When 2-year-old Emily Lynn Phelps was sick and in the hospital, the only thing that would cheer her up was her mom, Sherri, singing "Itty Bitty Baby Girl." "I sang this to Emily when she was an infant, and it totally helped calm her -- and me! -- down," says Sherri, of Hawthorne, California.
Music can have a powerful effect on toddlers' moods: It can distract them, amuse them, pacify them, and even get them to cooperate. How many times have you belted out the "Clean Up" song to encourage your 3-year-old to put away his trucks? Or how often did you sing a silly song to keep your 2-year-old still while you tried to wriggle her into a snowsuit?
What's more, experts say that songs can build cognitive skills and enhance a child's ability to learn. There's no hard evidence that exposing your toddler to music will make him smarter and raise his IQ, but music certainly can make learning easier and more fun. A case in point: A 2-year-old can't memorize the alphabet by reading it, but if he hears the ABC song repeatedly, he'll quickly learn the letters.
The toddler years are the ideal time to get kids to tune in to songs. "If children are exposed to music before they're 5, they'll feel much more free to sing in an uninhibited way later on," says Bonnie Ward Simon, cocreator of the Stories in Music CD series. "There's a key window of opportunity at this age."
Fortunately, it's not too difficult to engage toddlers with tunes. Most instinctively love music, and singing songs together is a great bonding experience for you and your little one. "The most natural way to develop your child's love of music is to expose her to the music you love," says Lori Custodero, DMA, associate professor of music and music education at Columbia University Teachers College, in New York City. Here are some ways for both of you to enjoy the sounds -- and benefits -- of music.