Why introduce music to babies and toddlers?

Music plays an essential part of infant sensory development.  Julia Rennick shares various forms of music that might be used with babies and toddlers as a way of fostering relationships. This piece may be helpful for educators when considering the connection between infant and toddler learning, their programs and how music can be used to support development. 

The first three years of life are a time of tremendous growth, development and change. These changes aren’t just cognitive and physical; they are also social and emotional.

Very young children are fascinated by music and sounds.  Musical activities contribute to children’s holistic development, and they grow musically when they’re allowed to take risks and not feel pressured to perform.

From birth to nine months, babies listen attentively to musical sounds; familiar human voices calm them.  Vocalization begins as they imitate what they hear.  Reading to babies before bed and singing them a lullaby enhances the connection between adults and the child.  Rocking them whilst singing also deepens the bond and connection, helps them relax and gives them a sense of security and comfort, which researchers believe leads to better sleeping and feeding.

Lullabies exist in most cultures and have been sung for hundreds of years.  Any song or piece of repetitive, simple, and soothing music can be sung.  Some families have told me they’ve chosen an upbeat piece of music that they liked and slowed right down to use instead of a traditional lullaby.  I enjoyed singing the Skye Boat Song when our children were little; whatever works for you is okay –give it a try if you haven’t already.  Maybe you can recall a song sung to you when you were very young?  Remember: babies and toddlers will not judge your singing voices!

Toddlers respond to music with precise, repetitive movements from nine months to two years.  They are interested in every kind of sound and may begin to approximate pitches.  They are primarily attracted to strongly rhythmic music.

Babies and toddlers need to experience many opportunities to play with music and sounds freely and in more structured ways. Understanding this means that we can make music play and activities an important and enjoyable part of toddlers’ learning and discovery.  Don’t expect polished or accurate musical responses as outcomes.

Children can be introduced to simple music experiences through songs, fingerplays, knee bouncing, games, movement, folk dances and sound exploration, for example, simple percussion instruments.  Young children love and need lots of repetition, so sing songs they know then add something new.

Layout some instruments for them to explore – if you don’t have any – perhaps borrow from a local toy library – or use pots and pans from the kitchen with wooden spoons.  Or maybe experiment with making shakers (maracas) by filling small sealable boxes with pasta, rice, rocks, or bells.

Babies are sensitive to loud/soft sounds – (dynamics.) They can be startled by loud noises and comforted by soothing rhythmic sounds, as I mentioned earlier regarding lullabies.  Their whole body responds when music is played; for example, a sitting baby will bounce to music and when they can stand, they may sway and rock from side to side or bend their knees and jump up and down.

Toddlers are sensorimotor learners.  They carry, cart, fill, tip, make a mess, climb, and wander around observing objects and people.  They use large muscle activities extensively, dislike waiting for turns, and enjoy individual rather than group play activities.  Toddlers learn with their whole bodies –that is, by doing rather than listening.  They’ll move in response to how fast or slow (tempo) the music or instrument is playing.  They can dance (if they choose to!)  and have more control over their physical responses.  Repetition, rhyme, fingerplays and simple action songs are best for this age group.

At this stage of development, toddlers may begin to distinguish between sounds and respond enthusiastically or not to certain songs.  Never forget that big feelings and tantrums are prevalent at this stage -it’s all about them!

Forget what anyone has ever told you about your musical ability … children won’t be judging your rhythm or whether you’re in tune.  It’s your voice and play-based activities that will capture their interest.

For further reading in this age group and beyond– the theorists Vygotsky and Piaget will give more insight into child development across all areas.

ECA Recommends

Music and children
Amanda Niland

Children and music seem to go together. Life starts with being soothed by lullabies and continues with nursery rhymes, playful songs and the myriad of different types of music that we hear every day, at home and when out and about. Increasingly, most of us are becoming consumers of music rather than active music makers; however, participation in hands-on musical experiences brings both joy and benefits to young children. Purchase on the ECA Shop.

Early Childhood Australia


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top