Thursday, December 30, 2010

Those Older Boys!

The cosmic question! “What do I do about the older boys?” I received an e-mail question asking for specific ideas that will challenge the senior primary and encourage these boys to actively participate and enjoy singing time without resorting to games all the time and avoiding the feeling of needing to entertain the kids.

How I would love to actually answer that question. I have the same challenge and often feel the same lack of creativity to meet it. But, over a long time, I have developed some attitudes and strategies that help me deal with this challenge. These personal strategies may not help anyone else, but I’ll explain what I think anyway.

First of all, I have to tell you that I absolutely love being the Primary chorister. I think it is the most fun I ever get to have in a church calling. I love to sing with the children. I love to see their faces and engage their eyes. I have learned that the children react to my attitude about this calling. When I am enjoying myself, they enjoy singing time too. When I feel the Spirit, I have to trust that the children are feeling as wonderful as I am. I do everything I can so that I feel the Spirit. There are always enough children willing to look at me and participate with me, that, when I send out loving, joyful thoughts as I sing, I feel that love coming back to me from many of the children. This is how the Spirit functions and it feels sooooo good. However, because I purposefully engage their eyes, I necessarily notice the ones who avoid my gaze, those who don’t sing. 

These are the children that I try to win over in a personal relationship. I try to get to know them better and try to help them get to know me. When I know them well enough, I begin asking for their cooperation. I try to enlist their help, to invite them to help me accomplish singing time. I always look for a private opportunity to discuss what I need from them and they are often willing to help me, now that they know me and we have a relationship.

I’ll give you a quick example. I’ve been working on one of our older boys for most of this last year. I’ve engaged him each week somehow, usually with a question that leads to a short conversation. Though he has a great voice and likes music, he is often unwilling to sing. He tells me things like “I’m so tired.” “I don’t feel well.” When we were practicing for our program, he was exceptionally ornery and uncooperative. I finally took a little break and invited him to come with me out of the room. I boldly asked him what his problem was! He said, just as boldly, “I don’t want to sit on the front row!” I told him that I would try to take care of his problem and asked him if he would help me by singing. He promised to sing. I went back into the room and asked the counselor in charge to change his seating. She did and the problem was solved. He still doesn’t sing many weeks in primary, but we have a relationship that allows me to continue to work on him. When I'm singing and looking at him, he doesn't avoid my gaze and when I wink, he smiles. So I would encourage you to develop cooperative relationships with the children, especially those with whom you are having trouble.

Sometimes we see the “blah, blah, blah,” roll-the-eyes type of reaction when we introduce our activity for singing time. How do I handle this? Well, I can tell you that I handle it much better now that I am older and don’t care so much about what people, including children, think of me. I have just finally learned the truth that it is not my job to entertain children, but to teach them. If it happens to be entertaining, so much the better. I simply do my best to prepare what I think will be an enjoyable singing time and ignore those niggling doubts that the children were bored. Because I am trying to do everything I can to feel the Spirit, this helps to banish those doubts from my mind. I wish I could help everyone see the truth of this. No doubt, you will in time.

The sweet sister who sent the e-mail also mentions, “I know some of this comes with the age, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse.” I think we cannot call it an excuse. It is simply true that this behavior is typical of the age. To some degree, we just have to ignore their behavior and allow the children to learn better ways to handle boredom, restlessness, or insecurity. During this time, songs may remain unsung. In the meantime, we learn to handle our own insecurities about this. I appreciate the spirit of her statement though. Of course, we can't allow disruptive and disrespectful behavior to go unchecked. Of course, there should be a discipline plan in place and hopefully working with behavior that is truly bad. But I can ignore rolling eyes and audible sighs. It may bug me, but I can get over it. I also recognize in her statement the desire of this sister to be prepared and that is a good thing. To spend time thinking of activities that will interest the children and to ponder ways to allow active participation is something we need to be doing.

As for specific examples of these creative, challenging ideas? I guess I have to respond with the whole of this blog. I will just refer you to my archives and hope that as you read through the different ideas of activities that I have posted, you can think of ways to adapt them in some way to make them more suited to the children you teach.

But, even saying that, I took a personal challenge. I went to my master list and chose one of the simplest activities that I use. I had not yet posted it, so I posted it yesterday, specifically so that I could refer to it. The color grid is a really, really simple choosing activity. One could even see it as overdone and boring. I can easily imagine older boys rolling their eyes at such a thing. I thought and thought about how tossing the beanbag on the color grid could be made more challenging for the older boys. What I came up with is an adaptation of the bean bag. If you look at the picture, you’ll see two bean bags. The black one is tricky. It is half-way between a bean bag and a ball. It is heavy enough that it won’t roll right off the mat, but round enough that it won’t land where you might expect. Tune in next week for a tutorial on how I made this bean-bag not so easy to throw. The basic activity didn’t change and my younger kids will enjoy tossing the regular bean bag, but the older boys might be challenged by the tricky bean bag.

If you have ideas for this sweet sister, please leave a comment or a link to another source. Everyone will appreciate solutions to this common issue. Speaking of comments, don't miss the one Kimber left on this post. She is convinced that the teacher is an important part of the solution and I agree!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Music Aid - Color Grid

This is my color grid. It is a really simple choosing device. Usually I just assign a review song to the different colors and let the children toss the bean bag to choose the song. Sometimes I use this mat at the end of singing time, choosing different ways to sing a song that we've worked on that day. I've also used it like a tic-tac-toe grid with discovery questions about the song. By the way, I use the multi-colored square in the corner as a wild card. The kids never know what might turn up here.

This particular grid is made with fabric. You can make an easier color grid simply by taping colored paper together. Laminating the paper would make it sturdier. I made one with the fabric so that it would hold up forever! :o) I've also used a color grid in sharing time to choose review questions, etc. The kids seem to like to toss beanbags.

I know this is simple. I'm almost embarrassed to show it to you, but simple is often a very good choice in an activity.

I also have an ulterior motive for posting this now and it has to do with those ten-year old boys. Check back because that post is coming up tomorrow.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry, Merry Christmas!

I really had better go and do Christmas for my family! And practice to accompany and perform special musical numbers! And mail gifts, etc.  And bake cookies with my daughter. My time has run out!  So I'm going to take just a little time away from the blog. But in the meantime...

I've been pondering another question sent to my e-mail. What can we do about those ten-year old boys! You know the ones who roll their eyes and don't like to participate. Why is that? I know if we could figure it out we would all be rich, rich, rich. And famous! Why don't you all think about it too and we'll tackle it after Christmas. I also have a post planned about how I try to organize all the stuff and clutter that comes with being the Primary chorister. Don't you wish someone would design a great system for that?!?  I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Music Aid - Sing/Hum Puppet

This is my "sing/hum" puppet. She is made from cardboard with felt face pieces and yarn hair. When a child shows the face with the eyes and mouth open, the primary children sing the song.

When the face shows the mouth closed, the children hum. It's that simple.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Good Question!

I recently received an e-mail question and I really hope some of you can help me answer it.

One of the things I find challenging is the size of my primary. There are 120 children in our Primary and most of them come on a regular basis. So I have 60 kids for jr, then 60 for sr each week. That's great, isn't it? But it makes some activities impractical or too expensive or just too chaotic in our crowded room.

So my question is: do you have any ideas for working with a really big primary? Ideas for adapting ideas for lots and lots of children? Things that work especially well with large groups?

I have never, in all my experience worked with a group quite this size, but I know that many of you do week after week. I have the utmost admiration for you!! May I ask those of you with large primaries to leave a comment and help Jenny out. Pretty please... I know she will appreciate your comments and I will also!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fun Facts Quiz Puzzle

Choose a picture to match the monthly theme and cut it into 8 pieces. On slips of paper, write several facts about the theme with a word or two left out that the children could supply or an easy quiz type question. Put the missing words or answers to the questions on the back of each puzzle piece along with the title of a review song.

When you are ready to sing, post the puzzle pieces on the board with the answers facing out. Invite a child to choose a slip and read it. Have them find the right answer and turn the puzzle piece with the picture facing out. Sing the song and put the pieces together until the picture is revealed.

These are the questions I’m using with this puzzle to go along with this month’s theme.

1. Find the word that names something we can do to prepare to live with Jesus again.
2. Jesus (taught) us how to live.
3. (Jesus Christ) made it possible for us to be saved from our sins.
4. Jesus Christ came to earth as promised by the (prophets.)
5. Jesus made it possible for us to be (resurrected.)
6. The (Holy Ghost) help us know that Jesus loves us.
7. Name a way that you can offer a gift to Jesus for Christmas.
8. Sharing the (gospel) helps other come unto Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Song Review - "Don't Sing This Word"

This classic review idea comes directly from the Sharing Time Ideas in the May 2004 issue of the Friend magazine (pg.16). Have a child leave the room. Ask the Primary children to choose a word from the song that they will not sing. Write the word on a strip of paper. Bring the child back into the room and have him stand in front of you. Hold the word above his or her head as a reminder to the Primary not to sing this word. Have the children sing the song and let the child guess the missing word. Lots of choristers use this review idea with great success! Some put the wordstrip on a hat or visor, but it’s just as easy to make a paper sign to hold. The children love it.

A warning - you should be prepared for someone to make a mistake. Remind the other children ahead of time to be kind if someone inadvertently sings the word. Children can be easily embarrassed, and sometimes children are NOT kind in what they say.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Other Blog!

Okay, I know this doesn't have anything to do with Primary music, but I want to tell you that I recently launched another blog. It is going to chronicle the making of my daughter's hope chest. So I may be just a little distracted while I get it organized and figured out. Do you think I can keep track of two blogs? I bet I can. My husband just heaved a big sigh when I told him. Mostly because I'm not connected to the internet at home and do my blogging from the public library, of all places. I hope you'll all be more enthusiastic than he was! ;o) I am excited about it! I finally have a few posts up and I hope you'll come by and visit at Let me know what you think!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reverence Idea Link

Tifany has just the cutest "Reverence Mouse" posted on her new blog at Honestly, I think it is so cute. One could look for some other small stuffed animal to use in a similar way, but trying to be as "quiet as a mouse" is just the thing. I also want to make some of her crocheted bell bracelets. I can see that I'm going to have to crochet soon!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Song Review - Sing That Phrase

The game “Sing That Phrase” is to one song what “Name That Tune” is to many songs. When I use this game to review a song, I first sing it with the children all the way through one time. Then I invite one of the children to roll the dice. The resulting number matches one of the phrases of the song. The pianist plays that melody phrase (you’ll need to have the pianist mark the music) and the children guess the words that match that melody. Then we sing the phrase together and repeat for as long as the children are willing.

If you keep the dice handy, this is an easy game to pull out if you have a bit of extra time. One note - If you use this idea with songs that have more than one verse, you'll have to keep reminding the kids which verse you are reviewing or they will get confused. I think it really works best with the songs that just have one verse including the chorus. If there are too many phrases that repeat musically, it will really get confusing.
Thank you for visiting The Children Sing. Check back soon for more LDS Primary Singing Time Ideas!