Why is it that we can’t remember where we put our keys yet we can remember a song we sang as a small child? We can all go down “memory lane” from the songs we learned at a young age. I remember learning Deep and Wide from my Sunday school teacher as a little girl. I loved doing the motions and feeling a sense of accomplishment singing along. Little did I know that I was learning directional cues, spiritual concepts and having fun all at the same time. Perhaps, as teachers, we’ll never know how these simple songs that we teach can truly impact these little lives for years to come. That is why I have been singing and leading young children in many different capacities for over 20 years.
Leading music with young children can be such an enjoyable experience and continues to be a valuable tool in our teaching experience. Sometimes it is the missing link in our classroom, I have seen a child that has separation anxiety (after their parent drops them off for school) able to be calmed through a simple praise song. Music can change a mood, calm a child’s fears or set the tone for the rest of the day. Songs will live in a child’s heart for years to come as well as affecting a child’s growth and development. On a much lighter side, it makes even those of us who are non-musical want to sing. Plus, music is fun!
We all know the real source of music and movement. Music delights our God (Rev. 5). In the same way that King Saul was pleased by David’s harp, Psalm 149 describes God delighting in His people as they worship and praise their creator. He has given us voices to sing and feet to dance! Plus, there is music in heaven. John describes the throne room of God in the book of Revelation as he paints an incredible picture of elders bending before the Lamb singing a new song.
Music is a form of expression from the creator Himself. That is one reason your teaching time will be richer if you include a musical component. Another reason is that music makes scripture passages memorable. Add a tune to a verse you want children to learn and they will remember it for a lifetime.
Many of us, though, feel that we are not very musical and only make a joyful noise as the Bible says. However, I have seen the most non-musical person able to do wonders teaching and leading God’s word in song. Remember, that your voice probably sounds fine to the children listening and a leader’s enthusiasm will more than compensate for any shortfall in musical training or aptitude.
Preparing the music
What do you want to accomplish with your time of music? Burn off energy in a fun, expressive way? Help children memorize a Bible story or scripture passage? It’s important to select music with your purpose in mind.
When selecting music to accompany a Bible lesson, be intentional about the themes and mood of songs you select. Carefully use music that reinforces the point of your Bible lesson. It’s easy to let 20 minutes slip away doing fun motion songs only to discover there’s no time left to teach.
Introducing the songs by reading and briefly explaining scripture passage helps children make the connection between what they’re learning and what they are singing. Don’t assume the connection will be obvious—even to adults!
In addition to meeting your purpose, music must be age-appropriate. When it comes to selecting the appropriate songs, keep two things in mind:
- Evaluate the Lyrics: Don’t assume that just because the song is for preschool age that it is necessarily right to sing. Choose songs that include few words or simple repetitive phrases. Songs that tell stories are usually great for young children, and they love to sing songs where they can move and express themselves through motions. These types of songs will help the children with other skills such as directional cues. For instance, “My God is here”, point to the ground, or “My God is up high,” point to the ceiling.
- Evaluate the musical style: Younger children prefer easy-to-sing style songs. But don’t sell the children short–you might be surprised at how much a preschooler can learn. Often times a song that has a phrase the teacher sings and the children repeat is a good way to introduce a new song. Even at a young age children may have developed a strong preference for specific musical styles. From classical to country to pop to calypso, including a variety of styles helps engage more children.
Remember that learning the lyrics is as important as anything. This is not an area a teacher can wing it and hope for the best. A lack of preparation is not only flustering for a teacher but it short changes the children and robs them of a chance to enter in wholeheartedly.
Now that you have evaluated your lyrics and musical style it’s time to sing with your children! Here are tips to help you as you lead:
- Introduce only one new song at a time, even if they are wonderful songs. It’s work to learn new music and lyrics, and worship time shouldn’t be hard work for children. Plus, when we’re focusing on learning new material, it’s hard to focus on God. Be careful not to overwhelm children with too many new things to learn at one time.
- Teach the song in child-size bites. You may be tired of hearing the same song over and over but sometimes children can’t get enough of certain songs! When I do my family concerts, though I have many new songs I would like to sing, the most requested song is the one about God’s creation called, Hippopotamus. The repetitive nature and descriptive hand motions bring the children to their feet learning God’s word and having fun at the same time. Also, be sure to incorporate a mix of old favorites, and new songs so children have some input into the music time, too.
- Use a variety of methods in teaching. Be creative in the ways you teach a song. Sing it slow. Sing it fast. You can even sing it in different accents, just for fun! (Try singing it with an English accent, then put a cowboy hat on and do a Southern accent!) Have a contest with one side of the room versus the other side of the room, to see who knows the hand motions and words the best. You might consider using a song to encourage the children to move on to a new activity. For instance, a particular clean-up song makes the task more fun rather than a chore. They are challenged to complete their task before the song ends.
- Don’t give up on the quiet child. Don’t worry about the child who won’t participate or sing. Often the quiet child may still be absorbing everything you are singing or saying, and sometimes the worst thing you can do is draw attention to them. Don’t take their lack of participation as disinterest. Simply smile at them and reinforce their presence.
- Realize that affirmation is a key. We all respond to encouragement. When the children are really singing out, let them know they’re doing a great job. For instance, when they are worshiping you might want to say, “I know that God is blessed by your pretty and worshipful voices!”
- Minister beyond the classroom. Have the children perform the songs for their parents; not only will teachers and families enjoy it, but the children’s confidence will get an extra boost as well. Allow the children to share their talents in different settings such as at a local senior facility where they will be very much appreciated. You can even create your own special program by choosing songs with a theme and integrating Scripture. If you are using a split-track CD or cassette tape, set the balance so the children’s voices will be featured.
- Be confident and enthusiastic. Never apologize for with what you don’t know, but instead try to approach each lesson with confidence. Whenever possible, speak to the children you are teaching at their level, bending down or kneeling if necessary. And, remember, whatever you feel you might lack in musical ability, you can often make up for in enthusiasm.
Remember, whether you are gifted musically or whether you think the only thing you play well is your iPod, even YOU can foster growth through music. There are so many teachable moments that allow God to work beyond what we ever can imagine. Singing together can not only build a child’s self-esteem but can be the best way to connect our children in a time of worship and praise. Plus, we all know the great environment music can bring to any classroom. How can you not have fun singing? After all, “the joy of the Lord is our strength”. So, most of all, remember the gift that God gave us through music, and don’t forget to have fun!