It is a fact that movement helps children learn. While we know this fact, for some reason teachers seem to favor the methods which rely on visual aids. Learning music is naturally an auditory process and yet, when faced with a new song to teach, we choristers immediately write out the key words and almost automatically begin looking for pictures to match the phrases.
I was reminded recently in a comment on one of my posts, that actions are often a more effective way to teach a song. How true! Actions appear on my master list of teaching methods, but I am glad to reconsider whether I use them often enough as I teach. Movement activities during singing time are especially useful for the junior primary because it gives everyone a chance to participate and be involved. It gives the children a break from all the listening and keeps their wiggles “organized.” Even the littlest ones who won’t sing will often enjoy doing the actions. Children in senior primary still enjoy movement activities. “Hinges” is one of our favorite songs! Older children do seem to need actions that are a little more sophisticated.
If you are not already accustomed to adding actions to Primary songs, the nursery and Sunbeam manuals are great resources to learn how to do this. In fact, the Sunbeam children sometimes add actions spontaneously as they sing because they are used to doing this in class. I would suggest that you read these manuals to find out the basics and then just think about how you can increase the sophistication of the actions for songs that would require it. Often the words of the song will suggest actions that work and sometimes non-specific actions work well too. When I was considering actions for “I Know That My Savior Loves Me,” I could easily visualize the gathering action of my arms for the phrase “children were gathered round Jesus.” After some thinking, I came up with the opposite action for the phrase that comes before. I began the song by sweeping each arm outward as I sang the first phrase. My arms were then in place to slowly sweep back in for the “gathering” phrase.
You can also challenge the children to think of the actions for each of the phrases of the song you wish to teach. Sing the song phrase by phrase and come up with the actions as a group. Try different suggestions until the children are satisfied with an action for each line or phrase. Or, write the phrases on slips of paper and divide into groups. Teachers and other leaders can help the children develop an appropriate action for their assigned phrase. Then, as you sing the song, have each group teach their action to the rest of the children.
Suggestions for using actions are found in the Sharing Time Ideas in both the August 2002 and April 2004 issues of the Friend. An additional note in the August issue reminds us that hand actions are appropriate for Primary singing time but are NOT appropriate to use in the sacrament meeting presentation.
edit - My own thinking is that ASL signs would surely be considered as separate from creative "hand actions".