Turns out, singing along with your preschooler to Elmo’s greatest hits is good for you (even if you’re a little tired of having the same songs on repeat). Studies have shown that making and listening to music helps boost children’s self-esteem and social skills, and may even help young kids focus at school. And in adults, singing and making music have been shown to release stress, boost energy and help us bond with others. When it comes to kids’ development—and happy families—the more music, the better.
So, what if you’re not exactly American Idol-ready, but you want to bring more music into your kids’ day-to-day? You don’t have to pay for regular music lessons or hire Julie Andrews to teach do-re-mi. A few simple strategies can help you make more music together as a family.
Here are 10 easy music activities for toddlers and preschoolers that help boost their development
1. Sing important words and phrases
Any parent who’s ever gotten a Daniel Tiger song stuck in their head on a loop knows: Repetition enhances memorization. According to Vincent Reina, music instructor and co-founder of the music school Music To Your Home, “Learning songs at a young age increases great memorization skills.” Putting common phrases or instructions to a sing-along tune creates a pattern that children can recognize and recall with ease, and makes retention fun.
So when you want your child to catch on or remember something, one of the simplest ways to do this is by making any simple phrase into a song. Try utilizing the same “Hello” and “Goodbye” songs in your child’s routine, or implementing jingles like “The Cleanup Song,” and soon it will become second nature for your little one to recite greetings or instructions back to you in song. (Which, let’s face it, is pretty cute.)
2. Create a musical craft
Rainy day activity alert: You can easily create musical instruments out of household items. Have fun with your child creating and “playing” your homemade instruments—you can even pretend to play a concert together.
3. Play ‘talent show’
Use finger puppets or stuffed animals to act out a favorite song or dance to a favorite tune. Or if your little one loves to play-act (as so many preschoolers do), encourage them to dress up, imagine themselves as a character and come up with their own song.
4. Make a musical matching game
Here’s an easy music game you can create and play at home: musical match. Cut pieces of paper into squares, and on one side draw a character or symbol that represents a familiar song: a yellow bus for “The Wheels on the Bus,” a barn for “Old MacDonald,” a star for “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” a spider for “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” a dog for “Bingo” and any others that are favorites.
Draw the same symbol on two squares of paper for each song. Then put the squares face-down on the floor, and mix them up. You and your child can have fun taking turns turning over the squares, and singing the song while you look for the match!
5. Turn on background music
Use background music while you’re doing other activities, such as working on arts and crafts, cleaning up toys, or at mealtime. Some studies suggest that background music, far from being a distraction, can help boost short-term focus.
6. Listen and draw
Put on a jazz or classical station or fire up a playlist, then pull out drawing paper and crayons. Spend some time listening and drawing what you hear, using colors, shapes, lines, dots and crayon strokes to represent the instrumental sounds, themes, dynamics and musical moods you hear. As you draw, talk about why you’re choosing different colors to represent different sounds, like the color orange for a trumpet.
7. Play ‘name that tune’
Hum, whistle or tap out the rhythm of a song, and see if your child can guess the tune. Then switch and see if you can guess the song that your child is humming.
8. Find musical library books
Take a field trip to the library and bring your child into the music section. Pick out some materials that include songs, nursery rhymes or easy melodies that you can bring home to play and sing along with. Use your total physical response to get your child moving and grooving too!
9. Form a family band
One of the best ways to make music part of your family’s routine is to simply play music together. Play on a keyboard if you have one, create drums with pots and pans, find your child’s xylophone and bang out some notes, strum a guitar together or just turn a container upside down and start making sounds with your hands or a wooden spoon.
Teach your child how to match pitch with their voice, or make up a song to perform for the rest of the family. It doesn’t have to be perfect or on key, but it will show your child how to make music, and have fun doing it.
10. Download musical apps
There are tons of musical apps out there. Some of the best and most fun musical apps for kids include Tune Train, Musical Me, Piano Dust Buster and Kids Ear Training. These apps can help teach your child music fundamentals, introducing them to musical concepts such as pitch, notes, chords and structures.