Music & Movement – BABY DANCE!


Without a doubt, the most popular program our library provides is our Music & Movement program.  It’s SO popular that we have it four times a week, including a session at our branch library. And even having it four times a week isn’t enough, we could have it every day and people would come.  We get 30-100 people (children and adults) at EACH PROGRAM. (especially in summer, the attendance skyrockets.) Music & Movement or, as it’s informally known, BABY DANCE is our best attended and loved program for many reasons.  One of them is that we relish the fun of it all and we let it be one wild and crazy time – it’s not a program where we crack down on rules. Another is that it really is a program that shows off the library as a community space: families come and hang out, new immigrant parents meet other new immigrant parents, it helps connect people.

Those are two of the most important keys for M&M’s success.  But there’s more!


I swear on all the things I love I really am going to write a professional article about all this for submission to Children & Libraries.  I am.  And I want all of you, dear readers, to keep holding me to that! I want you to keep asking about it and keep telling me to write it.  FOR REAL.  But at the same time I also see tons of posts and requests for playlists and, well. not only do I want to share BUT … maybe writing a playlist will help get me in gear for the REAL article and get some discussion going that can motivate me into writing it!

SO!  This is going to be a post with JUST SOME of my playlist favorites.  However!  I am only one of the people who presents this program at my library – different staff has different favorite songs and even different regular songs. (But you should know WHAT your co-presenters do, because while the kids will begin to recognize you by “your” songs they will also feel free to request other songs they love/know.  So stay on the same page, discuss songs you use and why often!)   And, hey, even different days and different crowds (is it an older crowd?  A bigger crowd?  A rowdier crowd?) can change a playlist in a second.

Some general notes:

  • All staff who present have moved to using playslists on either our phones or iPods, which means we can have hours of songs to choose from.  I can’t recommend this enough – it really frees you up.
  • We don’t use a microphone … yet.  It’s a possibility for the future.  Right now, we plug right into speakers, turn it all up, sing our hearts out, and go. (and, yes, we sing along – not always, but often.  Be prepared to belt this out even if, like me, you have the worst voice.)
  • We DO use props: parachutes, scarves, rhythm sticks, and even 100+ bath sponges (a Dollar Tree 2 for $1 score!). We also use instruments (we have a lot of great instruments purchased with funds from our Friends – they LOVE to be hit up for programs like this!) but those can be SO tricky when we have HUGE crowds.  The patrons love them but, oh, it’s such chaos getting them all handed out and avoiding stampedes and the like. Sometimes we just have to leave them out.
  • We have this program before the library opens, which helps with worrying about noise.  We also have it on Saturdays, which is a really popular day for whole families to attend.
  • Each session is about 30 minutes, but we never feel bad if one needs to only be 20 minutes or sometimes goes 35 minutes.
  • Where do we get the music? We’re always browsing, looking for Parent’s Choice Awards, watching YouTube videos. This whole program was created to spotlight our music collection, so my library a lot of children’s music we’re always promoting to patrons! We LOVE Kimbo Educational and if you’re not familiar with their great catalog, take some time to browse because they have tons of wonderful educational music.


With that: you will notice I use A LOT of children’s music, educational music, and even “old” children’s music.  

This program does not exist to make sure the parents have a magical rock concert experience.  This program is here for kids.  Sure, we sometimes throw in contemporary music , especially for instrument or stick songs, but this program works because we do listen-and-follow-and-learn songs, because we find out elbows and knees and toes, because this is predictable, repeatable,  music – many would even say formulaic – that is not confusing to children and is easy to follow along. (and along and along and along … did I mention we have it four times a week?)

If that isn’t your dance party groove, that’s fine.  But that’s how ours work, by and large, and it works well.

I have about 35-40 songs in my playlist so I have lots of selections.  While we love repetition, we also try to add new songs. For this sample playlist, I have included samples or audio of the songs I’m discussing and album titles as needed.

Personally, I always start with the same five songs.  I call this my warm-up and I think it helps set some familiarity up and get everyone ready to listen and follow and say HELLO!


Good Morning by Greg & Steve

Simple and classic, we clap all the way through and say hello to all our friends and talk about what we will do together and sing, sing, sing.

Reach for the Ceiling
Roll Your Hands  by Carol Hammett

Both from the amazingly named Toddlers on Parade – great and simple listen and follow.

Wheels on the Bus

Choose your version!  The kids LOVE this one, go WILD for it.  I can also connect the rolling our hands in the song before to rolling our wheels on the bus.

The Music in Me by Greg & Steve (from Fun & Games)

Another good listen and follow but now with new sounds that MAKE grown-ups participate as they start to drift off – whistling, snapping!


Here’s where I switch it up depending on audiences.  Some favorites:

Jump, Jump by Joanie Leeds

AKA the song I shared at Guerilla Storytime in Summer 2013.  This one gets them going and is pure delight for an older crowd.  Not much for babies to do but bounce but, man, until you’ve seen about 30 toddlers going to town on this one you just haven’t lived. (scroll down to I’m A Rock Star for the sample)

There’s A Little Wheel Turnin’ in My Heart and The Airplane Song by the legendary Laurie Berkner

I could do a whole program with JUST Laurie Berkner songs.  But my most often used in this portion are For Wheel  we have good practice singing the refrain and with “wheel turning.”  They scream with glee when we WAKE UP from sleeping to the truck honking.  Airplane Song is one that’s actually requested by our kids.  They love to put their arms out and be planes and, in our town of frequent travelers and often moved families, everyone likes the bit about “come sit down in your own hometown.” And though I don’t use them as regularly, I also suggest My Energy (great for burning off energy) and Monster Boogie. (better in smaller, older groups.)

Clap, Clap, Clap and Shoo Fly by Carole Peterson

I think Carole Peterson deserves a much bigger audience.  We get great responses from these songs, they’re nicely paced and have the actions repeated many times so the kids can really master them.  Clap is from Sticky Bubblegum and Shoo Fly (love that banjo!) is from Dancing Feet.  But she’s got tons of great songs, I highly recommend her.

Arms Up! by William Janiak

A big Kimbo hit.  This might be THE most known song across the whole program, because almost all presenters use it.  It’s basically perfect: fun movements that are a little complicated, good beat, lots of repetition. Our crowds love this song, it’s challenging (watching them balance on one leg!) but familiar too.  I’ve had at least three parents email about “what’s the song with the arms up?” because their kids want to hear it – even on vacation.

Let’s Shake by Dan Zanes

I listen to Dan Zanes’s children and folk music just because I love it.  But ,any of them are also great for programs.  If you’re having a special one-off Toddler Dance Party, I think it’d be incomplete without this song.  Listen to it several times ahead and practice your versions of the dances mentioned and then get ready to rock.  (from Catch that Train – and, yes, the album version has much less jammin’ and gets straight to the song.)


After we’re warmed up and we’ve done two-four songs, we move on to the props: scarves, sticks, parachute, or sponges.  I have a few regulars for these.


Mariposa Ole  by Dan Zanes & Barbara Brousal

Sure, it’s all in Spanish.  But many of our patrons understand Spanish.  And everyone feels the rhythm.  You can also hold your sticks up high and make butterflies as you tap along to the guitar.

Three Little Birds covered by Elizabeth Mitchell

MY PERFECT STICKS SONG.  Elizabeth Mitchell is a treasure!  She was the first children’s artist carried on Smithsonian’s Folkways label and her latest album Blue Clouds has illustrations from Remy Charlip and liner notes from some dude named Brian Selznick.  So, you know.  This song – oooooh, I love to belt this out to the kids (every little thing’s gonna be all right!) and they love to click along to this version of it, having sticks on the song really helps them with following the cues and the music.  Just delightful on every level. If you’re looking for really magical folk music (from several cultures) for children, Elizabeth Mitchell is a must.


I could lie and tell you I use lots of cool body identification/color identification songs for scarves.  But I don’t.  I’ve gotten better about using them for some play before we launch into the song, I think that’s really helped (especially for the babies). But 99.9% of the time use the same song and it’s a ton of fun.

Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz) by Laurie Berkner

We get to dance and shake our scarves, we go down low to our toes and then pop up high to the sky when she says BUZZ, we get to make the buzzzzzz ourselves as we trail scarves along for peek-a-boo. It never fails me!

I don’t really use the parachute since I don’t like the space we’re in and I worry about parent participation, but my co-workers usually use either a popular music song or just skip music and do narration.

After a single song using the sticks or scarves (I usually do one or the other, not both) we move right on to the instruments.


This is a hugely popular part of the program.   However, we’ve recently stopped putting out the instruments during summer because we just have too huge of a crowd and here’s an area where the chaos works against us.  That is to say: we have a toddler stampede and it’s not good.  No matter how much we beg for help, parents just don’t seem to engage in this, so we have tons of kids running for instruments.  Sometimes we try holding on to the bins and then passing them out ourselves but with huge numbers that’s difficult.  If YOU have a better instrument distribution plan, I’d love to hear it!

Instruments are a great time to do a popular music song so we’ve done everything from Gangnam Style (our Korean parents loved this!) to Happy. We also did I Want to Dance With Somebody when Whitney Houston died and the Ghostbusters theme when Harold Ramis died.

With the instruments (and the sponges) I almost always do a start and stop/freeze song.  It’s good practice for the kids for listening to musical cues and understanding “stop” and “go” and it’s easier to hear the “freeze” part when instruments are involved.  And boy do they love it when they get to start playing again.  My favorite is by my bros Greg & Steve.

The Freeze by Greg and Steve

Cleaning up from instruments always takes time, even if there are no major crying incidents involved. So, this is a good chance to practice saying “see you next time” to the instruments, singing the clean-up song, and giving all the kids loads of praise for being such good helpers!


By this time. we’re just about wrapping up the half hour.  Each of the presenters has their own goodbye song.  I use something simple and easy to sing along with.  I sing Twinkle!

Twinkle, Twinkle from Six Little Ducks by Kimbo

 I think you could do any version of this song: it makes a nice closer and gives everyone a chance to stretch and cool down.  But I use a specific one because there’s about 30 seconds of instrumental in it after the first verse of Twinkle and I use that time to talk to the crowd.  I tell them what a great time we had “singing, talking, playing, and growing!” and how I am SO PROUD of them.  Then, right before we sing another verse I say, “You’re all superstars!  Let’s sing together, friends!” They LOVE this part and so do I – it’s great reinforcement of everything we’ve just learned and it’s a chance to make the kids feel really special and excited about what they’ve just learned.

And, hopefully, it makes them want to come back for more!

There you have it!  A basic (well perhaps a little more than basic …) overview of a typical Music & Movement program.  Do you have a program like this at your library?  If you don’t, seriously consider it.  Why?  It’s more than just how it can supplement your other early literacy programs and storytimes.  It’s more than just how it will boost your statistics.  I think every library should offer this program because of how I’ve seen it foster and create community in our library, because of how I have seen it turn the library into THE destination for families to network and connect.  THAT’S what I’ve come to accept about the chaos and exhaustion and disorganization of M&M as I get frustrated with it all – this program makes our library a community builder and that’s worth it all.

Also, dancing babies.

Now!  Keep pressuring me to write and present MORE about this!  I’ll rely on you!  And talk to me about YOUR library dance parties and toddler music programs.  What do you do?  What works?  What do your patrons love?  Are there questions about Music & Movement that I didn’t answer?  What else do you want to know about what we do and how we do it? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)

24 Responses to “Music & Movement – BABY DANCE!”

  1. Brooke Rasche

    You are amazing!! Thank you for this. We are scheduling our Fall dance parties now because of this post! Also, how do you use the sponges? I’m so fascinated by this. It’s something I’ve never thought of using.

    We tie ribbons to little kid hair ties and they love it. It’s the perfect dancing accessory!

    • Angie

      Brooke – I think I maybe got the idea from the liner notes of Carole Peterson’s Dancing Feet. (sidenote: the liner notes/suggested activities in the educational CDs can actually be really helpful because they are very much focused on motor skills and early literacy skills.) I use her Freeze Song for the activity – it’s basically “Let It Snow” on kazoo with breaks. And we take the sponges and, well, toss them around. We make it snow! Before we pass them out I do a little speech on textures and how that’s great sensory play. I say we’re going to be throwing them UP IN THE AIR for SNOW but NEVER at each other. And we’re all going to FREEZE when the music says to! (good practice with listening, etc.) I tell parents that for their babies they can bounce them in lap while the baby explores the texture of the sponge. They love this activity. If anything, we could use another 100 sponges! AND it’s the one activity they love cleaning up from just as much! (toss ’em in the basket, kids!)

  2. Erica

    This is awesome. I would have given my left arm for a program like this when my daughter was an infant (our public library does have an great baby-toddler storytime, but only during the middle of one day in the middle of the work week, which makes it tough for working parents to attend). If you were to teach a class in Baby Dance 101, where would you start?

  3. Ali

    Great program, and great list and the greatest presenters around! We are so lucky to have you all as a big part of our kids’ lives,

  4. Dawn Prochovnic

    This sounds like so much fun! Thanks for sharing this (and for all of the energy and enthusiasm you convey with your words . . . I can tell your programs are amazing just by reading your words!). Now GO and write the “official” article. Your readers are waiting!

  5. Amy

    Thanks for all the great info! I’ve never heard of using sponges–could you explain what exactly you do with them? Thanks again.

    • Angie

      Hi Amy! If you scroll up to see my response to Brooke about the sponges, I think I cover everything there. But let me know if you have more questions. Should’ve included that in the original post! 😀

  6. Meghan LeBLanc

    This is fabulous, lots of great ideas! What are the ages of the children?

    • Angie

      We promote the program for ages 0-6, but the rule is basically if they come they have to participate. (so you can bring your 12 year old, but they better dance.) We’ve had babies as young as three weeks come and sit in laps. It skews older in summer, but it’s a true all ages program.

  7. Holly

    Thanks for all of the awesome ideas to promote your music collection at the library. I think I will try this out at my branch one Saturday morning.

  8. Angela Reynolds

    Just downloaded a playlist to my iPad. I even ordered a disco light. I am set. First program is July 25– wish me luck!

  9. Amy anderson

    Hey, Angie! Thanks for sharing these great suggestions. I’ve put several of your songs on hold.

    I’ve been really grooving on Frances England’s “Move Like Saturday Night” with rhythm instruments lately.