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Traditional Kids' Songs

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Girls singing into microphone together
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Music can be a parent's best tool. The right tune can turn a cranky toddler into a cooperative partner, motivate clean up, energize a slow-moving morning and teach young kids basic skills. It's good to have a wide range of toddler music on hand and to be able to break into a tune on your own whenever the mood calls for it (don't worry if you can't carry a note -- kids don't care).

Traditional kids' songs are great because: 1) You're more likely to remember all the words; 2) they are usually upbeat and can break bad moods; and 3) they provide a common ground for kid-to-kid interaction. The typical child in any play group will know "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." So your toddler can quickly join others in a song, which may lead to more connections and games.

There are countless songs that might be considered traditional favorites. Here are some broken down by categories:

Songs That Teach Early Concepts:

Using rhythm and rhymes, these songs offer a great way to help pre-readers learn facts and basic concepts.

ABC Song
Even if you don’t remember the words to any other kids’ song, you’ll never forget this one. It’s also the first song that many children remember in its entirety simply because they hear it so often. In my house, it was the song my toddler girl could easily sing for a newborn brother, making her proud and him content.
ABC Song Video

Phonics Alphabet
This alternative ABC song is a phonics version that helps young children understand that each letter has an individual sound. You can also sing this while pointing to letters in a book or on a wall.
Phonics Alphabet Video

10 Little Numbers
While your toddler may not understand the concept of quantity yet, this cute tune will help her begin to identify numerals.
10 Little Numbers Video

Rainbow Song
I sang this long (long, long) ago in third-grade glee club, but one day while bathing my daughter it just came back to me. It’s a nice one to sing while playing with colored toys or even with a bucket of crayons that you can use to color a rainbow together.
Rainbow Song Video

Old McDonald
Introduce kids to animal names and sounds with this classic song. You can add in your own animals. It’s nice, again, to do this with a book where you can connect a picture of the animal with the sound.
Old McDonald Video

Songs That Get Kids Moving:

Channel some of that limitless energy into a sing-a-long and game that lets toddlers throw their whole bodies into the experience.

Hokey Pokey
In addition to getting your toddler up and shaking, this song/game is a great way to introduce the names of body parts.
Hokey Pokey Video

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
Again, this introduces some basic body parts and gets little ones moving. Playing the version where you leave out a new part each time (not saying 'head" on verse two and so on) also lets your child practice memory skills (what were we up to again….?).
Head Shoulders Knees and Toes Video

If You're Happy and You Know It
A staple of our household dance parties, this song is a good one for getting kids to listen and follow instructions. You can make up your own movements. We play a round robin version where each person takes a turn making up a line, the sillier the better ("If you're happy and you know it crow like a rooster eating a banana," offers my son).
If You're Happy and You Know It Video

Hand and Finger Play Songs:

Another fun category of active songs doesn't require much jumping around. Instead these use finger or hand movements to engage kids.

Itsy Bitys Spider
This tale of a spunky spider delights young kids. They also get great satisfaction when the finally learn to maneuver their fingers just right to create the spider.
Itsy Bitys Spider Video

Wheels on the Bus
This is the song I start belting out just when the car ride gets whiney or we need to take a long bus or train trip. We like to add in some extras like what the dogs on the bus say, but even in the regular form, it's a long and fun tune.
Wheels on the Bus Video

Pat a Cake
Traditionally more of a chant than a song, you can set your own tune for the words while teaching your toddler how to clap your hands and do the motions.
Pat a Cake Video

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