Helping Your Toddler Tune In to Music

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Keep a basket of props in your living room. Scarves, hats, tutus, and shakers all enhance your child's musical experience by encouraging dramatic play. Get a stick, listen to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and pretend you're the conductor. Take two paper plates, put some beans inside, and tape the plates' edges together to make a shaker.

Music classes are also a good idea, but toddlers aren't ready for formal lessons just yet. Instead, check out your local YMCA or look online for programs like Kindermusik or Music Together. "Two- and 3-year-olds can learn about different sounds and can even begin to create their own songs," says Kimberly Hill, a teacher at Kids' Music-Round, an early-childhood music school in Pennington, New Jersey.

Give Her Time to Explore

Your little one won't clap to a steady beat or sing on key right away. But let her play in whatever way she wants and simply enjoy what she's hearing. "If she's been exposed to music activity, by the time she's about 4 she'll probably be able to tap out a proper beat," says Kenneth K. Guilmartin, director and founder of Music Together, in Princeton, New Jersey.

Percussion instruments are easy for little hands to grasp, shake, and tap. You can use pots and pans, and encourage her to think about the sounds she makes. "Ask her which pan's sound she likes best," Dr. Custodero says. "Talk about the difference between loud and soft."

Use Music to Teach

Songs are a great way to help toddlers learn to experiment with words and sounds. They can learn rhyming patterns with songs like "I'm a Little Teapot" and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." They can learn to spell ("B-I-N-G-O"), name the parts of their body ("Head, shoulders, knees, and toes"), count ("10 Little Indians"), and even speak new languages ("Frere Jacques") through songs.

Be Spontaneous

Little kids have no problem breaking into song -- and you shouldn't either. Narrate your walk to the car in an operatic voice, or sing about the clothes you're picking out to the tune of "Old MacDonald" ("I am going to wear this shirt, E-I-E-I-O"). Soon you'll see your child do the same thing, as he begins to develop a love of music that can last a lifetime.

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