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10 Musical Activities to Create a Musical Home Environment for Your Toddler
Hey there readers! In today’s article, I want to share with you some incredibly simple ways to boost your toddler’s musical development. Not only that, but these activities will contribute to an all-around, amazing musical home environment. All of these activities are simple to do because they don’t require any specialized knowledge. And best of all, they can be do in 10 minutes.
These activities are perfect for parents who have busy schedules but who also understand the value of music. This post is for you – those moms and dads who want a musical home environment but aren’t sure where to start.
Honestly, you really don’t need 30-minute lessons each and every day for your child to benefit from music. You’ll be doing all kinds of things with your toddler, like moving, playing games, and enjoying the outdoors. And done in the ways described below, these types of activities can lead to truly a musical environment.
Why are these musical activities important for toddlers?
Each of the activities below supports and encourages your toddler’s musical development. In addition, each activity provides your child with ways of thinking about music from a different angle. To name a few, you’ll be helping them with their listening skills, boosting their music knowledge, and helping them explore different ways of making music. They won’t know they are honing their musical skills but they’ll certainly have fun!
We know through research that music helps our children in a variety of ways. But besides those “academic” benefits our children might get, these types of activities are also great for other reasons. They help you bond with your child. Your child will learn to be creative and inventive. These activities can also help you improve your communication with your toddler.
Unfortunately, all these aspects are often swept under the rug in favor of all those “academic” skills. You, as the parents, are your child’s first teacher. So, when you engage in these types of activities with your child, you are helping your child learn to work with others, to be creative and inventive, and to communicate with others.
What age group are these musical activities geared towards?
These activities are best for toddlers, meaning 1-3 years old. Now, as the parent, you are the best judge of what your child is and isn’t capable of. So, if your think your child might put the paintbrush in their mouth, then try a crayon (or even paint that’s non-toxic, like this one). Or, if your child isn’t speaking just yet, talk to them about the music using specific, descriptive words (like loud and quiet, solo or ensemble, happy or sad) to describe the music.
That being said, these activities are quite flexible based upon your child’s abilities. But if these activities are too advanced, there are similar activities that are geared towards younger children, infants in particular. So, if your baby is not quite of toddler age, check out these 7 activities that are designed for infants.
For each of the musical activities below, I’ve provided one concrete example. That example, can, of course, be altered and changed as you see fit. Keep in mind that there are many alternatives. But to keep this article short and concise, I will provide you with a single example.
If you want to explore these ideas further, then make sure to sign up for the 30 Day Music Making Challenge! I’ve packed these ideas and a few others into an informational, 8-page mini eBook. Each and every day you’ll get a prompt for a fun musical activity. Don’t miss out!
And just remember that making music isn’t limited to indoor only! It’s important to get outside and experience music making in the outdoor realm. You’ll find great ideas for outdoor musical activities here.
With that, here are 10 amazingly simple ways to give your toddler’s musical development a boost and create the musical home environment you’ve always wanted!
1) Play listening games
Listening is, without a doubt, a crucial aspect of music. But it’s often overlooked! And developing those listening skills is crucial for toddlers. By focusing on the foundations, they can learn to focus on specific sounds – and that’s important!
Listening Game Activity:
Nature Walks are an excellent opportunity for your children to work on their listening skills. Try to encourage them to be attentive and listening to the vast array of sounds that surround them. What I really enjoy about these nature walks is the inspiration they can get from nature for making their own songs!
If they play this game year round, they’ll hear those “seasonal” sounds as well. Think: bees buzzing in spring, water splashing in summer, rustling leaves in fall, and maybe even explore how snow makes things sound quieter in winter.
If you don’t have a park nearby (or perhaps, you are still in lockdown), then this type of activity can be done in your yard, on a balcony, or even listening through an open window. (Of course, remember safety first and always stay with your child near open windows!) But wherever you do this activity, keep these ideas in mind:
- Encourage them to be still and listen, perhaps with their eyes closed.
- Give them time to listen, at least 20 – 30 seconds (if possible with wiggly toddlers!)
- Ask your child what sounds they hear.
- Encourage them to try and recreate those sounds.
- Ask them what could make that sound.
- See if they can locate where that sound is coming from.
2) Music and Movement
This is certainly a classic type of activity, and the first thing that usually comes to mind is dancing to music. But, I encourage you to think outside the box. If you want some additional options, then check out what Tanja at Empowered Parents wrote about the Musical Statues game. Not only does she explain how this simple game benefits your little one, but you’ll also find many alternatives and even a few song selections!
With music and movement – almost anything goes. Movement can be simple movements, like clapping or finger movements for younger toddlers, or more complex, whole-body movements for the older toddlers. But one of the simplest ways to encourage music and movement is to sing about it!
Music and Movement Activity:
Here, you’ll find 5 examples of a songs incorporating LOTS of movement. These are great action songs. Even better, you don’t have to learn any new songs, but rather, you’ll sing these new words to the well-known melody of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.
Each song is packed with movements for your little ones to follow. These action songs will help them get all their wiggles out, too! You’ll find each song comes with it’s own printable Song Card so you can have them handy. Let your toddler pick from a unicorn, a monster, an elephant, a dinosaur, or other children!
3) Active Listening
This activity differs from the very first one discussed above. While that activity focuses on listening to various sounds, this activity will have your child listening to song selections.
I encourage every parent to sit and actively listen to short pieces of music with their children. Turn off all other distractions, like phones, TV’s, or toys. Just listen attentively to the music. I’ve picked 4 short pieces below that might engage your small child. And while I’ve linked to YouTube, make sure the first time they listen, they can’t see the screen. This will help them focus just their ears on the music.
Active Listening Activity:
Here are my top 4 recommendations for short, classic pieces to listen to:
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Prelude No. 1 in C Major
- Muzio Clementi: Sonatina in C Major, Op. 36, No. 2 – Andante
- Francisco Tarrega, ‘Lagrima’
- Peter Tchaikovsky, Children’s Album, Op. 39, No. 1 “Morning Prayer”
Now, it should be said that your child might not like classical music. If it’s not something that you play regularly, then it might sound too complex to them. And that’s fine! But I did include these pieces because they include a single instrument (either piano or guitar) and they include a variety of tempo and style.
4) Play a Variety of Music
It’s important for toddlers to be exposed to a variety of new experiences. In a way, it helps them discover what they like (and don’t like!) – and music is no different. By letting them listen to all kinds of music, you are showing them that music is multifaceted and not limited to just popular songs.
So, find music that you also enjoy. Make sure it’s short (generally under 3 minutes) and child appropriate. By this, I just mean that the language is what you consider appropriate for toddler age, that the volume level is not too loud, and that there are no “scary” sounds (like sudden bursts of noise).
Let them listen to the music with you. If they feel like dancing or moving to the music, join them. Watch for their cues on whether they like the music. If they don’t, just move to another song!
Musical Variety Activity:
There are so many styles of music to choose from besides classical music: popular music, country music, jazz, hip-hop – music from all over the world! I encourage you to mix it up a bit – listen to something completely new and experience that together with your toddler. Here are my top 5 recommendations for adding variety:
- Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World”
- Israel Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’Ole, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
- Jazz for Babies (Don’t let the name fool you – this is music that all ages can enjoy! There are 9 albums, but I recommend starting with the Piano Album.)
- Raga Kids Sing Along (Great, short examples of music based upon the Indian ragas.)
- All Around the World Collection, Various Artists
Just a quick word about the last three links here: These digital albums are available through the Bandcamp App or the website directly. (These are not affiliate links.) But this is a great service so if you or your children enjoy the music, please consider purchasing the album. You are supporting talented artists for the cost of two or three coffees. The music is definitely worth it!
5) Talk to Them About the Music
Now, I realize that the younger toddlers might not be speaking. So, if your child doesn’t speak yet – you can still ask questions about the music! Ask them a simple question, pause, and then let them babble. By the age of 1, toddlers can generally show facial expressions that correspond to basic emotions, like happy, interested, surprised, sad, or fearful.
Alternatively, you can emphasize particular words about how the music sounded to you (loud, quiet, busy, slow, fast,) and use emotion words if you want (like, happy, sad, anxious, excited). Your toddler can generally give you clues as to what the music sounded like, too. Perhaps it was loud, and they cover their ears. Or if it’s a fast piece of music, they move quickly rather than slowly.
If your little one is old enough to know a few words, then encourage them to talk about the music by asking similar questions. Encourage them to repeat or say the words themselves.
Musical Questions Activity
Keep in mind that the best way to start an actual discussion with your older toddler is to ask open-ended questions. As you’ll see below, I’ve broken each question into suitable questions for younger toddlers (Y) and older toddlers (O). So, by letting them explain to you what they heard, they might engage more readily.
Here are some sample questions to get the conversation started:
- Young Toddler: Does the music sound happy or sad? Older Toddler: How does the music make you feel?
- Y: Does the music make you think of green trees? O: What kinds of pictures do you see when you listen to the music?
- Y: Did you hear a piano in the music? O: What instruments do you recognise?
- Y: Does the music sound smooth or jumpy? O: Can you describe the texture of the music?
- Y: Does the music sound high or low? O: What kinds of sounds do you hear in the music?
These are really some basic questions to get the ball rolling. So, be creative and see what they tell you about the music. They’ll love telling what they think!
6) Musical Games
There are so many options for playing games with a musical twist! Think about classic games, like Musical Chairs or even “Simon Says” using musical sounds (For example, Simon says “Play and air guitar”). Some games will get your child up and moving, while other will challenge their brain. So, whatever game your child likes best, look for ways to give it a musical twist!
Musical Game Activity
One of my kid’s favorite alterations was to a simple memory game. I talk here about some ways you can give the game a musical twist. Now, you can have your own copy of this game, too! I’ve included 6 pages, each with 8 sets of cards. That gives you just under 50 pairs of memory cards, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.
And remember, younger toddlers can still play this game! Simply pick out a few cards and lay them face up. Then, give the other cards, one by one, to your child and let them make the match. They are making matches and this lays the foundations for playing memory in the future.
And, because you want to engage them with the game, talk to them about the symbols on the cards, the instruments they see and what sounds they make, how to play the instruments (standing vs. sitting, or by blowing air vs. playing on strings), as well what instruments they might like to play! If you like these cards, just sign up below and I’ll deliver them straight to your inbox!
7) Get Creative with Music!
This musical activity gets your little one creatively engaging with music! One of the most important aspects of music is that there is so much leeway in how you perform, how you sing, how you respond to music and even how you create music!
Just think about it, if there were a single way that a piece was supposed to sound, there wouldn’t be hundreds of recordings of a single song! Every performer plays a bit differently or emphasises a particular aspect of the music.
Encourage your child to be creative in their musical endeavors, too. This teaches them that a song can be sung many different ways. At this age, there should be not absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to make music.
You can enhance your child’s creative efforts also by encouraging them to paint, draw, or color when listening to a specific song. Perhaps some songs evoke a specific image, color or feelings. Get your little one to put that on paper. Let them be creative and make up their own finger plays to a song. Or let them creative their own dance moves. These all encourage their own creativity!
Musical Creativity Activity
For younger toddlers, you can start encouraging this creativity by singing a song they know and letting them sing (or say) the final word of that phrase. It might go something like this: “Twinkle, twinkle little ___,” and you would let them fill in the last word. If they say “star”, great! If they say “fish”, that’s also great! Be silly with them and watch their faces when you sing a different word.
For older toddlers, encourage their musical creativity by getting them to sing songs about specific objects. For example, if you are outside in the back yard, ask them to sing you a song about the birds. And if they aren’t quite ready to sing a song all by themselves, make up a song together! Just take a melody you already know and change up the lyrics a bit.
8) Reading Books
Reading to your child is, in and of itself, an amazing way to bond with your child. By reading books you are introducing them to a language and all its musical aspects.
Each language has its own rhythm and melodic gestures. Just think about asking a question! You typically rise in pitch at the end to indicate a question. And if you don’t, your listeners might miss completely that you’ve even asked a question.
There are hundreds of books to choose from that talk about music: books about composers, music button books, books about musicians or performers, books with song lyrics, and even books about the orchestra!
Even books that don’t talk about music can have musical aspects! Reading about music makes it more likely something they will learn about and talk about. But it also highlights musical features of that language – which is also important.
Musical Reading Activity
My best suggestion for toddlers is to start with books that are packed with rhythm. Why? Because rhythm is such an integral part of any language, that the more you read, the more your child will learn!
That’s why I’ve picked out my top 10 rhythmic books for you to read to your toddler. Each book is packed with all kinds of rhythmic features: rhyming words and rhythmic phrases, repetitions, and even loads of sound words.
My top three favorite picks (or, at least, my kid’s favorite rhythmic books) are:
- “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”,
- “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, and
- “One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree”
Any book will do! Try focusing on the rhyming words or emphasising the rhythmic patterns of the syllables and words. Encourage your little one to make the sound words with you. Or even read the book in a sing-song voice. All of these ways will highlight the musical features of the text.
If you don’t already have these books, then consider checking them out first from your local library. That’s your best free option. If your toddler does enjoy them, consider buying from a bookstore, like Blackwells or The Book Depository (this book store ships worldwide for FREE).
9) DIY Instruments
There are SO many tutorials out there on tons of simple DIY Instruments. Pick one that works for you depending on the supplies you have around the house. Just remember to keep the DIY Instruments simple! They aren’t meant to be beautiful and last forever, but rather, to give your little one a bit of wiggle room to explore sounds!
Keep in mind that there are basically two types of instruments you can build: rhythmic instruments and melodic instruments. Rhythm instruments, like maracas and tambourines, might be better for the younger ones. Older toddlers most likely will have enough finer control to play xylophone-style instruments or any plucked instruments. Either way, here is an excellent resource for anything you might possibly want to make.
DIY Instrument Activity
The two most common are the rain stick and a simple, bread-pan-and-rubber-band “guitar” style instrument. Here is a simple, no-frills DIY Tutorial on YouTube about making a rainstick. There’s no need to make it fancy, but I would suggest covering the nail heads if young children will be playing with it.
For the “guitar”, it can also be as plain or as fancy as you would like it to be! A basic guitar would essentially consist of various sized rubber bands and an empty Kleenex box, empty shoe box or even a bread pan. Simply stretch the rubber bands across the opening and let your little one explore the different sounds each rubber band makes! It’s as simple as that.
Make sure to get your little one involved as much as possible! At the very least, let them select and pour in the dried ingredients for the rain stick. Or let them put the rubber bands around the bread pan (making sure they don’t snap and hurt their hands!). By letting them take part in the engineering process, you are encouraging their creative AND inventive minds.
10) Making Music With Your Toddler
There are seriously so many ways to make music with your toddler. My first recommendation is to sing to and with your child. Let them hear your voice, whatever it sounds like. But if you don’t want to sing ALL the time, there’s a good option below.
And, it’s worth noting, that you don’t have to buy lots of “musical instruments” that are geared towards toddlers. To be honest, many are plastic and cheap. Or they run on batteries and have speakers that have two volume levels: disturbingly loud or off. Instead, use what you have around the house!
For example, instead of two rhythm sticks, just use two wooden spoons. Let them beat on pots and pans. They can explore how different materials makes different sounds, like how metal spoons, silicone spatulas, and wooden spoons all sound differently on a pan. Explore how the sounds might be different when scraping a spoon across the pan versus tapping gently on the pan. All these encourage creativity and exploration in your toddler! Let them choose what sounds best with the music.
Music Making Activity
Take one of your DIY Instruments that you’ve made above and play along to either your favorite song or your toddler’s. Be silly and creative! Encourage your little one to explore all the different ways they can make music with their instrument. However you do it, join in with your toddler rather than just watching.
If you use the rain stick, see how it sounds differently if you roll it versus shaking it sideways. Find a song that talks about rain, like “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” and let them play along with their rain stick. Can they get their rain stick to make a “pouring rain” sound or just a pitter-patter sound? Again, exploration is key here so encourage your toddler to try all kinds of things!
Wow! That was quite a lengthy post – much longer than I had originally intended. But I made sure to pack it full with useful information. These 10 activities will boost your child’s musical knowledge AND all lead towards a musical home environment.
So many parents want to absolute best for their child – understandably so! Just know that beyond all the “academic” benefits your toddler might get later in life from studying music, you will be benefitting them in many more ways right now! And those benefits (bonding, better communication, and social skills) are particularly important for a toddler’s development.
Tell me – which activity do you enjoy the most? What about your toddler – which is their favorite? Make sure to let me know in the comments below what has worked for you!
Happy music making,