Making Music: Literacy Tips for Parents

Music promotes language acquisition, listening skills, memory, and motor skills. Songs introduce new words, often ones that rhyme or repeat, which makes them easy to learn. Singing also facilitates bonds between adult and child.

Here are some helpful hints on making music a part of your daily life as well as a list of recommended musical recordings and songbooks for you to try.

Make music a part of your daily life

The following are suggestions on how to make music a part of your child's every day life.

  • Sing to your baby any chance you get. Smile while you are singing. Sing any song you know.
  • Encourage your child to join in. Singing introduces words, nonsense sounds, rhymes and rhythms, all in an enjoyable package.
  • Play music CDs or audiotapes to inspire your child to listen, move, dance, and sing along. Play them in the car or at home.
  • Singing to your baby even while changing a diaper is a wonderful way to communicate and bond with him or her. Here's a song to try, sung to the tune of "This is the way we…"(which can be used at any time of day by changing the lyrics to fit the activity):
    This is the way we change your diaper
    Change your diaper
    Change your diaper
    This is the way we change your diaper
    And now you're clean and dry – hey!
  • Fit songs into your daily routine, before and during mealtimes, and at bedtime.
  • Encourage your child to feel the rhythm of the music. Dance, clap, and sway to the sounds. Join your toddler while watching quality children's videos – A Young Children's Concert with Raffi is great fun.
  • Look at songbooks together. If you play guitar or piano, get one with musical notations so you can play while you and your child sing.
  • Look at illustrated versions of songs. Toddlers and preschoolers can open flaps, for example, while singing along.

For babies and toddlers

40 Winks by Jessica Harper
An award-winning recording, this will please parents as well as young children.
American Lullaby by various artists
Sweet Honey in the Rock, Bill Staines, Maria Muldaur, and others sing lullabies.
At Quiet O'Clock by Sally Rogers
Lullabies with piano, guitar, and dulcimer accompaniments, this is a wonderful baby gift.
Classic Nursery Rhymes by Susie Tallman
Remind yourself of familiar nursery rhymes and learn new ones from this fine collection.
I Will Hold Your Tiny Hand: Evening Songs and Lullabies by Steve Rashid
Don't limit these great songs to bedtime; listen whenever quiet music fits your child's day.
Mozart Effect: Music for Babies from Playtime to Sleepytime by various artists
A variety of Mozart's music chosen especially to soothe young children.

For toddlers and preschoolers

Classics for Kids by Boston Pops
This well-chosen introduction to classical music includes pieces from the Nutcracker Suite, Carnival of the Animals, and more.
Come Dance by the Ocean by Ella Jenkins
These songs include those that celebrate the environment as well as those that reinforce concepts such as numbers and the alphabet.
Did You Feed My Cow? by Fred Koch
This award winner takes the classic songs of Ella Jenkins and gives them a new twist, with lots of invitations for children to join in singing and swinging.
Great Big Sun by Justin Roberts
Songs with a folksy style, about nature and family, fill this fresh recording.
I've Got Imagination by Rachel Sumner
Children will be moving and grooving to these songs, both original and traditional.
JoJo the Scarecrow: Barnyard Bash by Joel Frankel
This excellent combination of language and music ranges from Dixieland to pop sounds, with songs built around the appealing topic of animals.
Let's Play by Raffi
From the traditional "If You're Happy and You Know It" to the pop hit "Yellow Submarine," this collection is another great one by this favorite children's performer.
Rhythm in My Shoes by Jessica Harper
Known first as an actress, Harper has turned her talents to singing original songs, from chants to tongue twisters to child-friendly rap.
Say Hello to the Morning by Kathy Reid-Naiman
This selection of songs, rhythms, and singing games invite children to join in. Includes a booklet of lyrics and suggestions for parents.
Still the Same Me by Sweet Honey in the Rock
With wonderful harmonies from a popular singing group, this will have children singing and clapping along.

In this list are songbook collections with simple music for piano and guitar. These books make excellent gifts that encourage years of family singing.

If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands: A Pop-Up Book by David A. Carter
Your child will enjoy pulling tabs to make a chicken flap its wings, an owl wink, and other actions in this lively children's song.
The Kingfisher Nursery Rhyme Songbook by Sally Emerson
One of the few large collections available, this valuable resource features 40 songs with lyrics and music for piano and guitar.
Down by the Station by Will Hillenbrand
With music notation for the catchy tune, this charming book about a train with "the puffer bellies all in a row," has inviting lyrics and pictures.
I Heard a Little Baa by Elizabeth MacLeod
This small book uses flaps effectively to create a guessing game that can be sung to the tune of "Farmer in the Dell."
My First Songs by Jane Manning
This book features folk songs such as "Old MacDonald," "The Eentsy-Weentsy Spider," "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," and more.
De Colores and Other Latin-American Folk Songs for Children by Jose-Luis Orozco
Here are 27 songs in Spanish and English, with simple piano music and guitar chords, and wonderful pictures.
Going to the Zoo by Tom Paxton
Belt this out in the car on the way to the zoo or anywhere else. You and your child can add your own verses to the simple, toe-tapping song.
Raffi Children's Favorites by Raffi
This large paperback collection is a gold mine of songs with musical notations, including Raffi's well-known hits and traditional favorites.
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback
This silly, familiar folk song takes on new life with award-winning illustrations that offer humor for adults as well as children.
The Wheels on the Bus by Paul O. Zelinsky
This pop-up book has tabs, flaps, turning wheels, and whooshing wipers that add another dimension to this popular song.


Adapted from Every Child Ready to Read: Literacy Tips for Parents, Lee Pesky Learning Center.


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Colorín Colorado and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact [email protected].
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