Teaching a Hymn to Children

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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.
The rhythm for the hymn starts at about :28.

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.
The teaching of the hymn starts at minute 3:23

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.

12 Responses

  1. Kelley Gee

    Is there any chance that you could share your melody map for “the priesthood is restored”?

    • Sharla Dance

      Angie Killian is the creator of the map. She posted it on the Facebook page Sharla Dance Teaching Methods (she is the one who named the Facebook group). She is amazing!

    • Sharla Dance

      Angie Killian is the one who created the Priesthood melody map. She posted it in the Sharla Dance Teaching Method Facebook page. She is an amazing woman!!! Thank you for asking!

  2. Mona

    Question- do you actually hand out a straw and box, a pillow, pencils etc to each child? How do you do that reverently and quickly enough? It seems when I do that, it takes several minutes and I lose everyone in the process or the sunbeams already have the pencils in their noses before the back row even gets them. Help!
    Thanks for all your ideas! I love them!

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Mona,
      The activities I use in this video are geared to home video use. Our state still doesn’t allow Primary to meet. But in answer to your question, I do put the manipulatives that we are going to use that day in groups of 10 under the teacher’s chair. I don’t have the teachers pass them out until right when we are doing the activity. For instance, rhythm sticks. 20 in the bundle (each child will need two). I demonstrate the pattern, then ask the teacher to reach under their chair and pass out two per child. As the teachers are passing them out, I teach the pattern (even if all the children don’t have the sticks yet). The children don’t have time to “experiment” with the manipulative because we move right on. As soon as we are done doing the pattern and singing a couple of times, I ask the teachers to collect the manipulative.

      I allow periods of transition where there may be a bit of what seems like chaos. It really is 1 or 2 minutes of time to transition from one activity to the next. That it is where the teachers pass things out or collect them back in. That is where I ask everyone to find a friend for a partner activity. That is where we move our focus from the front of the room to something under their chair or at the back of the room. Those bites of transition are essential and it gives a change of pace from being so intensely focused (needed for everyone’s brain).

      Thank you for asking!

  3. Sina solomona

    Thank you for sharing your ideas Much appreciated.
    Would you have and tips on teaching Joseph Smith first prayer please?

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Sina,
      I did four videos using different ideas for Joseph Smith’s first prayer. They are on YouTube under Teaching Primary Music, Sharla Dance in January. Thank you for asking!

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