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Fingerplays With Your Baby and Toddler
by Marty Layne

Fingerplays With Your Baby and ToddlerOne of the things I do is teach classes to new parents. These classes are not about how to parent or the best method of raising a child. Instead, they are classes concerned with learning specific skills to make parenting more fun and, in the process, building a positive relationship with a baby. As I teach the parents or caregivers fingerplays and songs, the babies look and smile at me when they are not smiling and engaging with their parents. If laughter is the best medicine, I get a healthy dose twice a week. The babies often make me lose my train of thought or have me burst into laughter when they blow a raspberry, kick their legs in time to the music, or move their whole body in time to the song we sing at the beginning of each class to say hello to each baby.

I want to share some of those fingerplays with you in this column and encourage you to play with your baby, toddler, and/or child. Playing with your baby is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. The playful exchanges you share with your baby or toddler helps your child to learn social conventions. The baby makes a sound, you answer, the baby repeats, you echo back. This kind of interchange that happens, often without thought, helps your child understand the give and take of conversation. Before a toddler learns to say words, he can often be heard making sounds that have the tonal qualities of a conversation.

Fingerplays encourage dexterity and increase vocabulary. Most fingerplays are too difficult for babies to manage on their own, but hearing their parents say the rhyme and watching a parent’s hands do the motions encourages a little one to try it herself. Babies learn to clap their hands between about 8 and 10 months and add other movements to their repertoire as they mature. Mimicking your actions helps your baby begin to develop a range of physical motion and helps his brain development. It may take a couple of years before babies can do all of the motions described in the fingerplays by themselves, but they will still enjoy them even if they can’t. And you’d be surprised by how early some toddlers will begin to mimic your motions.

When you begin to play, observe your baby’s response. Read your baby’s cues, and when she has had enough, stop or change activities. Sit your baby in your lap and let him lean against you as you start moving your hands and singing. As your baby grows older and is able to sit up on her own, you can sit your baby facing you. Place your baby’s hands on your hands as you do the fingerplays and help him begin to make the movements.

Fingerplays, songs, rhymes and stories all provide entertainment when a baby or toddler is contained in a car or plane. Fingerplays are also a handy tool to have when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store and your baby’s in the cart. You may feel a bit self-conscious at first reciting a fingerplay or singing a song in public, but I guarantee that anyone in line with you would much prefer hearing you play with your baby than hearing your baby cry or be unhappy. Who knows, maybe you can start a new trend and get everyone in the line to recite a poem or sing with you! Diaper changing time is another good time to add songs or rhymes.

Parents, grandparents, and siblings have used songs, rhymes and fingerplays for thousands of years to interact and play with babies. You’ll be in good company as you play Where is the beehive? Or sing a lullaby to interact with your little one. The early years pass quickly. Enjoy them!

And don’t limit fingerplays, rhymes and songs to just babies and toddlers. At one time, fingerplays were part of the kindergarten curriculum, and children memorized poems and actions to go with them. Fingerplays helps children develop listening and memorization skills as well as physical dexterity. Songs can provide a vehicle for learning things such as spelling words, arithmetic, historical information. I learned to spell the word encyclopedia from listening to Jiminy Crickett sing on the old Mickey Mouse Club show back in the late 50s. Here’s a link to the YouTube clip so you can sing and spell encyclopedia, too!)

Here are some of the standard fingerplays and rhymes I use in my classes. Enjoy!

This is a great poem for rhythmic clapping:

Happiness by A. A. Milne from When We Were Very Young

John had great big waterproof boots on
John had a great big waterproof hat
John had a great big waterproof Macintosh
“And that,” said John, “ is that.”

Have your baby lying down facing you and cross his or her arms across the chest for arms together and gently stretch the arms open for arms apart.

Icky Bicky Soda Cracker
Icky Bicka Soda Cracker (arms together)
Icky Bicka Boo (arms apart)
Icky Bicka Soda Cracker (arms together)
Up goes You! (lift baby up)or I love you!(hug baby)

Here’s one for helping your baby learn the different parts of the body. You may want to substitute your baby’s name for the word "baby".

Here are Baby’s Fingers
Here are baby’s Fingers (gently stroke fingers)
And here are baby’s toes (gently stroke toes)
And this is baby’s belly button (gently touch belly button)
Round and round it goes (move hand gently in a clockwise circle)
And here are baby’s ears (gently follow along the outside edge of the ear)
And this is baby’s nose (gently touch end of nose)
And here is baby’s belly button (gently touch belly button)
Right where Mommy blows (gently blow on baby’s belly button)

More with arms or legs:

Move your babies arms over and over each other in keeping with the rhyme.
Or bicycle the legs. If you do it with legs, it can help younger babies with gas. Older babies and toddlers will learn to make a fist and do the fist (arm) over fist (arm) rolling motion themselves. Two- to four-year-olds seem to derive a lot of fun from this rhyme, especially as one goes faster, faster, faster as the rhyme says. This simple rhyme helps children connect directional words like up, down, in and out to actual movements in a fun and very playful way. I had one mom tell me that her baby loved this rhyme so much that she was able to entertain her baby in her car seat for quite a long time.

Roly Poly (these two words rhyme with slowly):

Roly poly, ever so slowly (roll arms over each other slowly)
Roly poly, faster, faster, faster (roll arms over each other, speeding up with the words)
Roly poly, roly poly, up (roll arms over each other in an upward motion, open arms up and reach high)
And roly poly, roly poly, down (roll arms over each other in a downward motion and point arms down)
Roly poly, roly poly, in (roll arms over each other and then fold arms over each other across chest)
And roly poly, roly poly, out (roll arms over each and open arms up to the sides)
Roly poly, ever so slowly (roll arms over each other slowly)
Roly poly, faster, faster, faster (roll arms over each other, speeding up with the words)

I’ll close with a bouncy rhyme I invented when my children were little. They loved sitting in my lap and having a ride. As they got older, I really had to work my leg muscles!

Here come the farmer’s horses
Clippety clop, clippety clop
Here come the little ponies
Trit trot, trit trot
Here come the race horses
Giddey-up, giddey-up, giddey-up
Here come the bucking broncos
Whoo, whoo, whoo

I hope you’ll use these and other fingerplays and rhymes in your interactions with your babies, toddlers and children. Rhymes and songs are a great way to pass on a family tradition of fun and connection. If you type fingerplays into Google, you’ll come up with many resources. I found this book particularly helpful: This Little Puffin (Puffin Books) by Elizabeth M. Matterson. I’ve also put together a small booklet of fingerplays that's available from my website.

Marty Layne is the mother of four adult children and the author of Learning At Home: A Mother’s Guide To Homeschooling, Newly Revised Edition. She has also recorded a children’s music CD called Brighten the Day – songs to celebrate the seasons. You can read more about her at


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