Showing posts with label tips & tricks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tips & tricks. Show all posts

Thursday, May 31, 2018

8 Tips for Planning Primary Music from

Recently I was browsing around on, just to refresh my memory as to what resources were there for Primary music leaders. There is a page dedicated solely to planning music time, here. I don't remember this page from when I was first called! (But then again, that has been a few years...) The page offers 8 tips for planning Primary music, and I was excited to see how well they align with the principles that our favorite music mentor, Sharla, has been teaching for years. Each tip offers a brief explanation as well as a question for us to ask ourselves. Here is a summary:

1. Know the Song

Do I know the song well enough to make eye contact with the children?

2. Use the Scriptures

Do I connect the doctrine to the words the children are singing?

3. Sing, Sing, Sing

Do we sing more than we talk or play games?

4. Capture the Children's Attention

Do the attention-getters that I use enhance the learning experience?

5. Include Different Learning Styles

Do I vary my teaching plan to include different learning styles?

6. Direct Children's Listening

Do I ask questions that encourage thinking?

7. Involve the Children

Do I use activities that involve all of the children rather than a few?

8. Bear Testimony

Do I bear brief testimony of the doctrine taught in the song?

I strongly encourage you to check out the full article here. Now I want to go read the rest of the Primary music site. I wonder what we'll find next! :)

Happy singing,

Monday, January 1, 2018

Teaching Gifted Children in Primary Music

Let's face it, teaching children's Primary music in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is different than teaching music anywhere else. In no other group of music teachers will you hear conversations about praying for guidance, seeking revelation, and the literal saving of souls. Yet despite our differences from the rest of the educational world, the similarities between us are striking.

I am currently pursuing a Master's degree in gifted education, and the more I learn, the more I realize how much secular theories of education and instruction are useful in a Church setting. Every time I learn a new teaching strategy, I am eager to apply my knowledge in my gospel teaching. As I've done so, I've started noticing and focusing on the gifted children around me, and the outcomes have been amazing. So, today I'd like to combine some of my experiences to explore the question, How do we better teach gifted students in Primary music? I'd like to share with you some of the principles that I've learned. This post will cover 1) a brief overview of what it means to be gifted and 2) strategies for teaching gifted children in your Primary music class.

What Does It Mean to Be Gifted?  

The Gifted Range of IQ Distribution
The term gifted as used in the teaching community refers to a student whose educational needs are advanced to the point where those needs cannot be met by regular curriculum. That's the idea in a nutshell. The chart on the right shows this idea in a more quantitative way, if that's how you like to think of it. IQ, or intelligence quotient, is only one way of measuring intelligence. An IQ of 100 is smack dab in the middle of the pack, so 50% of people on earth are above 100, and 50% of people are below. The gifted range is roughly 130 and above, so the top 2%.

It is careful to note when discussing gifted students that we are not suggesting that gifted means better. Not at all. Perhaps the best way to describe gifted students is students who develop asymmetrically, where they develop at varying rates in intellectual, physical, social, and emotional areas. Most gifted children are very strong in one area, while at the same time they are very weak in another area.

The main point to remember is that students on the extreme ends of the IQ chart need to learn in a different way than our other students. The lowest IQ students on this chart are classified as special education, and we understand we must give those students different experiences to help them learn at their level. Gifted education strives to provide that same individualized education to the highest IQ students, who also need special teaching in order to actually learn and progress. The next section in this post offers a handful of ideas to help you see how this could look in your Singing Time.

4 Strategies for Teaching Gifted Children in Primary

1. Find Out Who Your Gifted Students Are

Do you know who the gifted students are in your Primary? Are you sure? Not all gifted students are alike. I had one gifted 10-year-old who piped up during Singing Time and started talking about the various minor chords we were using. I didn't have a clue what she was talking about! It was easy to see that she was gifted in music. I discovered later that I had another gifted 10-year-old, this one with ADHD, and I hadn't known how much he understood because--being bored--he was always playing around with his friends on the back row. But he also was an advanced learner, and he just needed more.

You probably won't know which of your students are actually classified as gifted, but a formal designation isn't what will concern you most. If you'd like to focus on students who are advanced, then look for those who need to learn a little more, a little faster, a little deeper. You can talk to your Primary presidency, the teachers, the parents, or your Father in Heaven to try to get a sense of which students these are. In fact, just this new perspective might be enough to help you recognize these students on your own.

2. Vary the Types of Learning Activities

My Primary music mentor, Sharla Dance, heavily focuses on 8 different learning styles. She took these from Dr. Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, which he first wrote about at Harvard University in 1983. I give an overview of their application to Primary music here. While these principles are beneficial for all children, they are especially crucial for the gifted, who usually develop strongly in one area to the neglecting of other areas. So, it becomes vital that we not choose one teaching method and then never deviate from it. Even if it's a great activity, it simply cannot reach all of our learners. Variety is key.

3. Build in Layers of Difficulty

One of the hallmarks of a gifted student is that she will learn more quickly, with fewer repetitions. After mastery, additional unneeded repetitions will actually reduce her brain's ability to learn. But the rest of our students need tons of repetition, right? So what do we do? Panic?! Well, sometimes...but it's better if we repeat but with variations. 

Let's say the current learning activity is a pattern with sand blocks (read my post on DIY sand blocks here). You start with a simple pattern of scrape-scrape-hold-scrape, but after one sing-through, your quick kids will have it. So the next time, you add a piece to the pattern. The next time, you mix up the pattern completely, using symbols on the board to represent the different sounds/motions. Then, you could add in a partner clap. Then, you could have a child come up and rearrange the symbols on the board into a different order. Here is a post that outlines this type of progression in more detail. Using layers of difficulty like this will completely engage your gifted learners while providing the repetition everyone else needs.

4. Engage Students Individually

Many gifted children are used to not being challenged, and so they don't put forth effort anymore. The job of any teacher is to help apathetic students reengage, but with gospel teachers, our responsibility is of eternal importance. When you notice a child choosing to not participate on a regular basis, sometimes he just needs a chance to help out. 

Once, I reached out to one of my almost 12-year-old girls (who was just counting down days 'til her birthday) with help leading the second part of "A Child's Prayer." I went to her house, we practiced together, and then she helped me lead during Primary. We both loved the experience!

Not all of your students will be capable/willing to lead music, and that's okay. Maybe one child would be willing to learn a tricky instrument pattern beforehand, to help you demonstrate it. Or maybe one would draw you a poster. Just seek for inspiration on what they individually need.

Entire degrees are devoted to studying the characteristics and needs of gifted children, so there's no way I can express everything there is to know in one blog post! However, I hope this has provided you with an opportunity to see your students through more aware eyes and thus discern how better you can serve them. Please feel free to comment or email me with any questions you have. There's nothing more important we can do than help our children.

Happy singing!

Friday, October 27, 2017

After the Program--7 Ideas for Your Blank Canvas

Your canvas = singing time
I hope you all had a wonderful Primary program! It's my favorite Sunday of the year. However, I also really love the weeks right after the program, when we don't have scheduled songs to learn, and I can do whatever I dream up. :) Here are 7 ways I've approached these weeks over the years:
  1. Focus on holiday songs. In November, sing songs about being thankful (under the topic Gratitude in The Children's Songbook), and in December sing Christmas songs (p. 36-54 in The Children's Songbook).
  2. Prepare for a performance. Does your Primary sing a Christmas song in sacrament meeting? If so, plan that date now and start your song in November if necessary! 
  3. Choose songs that go with the theme of the Sharing Time lesson of the week (see the Sharing Time Outline).
  4. Work on some memorization songs. You could try The Articles of Faith (p. 122-132 in The Children's Songbook), Latter-day Prophets, or books in the scriptures (p. 114, 116, & 119 in The Children's Songbook). 
  5. Go with favorites. Collect the children's requests for their favorite songs, and go through all of them over a few weeks. 
  6. Teach some oldies but goodies. Let's face it, the current song rotation is pretty repetitive. You could pull out songs from your youth that you think this rising generation should know! (My list would include "Give, Said the Little Stream," "I Want to Be a Missionary Now," and "The Priesthood is Restored," for sure.)
  7. Look around you for inspiration for a theme. Does your ward have a missionary preparing to leave soon? Do you have a temple being built nearby? Have you recently experienced a natural disaster, or has your area been part of relief efforts? Is there a member of your ward with a serious medical condition? Situations like these can inspire a theme in choosing songs that will teach your children the gospel truths they need right now. 

These are just a few of the ways I've delighted in these post-Program weeks of Primary music. Please leave a comment and let me know what you've found you love for this time of year. Let's learn from each other. :)
Happy singing!

Looking for more?

Here are a couple gratitude activities I've posted about in the past: Teacher Appreciation Day and Singing Our Thanks

Sunday, April 30, 2017

4 Good Ways to Recognize Bad Ideas--a Guest Post

I'm pleased to have a guest post today by Bryce, a long-time Primary music observer (and my husband). I love how he shares his perspective. He just says it like it is!   -Michelle

Repeat after me--being on Pinterest does not make it credible.
Bad ideas are everywhere.  They saturate the news, Facebook feeds, your kids’ every action, and even lurk in the dark recesses of your own mind.  Some are easy to spot, like mixing household chemicals into explosives that produce lethal chlorine gas without proper ventilation in the room.  Others are a little subtler, like choosing a primary music activity set that doesn’t teach or engage the kids in your primary.  So how do you spot these bad ideas?  I’m not a professional, but I’ve sat in enough singing times to recognize a few trends:

1.      Does the activity support only one learning style (or none at all)?

Sharla Dance, our go-to expert on all things music teaching, classified childhood learning as fitting into eight basic styles: physical action, words, visuals, nature (whatever that means), spiritual, logic, cooperation & teamwork, and… wait for it… music. Check out her blog here.

Each child in your primary class benefits from one or more of these styles.  Because every star is different and so is every child (I dare you to read that without singing it in your head), you’ll need to include multiple learning styles within each activity.  I recognize that there’s a school of thought that it’s okay to address only one learning style per activity, so long as you have multiple styles in the overall music time. Those people are wrong.  That’s just how it is.

The prime example of a bad idea—one of the worst ideas you could possibly do—is to simply draw names from a hat and make the kids sing it. (This includes derivatives like flipping over pictures on a chalkboard and singing the song underneath.)

The problem here is that this engages none of the learning styles.  For example, there’s either no visual reference or the pictures are too small to be seen from the back of the room. Having one kid from the primary come up to draw a song leaves everyone else sitting still, so there’s no motion element. The word learners aren’t given any associations or interesting connections to make in order to internalize the lyrics. Even worse, blindly flipping cards or drawing songs replaces logical progression with chaos, making the whole experience deeply uncomfortable for logic learners.

Some people learn best through natural processes--like natural selection.
Always focus on teaching kids the way they need to learn—not based on the first Pinterest board you find on Saturday night.  No matter how cute the board or bucket for the activity may be decorated, do not be deceived, those people are trying to lead both you and the kids you teach down to hell.

Let me repeat: If you structure singing time around drawing songs from a hat, you should be darned to heck (because let’s face it, actual hell might be a little extreme).

2.      Does the idea offer variety?

Anyone who’s ever had kids knows they have short attention spans. However, those with older kids or whose children are freakishly patient may have forgotten just how short this attention span really is.  I’ve seen goldfish with longer attention spans than my own children’s.  So unless you’re practicing some sort of witchcraft or hypnosis to keep them riveted, you will need to switch activities several times.

Along those lines, be very sure to mix up which learning styles you’re using each time.  You could involve four learning styles in every activity, but if you never engage the kids who really need to learn through logic, then you’re a horrible person (albeit not as horrible as the ‘hat’ people) and it will be all your fault when the child apostatizes later on.

When switching activities, keep focused on your core learning.  People seem to default to a singing random wiggle song, followed by an unrelated main activity.  Instead, try choosing what you want the kids to learn that week and structure several short activities around the theme to engage them from a variety of learning styles.

Yes, teaching this way takes more effort and planning, but that’s just part of the cost of magnifying your calling.  If you think that load is too heavy, remember that you could have been called as Primary President.

3.      Is the activity exactly the same for both junior and senior primary?

While the trunky 11 year-olds in senior primary may have the same attention span as a new sunbeam, their actual needs couldn’t be more different.  If the activity you come across online is identical for both junior and senior primary, leave a nasty troll-ish comment and move on.

In one ward, I saw a very well-intentioned music teacher try to engage the junior primary by sitting them in a circle and having them do a complex wood-block clicking pattern, complete with passing the blocks left and right as part of the pattern.  Half the kids didn’t want to share their blocks (surprise there), and the other half couldn’t figure out which way was left.  In this music leader’s defense, she really is fantastic but was just having an off day.

4.      Does the idea support on-the-fly adaptation?

There’s an old saying from some philosopher guy with a Latin-sounding name that goes “It is a bad plan that admits no modification”. If this ‘fantastic’ idea you found on the internet doesn’t allow you to adapt on-the-fly, then it’s probably a bad idea.  If the kids aren’t responding well to the activity, then adapt your lesson immediately.

The hapless music leader in the previous example responded quickly to the kids and adapted her wood-block patterns to their skill level, shortened the activity, and then moved on to the next one that engaged a different learning style.  Nice recovery!

Here’s what a good example looks like:

Let’s say that I need to help junior primary children learn the lyrics to Book of Mormon Stories.  Most of them can’t read, sit still, or focus on anything for more than a minute at a time. Challenge accepted.

My first thought is to use Pinterest.  Then I think better of it.  I hate Pinterest. A lot.  Instead, by expending a little mental effort, I come up with a plan that involves…

1.       Multiple learning styles: I decide to use a visual to help create a memory trigger for the lyrics and engage visual learners.  However, just slapping some laminated pictures on the board only engages the visual learners (assuming they can even see it from the sides or back of the room). I need to get the visuals to the kids. So I prepare bookmarks with a picture of the story on one side and a key phrase from the verse on the other.  One learning style, though, isn’t enough, so I add elements:

If you don't learn to recognize bad ideas, you
may not be able to recognize good ones either.

I engage the motion learners by getting them out of their chairs for the whole singing time.  As I sing the verse a capella to the kids, each class sits cross-legged in a small circle.  Their teacher will have a Book of Mormon with a picture bookmark inside for each child.  The kids take turns leafing through the Book of Mormon to the page with the pictures inserted.  When they find it, they can take one to keep in their own scriptures.

The collaborative learners can be engaged by helping their classmates recognize the words printed on the back of the bookmark—a key phrase for the verse.  If we’re working on the Alma verse, my key phrase would be “Alma was rebellious, and he fought against the light”. As they learn from their peers and teacher, they can join in singing that phrase with me each time I repeat the song.  The word learners are also engaged by having a specific phrase that connects their scriptures, bookmarks, and the verse of the song.

While all this is going on, I continue singing the verse on ‘loop track’.  To keep the interest of the music learners, I can alternate between singing the full verse, whistling softly, and omitting words to keep things changing enough that it doesn’t fade to the background.

2.       Variety: As kids get their bookmarks, I keep them engaged by giving them new directions.  If we’re doing the Alma verse, I use it like a wiggle song.  When I sing “fought against the right”, I have the kids stand up and throw a couple punches into the air—specifically where another child is NOT standing.  When I sing “an angel came”, they stand imperiously, and stretch out their hand as though speaking emphatically.  When I sing “struck before his brethren”, I instruct the kids to collapse to the ground, as though unconscious.  This will get a bit loud as they moan and wail dramatically.  Remember: the noise is part of the kids getting invested in the activity; it’s okay.

Notice that I just transitioned activities here but never had to announce it.  They blended together and kept the kids focused on the song they need to learn.

3.    Different for junior and senior primary: I’ve focused my plan here on junior primary, but were I to adapt this for senior primary, I would get them out of their chairs to come and get the bookmarks first.  Their next task would be to find the place in their scriptures where the bookmark should be placed. (With some guidance, of course.)

As they looked up the scriptures, I would also get the kids to alternate whistling along when I sing and then sing words as I either leave blanks or start whistling.

And yes—they still get the death scenes.  I’m pretty sure the eleven year-olds will even pantomime burning one of their own at the stake.

3.       Adaptability: This can easily be rearranged and tweaked to fit the kids’ needs.  For instance, we can start with the pantomiming activity and then migrate down to sit in circles.  We could even skip finding the bookmark in the scriptures portion and hand them out, asking the kids to tell their class something they know about Abinadi as I hum or sing in the background.  As they get their bookmarks, I could even have the pianist play the verse in the background while I dramatically summarize the story of Abinadi for them.  The possibilities are nearly endless.

And I didn’t draw a song name from a hat.  Not even once!


Looking for more?          
Check out a description of each of the 8 learning styles mentioned above.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

4 Steps for Planning a Year of Songs

Prospero Año!  Честита Нова Година!  Happy New Year!  I love looking at the coming year and perusing all the new Primary songs.  Sometimes it can feel daunting, though, to have such a large chunk of time to plan.  Here are 4 helpful steps I follow when planning my year overall.

1. Start with the Outline for Sharing Time

Primary music leaders have been called to teach children the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our curriculum for this year is found in The 2016 Outline for Sharing Time, on here.  The outline has plans for weekly Sharing Times, and it shows which songs you should teach the children each month.  It also includes two months where individual wards are to choose additional songs from the Children's Songbook.  

The short lists of only the songs for this year and past years (including .mp3s) can be found here.  I type up the monthly themes and songs into a simple Word file, and I keep it on hand to copy and paste from all year long when planning my Singing Times.

2.  Work prayerfully with your Primary Presidency to select the additional songs

Every ward will handle the selecting/approving for the two additional songs a different way.  In some wards, the Primary Presidency chooses the songs.  My Primary presidency has me submit songs to them for approval.  “Let music reinforce what you’ve already taught,” counseled Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, General Primary President, in an introduction to the 2016 Primary theme, here.  I've tried to follow that advice by looking at the monthly Sharing Time themes and choosing songs to match. 

Additionally, though, about a month ago another Primary music leader mentioned how she prayed about her song choices, and I was embarrassed that I hadn't thought to do the same. I prayed over my choices this time, and I truly felt inspired. The songs I chose are "I Lived in Heaven" (p.4) and "This is My Beloved Son" (p.76), but the children in your ward may very well need a different song this year.  So I recommend that you pray on your end of things, too. :)

3.  Choose which verses to teach different groups

I find it much easier to approach a song with several verses if I have a plan in place with the Primary program in mind.  Before the year starts, I look at my list of songs and decide which verses I'll teach to different groups.  

For example, my Junior Primary is heavy on the young side.  I'm planning to only teach them the first verse of "If I Listen With My Heart," but I'll teach all three verses to Senior Primary.  When program time is close, I'll have the whole Primary sing verse one, with soloists from Senior singing the last two verses. With this plan in place, I won't stress about trying to teach Junior all three verses, and I can spend the extra time they'll need to learn just the first verse.

4.  Establish a pattern in your weekly planning

I normally sing three songs each week in Primary.  I've found that my children are more engaged when I offer a variety of songs and activities during a Singing Time, instead of focusing on one thing for 20 minutes.  I always include the song of the month in my weekly plan, and then I'll add in a couple more songs from one of these categories:
  • a program song from either the month prior or the month following
  • a song we're preparing to sing for a special occasion (such as Father's Day)
  • a song that supports the weekly Sharing Time lesson
I use this opportunity to give more time to songs with multiple verses, or to review older songs throughout the year so they stay fresh. 

Having an outline for my year of songs helps me feel excited about all the children are going to learn.  I can focus on how best to present each song, rather than stressing about what I'm going to teach.  "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear," right? :)

Happy singing!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

4 Ways to Help Your New Sunbeams Shine

Say good-bye to Nursery, kiddos!
Oh, how fun the new Sunbeams are! They're normally wide-eyed and clueless, unless they're climbing under the chairs. :)  It goes without saying that coming from Nursery into big-kid Primary is a transition for these little darlings, so here are some of my ideas to help ease them in.

1.  Start Early

As soon as December hits, I start trying to transition the upcoming Sunbeams into Singing Time. With the Nursery leaders and your Primary presidency, discuss how this will work best in your ward. Just a short visit each week in December might be enough, for part of Singing Time, for example.

2.  Choose Songs Purposefully

Talk to your Nursery leaders to see what songs they've been singing with the children in the past couple of months.  Incorporate some of these songs into your Singing Times for the first few weeks with the new Sunbeams.  Also, whatever other songs you choose, repeat them week after week, to give the new littles a sense of familiarity.

3.  Choose Activities Purposefully

Okay, not to hammer it in, but this transition can be really hard for these children! They're not used to sitting in a chair for an hour. Like, ever. So help them out! :)  Ideally, your Junior Singing Times will always include some sort of physical movement, but it is especially crucial for the first few months with new Sunbeams.  Give them a chance to stand every week.  Just clapping their hands isn't enough. They need to get out of their seats, whether it be a simple standing wiggle song or movement that goes with a doctrinal song, like marching. 

In addition, be aware of their short attention spans with everything you do. Don't talk for more than two sentences at a time. Just DO whatever it is you want to do. Don't have any reading activities at first. Instruments and pictures are safe bets, instead.  Here is my blog post about the musical needs of this age child. They want to participate, so meet them more than half-way. 

4.  Love Them

Most importantly, look into their eyes, try to see how they're feeling, and love them. Help them feel the Savior's love for them through your own.  How blessed we are for the chance to teach them.

Happy singing!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Final Program Review--With Puppets!

Invite puppets to come hear the children sing.

My favorite Sunday of the year is almost here.  I can't wait for the children's Primary program!  (Yes, it was my favorite Sunday before I had either this calling or children of my own....)  Here is my plan for the last Singing Time before our program practice in the chapel.

Goals for This Singing Time

Overall goal:  Familiarize the children with all musical aspects of the program so the practice in the chapel can focus on other areas.

Breakdown of that goal:
  1. Sing through each song once as a final review.
  2. Teach the children my cues for standing up and sitting down for each song.
  3. Rehearse the program format of each song (soloists, special accompaniment, sign language, etc.).
  4. Turn the children's attention to the words of the songs, so they can sing with feeling.
  5. Practice standing and sitting enough times so they can almost do it in unison.
  6. Don't bore the children to death. :)

  Plan for Each Goal's Fulfillment

  1. Beforehand, place your songs in order according to difficulty level (not according to their actual placement in the program), placing last the song with which your children are most comfortable.  This is insurance, in case you don't have enough time to get through all the songs.
  2. At the beginning of Singing Time, teach the children your particular version of signals to stand up and sit down.  I count a silent 1-2-3 on my fingers and then raise both my hands up, for standing.  I simply lower flat palms for sitting.  Give your cues and have the children practice a few times.
  3. For each song, pretend as though it's the day of the program, and sing straight through that song without stopping or talking.
  4. In between a few of the songs, point out how you can feel the Holy Ghost as the children sing, and ask them to sing the next song while they really think about the words.  A song can be a testimony--when you mean it!
  5. Before each song, give your signal to stand and have the children sing while standing.  After every song, signal them to be seated again.  With so much repetition, they can't possibly forget your cues on program day. :)
  6. Here is where the puppets come in.  Before we start the songs, I tell the children that I was telling one of my friends about how great their singing was, so he wanted to come hear them. I pull out a puppet and have him say hi to the kids.  I ask the children to sing their best, so my little friend will know I was telling the truth. Then, I set him on top of the piano, so the kids can see him while we sing.  After the song, the puppet comes back up and says the singing was so great that he wants to invite another friend to come hear.  Up comes a new puppet to join him.  Repeat.  By the end you have a whole line of puppets listening to the kiddos.  I try to make the puppets' remarks short, so this doesn't eat up all the time. 

This is definitely an atypical Singing Time, but singing in front of a large group is unnerving for many children.  I consider it my job to help them feel as comfortable as possible by letting them know what to expect.  Good luck with all of your programs!

Happy singing,

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

3 Ways to Practice Solos in Primary (Without Boring Everyone Else)

I know some Primaries have already had their sacrament meeting programs, but a lot of us are still gearing up for it!  One challenge of preparing is figuring out how to practice solos and small group numbers, since the Outline for Sharing Time cautions leaders, "Practices should not take time away from classes or families unnecessarily."  As much as possible, then, practices should take place during Primary.  Here are 3 methods that I've used this year.

1.  Practice During Prelude

Our ward has six soloists singing verses of "Follow the Prophet" (p.110).  The soloists need a chance to learn their verses, and prelude seemed like the perfect time to me.  For the past couple weeks I've been bringing soloists over by the piano with me to practice.  We kneel down behind the piano, so that no one thinks we're performing, and we quietly sing the solo together, as many times as we need, while we're waiting for opening exercises to start. 

2.  Flashlight Spotlight 

Once your soloists have a basic familiarity with their parts, you'll want the rest of the Primary to hear them, so they'll know what to expect during the presentation of the song.  This is an activity I highlighted in my post a couple weeks ago, here.  Turn off the lights and turn on a flashlight. Only the group of children where you're shining the light should sing. Try moving the light slowly around the room, quickly switching between halves, or trading off between you and all the children.  I have soloists singing the questions in "He Sent His Son" (p.34), so after one sing-through I alter the activity to spotlight the soloists for their assigned lines.

3.  A Chorus of Hand Rhythms

This is a great activity when the full Primary will be singing the chorus of a song. Have the soloist or small group sing at the microphone, reminding the other children to show their friends respect by listening quietly. When the soloist finishes the verse, signal the rest of the children to immediately go into the chorus, and encourage them to follow your hand rhythms. Be sure to keep the pattern simple, since they'll only have a short time to figure it out.

These are some activities I've found helpful. I'd love to hear which ideas have worked for you, too!

Happy singing,

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How to Plan Your Singing Time

Today I'm sharing with you my blank agenda, which I use every week to plan my Sunday.  Here's the link to my downloadable and printable file, blank Primary music agenda, in case you'd like to use it in your own planning. Below, I'll show you my agenda and insert explanations for each item.



Junior Primary

Prelude:  I give specific requests to my pianist each week. They are always songs we're either learning or getting ready to learn, so that the children can become familiar with the melody.
            -if time, sing a wiggle song:  If I have my supplies ready with time to spare, then I'll sing a song or two with the children, just to let them stretch and move.

Opening Song:  I almost always choose a program song from the current year. I prefer not to teach by hammering lyrics, so instead, I have to use crazy amounts of repetition. :)
Birthday Song:  My Primary knows four birthday songs from The Children's Songbook. I just rotate through them.

Wiggle Songs:  I always start with a high energy song that has the children stand up. I repeat a few times, with variations. My second wiggle song is a calmer one, which ends with the children sitting. 

Singing Time Songs:  I select songs from the current year's program, as well as from topics that support the Sharing Time theme for that week.  I choose 4 songs every week, each with a different activity, as children need a change of pace every 3 to 5 minutes, and they learn best in a variety of styles. (See my page here on different learning styles.)  In Singing Time, we never just sit there and sing. The children are always engaged in the song in some sort of purposeful way.

            Song with a high concentration activity:  Examples are a matching game while we sing or a simple pattern with an instrument.

            Song with movement:  I try to have the children standing for this activity.

            Song with interactive visuals:  Young children are especially keyed in to color, so I try to tap into that most weeks.

            Song with either movement or high concentration:  I like to give the children a change of pace several times.  I shy away from having any manipulatives to pass back in after this last song, to help with a smooth transition to Sharing Time.

Senior Primary

Prelude:  Same as for Junior.
            -Primary pianist:  We have several Primary children who are learning piano, and I have a rotation for them to play prelude. They normally finish before the time is up, so our adult pianist takes over.
Opening Song:  Same as for Junior.

Article of Faith:  We cover one each month. As part of opening exercises, one child holds the poster of that Article of Faith and reads it aloud. Then she asks everyone to stand, and I lead them in singing. I lead using my hand to show the rise and fall in pitch along with the rhythm, since we don't spend any other time learning these songs.

Birthday Song:  Same as for Junior.  I add in the round for the one applicable song.

Singing Time Songs:

            Song with movement:  The older children think they're too cool for traditional wiggle songs (though I still sing them occasionally, using methods described in my post "4 Ways to Boost Stale Wiggle Songs"), so I typically involve some sort of physical movement early on in Singing Time.  Instruments, hand rhythms, ribbon Senior Primary kids love them all, as long as they're being challenged.

            Song with a high concentration activity (often a logic or words activity):  My older children love thinking games.  I choose codes, word puzzles, etc. that they can do silently, so I can sing in the background.  I sing the song over and over, often 8 or 10 times, so I know the children are still learning it. :)

            Song with a low concentration activity (often with interactive visuals):  I change from the previous intense activity to a more relaxed one, where the children are still interested and involved.  I have a number of children who notice colors and visual patterns to the point of distraction, so I attempt to harness their interest by having visuals frequently.  In my ward, we have closing prayer immediately after my last Singing Time song, so I keep that in mind when choosing this final activity.

What other factors do you take into account when you plan your Singing Times?  I find that when I take the time to purposefully plan my Singing Time, the 20 minutes fly by, and the children, teachers, and I are all having fun as we learn. :)  

Happy singing!

Friday, September 11, 2015

4 Lessons Our Primary Presidencies Want Us To Learn

I'm so excited to share today's post with you. I asked many Primary presidency members to share what they wish all Primary music leaders knew.  Interestingly, I heard a lot of the same themes repeated over and over.  I've grouped these sisters' comments into four overall lessons, and I've been trying to apply President Uchtdorf's counsel, "Refrain from thinking about how the words apply to someone else and ask the simple question:  'Lord, is it I?' " (General Conference, October 2014)

Lesson #1:  Primary Music is All About Testimony

“Primary chorister is THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN THE CHURCH. The kids need to know when they are singing truth and what the Spirit feels like.” -Cindi

“The primary chorister is like the gospel doctrine teacher for the children.” -Jennifer... & Carma... & Cari

“I feel that the music is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of primary. I wish every chorister knew this. It brings in the spirit and teaches children on a level that we cannot. The primary songs bring children (and adults) closer to Christ. Children won’t remember great sharing times, but they will remember primary songs. I was talking to a member who left the church for several years the other day, and has come back. She told me that even at the darkest parts, she could remember the songs she had learned in primary years before and they helped her come back to the church.” -Jenica

“We all know that primary songs are what stay with the kiddos all their lives.” -Sara

“In times of trouble primary songs still come to my mind.” -MerriAnna

“I don’t remember any of my childhood sharing times, but I sure do remember those songs.”  -Rachael

“Our chorister is amazing! I think the one thing she does that I wish every chorister would do is to bear testimony!” -Danna

“I want music in Sharing time to build their testimonies. I really don't care if they sing alto or soprano or have parts... I want them to remember these songs when they are alone, or scared or need to feel the spirit. Teach them about the songs and what they mean.” -Natalie

Lesson #2:  "Make singing fun, but not like a circus." -Cindi

“Sometimes the activity takes most of the singing time and we don't sing much...There needs to be more balance of spiritual/reverence and fun/activity.”

"Please trust us. When we tell you no...there's a reason. As much as I appreciate my chorister's creativity, there are simply some things that are not appropriate for Sunday or for Primary."

“Trust that we've been given the inspiration to know you're in the right calling and you're where the Lord wants you. Trust that we also are given inspiration for the entire Primary.” -Heather

“Sometimes I feel like we are so wrapped up in entertaining the kids that we lose sight of building testimonies.” -Heidi

“While having a game may be fun...the over-the-top entertainment isn't what is needed. I love that our chorister is fun in her teaching, but not to the point of distraction or irreverence.” -Renee

Lesson #3:  Focus on the Children's Needs

Here are some snippets:  Know the songs before time, so you can focus on the children and not your book...Learn the children’s names...Repetition!  Get the kids singing with you...Be aware that your confidence, mood, and body language are contagious...Don't just hold up words for the songs.  The kids have to know them, not just be able to read them...Engage the kids.  Don't just stand there and lead, especially for the older boys...Don't forget Nursery, if the Nursery leaders don't feel comfortable singing...Don't teach so many songs that the kids can't learn them...

“What works with senior primary does not work in junior primary.  Most kids in junior primary can't read, so holding up pages with the song written out will not be an effective way to teach them the song.” -Kari

“Nursery children are capable of learning songs from the primary songbook.” -MerriAnna

“Be sure to include activities and wiggles during the songs, not just in between, like tapping your shoulders, clapping your hands.” -Cari

Lesson #4:  Primary Presidencies Love and Appreciate Us

“You are all so talented!!” -Barbara

“I do sharing time every third month but the chorister has to make the same song exciting every week (hats off!).” -Cindi

“You are doing a great job! Never feel discouraged or give up!” -Cari

"I have worked with many amazing primary choristers. They are energetic, inventive in their lessons, and find ways to bear witness through the songs...Thank you for your efforts in music. It is worth it!” -MerriAnna

A final thought:  

Ouch.  I felt a twinge on some of these, letting me know that I can do better.  I have to tell you, though, two main things surprised me through this experience.  One, not a single Primary president talked about getting the children ready for the Primary program!  Every Primary music leader that I know is stressing about that right now, and it doesn't even hit the presidencies' radar.  And two, I was stunned by how much they talked about testimonies.  Over and over and over again these presidencies begged me to share how important Primary music is in building the children's testimonies.  

Here's a quote from Rachel, one of these presidency members, which I think encapsulates everything I wanted to share:

"I wish the music leader knew:

That I truly am sorry when my lesson encroaches on music time. I know the children will remember the songs long after they forget my lesson.

That she IS a teacher, even if her calling does not specify the word teacher. By teaching the children doctrinally rich songs, she is helping build a foundation of testimony. She plays an integral role in the building of the children's testimonies. 

That I learn from her every week. 

That I love her passion for music. And I love her ability to share that passion with the children. 

That I love her creativity. 

That her hard work is truly appreciated. 

That we all hope she never moves away or wants a different calling, because we don't know what we'd ever do without her!!"

Happy singing,