Songs and Interactive Rhymes to Soothe or Stimulate Tots and Toddlers


May 12, 2023

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Playing with babies and toddlers is part of our human experience across time and across cultures. Add interactive tunes and musical play and there’s an extra dimension of magic.

Playsongs can help soothe or stimulate baby and as they grow, teach them through interactive actions and repetition.

Playsongs founder, music publisher and author Sheena Roberts, shares some of her tips for interactive play with rhymes and songs.

Interactive Play with Rhymes and Songs

For a tiny baby, the beat of a rhyme or song and its associated actions, naturally and comfortingly take the place of the heartbeat of the mother’s womb and the movements of the mother’s body.

Singing along while stroking a crying baby’s back, peekaboo smiles with a tiny baby, little toe-tickling games, knee-bouncing a toddler faster and faster, swooping them high up in the air, touching fingers and toes one by one, soothing a little one to sleep ~ these are the kinds of interaction that can make babyhood and early childhood so precious ~ and for all of these interactions, there are little playsongs and rhymes to accompany them.

But I Can’t Sing…

Play Songs Interactive rhymes to soothe

Your voice is the most important sound in your child’s world. They’ll love however your singing voice sounds. It’s the engagement that matters.

With our voice and our cradling arms we can croon a little one to sleep, or jog a toddler on our knee. But a song or a rhyme adds something ~ it engages us in the interaction for that little bit longer, which is so beneficial to us both.

Here are some favourites from the Playsongs resources. All of them work for any age or stage of early childhood.

Songs For Eye-Contact and Face to Face Games

Play Songs Interactive rhymes to soothe

From the very earliest days, when a baby’s focus is very limited still, they are learning your face and voice and those are the whole world to them.

Cradle baby close, and touch each part of baby’s face as you say this traditional play rhyme, while looking into baby’s eyes. A bigger baby or toddler will start to touch your face in turn as you say the rhyme.

Eye winker (touch cheek below one eye)
Tom tinker (touch cheek below the other eye)
Nose smeller (touch nose)
Mouth eater (touch mouth)
Chin chopper chin chopper chin (chuck baby’s chin)

Fundamental to communication, your voice, movements and expressions are all being absorbed by your little one. Songs and rhymes provide more of those long moments that bring you face to face and increase bonding time together.

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Peekaboo Songs

Play Songs Interactive rhymes to soothe

Hide your face behind your hands and peek out to either side, opening your hands wide on BOO in this little peekaboo song.

Can you play at peekaboo? I can play at peekaboo,
Are you there? Yes I am!
Are you there? Yes I am!

Peekaboo is one of the most universal games we play with babies. It helps them develop the reassurance that even if we are hidden, we are still here. As a baby grows they’ll start to mimic us with their own peekaboo hands playing the game.

Teaser Tunes

Play Songs Interactive rhymes to soothe

Pat your baby’s front lightly as they lie on a soft surface; smooth your open hand around their chest; walk your fingers down to baby’s feet and tickle baby’s toes. That’s how this little traditional song works.

It has the same tune as Two Little Dicky Birds, which you may know, but you can always freestyle it and make up your own.

Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, walk down the street,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, tickle your feet.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, walk up the stair,
Teddy bear, teddy bear, tickle you under there.

You can see that the song has a very simple pattern of words, melody and actions, and the joy is in the anticipation which those build towards the little tickle at the end. Songs and rhymes for this age are full of pattern and repetition, which are such an important part of developmental learning.

They also help baby to find the parts of their own body and start to recognise the names for them as you name and touch each part during a song or rhyme.

Tickling Rhymes

Tickle alert for this next one. My little grand baby loved this play rhyme so much, that she’d wordlessly hold out her hand for more, over and over again. That said, tickling should always be done with your baby’s consent.

A song or rhyme can be brilliant for distracting them out of a grump or a grizzle. Try it. It has restored good humour for me so many times!

Let’s eat an apple (take one of baby’s hands and pretend to gobble it up)
Let’s eat a plum (take the other hand and pretend to gobble it up)
Let’s blow a raspberry on your tum! (blow a raspberry on baby’s clothed tummy)

Leg Walkers and Foot Patters

Play Songs Interactive rhymes to soothe

Do you know the tune to Hot cross buns? (Hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny two a penny, hot cross buns.) Well it’s the same as the tune to this traditional foot patter – but it works just as well as a rhyme.

An ideal time to play it – or use it as a distraction – is when baby is lying on a changing mat with the soles of their feet handily in your reach.

Pat the soles of baby’s feet in turn to the beat of the song.

Hob shoe hob,
Hob shoe hob,
Here a nail and there a nail,
And that’s well shod.

Leg walkers are a lovely way to play, while baby is sitting on your knee. This time, instead of facing baby inwards face to face with you, turn baby to face outwards.

Take an ankle in each hand, and cross one over the other in turn to the beat of the rhyme. On JUMP, raise baby’s feet high in the air, supporting their body on your chest, between your arms.

Leg over leg As the dog went to Dover,
When he came to a style ~JUMP he went over.

With a bigger baby you can jump them into the air in a high lift. Step along instead of crossing ankles ~ it’s a good one for encouraging a toddler to make progress on a walk.

Knee Bouncing Songs

Knee-bouncing is such a favourite – particularly when you throw in a bump down between your legs onto the floor on ‘One fell off’.

The tune is Two Little Dicky Birds again! But this time there are three little monkeys bouncing on your knee.

Play-acting and exploring expression in voice and action is an important part of socialising as we learn to become communicators and to express our individuality.

Three little monkeys bouncing on the bed,
One fell off and bumped his head.
Mummy called the doctor and the doctor said,
‘No more monkey business bouncing on the bed!’

Here’s a traditional Irish knee bouncer ~ Achinaee. Bounce a little baby or toddler on your knee. On ‘floor’, quickly slide baby/toddler between your knees to the ground, lifting them back into your lap for more bouncing. And more and more and more…..

Achinaee, when I was wee,
I used to sit on my granny’s knee,
Her apron tore, and I fell on the floor,


Play Songs Interactive rhymes to soothe

A teeny tiny baby can’t tell us what’s wrong. Maybe it’s painful wind, or a fractious need for a nap. We’re probably all familiar with soothing a nearly new baby on our shoulder, gently patting or stroking their back, while swaying from one foot to the other. Not surprisingly there’s an age old type of song for that familiar stage – a croon.

A croon is a very simple, repetitive melody with very few words and with a slowly swaying rhythm, perfect for soothing and comforting a baby.

What may not be quite so well-recognised is the calming effect these songs have on ourselves and on our own distress. We’re tired out, we can’t remember the last full night’s sleep we had, we’re at our wits end, and the baby’s crying.

This one-word song can bring down the tension and soothe the distress of both adult and child. As you keep repeating it, it becomes restfully hypnotic, sung on, and on, and on.

Souallé souallé,
Souallé souallé,
Souallé souallé,
Souallé souallé,
Souallé souallé…


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On and On!

Play Songs Interactive rhymes to soothe

Well we could go on and on ~ I’ve only touched on that wealth of playsongs and rhymes, traditional and new, which make so many tricky moments of the day go more smoothly – nappy changes, washing and dressing, getting to places (specially with a toddler determined to walk – or not), teatimes, bath times, and bedtimes.

And that’s not to mention all their other many benefits ~ all the new language, imagination, co-ordination of both fine motor skills and whole body motor skills, emotions and empathy, and that most precious benefit of all ~ time spent together with undivided attention.

Sometimes I wonder if I ever grew up. I love the songs of early childhood so much. I’ve shared them with my own children, and with my grandchildren.

Through Playsongs Publications, I share them with everyone, and I hope you will have caught some of that pleasure and its benefits in the tasters I’ve given you here.

To access all the resources ~ books, audio, movies, blog ~ visit

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