Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reverence Ideas

Here are several more ideas I thought of for "redirecting" the attention of the kids back to you.

Tell a riddle. Say "I'm going to give you some clues to a riddle. Can you guess who (or what) I'm talking about? That's right. We're talking about that today. We know a different song about this. Let's sing..." Some people are good at doing this kind of thing off the cuff. If you aren't one of them you can practice doing it ahead of time. Or, you could prepare a few riddles on slips of paper and keep them in a small can or basket to draw from when needed.

Begin humming a song. See if the children can guess the song. Then carry on with what you were doing.

Show the children a scarf, feather, paper snowflake or something similar that quietly floats to the floor. Say, "I'm going to drop this feather. Before it hits the floor would you all try to think of one way you can be reverent?" Ask for an idea and then say, "That's a good idea. Let's all fold our arms (or smile, or keep our feet still, etc.) while we sing..." You could expand this idea into a full singing time if you wish, by continuing to take ideas and singing reverence songs.

Keep a "secret picture" on hand. One related to the song you are currently teaching, or a general picture of Jesus or a reverent child. Put it in an envelope. If the children become restless, stop and say "I have a secret picture. Joseph, would you like to see it? Would you show it to everyone?" After everyone has seen it, make a brief comment about what you like about the picture, then return to your presentation.

Keep a large, medium and small sized button nearby. When you need to redirect attention show the large button and ask them to listen to hear it hit the floor or the table. Ask if it makes a big sound? Ask them if they can hear the medium sized button and then the small button. Use other small objects on different weeks.

This is an idea adapted from the Sunbeam manual. Cup your hands in front of your mouth and begin to blow, as if you are blowing up a balloon. Let your hands and then your arms spread out into a big circle in front of you and then over your head. Then make a shushing sound as you let all the air out of the imaginary balloon and gradually bring your hands down into your lap. Don't explain anything to the children, just let them watch you. The little ones will copy you right away. If your singing time is combined, count on the bigger boys being silly. Tell them that the balloon has to stay in the chair.

"Clap your hands, clap your hands, clap them just like me." Softly clap your hands as you chant and then change and clap them on your shoulders, knees, head, etc. This works really well with the Jr. Primary. You can find the longer version with actions to touch your shoulders, tap your knees, and shake your head in the Primary 1 manual on page 55. If your Primary is combined, it can work with the Seniors also, but you may have to increase the difficulty of the motions. Look for two more activity verses on pages 127 and 128.

Some choristers have a "church mouse" small enough to keep in a pocket. If things get out of hand the church mouse peeks out enough for the children to see and then hides again. The chorister explains that the mouse is very shy, but loves to hear children singing. Tell the children that maybe this shy mouse will come out to listen if they sing more reverently and do not scare her away.

I think one could adapt the story "Primary Manners" from the December 2009 issue of The Friend into a great singing time focusing on reverence. I would just use the chalkboard illustrations, maybe drawing them for the children and asking for their ideas and singing an appropriate reverence song after the ideas.

Some of these ideas are adapted from the Primary 1 manual. There are a number of activity verses and suggestions for wiggly children in there. The Primary 2 and 3 manuals also have ideas. Don't be put off by the age designation. If you study these books with a little imagination you'll think of ways to adapt the suggestions for the older kids. Activity verses are really good to give the children a little rest and get them moving a bit. Everyone can participate! I think this is why the activity songs are always so popular with the kids. They like to move!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Reverence Problem

One kind reader asked if I had ideas about reverence. I do, I assure you! This is a long post and probably more than you want to hear! These thoughts are my own observations and my own opinion based on my own experience. If it is not helpful, feel free to disregard it. Please don't think I'm singling anyone out! The short version comes in the next paragraph and then you can stop if you don't want to hear what I really think. :) I'll just let you know that my best idea is in the very last paragraph as a reward for those who endure to the end. If anyone else has a great idea, please leave a comment, everyone will appreciate you!

My mother and dad taught me that when change needs to happen you cannot change the other person. You can only change yourself and allow the other person to respond to your changes. This is really true. To do anything else is surely an imposition of our own will. So, my first idea is to always evaluate what you are doing first. I regularly ask myself these questions: Are the children engaged in what I am doing? Why or why not? Which children aren't? Why? Should I do something different? Can I do more to focus their attention? Are all of the kids involved or just a few? Am I using the methods for teaching that the Church recommends? Does anything I am doing contribute to the behavior I wish to avoid? If I am doing the best I can and can't think of how I should adjust, can I just learn to tolerate this? Can I pray, fervently maybe, to be long-suffering? I can tesify that Heavenly Father will change our heart and help us to be tolerant. This is a process in itself, but sometimes all we can do is pray for the situation and try to be patient as God works in the lives of others. This self-evaluation always helps me. I think the Spirit likes an opportunity to teach me when I sincerely open my heart to being taught.

The reverence problems in my Primary are likely the same as yours, at least in some ways. I think children are what we would call irreverent for a couple of reasons. One is the nature of children and the other is the nature of adults. These sometimes conflict in Primary. My humble opinion is that the basic reason children are not reverent in Primary is that they are not engaged in what we are doing. We adults react to this because what we are doing is important (okay, not all of it is -I think we could do something about those R.S. announcements!) and we need for the children to pay attention to it. When adults talk about reverence, what we really mean is that we want the children to sit still and be quiet. Listening would be nice too. And to actually hearken would be cake! But, children find it hard to sit still and listen. This is the basic conflict.

Believe me, I understand that reverence makes all things possible in Primary. But the fact remains, that reverence comes only from within a person. We cannot make someone reverent. We can only make them sit still and be quiet. It has been my observation that we spend way more time trying to make Primary children sit still and be quiet than we do trying to engage them in what we are doing.

Sometimes we choristers are the very cause of the behavior we would call irreverent. If we set up a rowdy game and sing several rousing songs in a row, we can hardly expect the children to fold their arms and now sit quietly "to get ready for Sharing Time." When we have things dangling from a fancy hat or glove we're wearing we shouldn't be surprised when the children vie for a turn to be chosen to use it. Are some of our ingenious ideas simply beyond the mark? Kids will respond enthusiastically and we shouldn't blame them if we are setting them up for it, or even modeling behavior that isn't reverent. Nor should we expect them to just switch off their enthusiasm for the next person whose personality may be more on the quiet side. On the other hand, if we fall back on the same six tired flowers to choose the same six songs they've sung for the last six months, should we be surprised if the children find coversation with their friends more interesting?

If the children are really having trouble with reverence, I think we should make appropriate changes in what we are doing. In my experience, once the kids are engaged, they seem to have less of a problem. There are some things that we can do to redirect wandering attention. However, I do realize there isn't much to be done for children who are just plain tired!

Children cannot help but be wiggly, because that is the nature of young children. Even the oldest of our Primary children are still young. I know this post is a bit of a rant, but I really sympathize with these kids. My heart has finally expanded enough for me to see the situation from their perspective. Maybe it is because I am staring that mellow grandma stage in the face. After three hours my nerves just can't take much more of sitting and listening either! If someone needs to be taken out, just ask the woman with the gray hair or that brother who earnestly studies his ankles every week. They may also be ready for a little walk up and down the hallway!

Okay, watch me step off my soapbox now. I'm picking it up and putting it away. Thanks for listening. My husband appreciates it!

The best practical idea I can offer is found in the Sunbeam manual, or maybe Primary 2. Quietly say "If you can hear my voice, put your hand on your nose. If you can hear my voice, put your hand on your elbow. If you can hear my voice, put your hands on your head. If you can hear my voice, put your hands in your lap. If you can hear my voice, fold your arms." With each statement, bring the volume of your voice down until you are whispering. I've watched our Primary counselor use this technique and it works every time.

I actually have several more ideas. I'll post them tomorrow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Emergency Singing Time

This is my "emergency" singing time. I've been in the Primary presidency a number of times and I think it is really nice to have something prepared so that you don't have to scramble quite so much. So, I prepared the gifts, chose the songs and typed up the directions. I even made a separate list for the pianist. Then I put everything in a ziplock bag and put it in the Primary closet in case I can't get to church. The Primary presidency knows where to look. I hope that it will be helpful in case I'm not there.

Here are the directions for this singing time. It's just a basic choose and review and is pretty flexible as far as theme. I only offer this an an idea of what could be done. The idea came from the Sharing Time Ideas in the December 2008 issue of The Friend.

Briefly talk about gifts in our lives and how much it means to us to receive a gift. Show the children the wrapped gifts and explain that Heavenly Father has given us special gifts because we are members of the church. Have someone choose one of the gifts. Have the pianist play a few notes of the song and ask the children to guess the song. After they have guessed the song, help them guess the blessing. They may need to sing the song before they will be able to discover what the blessing is.

The number on the back of the gift is keyed to a song on the list for the pianist.

#1 ---Priesthood ---"Love is Spoken Here" (CS90)
#2 ---Scriptures ---"The Golden Plates" (CS86)
#3 ---Baptism ---"Baptism" (CS100)
#4 ---Holy Ghost ---"I Know My Father Lives" (CS5)
#5 ---Prophets ---"Follow the Prophet" (CS110)
#6 ---Temples ---"I Love to See the Temple (CS95)

This just might be the week someone will have to substitute for me. We've had snow and it is always possible that we won't be able get down our road. We live about 7 miles down an isolated dirt road. The road also gets bad if it rains too much. This is kind of challenging since we are active members of a church with oodles of activities! But I love where we live, so we, and I guess everyone else, just have to put up with it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"How to Sing" Sticks

We've had lots of snow this week so I'm planning to take my snowflake "How to Sing" sticks to use with a few seasonal pictures to choose rest songs. The sticks have the usual phrases like "boys sing", "you conduct", "sing softly", "stand to sing", etc. I'll write the titles of rest/wiggle songs on the back of the pictures of fun winter activities and post them on the chalkboard. One child can pick a song and another can choose how to sing it.

This is a pretty standard plan, but always reliable. I'm teaching the second verse of "I Know That My Savior Loves Me" but I want to leave a little time for something different. I'm sure the children will be more than ready for some rest songs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Song Review - Bell Game

I like to use a bell as an aid to review a song. I direct the children to start singing out loud and to listen for the bell. When I ring the bell they should continue to sing in their mind. When they hear the bell again, they should again sing out loud. Of course, the kids all want a turn with the bell and will sing the song several times. Getting the song "stuck in their mind" is the point of the game. Isn't it nice that children are so willing to think of simple things as a game?

I used the bell this last week to review "I Know That My Savior Loves Me." It was especially challenging for the kids because we didn't have a pianist to help, so coming back in at the same time was tricky! But, this actually worked in my favor as it compelled the kids to concentrate on the tempo. After a couple of times through the song, they did very well and we had lots of fun.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pitch-level Conducting

Pitch level conducting focuses the attention of the children on the melody of the song and the up and down quality of pitch. This type of conducting is done by holding your hand in front of you in a flat position, then moving your hand up and down in precise movements, as the melody rises and falls. If the notes are repeated, just bounce your hand forward with each repeated note. You can add variety by moving your hand up and down your other arm or by showing the children how to use their whole bodies in an up and down movement.

Pitch level conducting can be very helpful to children when they are learning a new song. People who are very musical seem to have a natural ability to hear the tones of a melody. The rest of us struggle with this in varying degrees. The Church expects all of us to actively join in the singing. This is especially true in Primary. We sometimes chide the children if they don't sing. Sometimes we observe children just mumbling the words and not singing out as we expect them to. Possibly these children are unsure of the music. As choristers, we often focus on learning the words of the song and expect the children to pick up the music on the fly. If children are not participating as I think they should, I take it as my cue to review the melody of the song. Usually, when the children know the words and the music well, they sing willingly.

Pitch level conducting is not as commonly used as it could be. When I was a child the primary chorister used this method almost all the time, but you don't see it much anymore. Perhaps we just don't think of it. I think maybe it is because we are self-conscious about our ability to do it well. Studying the music ahead of time will help, so that you know how the melody moves. If you don't play music yourself, the pianist can help you. Practicing the technique at home before using it with the children will make you more confident. I also think that it helps to be deliberate. I have a number of methods on a list that I read through as I prepare to teach or review songs. If I haven't done this one in a while, I consciously choose to do it. I have also found that I am more comfortable using something other than my hand. While my hand is "handier" and takes less time, I sometimes use a ruler, and sometimes I hold it between both hands. I have a can with popsicle sticks for the children to use in the same way.

Give pitch level conducting a try. You don't have to conduct the whole song this way, but it can be very useful for phrases that musically complicated or that have abrupt changes in pitch. It becomes easier to do as you actually do it and it will make a big difference in helping the children sing more accurately.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Baton "Fancies"

Using what I call a baton "fancy" adds some variety to review songs. These are easy to make - just add a wire to a small, lightweight, seasonal object and twist it onto the end of the baton. I'm always on the lookout for a new object in the craft or dollar store, but I'm careful not to use them too often. I don't want the novelty to wear off. I'm also careful to think of the reverent atmosphere I'm trying to sustain. I ask myself if the fancy might be distracting and if I can predict any undesirable behavior of the children. Fancies, especially "cutesy" ones, are not appropriate for every song and they can be distracting if I'm teaching.

Friday, January 15, 2010

"My Heart Sings" Beanbags

I'm trying to increase the number of songs our children know. I love the message of "I Am Glad For Many Things" (CS-151). I think it matches this month's theme really well. This is a happy, simple song that is easily learned by hearing it sung a few times. I've prepared these bean bags and have them in my Sunday box. I'll look for a few extra minutes as soon as I can to present the song. My plan is to pass the bean bags up and down the rows while I sing the song. At the end of the first verse I will ask those holding the beanbags to name something to be thankful for. Then we'll begin again with the second verse. The bean bags are just a good excuse to sing the song several times.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Music Baton

A music baton is a simple aid that the children love to use. I made mine by painting a thin dowel with acrylic craft paint and then fashioned a handle with some extra bicycle handle bar tape that was in the drawer. I've always intended to replace it with a real one, but this one keeps doing the job. Batons are easily used with any song and by even the youngest of children. Help them begin to feel and emphasize the beat rather than patterns. The older children can quickly learn a sideways figure eight pattern. This matches almost everything and helps the children feel confident and professional. If you don't use one already, make a baton this week and watch all the hands go up when you call for a helper!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Talent Is Not the Issue

"For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads." (D&C 25:12)

Too many of us believe that making music has something to do with "talent," and we are relieved that only those with skill are expected to make music. Heavenly Father has revealed in the scriptures and through modern prophets that music is an essential part of our worship. We understand that making music, and specifically singing, is a form of prayer. Music is a tool for praise and thanksgiving. (Psalm 150, Psalm 30:4) Music is also an effective way to help strengthen and instruct others. (Eph. 5:19, Isa 12:4,5) Music is a weapon of great power against our spiritual enemy. Jesus, Joseph Smith and many of us have used music as a strength in facing trials.

The role of music in our meetings is not to entertain the congregation. Being entertained is a passive, secular response to music. The purpose of music in our meetings is to involve all of us in active worship and praise. It is not meant to be left to those with talent or to those who find it easy. It is an essential part of our meetings. Heavenly Father is delighted with the efforts of each of us to make music. He has promised to answer with blessings. (D&C 25:12) In fact, He will sing back to us! (Zeph. 3:17)

We all like cute ideas. But I think that sometimes we develop the mindset that we must entertain the children. We search for the most captivating ideas and we're always looking for a better one for next week. We wish we were more creative, we wish we were talented, we wish our voice sounded better, we worry when the Stake Primary Presidency visits that they will think we are boring, we worry that our children will not learn fast enough and be "prepared" to sing. If we could truly understand how our Heavenly Father loves to hear his children sing, and switch to a mindset where we simply try to create an opportunity for worship, I believe the Spirit will be there. We will have prayed twice.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Reverence Song

I've decided our children need to know a few more reverence songs. I need one that is easily learned because we are so involved with "I Know That My Savior Loves Me." So I've chosen "Reverence" (CS-27). Surprisingly, our children don't already know this one. In our branch many of the children are not regular attenders. This can be an enormous challenge for teaching songs because the kids are not the same every week! But, I love attending in the branch for many other reasons, so I put up with the challenges.

I've prepared this snowflake as an attention getter and will begin by saying "I'm going to let this snowflake fall. Before it hits the floor, can you think of one way you could be reverent?" Are you ready?" After inviting a couple of responses, I'll teach the song using the "echo" method. Since there are only two phrases I'm sure the children will pick it up quickly. I'll conclude with the snowflake again, this time asking them to think of one thing they are thankful for.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sculpey Objects

While I had my adult children home for the holidays I gave them a bunch of Sculpey clay and had them create little objects to augment my object stash. It was all great fun until I burned them to a blackened crisp! I misread the oven temperature and was sooooo upset with myself! The next day, the kids graciously made the figures again and everything turned out just right. I now have a number of cute new objects - a Liahona, a little baptism suit, a little set of scriptures and many, many more. They are all just right for the pockets of my singing time apron.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Singing Time Apron

One of my best props for singing time is an apron with pockets large enough to hold small objects that represent or symbolize principles of the gospel. A tithing envelope, a sacrament cup, a small heart, a toy to share, a church bulletin or a coin are examples of objects I might hide in the pockets of my apron. I try to choose objects that represent principles that match the weekly theme. For example, at the end of this month the theme is "Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ Love Me." From my stash of objects, I could use food, a home, scriptures, a church bulletin, the temple, a flower, and a picture of President Monson in the pockets to represent blessings that a loving Heavenly Father gives us. I would choose an appropriate review song for each object and make a list for the pianist so that she can anticipate her accompaniment. I would introduce the singing time by leading "I Am Glad for Many Things" (CS-151) and briefly talk about how Heavenly Father shows his love through many things. I would then invite the children to choose an object from the pocket, discover the blessing and lead the appropriate song.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Using The Friend Magazine

Every month I eagerly await the new issue of The Friend magazine. This month's Friend is fabulous! Even without the usual Sharing Time Ideas, the January, 2010 issue gave me several good ideas for singing time.

I liked the poem "Precious Gifts" by Dorothy Elam on page 16. I thought I could prepare a couple of paper gifts to post on the board with songs written on the back. I would choose songs from the "friends", "cheerfulness", "example" or "kindness" sections of the topical index of the Children's Songbook. After briefly discussing it with the children I would invite them to choose a gift, sing the song and discover how the principle taught in the song illustrates God's love. Since I am currently teaching the new song "I Know That My Savior Loves Me", I will only have time for a couple of extra songs. But, this will give the children some variety and I could even use more gifts and spread it over a couple of weeks as we learn and review "I Know That My Savior Loves Me."
I also liked the "Thankful Hunt" on pg. 3. I think it would perfectly match the theme for the end of this month: Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ Love Me. I might use the following cut-outs from the Primary Visual Aids Cut-Outs: eye, ear, lips, and hands. For a nose, I would need to cut a nose out of a face in a magazine. I have many other pictures that illustrate things in each category that the children would be thankful for such as a kitten, sunshine, a teddy bear, a soft blanket, a hug, a flower, the rain, food, candy, a bird, someone singing, the temple, the scriptures, someone smiling, listening to music, etc. I would organize the eye, ear, nose, hands and lips across the board in categories with plenty of room underneath each one. The other pictures would be hidden under the children's chairs. I would introduce singing time by leading "My Heavenly Father Loves Me" (CS-228) and invite the children to listen for the different ways we experience Heavenly Father's wonderful creation. After showing the categories, I would invite the children to look under their chairs and bring the pictures up to sort under the different senses. Then we would sing an appropriate song for each of the senses. I'll use this idea at the end of the month if we finish learning our new song. Or, I could use it later in the year.

"Choose the Right Words" by Anna Culp on page 9 would make a great emergency singing time. I need something to prepare and put in the closet at the church for someone else to use if I get sick or snowed in - a distinct possibility at this time of the year. I will put each of these scenarios on a card with an appropriate song. The children can choose a card, choose the right response and then lead the Primary in singing the song.

The pictures from "Detective Mya Heritage" on page 28 and 29 could be printed out and enlarged and used with an appropriate song on a week with a happy family theme as a choose and review presentation. This one will definitely go on my "future ideas to develop" list.

I love The Friend. I appreciate the creativity and hard work of those who produce this magazine. It is such a blessing to me. Primary music is so much easier because of The Friend! If you don't have a copy, go here to LDS.org and find it in Gospel Library and then Magazines there.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

This Week's Plan

Last Sunday I began teaching the new song "I Know That My Savior Loves Me" using some actions as suggested in the Outline for Sharing Time and also some pictures to match the phrases. I was able to sing the song several times to the children and by the end of our time they had the chorus learned well and some of the olders were singing along on the first verse also. I spread the pictures out along the chalkboard tray and invited the children to listen and then choose which picture went with each phrase. I tried to make the pictures a fairly obvious choice and this worked well.

My plan for this week is to use the Nephite children cut-outs (from the Primary Visual Aids Cut-Outs, Set 6-People of the Scriptures) and place them on the chalkboard around the picture of Christ and the Book of Mormon Children (No. 84 in the Gospel Art Book). I'll write discovery questions on the back of each cut-out and invite the children to choose them. This will give me an opportunity to sing the song again several times and for the children to listen and then sing the phrases with the answers. Hopefully, I'll be able to begin the second verse as well. The questions are:

  • "Where were the children gathered?"

  • "What did the children see?"

  • "What did Jesus do?"

  • "What did the children feel?"

  • "What two things did I not do?"

The rhythm of the music is a regular, even beat and suggests walking. I can imagine the ancient children walking to gather around Jesus. I'll pass out the rhythm sticks and let the children tap them as we sing the song one final time.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I'm Just Starting

I'm starting this blog and am figuring out how to do this. More will come soon, so check back!
Thank you for visiting The Children Sing. Check back soon for more LDS Primary Singing Time Ideas!