12 of the Best Traditional Children’s Songs – That All Parents Should Know!

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father and daughter sing songs with spoons

A Guide to the Best Traditional Children's Songs

Are you in search of fun, easy, and even traditional children’s songs to sing at home?  Well, that’s awesome! Because that’s exactly what these 12 songs provide you.

Below you’ll find some of the easiest songs that any parent can sing – ready to sing at a moment’s notice. I’ll be upfront here though and say that many of these songs are considered to be “just old, boring traditional children’s songs”. But let me explain why these songs are so beneficial for both you and your child.

Well, it’s true that some believe that these songs are outdated. Many are based upon nursery rhymes or have been around already for generations! So, why would someone on a website called modern musical parenting be talking about old, traditional songs?

Simply put: These are some of the best type of songs for you to learn – especially if you aren’t sure what to sing. And you are probably looking for easy songs to learn to sing for your little ones, right? In fact, I mention below what makes these songs so simple and easy to learn. But first, let’s clarify why so many people believe these songs are annoying, boring, and outdated.

(Psst! Don’t have time to read all of this now? Make sure to save this page by using the button on the right.)

Myth #1: Traditional children’s songs are “annoying”.

First, I agree that these songs can come across as “annoying”. That’s mostly because they are sung millions of times over on YouTube and other streaming devices. And more often than not, the supporting instruments sound phony or computerized. The videos are overstimulating and actually detract from your child listening to the music. We don’t enjoy listening to these types of songs, so we are generally less likely to let our little ones listen, too.

What’s the solution to this problem? One of the best ways to combat this is for you to sing the songs. There are no annoying videos, no computerized accompaniment – just your voice. Your child will benefit more when you sing to them when compared to watching a children’s music video.

Myth #2: Traditional children’s songs are so boring!

These traditional children’s songs can seem boring because it’s probably what you heard growing up. It could also be that you’ve heard them sung so often, that you just don’t want to hear them anymore. I agree. It can get extremely repetitive, and I agree that singing the same song with the same lyrics for the thousandth time is pretty boring.

How can you make these songs less boring? Try singing some of the variations. Consider changing a word here or there. Or even inserting your child’s name in the song! And if that doesn’t work, then there are other ways to make singing the same song much more fun. Small changes go a long way to help make these songs more interesting again.

And think of it this way: there is a reason that teachers use most of these songs and change the lyrics for their needs. These songs are simple, easily changed or altered, and great for children’s ears.

Myth #3: Traditional children’s songs are outdated!

I’m not going to try and defend this one. Some of the traditional children’s songs are outdated – that’s the truth. Many sing about things in an inappropriate way and that’s something we don’t want to pass on to our children.

But the songs I’ve listed below, even though many consider them outdated, are extremely useful for those parents who aren’t comfortable with their singing voice or who just aren’t sure where to start.

mother and son singing a piggyback song. 30 musical activities for young children.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m biased in thinking that music is an excellent thing for both you and your child. But you don’t have to take my word for it – just give it a try and watch how it benefits you and your child as well. It’s an amazing feeling when you hear your little one singing a song you’ve sang to them all on their own – simply because they enjoy singing!

So, here they are – 12 of the best traditional children’s songs every parent should know! Each song below gives you the first verse, at least. And don’t forget – you can also download a copy of these songs cards! These are great to print out and put in a binder, just for reference. Your child can choose a song based on the picture on each card and you’ve got the words right there.

Also, the song cards are available in the resource library. So, if you’d like access to more amazing resources, just let me know below and I’ll send them your way!

And that brings us to our next point. Despite all of this, why would I recommend that parents have these songs in their repertoire? What is it that makes these songs so simple and easy to learn? I’m glad you asked…

6 Reasons All Parents Should Learn These Traditional Children’s Songs. 

1) These songs can be used in a number of ways.

In fact, you’ll find 30 song activities detailed here  – all of which can be used with these 12 songs listed below. Just think about it – if you used all the song activities for every song listed here, you’d have just over a year’s worth of music-related activities! That’s all with minimal set-up and short, simple activities that ANYONE can do. These songs can be used in so many ways to facilitate all kinds of learning!

2) The melodies are simple and make better songs to learn for beginners (both for parents and children).

The truth is, if you are not confident in your own singing, then you shouldn’t start learning an opera-style aria or a fancy pop song. You would want to start with something simple – and these songs are just that. The melodies are short, repetitive, and, have a small range (meaning no straining for high or low notes). And, all of these aspects make them easier to learn and memorize – especially for beginners or those that aren’t confident with their singing.

3) Once you’ve learned them, they are easy to change!

Once you’ve learned some of these songs, you’ll find that you can change the texts slightly to fit your own needs. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is a perfect example of how flexible these songs are. In fact, these 10 alternative texts to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” show you just how flexible these songs are. Seriously, any Pinterest search will give you hundreds of variants of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.

4) Many of these songs have multiple verses, which can make them less boring.

One of the benefits of these songs is the fact that the original texts usually had multiple verses. More often than not, the original nursery rhyme had multiple verses. For example, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” originally has 5 verses and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” has 4 verses. But, think about how often we get stuck singing just the first verse!

So, learning multiple verses helps take out some of the boredom of singing a single verse over and over. If you like a particular song, check here at All Nursery Rhymes to see if that song has additional verse – this is an amazing resource! Learning new verses helps your child learn storytelling through song.  So, take a few minutes to learn one or two extra verses. The variety will certainly interest your little one!

5) You are probably already familiar with these songs, which makes their recall and memorization much easier.

It’s amazing how some songs give us instant recall of past memories. The good thing with these songs is that you’ve almost certainly heard them growing up. So, there will more than likely be some recall when trying to learn them again! I’m fairly certain that no matter the language, there are some similarities when trying to recall songs from our past.

6) You are teaching your child incredibly valuable developmental skills (like language) when you sing these songs.

Now, singing to your child is one of the best ways to introduce your child to your own native language. They pick up on the sounds, inflections, and rhythms that your language has. Even songs like “A Ram Sam Sam” that might not be in your native language teach your child about the sounds of languages.

Let’s again take “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as an example. You can use this song to help your child learn letter sounds (particularly ‘s’ among others), rhyming words, metaphors, and the list goes on. Just take a look at this mini workbook for this song!

It includes 4 maths worksheets and 4 language worksheets. And, each activity is derived from the words or images in the song. You can download it for free from the resource library. Just sign up for the weekly newsletter and you’ll get the password in the email each week.

So, without any further delay, here are the best traditional children’s songs to sing – for all parents!

1) This is the way

This song has so many versions! It’s actually a variation of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”. But seriously, there are so many possibilities with this song! It comes in very handy when you are trying to get your little one into daily routines (like “put on our pants” or “eat our food”) or just trying to help them learn big milestones (like “go to potty” or “walk around”).

This is the Way

This is the way we brush out teeth,
Brush our teeth, brush our teeth,
This is the way we brush out teeth,
So early in the morning.

This is the way we take a bath,
take a bath, take a bath,
This is the way we take a bath,
So before we go to bed.

2) A Ram Sam Sam

This is a traditional Moroccan children’s song that has become popular in Europe and the US. Much like in the game of telephone, the words sometimes become distorted from the original. But from what I understand, even in the original language the words don’t tell a story necessarily.

I actually learned this song with my daughter in a play group and it stuck with us for years! You can have tons of fun with song by singing it super slow and focusing on the movements or by singing it really fast and being silly with the hand movements.  

There are some hand movements that go with this song, if you so choose. You can always make your own, but the ones I learned are as follows:

  • A ram sam sam = clapping the beat
  • Guli, Guli = arms twirling around each other
  • Agabee, agabee = arms above head moving back and forth

A Ram Sam Sam

A ram sam sam, a ram sam sam
Guli Guli Guli Guli guli ram sam sam
A ram sam sam, a ram sam sam
Guli Guli Guli Guli guli ram sam sam
Agabee, agabee,
Guli guli guli guli guli ram sam sam
Agabee, agabee,
Guli guli guli guli guli ram sam sam

3) Are you Sleeping

This song is originally sung in French (“Frere Jacques”). But it can be sung in multiple languages. This all points to the fact that there are certain melodies that are great foundations, to which the words can be translated or changed. This is one of those songs, too, that’s great for using your own child’s name.

Are You Sleeping?

Are you Sleeping,
Are you sleeping,
Brother John?
Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing.
Morning bells are ringing.
Ding, Ding, Dong!
Ding, Ding, Dong!

4) The Itsy Bitsy Spider

Here is another of those classic children’s songs that kids of all ages seem to enjoy. The imagery is vivid and the accompanying hand and finger movements add to the entertainment! The fine finger movements are great for getting your little one to work on their fine motor skills.

And if you ever think the only way to engage your child with music is singing them a song, then just check out this post! You’ll find 30 song activities for “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” – an entire month’s worth of musical activities!

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

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.

5) Head Shoulders Knees and Toes

Here is another movement song that is sure to get your little ones moving and jumping! This is also a great example of a song where you can change the words slightly based on the body parts that your little one is learning! Have your little ones look in a mirror and point to the corresponding spots while you sing to them! It’s almost guaranteed to bring a bit of laughter to their faces!

Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes,
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes,
And eyes and ears, and mouth, and nose,
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes,

6) If You’re Happy and You Know It

This song is excellent for helping your little ones learn about facial expressions. You know they experiment with their facial expressions when looking in a mirror, so have them look at their reflection and experiment while making all kinds of faces while you sing this song to them. Scary faces, sad faces, sleeping faces, and even angry faces – all are a bit different. Can your child show you or imitate your expression?

If You're Happy and You Know It

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.
If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it,
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

7) Row, Row, Row Your Boat

There is no shortage or additional verses to this song! And I have to say that after reading through many alternate versions, not all are kid-appropriate! But, it’s a simple melody to sing and it’s perfect for changing up a few words here and there. 

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.
Life is but a dream.

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
If you see a crocodile
Don't forget to scream.

8) I’m a Little Teapot

This seems to be one of those songs that was taught when we were younger and then completely forgotten about! But it’s still around and being taught today so it’s definitely worth putting on the list here. As with almost all the songs on this list, there are multiple variations, but this original version will have your little ones acting like tea pots in no time.

I'm a Little Teapot

I’m a little teapot, short and stout.
Here is my handle, here is my spout.
When I get all steamed up, hear me shout.
Tip me over and pour me out.

9) Mary Had a Little Lamb

This song, along with the next one, are standard nursery rhymes-turned-children’-songs. As I mentioned above, this song has several additional verses, so you can complete the story of Mary and her little lamb. Both the melody and repetition make it a great way to tell the story.

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mary Had a little lamb
Little lamb, little lamb,
Mary had a little lamb,
It’s fleece was white as snow.

And everywhere that Mary went,
Mary went, Mary went,
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.

It followed her to school one day,
School one day, school one day,
It followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rules.

10) Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

You know this song had to be on the list. It’s an absolute gold standard in children’s traditional songs – just look at all the piggyback songs you can make with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. Without a doubt, you’ve heard this song so many times throughout your life. It can be used as a soothing lullaby or as the basis for many music and movement songs. So, here it is again, my dear readers, as a reminder that this song always deserves a place in your song repertoire.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are.

11) The Wheels on the Bus

Seriously, this song is an absolute must for parents to know. It’s completely customizable to fit almost any topic at hand. I’ve seen variations this melody used for ocean animals (“The shark in the ocean goes chomp, chomp, chomp”), farm animals (“The cow on the farm goes moo, moo, moo”), all automobiles (The wheels on the car go round and round”), and even outer space (“The astronaut goes zoom, zoom, zoom”)!

It’s incredibly flexible. Your little one will be practicing their motor skills to make the movements (or their knowledge or animal sounds) or gross motor skills as they zoom around – so change up each verse to see what they can do!

The Wheels on the Bus

The wheels on the bus go round and round
Round and round, round and round
The wheels on the bus go round and round
All day long.

The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish;
Swish, swish, swish; swish, swish, swish;
The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish;
All day long.

The doors on the bus go open and shut;
open and shut; open and shut;
The doors on the bus go open and shut;
All day long.

12) The Ants Go Marching

This song almost didn’t make the list. But you know what makes this song so special? It’s the ONLY song on this list that in a minor mode. The vast majority of children’s song are in major mode (think “happy” for major and “sad” for minor), so it’s nice to have a bit of variation. And, it’s great for working with numbers, from 1 to 10.

The Ants Go Marching

The ants go marching one by one,
Hoorah, hoorah,
The ants go marching one by one,
Hoorah, hoorah,
The ants go marching one by one
The little one stops to suck his thumb
And they all go marching down
To the ground, to get out of the rain.

So, there you have a list of 12 songs that any parent should have in their “go-to” repertoire of children’s songs. In my very humble opinion (as a parent and music maker) these are the best kids songs to sing. Easy to learn and easy to sing, you can provide your child with hours of entertainment. And chances are, you already know these songs anyway!

Which children’s songs are your absolute favorite? Let me know if the comments below!

Happy music making,

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