Your toddler loves hand motions like "peek-a-boo."

Songs With Actions to Sing to Toddlers

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

“Mommy, let's sing!” Your toddler loves to sing with actions because he gets all of his wiggling body into the song. Many songs adapt to actions, such as with "Jack and Jill." Your toddler might point up the hill and make a rolling motion with his hands as they tumble down the hill. If you don’t know any motions, make them up. Your toddler won’t care whether your motions are the right ones or not.

Nursery Rhymes

Various nursery rhymes have actions that your toddler will enjoy. Hold her hands and move in a circle for “Ring Around the Rosie” and fall down at the end of the song. “I'm a Little Teapot” is another familiar song with actions that your child may learn from you or in daycare. You probably know finger play songs like "Patty Cake” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and taught them to your toddler long before she could sing the words. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Jack and Jill” are simple nursery rhymes you can sing and create your own actions.

Teaching Songs

Teaching songs offer the options for hand and body motions. “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” “Hokey Pokey,” “Open, Shut Them” and “10 Little Indians” teach your toddler body parts, counting skills and motor skills. Songs such as “Where is Thumbkin?,” “Bear Hunt” and “Wheels on the Bus” might not require many skills or conceptual teaching, but toddlers enjoy them and they can keep them occupied during car trips or long waits at the doctor’s office. Songs such as “Five Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed” and “Little Bunny Foo-Foo” teach a moral lesson with the motions and talk about forbidden actions in a humorous way.

Christian Songs

Your toddler’s Sunday school might use many action songs to keep him occupied and to teach Christian concepts. Familiar songs include “If You're Happy and You Know It,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “This Little Light of Mine, “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock” and "I’m in the Lord’s Army.” You might be less familiar with the motions to “Jesus In the Morning,” “Arky, Arky,” “Zaccheus” and “Father Abraham,” but your child’s teacher could provide you with motions or you can make up your own.

Sign Language

It’s a popular practice to teach toddlers and preschoolers signs to help them communicate, but you can pick out various important words in a song and teach your toddler the correct sign or a modified song. When you sing “Jesus Loves Me,” you could point up for Jesus or use the American Sign Language sign by touching the right third finger to the left palm and the left third finger to the right palm and then extending the arms outward. For “loves,” he could hug himself and then point to his chest for “me.” You get the idea. It doesn’t have to be official sign language, so long as he connects the actions to the words.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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