Christmas Songs: Handbells for The First Noel

The children are restless during the opening exercises.  I smile as I recognize their poorly veiled excitement about getting out of school for the Christmas holiday coming up.  When the time for music comes, I start with a movement based activity (see Christmas: Shepherd’s Carol, Idea #1 ), then proceed straight to the next activity: the handbells. ( In the younger primary, I ask the older classes to pair up with a younger buddy.)


I ask about three adults help me pass out the bells. (*Note:  if you don’t have enough for the whole primary, make sure that each child knows they will somehow get a turn.  It’s just too exciting to not get a turn<grin>!)


I show the poster, point to an orange cutout, and ask everyone with an orange bell to play their bell.  (This is my instruction time about being careful with the bell, stopping the sound by holding it to their body, and playing by one stroke of the hand like tapping a hammer on the wall.  I try to do it in 2 sentences or less.)  I then point individually to each color of the bells, giving each child a chance to try out their bells and clue in that they play when that color shows up on the poster.  I give ample praise to those children who are holding their bells quiet while the other children have a turn<grin>!

It’s time to play the bells.

I give simple instructions, 1.  asking that all bells are quiet against the child’s body until it is their turn, and 2. play your color of bell when my finger touches your color of cutout. Let’s go!

I breath in a large way (giving them a non verbal clue that we are about to start the piece), then start the music, pointing to each symbol in the rhythm of the song as I sing the song in my head (so that I get the rhythm right).  The child plays the handbell he or she is holding when it is their turn. (*Note: if it is a song with a duet such as Away in a Manger, you will need someone else to hold the poster so that you can point with both hands in rhythm.)

If another group of children need a chance to play the bells, I ask the children to take their bells and give it to a child who has not yet had a chance to play.  I go through the same step of playing each color to give the new children a chance to try out their bell and learn to play with their color of symbol.

If you have enough bells for each child, I ask the children to exchange colors with one of their friends so that they have a new color.  We then play through the song again.  It becomes a new experience because the children are holding a different color and have to play at a different time.

The children love the bells!

12 Responses

  1. Aline

    How soon do you recommend starting Christmas songs? Do you wait until after Thanksgiving or begin now?

    • Sharla Dance

      I actually begin in November with the Christmas songs, but I don’t ONLY do Christmas. I usually teach two to three songs, and only one of them is Christmas oriented. However, when I use the bells, I use them in December. They don’t necessarily teach the words to the song, but immerse the child in the melody and the experience. Thanks for asking!

  2. Tamra

    Where did you get these little shepherd cut outs and your mangers? I love this.

    • Sharla Dance

      We have a craft store called Ben Franklin that has a huge die cut area. I just took the colors I needed, figured out how many of each one I needed (that was the hard part), and cut them out at the store. I’m sure some people have die cutters at home, but the store was great. Thanks for asking!

  3. Jordelle

    Can you tell me what bells you purchased? There is quite the variety, but I would like to utilize your shepherds, and not have to try and figure out a new color scheme, if you know what I mean. 🙂

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Jordelle, The brand name is Kids Play. They are in pitch (unlike some of the other cheaper bells) and reliable. Thanks for asking!

  4. Marielle

    Thanks for sharing this handbell information, Aunt Sharla. We have done handbells as a family for Christmas too, and the kids and I loved it. So I shared this post and some of your others in my post about teaching kids the real meaning of Christmas. Thank you for so many great ideas!

  5. Kati

    Hi Sharla! Not sure if you’ll see this but I thought it was worth a try. 🙂 We are going to do handbells next week and I wondered if you think it would work to do two different songs but spend the whole 20 minutes with the bells. I ususually do much more variety than that but I thought since I so rarely do them and the kids might love it so with taking turns it would be ok? Just curious your thought and experience. Thanks! 🙂

    • Sharla Dance

      You’ll have to let me know how it went to do 20 minutes of bells. I have only every done one song, then give the children a chance to switch their color! Take care, Sharla

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