“But they are not singing!” A view on involving children in Singing Time


Consider these three scenarios:

The children are concentrating hard to do the body rhythm pattern the music leader is leading as she sings the song.  They are moving to the beat and intensely interested.

But they are not singing much.

The children are involved and engaged in putting together the different puzzle parts on the front board while the music leader is singing the song.  You can see the wheels turning in their heads.

But they are not singing very loud.

The children are on the floor in groups figuring out which word comes next in the song. They are putting major words of the song in order for the envelope game as the music leader is singing.

But they are not singing out loud, only in their heads.


But they are not singing!


Over the past three months, I have had comment after comment about how other leaders (not the necessarily the singing leader) are concerned when a child isn’t singing during singing time,  even if they are participating, involved, and enjoying the experience.

Because I have answered the question over a range of time (years), and people, and experiences, I would love to address the situation.


Will the children really learn the words to the songs if they do a variety of different activities that don’t really emphasize and drill in the words?

One of the reasons that music affects us deeply as human beings is that the words (and also the meaning of the words) ride on beat, rhythm, and vibrations (such as pitch or harmony or timbre … the tones of different instruments or voices). In order for the song to touch a child deeply, they need to experience so much more than words!

What the ‘nay sayers’ may not realize is that when you teach a song, the words will ride solidly on the music if we do activities with the music, not just the words. The words come in the back door of the brain, and the children just think they “always knew” the song.


The children aren’t singing as they do this activity so they will never learn the words.

Line upon line and precept on precept isn’t just a scripture for adults, it is also a true principle for how a child learns a song.

One week we emphasize the beat and rhythm through an activity.

One week we emphasize the feel and mood of the song through a really appropriate visual activity.

One week we emphasize the rise and fall of the melody through a melody map or a body movement activity.

And one week we emphasize the words by a Crack the Code or a Missing word or another like activity.

Line upon line, we build the song as a whole, …giving all the memories of learning that song an attitude of intrigue and interest by the variety of ways we have presented the song.


The subconscious mind

One of the amazing abilities of the subconscious mind is the ability to let the words of a song slip in the back door of the memory.  When a child is engaged and interested in the activity, the words lodge subconsciously into the memory little by little.


Yes, it is good to bring words to a conscious area of the brain at some point, but it doesn’t have to happen right at first.  In fact, if there is too much emphasis placed on the words throughout the learning process, the song never grows in feeling, mood, or meaning within a child’s heart.  It doesn’t have time to be nurtured by all of the other elements of music taught through the different activities.


The children are not going to remember the words because they don’t sing them every time.  The children don’t know the song because they don’t sing the words.

Both of those statements have some untruth to them.

Remembering words to a song does not come only through singing.  There are many, many experiences that help us as humans remember songs.

Experience and Review

We have a unique situation where teach children a song, then ask them to remember 6 to 8 months later in a performance!  Remembering the words so that you can sing them 6 to 9 months after you learn them comes best by:

  1. A variety of experiences with the song (so you can really come to know it), and
  2. Built in monthly reviews of the songs done in a variety of ways.  I review a song as part of singing time every week starting at the end of March.  Because the brain has a nightly brain dump as part of its efficiency, you have to bring memories “back around.”  Help the brain know “you want to remember” something by reviewing it occasionally in a fun and interesting way.  It would be best if the review stays true to the feel and mood of the song. (post coming in April)
Song of the Heart

Just because someone is not singing, does not mean they aren’t learning the song. A song can enter someone’s soul in many different ways.

And singing is RE-producing a song.  It has to be inside before it is successfully sung outside with true power, or the song is not really in someone’s heart and soul.  Even in adult choirs that is a true principle.

Hopefully each child will choose to sing once the song is inside of them so that we can all join in one unified voice through the singing of the song together.  There are children, however, that hold the song in their heart, but don’t really like singing.  I think the Lord honors that “song of the heart,” too.


So do I encourage my children in my Primary to sing?  Yes, after many, many experiences with both the song and the Spirit.


Do my children sing well for the program? Yes, and the audience is deeply touched without knowing exactly why.  When you hear someone sing with their whole soul, it is a moving experience.  The children know the songs as friends.  They experience the beat, the rhythm, and the tempo with their bodies.  They have felt tender experiences through stories of how the song has helped or guided or lifted someone else.  They know the mood of the song.  They know the louds and softs of the song.  They know how much breath the song takes to really soar.  The children have experienced these songs as their friends.  They know the songs much deeper than just the words.


And if you truly teach a child a song, the song can then truly teach the child.


20 Responses

  1. Jocey Bradshaw

    You seriously have changed my life!!! I always felt like I was made to be a primary chorister and have loved every minute of it. It came so easy to me when I started, but as time went on I found that Senior primary was bored with me since I just focused on sign language for teaching a song. I used a couple of your ideas for teaching Come follow me, and the Holy Ghost, I was surprised that out of all the songs we sang last year the kids knew those the best….So in January I used your ideas for teaching the first verse of If I listen with my heart. I had a great time, the kids as well, and then at the end of the month I had the kids fold their arms and just sing with me….and they knew every word, and I did not teach them a single word!!!! I was sold, it was amazing! So I bought your book right away, which then blew me away even more!!! There is so much more to your ideas that I would never have known had I not read your book. It is truly a treasure to me. I spread the word every chance I get. Thank you so much for sharing your gifts and knowledge with me. I even cried when I watched what you do with the song “My hands” You are truly a gift from God.

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Jocey, Your words are so kind. We both know it is not me that changes lives …It is Him. I’m just an instrument. I did tear up at what you said. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you for your post! I struggle with some other leaders saying “They aren’t singing” and your post helps me feel oh so much better! <3 <3 <3

  3. pamela friske

    This is so true. Thank you Sharla. I subscribe to this method of teaching and so appreciate all the help and explanations you share with us.

  4. Angie Jones

    Thank you! Your blog is the first thing I look at when planning my singing time and it has been so helpful. I have absolutely loved my calling as primary chorister and I love my kids. My pianist tells me that he is excited every week to come and see what we are doing. The primary presidency looks forward to our new activities each week as well. And yes, there are weeks when it feels my juniors aren’t singing at all (and I will admit to not having a great voice and sometimes feeling self conscience singing a solo). But by the end of the month, they KNOW the song. It has been amazing. My heart nearly burst when I noticed that all of my CTR 4s could sing all of the words to our songs. I was so proud of them! And I have been getting emails and texts from parents to let me know that their kids are singing at home. It does work! I love this calling!

  5. Anny

    Sharla, thank you for everything you taught at the primary music conference in Tri-Cities. I was amazed and excited by all that you shared with us. I learned wonderful truths about children and teaching them. I have tried earnestly to share what I learned from you with my primary and the children have loved it. I have seen 11 year olds who would simply stare forward, become engaged and actively singing as they tapped a rhythm and passed a shaker. I have cherished this time of enlightenment for myself. Although I have recently been released from this calling, I will never forget the principles I learned from you. Thank you

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Anny, I’m so glad you got to see the light in their eyes as they become engaged in learning before you got released. Thank you for your kind words. I’m just an instrument.
      Take care, Sharla

  6. Lori Call

    Thank you for your reply to my concerns Sharla!! I would like to print the explanations that you have given here for those who who wonder why they aren’t necessarily singing the words and question if the children are truly learning the words. It would be done in the spirit of helping them to understand. Is that ok?

  7. Brandie Lyon

    Thank you for sharing this. I became discouraged yesterday, after singing IILWMH 2 verse and not many children were singing, even after working on the song for about 6 wks. I’m concerned about teaching the 3rd verse this coming month.

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Brandie, Have you tried Take it in, take it out (helping to practice their inside singing voice)? Have you tried Clap instead (helping the rhythm of the song and words to go deep inside)? Have you tried Action Word Actions for the words as you sing, then ask them to sing with only their hands (no sound)? These are some review ideas coming in a post.
      Take care, Sharla

  8. Licia

    I found your post on nursery children (and I’ll probably add this comment there too) and began using this idea of interacting with the meaning and beat of the song each time I sing- and last week, after about six months of me being in nursery doing singing time, the 2-3 year olds not only did the activities but were singing the words too! Their favorite song is Follow the Prophet because we do a circle dance every time we sing it.

  9. Kimmarie Taylor

    Thank you so much for sharing your talents and knowledge! You put eloquently into words what I have always felt in my heart to be true.

  10. Darla Broberg

    Sharla, I have been getting SO much help from your website, book, and videos. Thank you so very much for your creative ideas and wise counsel. I’ve been the music leader for only a couple of months (during one of which I was out of town) and am trying to get my act together here. I just watched the Nursery demonstration in your 2018 video for the second time and am very excited to try your ideas with our little ones. (I also LOVE the “I am a Nursery child” section on your website. So clear and practical.) But then I read the section on nursery music on LDS.org, where it said to “use only Church-approved resources in the nursery class”. Have you ever gotten any “push-back” when you used songs that are not in the Children’s Songbook? If so, how did you handle it?

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Darla,

      I gave the song copies and recordings to my Bishop and my Stake and ask for approval. Bless them for getting back to me quickly. So in my stake they are approved. I hope everybody follows that same process. Thank you for asking! Sharla

      • Darla Broberg

        Thanks to you, too, for answering me so quickly. I’ve now made copies of your songs for the Bishop and will follow through there. Thanks again. Darla

  11. Maressa Revo

    I am so excited to start singing time using your methods Sharla! I’m still very new and am working on shifting my ideas from memorizing to getting the music into the heart. This was a great post to explain that! Someone mentioned a book. Can you tell me how I might purchase that? Are there any other “start here” ideas or posts you’d recommend I start with? Thanks in advance!

    • Sharla Dance

      Hi Maressa,
      After people came to me from the workshops asking for some way to remember things, I wrote lots of the ideas down and called the book “To Teach a Child a Song.” There is a website of the same title. If you search that title on this site or the other website, a page comes up that shows how to buy the book. I would search for ways to use shakers, wind wands, and sway and freeze. I would search for ways to use concentration match it game, silent video, and crack the code. I am doing a workshop in Washington on January 26th and in Oregon on February 23rd. We are trying to video those workshops so that those who can’t attend can get the overall gist of things. Thanks for asking!

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