Sunday, April 30, 2017

General Conference cards

This is not a singing time post but I'm so excited to share this project that I am going to share it here on my Singing Time blog as well as my other more general Sharing Time blog that I haven't posted on quite as intensely as I did when I was a primary chorister.

I made General Conference cards that feature each speaker and a key learning from their talk. I have learned so much in studying intently to make these cards. I'm so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for a loving Father in Heaven who has blessed us with righteous leaders that are willing to spend their lifetime dedicated to serving others.

I loved the story of Yoon Hwan Choi learning about the gospel from his fourteen-year-old brother, of Ronald A. Rasband listening to promptings to speak to the people of Ecuador and give them comfort after a devastating earthquake, of Joy D. Jones talking about how we can prepare our youth for this world, of Gary E. Stevenson's wise father preventing him from jumping on a rock with a snake on it, and so many more. I could go on and on! I'm grateful for our prophet. I love our first presidency and the love they have for us.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

General Conference - All God's Critters Got a Place in the Choir - There is Sunshine in my Soul - Song Review

I loved General Conference last weekend!

I thought in particular that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk, called "Songs Sung and Unsung," about how we are all unique and all irreplaceable was so fitting for a singing time activity. I was so touched by his thoughts on that line of the song from "There is Sunshine in My Soul," about how "Jesus listening can hear the songs you cannot sing."

So, the fun part of this for Primary is using "critters" as the fun visual element of the story. I drew a little visual of what popped into my mind as I was thinking about this:


(*Note: For a version of my notes that encompasses 11 of the speakers from General Conference this year please visit my Sharing Time blog post about a General Conference sharing time.)

1. Intro activity
Put up a picture of six of our general authorities, including Jeffrey R. Holland. Ask the children if they can guess which leader gave this talk using the following the hints. You can mix up the hints by hiding them under objects that the children can select, putting them in a bag for a child to draw, hiding them under chairs, or just reading them off one by one.

Hints:
> He started out his talk by talking about one of his favorite songs, "There is Sunshine in my Soul Today."
> He is one of the twelve apostles.
> He said, "All God's critters have a place in the choir."
> He said that just like the song says in "There is Sunshine in my Soul," if sometimes we don't feel the sunshine we can remember that "Jesus listening can hear the songs [you] cannot sing." (I would stop at this point and discuss this with them and make sure that they understand what it means.)
> When we sing, sometimes we might stand next to someone that knows the song better than us, or here in Primary, we look at Brother/Sister [chorister's surname here]. This general authority reminds us that this is just like life, we were stand as close to the Savior and Redeemer of the world as possible, and we take courage from him.

2. Critter activity
So there are of course LOTS of fun things to do with "critters" as a theme.

Just a few quick and easy ideas:

Option A: Make each class a "critter." Have them take turns singing lines of a song you are working on by holding up a picture of the critter that represents the class (or even a few different stuffed animals representing different critters). At the end, have ALL of the critters join in by holding up all the critters. They can see how their combined voices add to the choir. You can have reverent children volunteer to come up and help you by holding up the critters.

Option B: Hide an image of different critters under each primary chair - the larger the Primary the more critters you can do but I'd have at least ten of each critter. A child comes up and selects an object (like a stuffed animal) that represents a song (or just a card with the name of the song on it.) The object/card will have images of one or more critters. The children that have the matching critter come up to the front and sing to the rest of the Primary.

Option C: Match the critter to the song for a fun song review. Each song has clues to what song they are singing. The clues match a critter, and the critters are under the chairs. Or, the critters are in a bag and the child comes up and chooses the clues for the critter. Once the children guess the song, they can all sing it.

I can go on and on with this so maybe I'll add more later ... :)





Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mother's Day songs

Our Primary sings in sacrament every Mother's Day. Sometimes, it's difficult to find time to learn a new song in time for the program. So, I've made up some Mother's Day songs using tunes that the children already know. You'll see with "Stand for the Right" that I also deliberately stuck with similar words to the original song. These words can be swapped out for Father's Day as well. Although, I'll share some other versions in May for Father's Day.

Enjoy -
Esther


To the tune of “Stand for the Right” on page 159 of the Children’s Songbook


Verse 1
My mother is honest and faithful and true,
It seems that she always knows just what to do,
At work or at play, In darkness or light,
She teaches me always to cho-ose the right.

Verse 2
She makes me feel happy when I feel so blue,
I want to be like her when I’m grown up, too,
At work or at play, In darkness or light,
She teaches me always to cho-ose the right.


To the tune of Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam on page 60 of the Children’s Songbook

Mother is kind and so lo-ving,

She shows her love each day,
I want to be just like Mother,
In all I do and say.

Chorus:
Like Mo-ther! Like Mo-ther!
I want to be just like Mo-ther!
I’ll fol-low, her examp-le,
I’ll be like Mother today!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Singing Time tip: don't be afraid to repeat!

I attended a stake primary training when I was a fairly new chorister. At the time, the stake Primary chorister reminded us not to be afraid to repeat activities, that the children liked some degree of repetition. I love to create new things and come up with fun ideas so my version of repeating things ended up being two or three times a year at most of some of my most successful singing time activities.

We have a new chorister this year who is balancing her schedule with three children under the age of six, including a baby. She is not afraid to repeat and it has been so fun to see how well the children are learning the songs and enjoying the repetition.

In January, she mostly focused on a "right door" vs "wrong door" activity where there was a right way to sing the song and a wrong way to see the song. It was so fun to see the children get excited to pick a door week after week, as she moved from the first verse to the second verse but stayed on the same activity.

In February, she brought in finger lights and turned off the lights while we sang. The kids were so excited the second week when they realized she was bringing the lights back again.

Of course, choristers need to balance repetition with what's working with their primary but for choristers that are overwhelmed or short on time, it's a nice reminder that sometimes, the most effective way to teach a song and still give the children a memorable, fun experience is to do what you did the week before!

Fun Tip:
One of my favorite ways to "repeat" during singing time was to have the children stand in four corners of the room with their class and teachers. We would go through the song line by line, with each corner of the room singing just that line. It created a fun echo effect and was a really quick but interesting way to learn a song quickly if we were having any trouble spots. Children have such quick minds and memorize so easily!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

As a Child of God and other 2017 primary songs

This year's curriculum is the exact same one as the one from 2012. That means I have lesson plans for all of these songs that I shared in 2012! Please visit the archives on the right-hand side of the page for ideas!

As a Child of God music review

When I brought in different fun objects to represent the words of the song and brought a "right" object and a "wrong" object, it was a huge hit with the kids. I had their full attention as they giggled if a choice was wrong vs. right. For "light" I had a Curious George toy with a hat that flipped open and a light on his head. They loved that.



Thursday, December 15, 2016

Tips for New Primary Choristers - Singing Time!

When I ran three legs of a 24-hour race several years ago, the second leg was a seven-mile stretch at 2 a.m., by myself, in the dark. I was tired but I loved the experience. I sang Primary songs in my mind for the whole of that stretch of running. It was a wonderful, uplifting way to make those miles go by quickly. 

In honor of today's #lighttheworld Christmas initiative (https://www.mormon.org/christmas/in-25-ways-over-25-days/jesus-worshipped-through-song), I've posted about being a new Primary chorister and the wonderful opportunity it gives us to worship and teach through song.

I have had the honor of serving in the Primary as a Primary teacher, a Primary chorister, and then currently, as Primary president. This has given me the opportunity to observe this calling from different perspectives. Every chorister that I have observed has had their unique traits and been wonderful in different ways. This post is for new choristers on some of the things that I have observed and experienced, about how to jump into this calling and be successful. 

What to expect, on a high level:
> You'll sit in the front of the room where you'll be prepared to help with opening exercises, which could possibly entail an opening song, a birthday song, a welcome song, and an Article of Faith song.
> After opening exercises you'll teach music for 20 minutes, focusing on the song that was assigned by the First Presidency, for that month. There are some optional months.
> You'll have a break during Sharing Time but could be asked to help with songs.
> You'll lead a closing song.
> You'll repeat this same arrangement in Senior Primary.

If you have any additional tips to add, or questions, I'd love to see them in the comments!

11 Tips for New Choristers

1. Don't stress
First, welcome to one of the best callings ever. According to the church handbook, you have 20 minutes for singing time, vs. the presidency only having 15 minutes for sharing time! At first, those 20 minutes will go by very slowly but don't stress about it. You'll get the hang of things, and soon you'll be wishing you had twice as long. Now, sometimes it will be less than 20 minutes because sacrament can get out late, things happen during Primary, etc. Prepare to be flexible with your time. If you do everything with the spirit, it will all work out.

Also, every chorister messes up - sings the wrong words, forgets a line, forgets that song repeats, forgets a kid's name, etc. It's totally normal and nobody is judging you for it. So don't feel dumb, don't feel bad, just have fun! Also, memorization will come naturally with preparation and faith. I found that I naturally began to memorize the song as I prepared lessons around them, especially if I was building a flip chart or putting together objects or actions to represent the words of the song. You'll also be able to put your music on a podium and refer to it. I also used my keyboard and https://www.lds.org/music/?lang=eng to practice and sing to the songs before my lesson each Sunday. Our chorister that was just released mentioned she downloaded an app that played the songs so she could listen to them wherever she went.

2. Prepare your pianist
Make sure your pianist is prepared and knows what songs you want to work on, Plan out which songs you will be working on each Sunday at the beginning of the month and give them a one-month lookahead song list. That will really help them be able to help you during Singing Time. They have to learn a lot of songs, and even if they are super talented musicians, some of them find it frustrating that they do not get enough notice to practice their songs properly. We are lucky in our ward that we have a lot of pianists so we had two assigned to Primary. They were my support system when I was starting out in my new calling.

3. Don't try to teach the same way in Junior Primary as in Senior Primary.
A three-year-old in Junior Primary is going to bored to tears by an activity that involves a ton of reading, for instance, that is meant for an eleven-year-old in Senior Primary. And a Senior Primary child is going to roll their eyes at some of the things we did in Junior Primary! Some choristers have combined primary so they have some different challenges (and should be applauded for having to be extra creative!). But, when you are preparing your lesson, think about how you can adapt it for the other age group. You don't have to come up with two totally new things but you should be conscious of their ages.

4. Be yourself.
Don't try to follow someone else's Singing Time plan just because they told you it was an amazing success if it doesn't feel right to you. The few times I tried to do someone else's "big hit" activity that didn't feel right to me were the only times I felt like my Singing Time ever bombed. You have to feel comfortable with it. For example, I tried "singing measles," which is very effective with some choristers. I thought it was kind of weird, and so did my kids. I know a different chorister could do the same activity and totally love it. That was the Sunday I realized I like to be creative and I was just going to stick to my own ideas - or use someone else's idea if it resonated with me and my personal singing time style. I've seen choristers that are very loud and engaging, choristers that tell riveting stories and hardly use any visuals, choristers that seem a little stern, choristers that aren't very musical - and they've all been totally awesome because they were just themselves and figured out what works for their personality.

For me personally, I also didn't like having competitions be a part of singing time. Kids got riled up, sometimes they said mean things to the other team, and I felt like it often drove the spirit out of the room. Some choristers love competitions so for me, that's an example of "be yourself" but with a note of caution that you really do need to be careful that you're not so focused on using competition to memorize that you are forgetting that the point of the music is to learn the gospel and feel the spirit. As Primary president, I would say, if you are going to use competitions to teach, minimize this approach. When I had the kids play games, sometimes I had the whole room try to "win" together, rather than splitting them in half, and that worked really well for me.

5. Figure out a set of resources that work for you.
After a few months in this calling I really didn't need to look elsewhere (than the sharing time manual and scriptures) for inspiration but I still checked in once a while and sometimes was inspired by others. When you're new, definitely look around and get ideas. Some resources:
a) You can practice all your songs, even if you don't play music, by using https://www.lds.org/music/?lang=eng to play along! This link also directs you to other LDS.org pages that help you to learn your calling.
b) This Facebook group started in 2012 while I was still actively blogging and in the chorister calling. It now has 15,000+ people on it. A LOT of the people that were commenting on my site, and fellow bloggers, are regulars in this group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ldsprimarychoristers/
They have a lot of great ideas. But DON'T get sucked into the negative chatter that can sometimes emerge and don't join in. The best thing you can do to be awesome at your calling is to prepare prayerfully. If you're engaging in negative feelings it's going to make your calling a lot harder.

6. Do interact with the children and learn their names.
The more you involve them and encourage them to participate, the better the experience for everyone.  If you forget their name, call them "Brother --" or "Sister --" because chances are you know their last name. Keep a roster by you so you can start figuring out names that way, too. You can look at the names during opening exercises, between songs. The children will know you better than any member of the primary presidency. You are their "it" person!

To give them a lot of opportunities to interact, some of my favorite singing times were when I asked the children to help me make up motions for a song when we were learning a new song. They loved doing this and sometimes came up with interesting things (sometimes I modified their idea or took a second suggestion if necessary). The trick to doing this is that you need to remember what motions they came up with for the next time you have singing time. Or, I gave the children specific assignments like "Stand up every time you hear the word 'light.'" Or, I would have an object, like a picture of Jesus, that I would ask them to hold up every time they sang heard/sang his name.

When leading music, I would also walk up to children that weren't paying attention, or specifically call out children that were talking and perhaps have them join me up front, or ask them a question. They were great sports and happy to participate. It was my job to notice that something I was doing wasn't working for them, and try to figure out how to involve them, how to teach them the gospel through music, and how to make sure they knew that they mattered, and that I knew them individually.

7. Do share your testimony each week. 
This may not feel natural to you at first but you are teaching the gospel and this is a special opportunity to close each singing time with your testimony. I learned to this by attending the annual stake training sessions. It's important that you are not afraid to bear your testimony. Our chorister is really awesome because there have been several times where she felt prompted to add a comment before we sang the closing song, which helped children to recognize the spirit in the room.

8. Don't be afraid to repeat an activity once in a while.
It's easy to get excited about making new visuals and develop new creative lessons each week, and that is totally awesome, but kids like to do things they enjoy again. Try to remember to bring stuff back once in a while. I'm thinking maybe every few months. I tended to get too excited about a new idea I wanted to try to repeat very often but the kids really do like to see their favorites brought back. For instance, I did Erupting Cups once a year. I probably could have done it more often than that but I tried to make sure to do that one at least once I year. I brought in bells at least once a year. I taught using the Echo Chamber a couple of times a year. That one is kind of weird but it's a fun way to throw in repetition and the kids love to get out of their chairs! The kids enjoyed rhythm/clapping activities especially if I split the room into two sides. I did that probably a few times a year. That same post also talks about hiding pictures around the room, which I did at least a couple of times a year. Our current primary chorister has a very similar style as me but still managed to almost never overlap my activities despite years in this calling. EXCEPT, we both did the rhythm/clapping games and hiding pictures around the room. They were well received activities.

9. Get creative with visuals.
At least for me it was tempting to make visuals for my singing time activity and/or lesson each week, but the costs add up quickly. While I could submit receipts most of the time I felt like it was an extraneous purchase and not a good use of ward money so I just paid for it myself for "fun" stuff I bought like a foam archery set (for an Olympic-themed singing time). To offset expenses (because I could easily spend $50+ a month on this and did once in a while when I couldn't resist, like the time I bought singing bells!), I started getting creative with cutting out cardboard from cereal boxes for my poster board and cutting out magazine pictures (instead of printing them full color), or going to the church distribution center to buy a packet of pictures for a couple of bucks. Or ask your presidency if they have packets of visuals available - turns out we have a ton in ours, and I had a know that, I could have saved money on the cost of ink! It was a fun challenge for me to make a bunch of fun stuff WITHOUT spending a lot of money. But, talk to your presidency because you'll likely need a few supplies.

10. When teaching a new song for the first time, try to repeat the song three times that day.
You don't always have to this but that's actually a proven magic number for learning things. Sorry, I don't have a source citation for you. It worked for me though. Refer to this post I shared in 2012 from our amazing stake chorister at the time, who came in during ward conference and taught a new song using many of the principles she had discussed with us in our stake training activity. You want to do activities that help children memorize the words of the songs so that they can have the benefit of the beautiful lyrics that teach the gospel and invite the spirit, readily accessible to them in their minds.

11. Don't bore your children trying to spend too much time on a song - but don't under-do it either.
You have one month to learn a new song every month from January through about August, because you have a new song to teach every month, and all of those songs need to be memorized in time for the Primary program. This can get a little intimidating, so it is tempting to just sing the song over and over for 20 minutes for four weeks straight, then start the next song the next month. Don't do this! Your teachers and children will get bored and stop paying attention.

The other temptation is to sing all the many fun songs in the songbook. You have to find a balance that works for you but pay attention to two gauges: If the kids and teachers are bored, you're probably over-singing the song. In my experience, 90% of the kids love singing time all the time. So if they looked bored, something is probably wrong. Don't be afraid to stop what you're doing and try a new tact. If the kids don't know the words to a song six weeks after you first introduced it, you're probably not spending enough time on it.

I tended to have a basic pattern:
a. Opening and Closing songs focused on the lesson for that day, unless I felt like they really needed to work on a song they were learning, and I knew we weren't going to work on it that day.
b. Spent Week 1 introducing a new song
c. Spent Week 2 ensuring they had truly learned the song
d. Week 3 was optional and fun and had less of a habitual ring to it. I might work on the song if they needed it, or I might focus on other fun songs.
e. Week 4 was used to review all the songs they had learned up to that point to ensure they hadn't forgotten the song they learned the previous month.

This wasn't a deliberate formula and I didn't follow this rigidly but I realized it tended to work that way as I balanced being fun with learning the songs (i.e., learning the gospel!). I read a forum where several choristers were upset because students and teachers had told them that they were boring because they just kept singing the same song over and over and over again. I never once got that complaint and the children knew the words of every song very well. So, find a mix that works for you, but that general formula worked for me. Our current chorister throws in quite a few extra songs every month. The children don't have time to learn each song as well but they are also getting exposure to a ton of songs so that's a worthwhile trade-off depending on your goals as a primary chorister, and as long as you make sure they are ready for the Primary program. They should NOT need to read from a poster, but should have songs memorized by the Primary Program!



Saturday, October 22, 2016

Flip Charts - Christmas, Easter, and More

I found some flip charts I don't even remember making so I thought I'd list all of my flip charts in one place ... as I find/remember them :)

It's been a while since I made a flip chart. Any requests? I'm thinking about making a new one for Christmas.

If I Listen with My Heart - flip chart and mini books

If the Savior Stood Beside Me - flip chart

Sleep Little Jesus

Follow the Prophet

Family History - I Am Doing It

An Angel Came to Joseph Smith

I Think When I Read that Sweet Story of Old