Friday, December 13, 2013

How to Help Children Understand the Message of the Songs

Help the children understand the words.
Song lyrics are often worded in ways which are difficult for children to understand.  With a bit of effort, however, you can ensure that your primary understands difficult phrasing and new vocabulary.
  • Before you teach a song, display vocabulary word strips on one side of the board and definitions on the other side of the board.  Have the children match each word to its definition.  For Junior Primary it may be easier to match each word to a picture.
  • Teach the song line-by-line and explain the meaning in your own words as you go.
  • Display some pictures that fit the theme of the song and some that don't.  Ask the children to identify which pictures fit.
  • Print a picture to illustrate each line.  Scatter the pictures around the room.  Ask the children to find the picture that matches each line.
  • After the children have learned the song, post the lyrics or pictures on the board.  Read one of the lines in your own words and ask the children to tell you which of the lyrics they think you're describing.
  • Have the children tell you in their words what the song means.  Ask for volunteers to share a short testimony of the principles they have learned. 



Encourage memorization
Whenever possible, don't display the words.  Reading the lyrics may help the children sing better, but it discourages memorization and understanding.  Encourage teachers and students not to use songbooks or songbook apps during Primary.  (I make exceptions for visitors and less active children).  If the children need visual aides to help remember the lyrics, use art that conveys the overall concepts, not just the individual words (i.e. a bee for "be," etc.).

Teach new songs quickly and repeat them often.   Try one of these repetition games. 



Ask questions about the song.
Some of the most interesting questions are those that encourage the children to apply the message of the songs to real life situations.  Try one of the following activities:
  • Play Hot Potato and ask the child who is "it" to answer a question about the song.  
  • For songs with multiple verses, adapt this Rock Paper Scissors Game with questions about or themes from the song.  
  • Adapt this Who What When Where Why How activity to your song.  
  • Repeat the songs in different ways using the Bird Cards, Family Cards, or Neighborhood Friends Cards and ask questions between verses.  For example, if you were teaching "The Family is of God," you might review with the Family Cards.  As you sing in the manner of each family member, ask the children to listen for that family member's role and give you examples after the song is over.


Help the children feel the Spirit
Explanations can inform the children's minds, but the only way to speak to their hearts is through the Spirit.

I love to use fun and games,  but that should never become the focus of your lesson.  Ask yourself if the nature of the activity will detract from the reverence of the song.  Some activities may be perfectly appropriate for "I Can Be Valiant," but not suitable for "Baptism."

If you do chose to play a game, try to keep the children calm, focused, and smiling.  Think of President Monson telling a joke during General Conference.  Everyone grins and giggles, but you rarely see President Uchtdorf doubled over in laughter,  Elder Packer standing on his chair,  Elder Holland slapping Elder Nelson on the back or Elders Bednar and Perry fist-bumping.

Oh, wait....


If your activity gets out of hand (and it will from time to time), be ready and willing to stop and restore reverence or change activities.  I always have at least two reverent back-up activities in my chorister bag at all times.  Be sure to end each lesson on a reverent note.   

Most importantly, when you DO feel the Spirit, always point it out to the children.  If they sing a song about the Savior and it gives you goosebumps, TELL THEM!  They need to learn to recognize the Spirit and gain confidence in their own ability to invite it into their lives.  



Share your testimony of the principles you teach.
Study the songs throughout the week.  Fast for understanding and inspiration at the beginning of each month.  Learn to apply the principles better in your own life so that you can teach with authority.


Children learn best when they make connections.  Look for ways to relate the songs you're singing to other gospel experiences.



Make connections to Sharing Time lessons.  
Read the "Outline for  Sharing Time" frequently and talk to your Presidency about how they plan to teach it.  Point out to the children when the Sharing Time lessons parallel the lessons in the songs.  Plan activities that expand upon the Sharing Time lessons.  For example, in August 2013, the theme for the second week is "Heavenly Father wants me to pray to him often- anytime, anywhere."  On that week, you could use this activity discussing different types of prayers.

Look for opportunities to reinforce the monthly and weekly messages with new songs.  I like to teach short songs or new verses to songs with which the children are already familiar.  (This is the only time I use flipcharts with words).  Even if you never plan to sing these songs again, it will expand the children's repertoire.  And more importantly, it gives the children another perspective on and more insight into the themes they are learning.

As an example, the February 2015 theme is "Heavenly Father Has a Plan for His Children" and the monthly song is "I Will Follow God's Plan."  On the fourth week, the emphasis is on agency.  You might teach the short, easy song "Choose the Right Way."  It would only take five minutes to teach, but it is catchy enough to stick in the children's heads all week and reinforce the idea that agency is an integral part of Heavenly Father's Plan.



Make connections to Faith in God activities.
Read the "Faith In God" handbooks for Girls and Boys.  Point out when Senior Primary children have opportunities to complete requirements that relate to the theme of the song you are learning.  For example, the theme for May is "Families are blessed when they follow the prophet."  You  might choose to teach the President Monson verse of "Follow the Prophet" and challenge the children to read a recent conference address with their families, which fulfills one of the Faith in God requirements under Learning and Living the Gospel.



Make connections to scriptures.
Read the scriptures listed on the bottom of the sheet music.  Explain the difficult words or phrases.  If necessary, give the verse context.  Briefly tell the story from which the verse comes and show pictures from the Gospel Art Kit.  Point out instances when song lyrics are quoted from the scriptures so that the children understand that Primary Songs teach gospel principles.



Make connections to other media.
Tell a related story or show a related video.  The church has made many free resources available for our use- take advantage of them.  Find a scripture story, an article from the Friend, a quote, one of the Mormon Messages or a short video from the Mormon Channel to reinforce your message and introduce the children to these resources.  I love the iPad apps for this purpose.  If your Primary is too large to see the screen, you can print the written materials or download the audio/visual materials to your laptop or a DVD.  More information on all of these resources can be found on the church's Media Library page.

Keep in mind that your calling is to teach the songs, so be sure to keep the story or video short and relevant.  For example, the theme for the third week in February 2015 is "My body is created in the image of God."  You might choose to teach or review the song "The Lord Gave Me a Temple" and show the short video "God's Greatest Creation."



Make connections to their other lessons.
As the children come in to Primary, quietly discuss with them what they learned in the previous hour.  When possible, relate the song that you are singing to a Sacrament Meeting talk, the talk or scripture from opening exercises, the Article of Faith you're learning (if applicable) or the lesson they had in their classes.



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