Just got called as a Primary Music Teacher?

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What are the best ways to keep the children engaged while teaching the song?

Primary Music leaders work with the biggest convert group in the Church to gain a testimony; our children. What we do to help them is key!

In order to keep the children engaged with testimony building songs, you have to use principles that work well with a child’s brain. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Use variety and repetition
  2. Change the pace with a different type and energy level of activity about every 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Don’t always focus on the words.
  4. Purposeful Movement to a steady is one of the best ways to wake up their whole brain.

Variety and Repetition

Your brain craves variety, but desperately needs repetition. If you want the song to go deep into the heart and soul of a child, use at least 3 to 4 different ways to teach the song, one each week. For instance, one week have the children do a rhythmic pattern with you as you sing the song. The next week have the children put six words from the song in the order they come in the song as you sing the song, then have the children sing only those words as they come in the song. The following week have the children match pictures dealing with the song in a concentration game as you sing the song.

Note: Notice I am not drilling words with the children. Words ride on the beat, the rhythm, and the melody of the song. It is super important for the children to hear the song while they are concentrating on one little part of it (beat, rhythm, specific word, pictures pertaining to the song) in order for the brain to have a framework to lay down the words at the right time and pitch. You make the brain much happier to do three or four activities where it is engaged, but not having to produce the song yet.

Change the Pace with a Different Activity and Energy Level every 4 to 5 minutes

Stress and release, ebb and flow, tension and relaxing are all strong factors in how a brain learns best. The brain can pay attention for about 5 minutes before it needs a change of pace. The change of pace is usually best if it is a differing energy level. For instance, if the children are concentrating on cracking a code you have given them about the song, their brains will need a release from the high energy of the concentration. Move to another song doing some kind of movement to release the thinking energy and connect with the energy of physical activity. In about 4 minutes, change to a different song and tell the children a story song (bits of a story with you singing a line of the song every two or three sentences). All three of the activities are different energies and you switched up the pace of the singing time three different times, giving the brain an ebb and flow to learn just the way the brain likes it best.

Don’t just focus on the words

As noted earlier, the melody, the beat, and the rhythm are what the words ride on within the brain, so focus on those as you teach the song, singing the song as they do different activities with those parts of the music. The words of the music somehow seem to slip in the backdoor of the brain, especially if you are giving the children three or four different experiences to learn the song.

Purposeful Movement to a steady beat is one of the best ways to engage the brain and the whole learning system of a child.

Movement is magic for the brain. Carla Dennison in her book Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head makes a clear case for teaching with movement as one of the best ways for a child to learn. Because we are using music to teach, it is a natural fit to sway to the slow beat, tap to the fast beat, crash paper plates together to the beat, shake egg shakers in a pattern to the song, or circle ribbons in a pattern to the rhythm of the song.

Being a new Primary Music teacher is exciting and hard. You can do it!

3 Responses

  1. Christine Orme

    Hi Sharla,

    My name is Christine and I live in the Beaverton Oregon Stake.

    After a two year break we are putting together a Regional Music Workshop. There will be classes available for three hours focused on helping Primary Choristers.

    The presentations you gave in years past are legendary!

    Some people still have worksheets you provided, and I was wondering if with your permission we could make copies and make them available for the Workshop this year.

    I wasn’t sure what would be the best way to contact you. I would be happy to email you pictures of what we have so you could know what worksheets we were thinking of. Some are over a decade old! You’re experience and knowledge has left an impression even now.

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