Thursday, November 11, 2010

Organizing Singing Time

I recently received an e-mail question about how I organize my teaching time during singing time. I thought I would post what I do and hope that some of you will leave a comment describing how you organize your singing times. As I think about it, someone new to this calling could really use help knowing how to allocate their time. As a general rule, during the months that I teach program songs, I teach the new song on the first week of the month. I use the second week for review and the last two weeks for what I call "choose and review."

On the first week, I generally plan to spend the whole time on the new song. I can usually teach a song on this first week unless it is long or feels hard or complicated. In this case, I'll split it up and teach it over two or more weeks. Our new song for January has 3 verses and is musically quite complicated so I'm planning to do one verse per week. It really just depends on the song. Some songs can be easily taught in 10 minutes, while others take much longer. With some songs, the children need time to absorb and think about the bits you've taught them before you give more and more information. Believe me, if the children reach a point of saturation, they will not remember what you teach them. Sometimes they just get weary of the same song. So, I try to have a review activity in the back of my mind to use with a different song, or a rest activity with wiggle songs as a back-up. I can always return to the new song on another week.

I try to do some kind of review activity with the song on the week after I teach it. Usually this falls on the second week. I often use an activity that matches the song specifically, one that continues to explore the interesting features of the song. For instance, I'll bring rhythm instruments or I'll bring the worm puppet and we'll focus on the melody with pitch-level conducting, etc. Sometimes I just choose a general song review activity from my list and review the new song. If you look under the "song review" label on the blog you can see many of the activities that I have on this list.

If the children have learned the song well, I won't need the whole time for review. In this case, I'll review the song I've just taught and add a couple of others that we've learned recently. This review week is really important to me because the program songs need to be reviewed regularly or the kids tend to forget them! I also use this second week to review or "reteach" a great song that the kids just don't remember very well.

On the "choose and review" weeks I try to plan an activity that matches the monthly or weekly theme and assign several songs to sing. I try to use the songs that teach the principles the monthly or weekly theme focuses on. This keeps basic primary songs in the repertoire so that the kids sing them often. It seems to have become a common practice for primary choristers to focus only on the program songs. The result is that the children don't sing a very wide repertoire of songs. If you look under the "choose and review" label on the blog, you'll see lots of examples of what I do on these last two weeks to keep basic songs in front of the children.

I keep track of what I do for choose and review from year to year because, of course, basic themes show up again and again. These ideas can be adapted and recycled over and over. If you were to look at the old Sharing Time Ideas in the Friend magazine over several years, you would readily see how a fairly limited number of basic activities (like case studies, games, treasure hunts, puzzles, etc.) are adapted to different themes. That is the idea behind my choose and review list. When I need an activity for choose and review, I look over my list and see what basic activity I might like to adapt. I like to use the Friend magazine for ideas for these choose and reviews. There is soooo much in that magazine!

That is a basic idea of how I schedule things. I also try to plan for whatever extra time might be given to me. Now and then there will be time left over and depending on the experience of the presidency, you may be called on to fill the time. I always have a short review activity in my box. Choristers typically rely on the "favorite song" but if we prepare we can take advantage of this time. (Not that it isn't nice to sing favorites once in a while!) Our primary has an extra song scheduled into our closing exercises and I use that time as well to sing the songs that I've recently taught.

It doesn't take long to recognize that we choristers need to be flexible. I think how well we master this skill largely determines how happy we can be in this calling. I may be prepared to teach a new song and find that too many of the children are absent for some reason. Sometimes the kids just don't respond to what I have planned and I need to move on to something different. Sacrament Meeting or Sharing Time might go way over time and I have less time to teach than I had planned on. Some Primary presidencies are more aware and considerate of singing than others are. There have been times, during sharing time, when I've been sorely tempted to just snatch the crayons right out of little hands! One can always be prepared for the extra time, but if you are given too little time, you really have to learn to communicate your needs to the presidency. I hope none of you have problems that way.

So, how do you all organize your time?


Jenny in NC said...

My organization plan sounds similar to yours. I try so hard to not get uptight about learning the program songs. I try to spend more than half the time NOT singing program songs.

I had a comment about being flexible. Last month we were practicing for the program. The primary president had told me that we would spend the entire 2 hours practicing the program, and that I didn't need to prepare singing time. Well, with 1 hour and 15 minutes left, she said, "let's sing for the rest of the time." !!! There were over 100 children in there! And I didn't have my usual singing time bag with me. Luckily ideas kept coming to my head. But near the end, I was completely frazzeled and the kids kept saying, "are we done yet?!?" That experience really tested my flexibility!

The Children Sing said...

Oh Jenny, that experience would be funny if it weren't so awful! I'm so impressed that you could rise to the occasion. Good for you! I'll bet you needed a nap.

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