How do you teach a hymn written and meant for adults to children?
Bit by bit.
Little by little.
One bite at a time!
Because children need:
- words that are concrete (mixed in especially if the concept is abstract like The Holy Ghost, faith, or repentance)
- smaller melody ranges
- smaller jumps between notes
- faster tempos (a child’s heartbeat is often almost twice as fast as an adult so slower tempos seem almost twice as slow to a child!)
And because hymns are usually far away from those needed things in a song for children, how do you successfully teach a hymn to children?
Use movement that is appropriate
If you are teaching a slower hymn, you can:
- extract a rhythm that occurs over and over in the song. Have the child tap it out with his hand, on his leg, on a box, with a straw, or with a pencil.
- use a manipulative that flows like ribbons, wind wands, egg shakers, or paper plates. Create a repeating pattern and do it together as you sing the song.
- choose a video that might illustrate what the song is speaking about, turn off the sound, show the video as you sing the song to the children (silent video). The children will focus on video and attach those images to the song as part of their memory.
If you are teaching a hymn with a strong beat, you can:
- clap and tap a pattern to the beat
- click out a pattern to the song with rhythm sticks
- Use large movements in a pattern as you sing
- stomp, patsch (tapping hands on your thigh), and clap a pattern as you sing
Teach in small chunks
Don’t teach the whole song at once. Research from the book Brain Rules shows that our brains do better if we have exposure to the thing we are trying to learn, then time to sleep, then another exposure. Use the principle Line Upon Line when it comes to teaching a song like this.
- only teach the chorus
- only teach some key words with hand signs and have the children follow
- focus on the beat or rhythm one week, the story another week, and the words a different week.
Don’t feel like you have to explain all of the big words at once.
In the hymn I Stand All Amazed we sing the word amazed, proffers, grace, tremble, and crucified… which is difficult for any parent to explain even one of these words, let alone all of them. So use the same principle of Line Upon Line for teaching the words, also. Hand signs and action word actions are natural ways to teach a word. Children have learned to speak by watching how we act as certain sounds are coming at them before even learning to walk. Their brains are adept at quickly learning nuances of a word as we use movement to portray the concept or meaning of a word.
NOTE: Notice in the video above that I didn’t explain the words grove or woodland, but instead showed lots of trees with my hands. It is almost like “secret learning” because the child picks it up subconsciously. It is a much practiced (and much easier) way for the child’s brain to learn a new word.
These are just three of the principles of teaching a hymn to children.
I’ll continue with some other examples in a coming post.