Kodaly For Babies and Toddlers

Hi everyone! This is Chrystine. I used to think, what was the point in doing music activities with babies? I mean, it’s not like they can sing or clap? My childless self saw it as a pointless exercise that would only be fraught with immense frustration until what I conceived would be proper “interaction”…. Not to mention that it used to take one crying baby to send my nerves into overload.

And then it happened- just as I had always been forever warned… “Wait until you have a child of your own!” Similar to the cliché, “you’re going to grow up just like your mother” and you realize that indeed this has come true, you also finally do have a child of your own and instead of cradling them like an ironing board as your former self would have done, through parenthood you understand there is a whole lot more going on inside their little minds than crying, feeding and sleeping.

When my daughter India was born in 2011, I quickly learned to appreciate that the Kodaly philosophy completely applies to children from birth. Kodaly’s whole philosophy begins with one simple feature “hearing it first.” Kodaly is taught with a musical emphasis on folksongs, nursery rhymes and songs of the child’s mother tongue. So for a newborn, to be surrounded in an environment of simple song is “hearing it first”, which in time will only benefit them when they are ready to sing, and understand song meaning. So sing, sing, and then sing some more! This will not only begin your child’s musical journey, but it will aid their overall development in areas such as speech, memory, creativity and happiness.

When it comes to doing musical activities with young babies, the activities need only be a minute or two, and of course, simple and repetitive. One of the best ways to interact musically with your newborn is when they are on their change table. This is because of the close contact you can get with your baby. Not only can your child hear your singing at a close range, but they can learn and watch from your facial movements as well. I used to sing my own version of solfege (and utilize the moveable do) with my daughter on her little body, starting with her toes and moving up to her nose like this: “TOE, Re, KNEE, Fa, So, La, Ti, NOSE”. I love this little activity because I can make up different solfege patterns on her body, and always get a giggle when I touch her nose and her toes. I’ve made a little video to demonstrate this activity for you:

Another simple, yet effective song you can sing to your baby during these intimate change table sessions is “10 Little Toes”, a piggyback song to the tune “10 Little Indians”.

I particularly love this one because it can be done in a matter of seconds during change times, and always brings a smile to a baby’s face. The very act of touching each toe and finger is a great introduction to counting and a meaningful, tactile singing experience for your son/daughter. Nursery Rhymes, fingerplays and chants are all Kodaly encouraged material to begin your child’s musical education.

One of the very first expressions of music your child will be able to achieve is clapping. I was fortunate to pick up an extremely useful tip from the ladies at our local library who hosted weekly “Rhyme Time Sessions for Babies and Toddlers”. They taught us as parents to ALWAYS clap after each little rhyme, chant, or song you do with your baby. This concept is pure genius! I realized (many months later) what that simple tip accomplished. The obvious, of course, is it encouraged the babies to clap early but it also taught the babies that the act of singing a song came with reward and attention from parents and friends, which further instilled a love for music.

As soon as your child can grasp objects, instruments can be introduced. With supervision, instruments that can be safe for babies to use include drums, egg shakers, and simple homemade instruments like pots and pans. I’ve had a big basket of bought and homemade instruments in my house since my daughter was 7 months old, and we get it out often to play together. Activities with instruments are not structured because the idea is to encourage creativity and expression. Leading by example and demonstrating steady beat is encouragement enough for your child to acquire strong rhythm and beat skills.

A favorite activity when I teach music classes to toddlers is my giant “tapping hearts”. I have a set of laminated hearts that I use to tap the beat with a “magic wand”. This is an activity that most toddlers cannot do accurately, however, it is still a valuable experience for them because it does reinforce the concept of beat. I always begin by demonstrating first with a simple song like “Starlight, Starbright”, and then I allow my little learners to have a try themselves. They just love this because they get to hold a magic wand and get to hit something. I have also learned that children love to copy , so by simply demonstrating and allowing the toddlers to mimic you is a fun experience for them.

I’ve used many other activities in my baby and toddler music classes successfully that are simple to use everyday:
*instead of reading a book to your child, sing the words of the book to them (this is a great way to get babies to sit through books at an early age)
*sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat with your child on your lap and rock back and forth as if you were on a rowboat.
*sing Itsy, Bitsy Spider in 3 different ways. 1) Normal 2) In a high pitched voice sing “The teeny weeny spider….” And make all your actions teeny as well 3) In a low big booming voice sing “The great big spider…..” And make all your actions ginormous. This is an excellent introductory activity to high and low sounds.
*add your child’s name to nursery rhymes and folk songs, such as “If you’re Emma and You Know It Clap Your Hands!”, or “Ethan had a little lamb”.
*sing songs with simple actions, not only do children love actions, but actions reinforce steady beat and help children remember lyrics.

I wanted to start my first Kodaly blog post with a topic I’m passionate about. They say that “lifelong readers are born on the laps of parents”, so it would make sense that “lifelong musicians are born in the homes where music happens.” A musical home is a happy home.


  1. What a lovely post, Chrystine! Especially loved the the videos of your darling daughter! She gets so much joy out of music making! :)

  2. Love this! I really enjoyed the videos and your ideas. Thanks so much, Chrystine!

  3. What a lovely post with several practical ideas to involve little ones in music! “A musical home is a happy home." I couldn't agree more!


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