“Spirituals, folk songs, simple choir songs, fragments of hymns – contemporary or traditional… once a song is memorized a child will carry its message for a lifetime.”
Soon it will be that time of year when we gather children to rehearse for the annual Christmas Pageant. And with that, comes the learn and practice of singing songs – some old and familiar, some new and strange. Here are some tips for working with small children musically:
1. Body talk
It’s unnecessary to discuss posture with young children when teaching them a song to sing. Alignment is a more appropriate term for singing and dance. Mindful experiencing of one’s body and simple teaching of anatomy is appropriate. For example, you can have the children gently put one hand on their larynx, whisper, then hum so they can feel the vibration of the latter.
2. Enough with the “louder” police
Please let’s stop encouraging the notion that louder is better. I’ve seen weeks of work to empower children to sing freely vanish in one rehearsal where some director says “Louder!” to the children. They cannot share what they’ve worked on and there is no accomplishment in yelling. Yes, I know there are those in the congregation who complain they can’t hear the children, but is the potential shaming of the child on his or her musical journey worth pleasing that person?
3. But do encourage strong singing
Children can be encouraged throughout the rehearsal process to “share their voices” and find their unique resonance through appropriate warm-ups. If there isn’t a window with an engaging image in the back of the church for children to sing to, I have brought in a stuffed animal and put it on display. It helps with focus and even nerves.
4. Selecting pieces
When choosing music for children’s chapels and Sunday school there are long-standing traditions on which to draw. Spirituals, folk songs, simple choir songs, fragments of hymns – contemporary or traditional. Paperless is better than reading – once a song is memorized a child will carry its message for a lifetime.
5-10: Additional practical points
- Keep it simple
- Use a gentle, natural voice
- Warm up the children’s voices
- Warm up the children’s ears and imaginations
- Choose repertoire with integrity in terms of melody and lyrics
- Keep songs in a register where the children can sing with confidence
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Singing with Young Children
Brook Packard is an educator, musician, and Gaia Women’s Leadership certified life coach in addition to many other creative endeavors. She is the author of When the Bishop Comes to Visit, an Activity Book for All Ages. Brook helps families make bedtime simple and put sleep first at the Sleepytime Club. Sign up for a free guided meditation with illustrated booklet that helps children “Put the Day to Bed.”