If I Listen With My Heart: Younger Children Sway and Freeze

Sway… swishing your whole arm and hands to the right.  Now sway the other way to the left.  “Can your hands follow my hands?” you ask the children.  Begin to sing as you move and the children follow you.



If (swish to the right on I) I had (swish to the left on been) been a (full circle on little) little child


when (swish to the left on Jesus) Jesus (swish to the right on lived) lived on (full circle on earth) earth  (Freeze!)

Ask:  “Is your leg pointed the same direction mine is?  Are your hands both pointing this way?”

Sing again:

I (swish on would) have (swish on liked) liked to (full circle on walk) walk with him (Freeze!)

State:  “great stopping!”

Sing again:

and (swish on listen) listen (swish on to) to his (full circle on words)

But (swish on as) I (swish on search) the (full circle on scriptures, I can)

(swish on hear) His (swish on words) of (full circle on peace).  “Freeze!  Are your hands point this way?”

Continue singing as you sway/swish and full circle to the end of the song.


The children feel the beat in their bodies.  They are engaged and feeling the excitement of movement to the song.  The words and melody are slipping into the back door of the children’s memories as they participate.


Walk to the back of the room.  Have the children turn around to face you.  Do the activity again.  (The new direction gives some variety to the movements.)

27 Responses

  1. Joy Beckstrand

    I love this! Is there a way to get your book that I heard you had available the beginning of 2015 about teaching songs to children? I’m going to try this method this next week!!

    • Sharla Dance

      The book is available from toteachachildasong.com. Thanks for asking!

  2. Kristina

    I used your blue and yellow poster idea yesterday for Sr, and I’ll use this idea for Jr. next week. Thank you so much for your wonderful insights!

  3. Ally

    When you do activities like this do you have the pianist play? And is this the only activity you would do or would you do something else too? I’m so excited to try some of your ideas but so nervous too!

    • Sharla Dance

      Ally, If the pianist does play, they have to be very careful to follow you carefully when you stop and freeze! They have to be as watchful as the children!

  4. Ally

    Oh and also I’m confused about if you are always the only one singing? Or do you have the kids sing with you?

    • Sharla Dance

      Because I am the one who knows the song and can give the gift of the song to the children, I am often the only one singing for about two weeks. Because of all the different experiences with the song over the course of a few weeks, pretty soon the children start “owning” the song and singing it with gusto. Their attitude is amazing when they have different experiences with the song that make it their own. (Sometimes there will be a child that knows the song and sings, or a child that try to sing along even without knowing the song and that is great! Sometimes a teacher or leader will sing along and that is great, too. I just know that I am the transmitter of the song to the children, so I expect to sing alone for awhile. Thank you, thank you for asking!

  5. Heidi Dial

    So are you doing this mostly without the piano? And are you just singing it through with them 2 times this first week?

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Heidi, If your voice is strong enough, yes, I would sing it without the piano for this activity. I do have the accompanist give me the starting note. And I try to sing it at least two times with the children. I want the children to experience the beat and feel of the song in their bodies before I move to the words. Since their attention span for an activity wanes after 5 minutes or so, after moving for a while, I then move on to another song with its activity. (See the response to Camille). Thank you for asking!

    • Renee

      I have asked our primary president (who doubles as our pianist) to not play until I ask. But because I don’t always sing the notes perfectly, she always joins in with the melody to help me out. I practice the songs a lot at home to get them right, but it’s still a challenge. Is it still better to sing without the piano while learning, even if my tune isn’t always perfect?

  6. Camille

    I have the same question as the others: are you singing without the piano? And do you have the children singing with you eventually? We have 20 minutes for music time. Would you suggest spending those 20 minutes swishing and stopping? Is the purpose to only focus on the rhythm/beat at this point? And the words will come later? Or would you spend some time “teaching” them the words?
    Thank you!

    • Sharla Dance

      Great questions! Here is a younger singing time: Open with some kind of wiggle song to get them focused on me and moving with me. Immediately start in with the activity for the song of the month… so swaying and freezing (the freezing is to help them notice where their own body is in space compared to mine… I smile sometimes at where their arms are!). We sing it again turned to the back (where am I in the room) and I move to the back so that they can see me. Note: (I did that last week with the children, so this week we are using a melody map and the visuals.) I immediately go to the next activity for the next song. (This Sunday will be Scripture Power – Action Word Actions) We sing with the actions then do silent singing where they are just moving their bodies. Because I have 20 minutes, I immediately go to the next song activity. (This Sunday will be I Will Follow God’s Plan for Me – a rhythm pattern with sand blocks (that I made out of sand paper and some blocks). They will be moving with me while I sing the song. (I want them to hear the whole thing and get the beat and feel of the song in their bodies before I focus in on the words next week.)

      I want the children to have activities that match their attention span (about 5 to 7 minutes for this age), then I will switch immediately to another activity to teach another song. Sometimes I teach a new birthday song or a new welcome song. Sometimes I teach an Article of Faith song, … but each song only gets about 5 to 7 minutes before we switch to a new one.

      A child needs to hear a song about 10 to 20 times before it starts to enter into his or her soul (from research). That’s why I sing and give experiences with the song while the children are focused and engaged in something like movement or visuals. Yes, the children start singing with the song, especially if I am singing it from memory and with feeling every week.

      About the piano – if you need the piano, have the accompanist play the melody with you making sure to stop when you stop. The accompanist has to be on their toes! just like you want the children to be. (I have to talk with the accompanist beforehand so that they know what to expect.) The accompanist can play while you do silent singing and you are mouthing the words.

      I often will say let’s have the piano play with us, and that is the message to the accompanist that I want the full harmony and accompaniment, not just the melody. The research behind that is that the sound wave of the human voice is easier for the children to follow than the piano sound waves (because it is not a sound they can reproduce just like a piano).

      Please keep asking such great questions!

      • Heidi Dial

        Thank you so much for your help and this really helps me to layout my singing time. I was always worried about trying to do 2 new songs a month but your way is great! Can you keep posting your ideas for Scripture power also. I love your beat movements, but I can’t come up with a pattern on my own. I am very musically challenged and I don’t feel that way armed with your lesson plans.
        My kids loved the paper plate routine for Samuel Tells of Baby Jesus!

  7. Leanne

    Do you have your action word actions to scripture power posted anywhere?

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Leanne, Here is what I’m doing for that song’s chorus:
      Scripture power – beat 1 – hands beat on thighs, beat 2 – sides of hands beat together in the form of an open book, beat 3 – hold arm up as if a strong man on the word power
      “Keeps e safe from sin” – put arms in front of you as if a protective shield
      Scripture power – same as above
      “is the power to win” – first one arm up as if a strong man, then the other arm up as a strong man
      Scripture power – same as above
      “every day I need” – count as if counting the days
      “the power that I get” – arms up as a strong man
      “each time I read” – sides of hands beat together in the form of an open book

      • Leanne

        Thank you so much. By the way you are coming to Pasco Wa and I am going out of town for a wedding. I am so sad that I am going to miss seeing your training. 🙁

        • Marci

          I live near Pasco…how can I find out more information? I’d love to come if I’m allowed.

          • Sharla Dance

            Dear Marci, I gave the workshop last Saturday in the Pasco North Stake building. Because there were 120 people there, I’m hoping someone has some video footage they can share with you. (I teach in Bellevue on February 6th and in Portland on February 27th.) There’s so much to share that every workshop is a little different. Thank you for asking. Sharla

          • Marci

            Do I need to sign up? I’d love to go to one. How can I find out more information?

  8. Julie W.

    Do the children need extra space so they don’t hit each other when they’re swishing their arms? I’ve never tried anything like this and I worry about just about every little detail. Thank you for taking time to share your ideas!

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Julie,
      The reason it works with younger children is because their arms are so much shorter than adults. They may need to adjust a little as they swish, but they seem to do that well. Thanks for asking.

  9. Christy Ray

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for these ideas!!!!! I have been a Primary chorister off and on throughout my life for a total of about 20 years – it’s my favorite calling in the WORLD!! I was recently called to this calling again, but always before, the first half of the year the new Sunbeams only came for opening exercises, then went to their classrooms. Due to new Ward boundaries, we have only had Sacrament meeting this month until today, so it was the Sunbeams’ first Sunday in Primary (and they stayed for Sharing and Singing time). I had a hard time keeping their attention, and felt really discouraged afterwards. I came down to my computer to email my Stake Primary Music Leader to see if she could help me. (Ironically, I actually trained her when I had her Stake calling!) She is also her Ward’s Primary chorister, and since there are 75 children in her Jr. Primary, and only 50 in mine, I hoped she had some helpful ideas. To my surprise (and GREAT RELIEF), she had sent all of the choristers in our Stake this email to tell us about you and your ideas! After reading them, my discouragement is gone, and I’m excited to use them next week. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!!!

    • Sharla Dance

      Dear Christy, You are exactly the kind of person that take all these ideas and run with them. I’m hoping you are able to find renewal, and I honestly would love you to share some of your experiences. Take care, Sharla

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