Singing Games for Toddlers

Get your toddler engaged in music with singing games.
... Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images

When you hear your toddler trying to sing the lyrics to the latest pop radio hit, which is completely age-inappropriate, you know it’s time to get him interested in some kids' songs. Toddler tunes are fun for your little one -- and might even help teach him to count or rhyme when you turn the songs into a game by using some hand and arm gestures as you sing along.

1 Counting Songs

“Five Little Ducks,” “Five Little Monkeys” and “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” have more in common than just the number five -- they all teach backwards counting in sequence. To make a game of the songs, help your toddler hold up the correct number of fingers for each verse and encourage him to imitate your hand gestures during the rest of the song. For example, when you sing, "Five little ducks went out to play," hold up five fingers, and roll your hand like hills. Bring your hand up to your forehead when you sing, "Over the hills and far away." Help your child move his hand like a quacking duck's beak while you sing, "When the Mama duck said, "Quack, quack, quack, quack'" -- and hold up four fingers as you sing, "But only four little ducks came back." Continue through the song with the same hand motions, holding up the appropriate amount of fingers for each line. If you’re not familiar with these tunes, don’t hesitate to look them up and sing them on repeat with your toddler.

2 Nursery Rhymes

Sometimes toddlers find singing more natural than speaking -- and you might discover that your toddler is better able to sing rhymes than just say them out loud. As you did with the counting songs, turn the nursery rhymes into games by associating gestures with each line. Try the toddler favorite, "Patty Cake" by alternately tapping your knees and clapping your hands while you sing, "Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man, bake me a cake as fast as you can." When you say, "Toss it," throw your hands in the air -- and roll your hands as you say, "Roll it." Pretend to put the batter in a pan as you sing, "Put it in the pan." You can also try acting out the rhyme, "Hickory Dickory Dock" by wiggling your fingers up your arm as you say, "Hickory Dickory Dock; the mouse ran up the clock." Hold up one finger when you say, "The clock struck one" -- and then wiggle your fingers down your arm as you say, "The mouse ran down." Encourage your toddler to mimic all your movements and sing along.

3 Finger Plays

Your toddler’s ability to hold a pencil, or to pick up tiny pieces of lint on the floor and put them in his mouth -- a less desirable skill -- all ride on his fine motor skills. You can use songs to help him practice these skills. “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” is a toddler favorite in which you keep matching your thumb with opposite index finger, moving them upwards, to indicate a climbing spider as you sing, "The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout." Wiggle your fingers from up by your head, down to the ground, followed by wiping your hands to the side as you sing, "Down came the rain and washed the spider out." Put your hands above your head in an arc while you sing, "Out came the sun and dried up all the rain." Make your spider climb again with opposite index fingers and thumbs to end with, "And the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again." As with the other tunes, you should encourage your child to do the hand movements.

4 Movement Songs

Your toddler runs, hops, twirls and acts like a little monkey anyway -- so why not incorporate some music with these movements? You probably know the “Hokey Pokey” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Both are easy tunes to teach your toddler moves he can make as he sings them. To play the "Hokey Pokey" game, stand next to your toddler and help him move his right arm forward as you sing, "You put your right arm in," and help him pull his right arm back when you sing, "Your put your right arm out." Put your right arms in again and wiggle them when you sing, "You put your right arm in and you shake it all about." Help your child spin as you sing, "You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around." Clap to the rhythm of "That's what it's all about." Repeat similar steps with other body parts -- the game is also a great way for your kid to learn about his body. Once you've had your fill if the "Hokey Pokey," play a game of "song freeze." Sing your child's favorite song, encouraging him to dance freely until you stop singing at some point in the song, signaling him to "freeze."

5 Call and Response

You might notice that your toddler loves to mimic you. For example, she might like to play house or could possibly let slip in a naughty word, much to your chagrin (hey, you’re not perfect!). Try a call and response singing activity, having your kiddo imitate what and how you sing. You might want to do a little jazz scat improvisation. Scat singing means you make up nonsense words and sing them to a melody you also create. Teach your toddler what the word “scat” means and encourage her to make up nonsense words with you. First, instruct your kiddo to repeat words after you. Stick with easy consonant and vowel combinations like "baa" and "doo." Next, ask your toddler to come up with some syllables of her own so you can imitate her. Give her a couple options -- does she want to sing "shalala" or "doobeedoo?"

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.