And tots will love making the scarf dance on their own as they work on their sense of rhythm, gross motor skills, and color.
Help your child create their own instruments to play on using every day household items that you might find at breakfast! Use an empty oatmeal canister to make a drum, fill small bottles or storage containers with cereal to make shakers, provide them with spoons and a pot or pan to bang out their own tune, etc. Have fun and embrace the racket! For a young baby, use the instrument near them and see how they react to each one. They do not even have to be able to hold anything yet to hear the sounds you make.
Art and Music
Give your child crayons and paper and ask them to draw as they listen to music. Play different types of music – rock and roll, jazz, classical, reggae, etc. – and see what colors and movements they make. They might not be able to articulate why they make the choices they do, but they will still be making emotional and artistic decisions and connections!
Music is all about sound. Take your child on a walk, whether they walk themselves or sit in a stroller or carrier. Ask them to name the different sounds they can hear – birds, cars, trucks, beeps, leaves rustling, footsteps, voices, doors opening and closing, construction, sirens, dogs barking, etc. If they are not yet able to name these sounds, label the sounds yourself as you hear them. This attention to the world around them and the sounds that fill it will make them more attune to details, music, and community.
Greetings from central Maine! Things you should know about me: I am the mother of an inquisitive, active toddler who keeps me on my toes. I work in a small, independent children’s bookstore where I get to help kids, teens, and their grown-ups find books that will keep them up reading all night long. Just kidding about that last part, they go to sleep eventually, I swear. Well, I don’t swear, but I assume. But matching people and books? My favorite way to play matchmaker! Before moving to Maine I worked as a historical researcher for American Girl, where I learned about everything from steamboats to wars to parrots. I am also a children’s book author myself, with my first picture book due to come out in 2015! When I’m not knee-deep in books or blocks or a sandbox, I bake a lot, avoid cleaning at all costs, and try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. For the record, I would love to be a neat and orderly person, it just doesn’t seem to be my style. I’m working on it.