play musical instruments with toddlers

Do you want to find out the best way to play musical instrument with toddlers?

It seems easy enough.  Anyone can play musical instruments with toddlers, but doing it successfully is one of the hardest things. Maybe you’re a room leader in a childcare centre, or have your own home family day care or even lead a playgroup in your neighbourhood.

You know that music is good for developing so many things in early childhood. You know how to teach them songs with hand actions, but you want to go further and let them experience playing in time with instruments.

How are you going to manage musical instruments in a way that is meaningful and not just a mish-mash of sound and noise?

Try this simple activity plan on how to play musical instruments with toddlers and post a comment afterwards.

  1.  Choose just one type of instrument, let’s say bells.  Bells are for joy so that’s a good start. (It’s extremely important to have the same instrument for every child because what you want to happen is community music-making, not snatch and grab.  We all know the toddler rule, “If I want it, it’s mine!”  If you can’t supply enough bells then make some simple shakers.)
  2. Sit in a circle so everyone can see.
  3. Distribute the instruments from a sturdy container or place it in the middle of the circle so they can come and get one.  Make sure you have one set of sleigh bells for each child and one for yourself as you’ll be modelling what to do.
  4. As soon as they all have one, start singing.
  5. Provide a strong model of playing on the beat in time with the music – the children will begin to copy you and learn though imitation – their mirror neurons kick in.
  6. Repeat the song until you get to the magical “three times through” which seems to get the idea into their brains. (First time it’s new, second time it’s familiar, third time they know it.) Each time you sing it do something different with your bells.
  7. Hold the bells up high, then down low, out to the side, in close to your body all the time shaking them in time with the strong beat.
  8. Change hands. Hold out your arm so they can see the bells in your hand.  Now bring out the other arm and slowly transfer the bells into the other hand, all the while saying “other hand, other hand”.
  9. Pop the bells onto your foot and tap your heel to the beat.  Think of your own variations and observe the children.
  10. Finally, pack up the instruments to a Pack Away Song, you can listen to ours here.  You can either collect them by walking around the circle with the container or let them come into the centre and put them away themselves.

Here are the lyrics to an easy song, ‘Little Peter Rabbit’ you can listen to a preview in our lesson plan Hot Cross Buns:

Little Peter Rabbit had a very floppy ear, 

Little Peter Rabbit had a very floppy ear,

Little Peter Rabbit had a very floppy ear,

So he flipped it and he flopped it

And it stood up straight.


play musical instruments with toddlers

Basket of sleigh bells

When buying this instrument look for a product with large, bright-sounding bells on a sturdy strap or wooden handle with between three and five bells.  Some come with velcro fasteners so you can strap them onto wrists or ankles for some dancing fun.

Whatever bells you buy should produce a clear ringing sound, not a weak tinny sound.  There are lots that look pretty but have poor sound quality and break easily. The kind we recommend are usually quite hardy.  We’ve used ours in classes for years with some minor repairs to the straps but never to the bells themselves.  As you know two year-olds can be mighty strong and they will test with mouths and fingers to see if they can pull the bells off!

The authentic sleigh bells on leather straps are made for horses to wear outside in the snow.

play instruments with toddlers

If you can ever get your hands on one of those I’m sure it will last for as long as you care to use it.

Once you’ve tried this activity on how to play musical instruments with toddlers, please post a comment so we can all improve our skills. Happy playing! Buy our Lesson Plan Hot Cross Buns, click here to get the music for Little Peter Rabbit. Includes 9 other songs for toddlers.