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  • Sheena

Open shut them ~ medley of rhymes

This is a post we wrote for Hello Mums, a London-based baby-care and nursery staff site, which offers a really useful blog on all things to do with childcare. Find it at

At a baby song session - maybe a Rhyme Time at the local library - you’ll have seen the energy toddlers give to joining in with actions and movement. Maybe you’ve had a baby on your knee and felt the urgency of their desire to take part - literally bouncing themselves in your arms or flapping their own little arms like wings.

I’ve seen so many mums and dads holding back from joining in. Maybe they’re feeling a bit too reluctant or self conscious, or just too plain tired to get up and get in there with the ‘baby’ songs. But, believe me, it’s a great work out! It’s an aerobic, weight-bearing, stretching, whole-body exercise. Even a short session is perfect for shrugging off the post-Christmas, sleep-deprived blues.

Here’s a little baby music workout to try at home. It begins with some stretching to warm you up, moves on to weight-bearing for arms and legs, whole body lifts, then some aerobic dancing to see you both happily collapsed on the sofa at the end, feeling well exercised. We’ve chosen rhymes, so you can just say the words, and songs with familiar tunes if you’d like to sing. The movements and actions are fine to use with babies who’ve arrived at the sturdy, knee-bouncing stage (from about 6 months) up to toddlers and under-five siblings who can do some or all of the actions themselves. Babies and toddlers love repetition – they’re better than a personal trainer for demanding more!

Open shut them

Start with this little rhyme for some stretches to warm yourself up.

Lie baby on the floor and sit facing baby with your legs stretched to either side. Take baby’s hands in yours and open baby’s arms out wide, bringing hands back together in a clap at the end of each line:

Open shut them

Open shut them

Give a little clap.

Open shut them

Open shut them

Lay them in your lap.

Say the rhyme as often as baby enjoys the repeats and swap to holding feet and moving legs out to the sides then back to tap feet together. Now transfer the actions to your own body, as baby watches and tries to copy - or just has a gurgling laugh at you! Use big, wide full stretches of your arms out in front of you, above your head, twisting to the side. Roll onto your back, legs in the air to stretch them too. Keep your back long, shoulders wide and enjoy the connection with your muscles as you ease out the aches.

Mousey Brown

Start with baby again for this little tickler rhyme, then perform it for yourself as a whole-body stretch. As baby sits or lies on the floor, walk your fingers - the mouse - up from toes to the top of the head, blow on baby’s hair, then run fingers back down to tickle baby’s toes. Next, sit on your haunches in front of baby, then rise gradually all the way to tiptoes with arms stretched right above your head. Blow all the air out of your lungs with a whoosh and come down again into a squat to tickle baby’s toes.

Up the tall while candlestick

Went little Mousey Brown

He blew the candle out (Puff)

And then he ran right down!

When you’re warmed up, try Mousey Brown as a lift, for a more demanding exercise (see lifts below).

One to make ready

Ready for something harder? Give your arms some real work next.

This little rhyme is great for walking down the street when there are two adults and a toddler to swing between you, but it’s also great for some individual weight lifting. Sit baby on your knee, facing you. On ‘one', ‘two' and ‘three', lift her a little higher off your knee, then on ‘away’ lift her right up above your head:

One to make ready

Two to make steady

Three to prepare…

And AWAY goes the mare!

Father and Mother and Uncle Tom

Sit on a chair for this next one, holding baby on your knee, facing you. Have both your feet on the ground and for the bouncing section, raise your knees by flexing your feet up onto tiptoe, working your lower leg muscles. Sway baby from side to side on your knee in the first part of the rhyme. Tip her further to one side as ‘Mother’ falls off; tip her further to the other side as ‘Father’ falls off, then bounce her more and more quickly and vigorously as ‘Uncle Tom’ goes on and on and on… guaranteed to end in chortles and laughter:

Father and Mother and Uncle Tom

Got up on the pony and rode along.

Mother fell off

And Father fell off

And Uncle Tom went on and on and on and on and on and on…..

American jump

Whole body lifts can be VERY aerobic! But take care of your back in this and the next one. Be sure to bend your knees, keeping your back long, as you hold baby closely in front of you at floor level and bounce her to the rhythm of ‘American jump’ - or as you support a bouncing toddler, holding hands together. Use your leg muscles to do the heavy-lifting, as you rise quickly to ‘jump’ her right up above your head on ‘three’. If your back is in good order, bring baby down to chest height, holding her close to you, and swing forward from your hips, so that you both end up heads down, swinging baby between your legs. Toddlers can pretend to ‘catch’ the fish as they swing upside down. Don’t do this action if you’re at all suffering from back ache, instead you can ease yourselves back down to floor level, keeping your back long and bending knees into a squat, keeping the weight of baby close to you:

American jump

American jump

One, two, THREE!

Under the water,

Catching fishes,

Catching fishes for tea.


Hold baby at chest level as you sing or say the words (same tune as ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush’), and do these actions. Holding baby firmly, jump her up from your chest level to your head or above, ‘waggle’ baby in the air, slowly lower yourselves into a crouch, then jump yourself and baby back up again:

Jack in the box jumps up like this,

He makes me laugh as he waggles his head,

Gently I push him down again,

But Jack in the box jumps up again!

Toddlers and little children will love being the Jacks in the boxes, doing all the actions themselves with hands on heads to push themselves down into their boxes - while you do it with them - no copping out!

Here we go looby loo

Dancing with baby in arms is good for both of you. Play your favourite tracks and dance along with baby hearing the rhythm and feeling it through you. Here’s one they’ll love you to sing for them. With a bouncy step, and baby cradled in your arms or on your shoulder, move in a circle to the beat of ’Here we go looby loo’. With a firm hold, swing her, feet first, into the ‘centre’ of your circle on ‘HEY'. Be as energetic as baby wants you to be, aware all the time of what she’s happy with, and keep it going for as long baby is happy, and you have breath to move and sing!

Here we go looby loo

Here we go looby light,

Here we go looby loo,

All on a Saturday night, HEY!

We swing the baby in,

We swing the baby out,

We swing her up and swing her down,

And dance her all about!

Here we go looby loo...

We dance the baby in,

We dance the baby out,

We jiggle her here and jiggle her there,

And dance her all about!

Here we go looby loo…

Now, what about another piece of Christmas cake?

(All the rhymes and songs included here are traditional or have been adapted slightly by Playsongs Publications,

Illustrations by Rachel Fuller, © Playsongs Publications


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