This morning I had an epiphany while discussing music with my daughter. From her experience teaching primary songs to children with no LDS background in Central America she has learned some helpful things that could be applied to any music leader of children.
It is easier if you are prepared.
1- MEMORIZE the song before you begin teaching it to the children
2- Decide on a simple ACTIVITY that will give you an excuse to repeat phrases and verses MULTIPLE times.
My daughter saves time in preparation each week having narrowed her ACTIVITY repertoire to three things.
1. Using standard sign language with some (not all) of the words in a song.
2. Pictures to cue concepts in a song. If pictures are not readily available on LDS.org or in the Friend she draws her own. Children are very accepting of simple drawings.
3. Preparing for an activity such as tossing a bean bag or small soft toy (like a stuffed animal) to into a container or shoebox. The number of tries it takes you to get the toy into the box will determine how many times to sing a particular phrase or verse of a song.
Using these same activities over and over again continues to keep the kids engaged. They have fun even doing the same activity week after week–variety is in changing up the songs you are singing.
So, her advice is to memorize the song. Begin early in the week. This helps so you don’t have to peer over your shoulder at the book to remind yourself of the words. If there is a great idea in the sharing time manual for teaching a song– use it.
Start preparation for a new year by thinking about a general overview for the coming year. For example, identify what songs you need to teach for the sacrament meeting presentation or any other assignments you know you will have, such as a mother’s day program or holiday singing. Once you have coordinated the year overview with your primary president calendar a time to work on learning the songs and planning how you will teach each song. You can get so good at this and so confident of the song that you will be able to start singing a phrase without starting at the beginning of a song. This will allow you to efficiently concentrate on areas in a song where they might need additional help.
After I wrote down these thoughts my daughter added this bit about the toss game.
Kids love simple activities because they are doing something semi-active during each song that distracts them from noticing that they keep repeating the same lines over and over—which is the whole point of doing the activity. children learn things best and quickest through lots and lots of repetition (not just songs but anything in their life). But they WILL get bored if they just sit there and sing the same thing over and over again. Effective activities are simple enough that children aren’t confused or intimidated, but enjoyable because they have the right mix of familiarity, activity and variety. Again, to synthesize, my philosophy is to figure out how to repeat a song as many times as possible, which is best achieved by ‘distracting’ the children with something fun.
With sign language (which they love!) they are distracted by using their hands and thinking of the explanations/associations you gave them about how to remember each specific sign. With the pictures, they are figuring out the puzzle of who has what and getting them in the right order or just even getting to stand up and move to the right place and hold the picture, which, again, distracts them from realizing that they are repeating things so much. with the toss game (which is in the primary sharing time manual). I use variations with the pictures—kids come up and stand with pictures in a line as you sing a verse, or you can pass the the pictures out in order and the children stand up from their seat, or pass pictures out in the wrong order so the kids have to help each other stand up in a line in the right order. We sing the line that is associated with the picture then go back to repeat those lines as we add (or the kids find who has the) subsequent phrases/pictures.
A phrase is sung as many times as it took a child to get the toy or bean bag into a shoebox. e.g. After doing this with two phrases, somebody will toss to see how many times we sing those two phrases now together. For activity songs, pass out several soft toys and the kids play ‘hot potato’ passing around the toys to their neighbor as they sing the song while adding in lots of pauses. At each pause, those who don’t have a toy in their hand go to form a new circle and you’ll keep eliminating one toy from the first circle and passing it to the kids in the second circle–the first circle gets smaller while the second circle gets bigger.
In this one page instruction manual of sorts I haven’t mentioned the most important component of preparing to teach children. It is to study the gospel and pray. You are in essence a gospel doctrine teacher for these children that (it seems to me) have a free pass from Satan before they are 8. You are not only teaching them truth but keeping them engaged with simple fun activities that allow for repetition. Do all you can to invite the Spirit into Primary and when it comes while you are up there teaching, point it out. But remember the Spirit can testify to them of the truths of what they are singing anytime. They might remember it that night as they lay in bed before falling asleep, or on the school playground, or in the middle of diner.
The children don’t need to remember throwing a stuffed animal into the hat. They don’t need to remember clever and time consuming visuals. Simple drawings will do. Remember, many of the children in primary can’t read, so don’t penalize them and don’t create crutches. Their sharp minds can handle memorization esp when put with music, so scrape the part where you “REPEAT” the words or SAY the words of the song. That, to be blunt is BORING. They will learn the words just like they learn the words to a song on the radio, listening to it SUNG over and over again. I think a radio station that started to repeat the words to a song to make sure their audience understood what was being sung would go out of business before they could get to the end of the first verse. Be assure that the doctrine will come to the aid of the children when they need it IF they have had a chance to commit to memory the songs you are called to teach.