Monday, May 28, 2012

Teaching "The Dearest Names" for Father's Day

I taught the primary children "The Dearest Names" for Father's Day. I had children raise their hand as the pianist played the tune, and realized that only about ten children out of the entire primary were familiar with the tune, which was just fine - by the end, they could all sing the song, and I think they had a good time learning the words.

Here's the outline of my lesson if you want to try it - honestly, it worked great and used way less materials than usual for me. In fact, I drew a flipchart for the junior primary and never even used it.

1. I had the pianist play the entire song and asked children to raise their hand as they recognized the tune. This was basically a way for me to play the entire song for them one time.

2. I put a crossword puzzle up on the chalkboard that had answers to questions I wanted to ask them about the song, and then proceeded to ask the question. Children raised their hand as they found the answer to each question on the crossword puzzle. As they found each answer, I sang the line to the song, and then had them sing the line too. This gave me the opportunity to practice repetition with the song, but in a fun way mixed with a game.

Questions I asked were:
a) This song is about a very dear name. What is the dear name? (Father)
b) This song describes the name using three notes to say one word, like "beau-ti-ful" or "won-der-ful." What is that word? (Glorious)
c) This song describes Father with three words. What are those words? (Noble, and brave, and true)
d) What are the special words you say to Father? (I Love You)

(I had to leave out the crossword puzzle for junior primary, but asked the questions anyway. I felt like I lost some of the youngest children a little bit during this part until I got to item #3, but overall, it was still fine.)

3. I taught the children the sign for "name" (which I happened to know but it is pointing your index and middle finger on each hand, and tapping one on top of the other twice, in a "plus" sign - but hold your hand level, it just happens to look like a plus sign when you look down). I then told them to stand up and sign "name" every time they sang that part.

4. I taught the children the sign for "I Love You" and then told them to stand up, turn one way for "I," then turn again for "Love," then turn again for "You." 

5. I also brought my bells, which I didn't have time to use in Junior Primary (I would have modified this and only passed out three bells to play, "I Love You"), but I had time to use them in Senior Primary. I asked each teacher to send up a reverent child from their class, and then drew names for some additional children. I then gave each child a bell, showed them how to read the musical chart I had made for them, and we played it one time through with the bells. They were a little messy the first time, so once they got the hang of it, I let them play the bells again, but this time I reminded the mesmerized children sitting in their seats to sing too. Then, I had time to ask the children to trade their bells with other children that were sitting down so they could try it too. 

I found toward the end that children followed along more easily if I pointed to the word so they knew when to ring their bells, rather than expecting children to follow the words because they were singing them ... although, they did almost as well with the latter.

While I made up most of this activity, the idea for #2 above, about the crossword puzzle with the matching questions, came from "A Children's Songbook Companion," by Pat  Graham, Mary Gourley, Trudy Shipp, and Linda Stewart.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Erupting Cups Singing Time Review Game - (A Popular One!)

I highly recommend this Singing Time activity the next time you want to do a song review. The children (and teachers!) seemed to really love it last week. This was one of my favorite Singing Time activities to date because everyone seemed to enjoy themselves so much, and because participation was so high. In fact, I had one primary counselor comment to me that it was the perfect activity for that day because the children had seemed so restless; they needed something exciting that day.

The concept is simple. You call children to the front of the class, and ask them to choose a spoon, which they then stir into a cup of water. The water will either change colors, indicating which song the primary should sing, or will explode (bubbling up and spilling over the sides of the cup), which means the primary sings a song of the child's choosing. The children really seemed to enjoy the anticipation of finding the exploding cup(s).


You'll need:
- 3-8 clear cups
- food coloring in several different colors
- as many spoons as you have cups
- baking soda (enough to fill each spoon)
- vinegar (enough to fill several cups)
- water (I used a pitcher and filled the water at the drinking fountain before sharing time began)
- trays in which to place the cups, and which to capture any liquids that ooze out of the cups
- songs written in colors that correspond to the food coloring (don't forget that if you want, you can make additional colors by mixing two food coloring drops)
- paper towels / napkins - something you don't mind potentially staining in case you need to clean up a mess


  1. Place a drop of food coloring on each spoon.
  2. Cover each spoon with baking soda.
  3. Fill each cup with water except for the exploding cup(s), which should be filled with vinegar instead. (When the baking soda comes in contact with one of the cups of vinegar, it becomes an exploding cup, as the baking soda reacts to the vinegar.)
  4. You can make a note to yourself which colors go with which songs. I opted to write the songs on a piece of paper in colors that matched the food coloring. I wrote two songs for each color since I didn't know which spoon would end up in an exploding cup. Then, I let the child choose which of the songs of that color they wanted to sing.
This activity lasted the entire singing time, and was super fun.

September 9, 2017 News: Hi everyone, I just want to thank you for all of your years of interest and support for my blog. I was released as Primary chorister four years ago but I still get a lot of questions and requests, and it's still fun for me to brainstorm ideas for you! One of the results of all of my years in Primary is (and I should mention first that I'm a writer with a journalism/English degree) I wrote a season book for the Primary kids! My Nativity ABCs is available for pre-order now on Amazon and will be hitting stores in mid-October.

Credits: I have seen this activity online on many other singing time blogs so I don't even know who to fairly credit. I will say that our stake primary chorister also shared this idea during our stake primary training a couple months ago (Megan T.), and said that she does this activity quarterly because it is so popular. In fact, I think she said it was her children's favorite singing time activity.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mrs. Potato Head Singing Time

I have been wanting to make some sort of Singing Time activity where children build a face or clothe someone (e.g., the armor of God) for some time now so creating a Mrs. Potato Head for Mother's Day seemed perfect. The best part is that this isn't a Mother's Day only activity. In fact, later, I can create some seasonal clothing ... and when I am not using it for primary, it makes a nice activity for children that doesn't take up much space :)

This was a very easy activity to create, but it did take some time to cut everything out and color everything in.

I would be happy to share the artwork for this if you want to post your email address (so that I can send the attachments to you). Otherwise, to create the pieces yourself, I simply drew a rough potato shape onto a piece of white paper, using a dark permanent marker. I then drew a variety of accurately-sized hairstyles, hats, dresses, hands, eyes, noses, and mouths, by placing a new white piece of paper over the potato outline. It was that easy! The time-consuming part was taking the time to color, cut, and laminate the pieces. I then attached Velcro stickers to everything so that the children could attach the parts to the potato head. You can find Velcro stickers at craft stories, fabric stores, and even in the sewing section of Wal-Mart.

There are so many ways to integrate Mrs. Potato Head, or something similar, into a primary music activity but here are just a few ways:

Potato Head Activity #1
I only had time for this version in junior and senior primary today.

Call children up to select a part to add to the potato head. (I pulled their name out of a jar.) Each part has a song number written on the back. Then, find the song in the book, and read a line from the song. I asked children to raise their hand as they recognized the song to which the line was written. We sang the song once children correctly guessed it. Where possible, I tried to add something "fun" to sing with the song.

Potato Head Activity #2
Place all the potato head pieces into a bag so that children cannot see the parts. They reach into the bag and select a part. The object of the game is to put together a complete Mrs. Potato Head before class ends. If a child selects a part that has already been placed on the Potato Head, they can then switch out the piece for the new piece.

Add a fun rule for switching out a piece. For example:
a) They can switch out the piece, but then they have to answer a trivia question about a song (then prepare questions like, "what is the line of the song that goes after  ..." or "In 'Stand for the Right,' what does it mean to be 'be true'?")
b) If children pull a duplicate piece, we can sing a song of their choice before switching out the new part.
c) If children pull a duplicate piece, we switch the piece out on the Potato but don't sing another song.
d) etc.

Potato Head Activity #3
Hide potato head pieces under chairs. Describe the Potato Head piece, and if the child is holding up, they get to come up and add it to the potato head. This could be done with a spinner that points to "skirt," "hat" "eyes," etc., and then another selection process that indicates which description of each to pick. This way, children have the opportunity to change the skirt, or change the eyes, etc,

- or -

Attach answers to various questions to the Potato Head pieces. This way, children can be involved with trying to figure out which of them has the right answer on their Potato Head piece. They can change out eyes, clothing, etc., while they are listening for answers to questions, which lead to the singing of songs, too.

I would love to hear your other ideas about how to use Mrs. Potato Head in Singing Time.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Preparing for Mother's Day Program

This is our last Sunday before the primary children sing in church. They will be singing two songs:

"Mother Dear" and "I Often Go Walking."

I want to take this week to focus on preparing them to sing, making sure they know the words really well, and getting them to sing "with gusto."

I have three activities prepared, so we can sing the same songs over and over.

Activity #1: Echo Chamber (for repetition to help learn lyrics)
I was originally going to have one side of the room echo the other side of the room, but when I went to stake primary training, our stake music leader had an even better idea ... so I have to think I am receiving inspiration that this is a worthy activity!

Her version is to have the children actually get up out of their seats, and move to the four corners of the room. One corner will sing one verse of the song, and then each subsequent corner will sing it so that we are doing a four-series echo! I am looking forward to this and think it will be a lot of fun.

I think I might even mix it up by changing the direction of the echo fast, or pointing and having the kids responding and making that part of the "game."

Obviously, the benefit here is that the children will learn the song even better by all the repetition.

Activity #2: How Loud Can You Sing? (for gusto to help singing with volume)
This one is deliberately AFTER the echo chamber to help cement the lyrics in their minds before we work on volume.

I printed up a card for each song - one set for junior, one set for senior, so four total. I will tell the children to sing as loudly as possible, and then send someone down the hall to post the card matching that song on the wall representing how far away they were before they couldn't hear us singing.

After church, the children can go see how loudly they sang and if their card made it all the day down the hallway. I made sure to use pictures because not everyone in junior primary can read yet.

I am debating whether to send a child, two children, or one of the counselors. ...

Activity #3: Staccato Song (to practice enunciation) ... or ...? I haven't thought this one through yet ...
Okay, I keep changing my mind about Activity #3 ... so I might do an activity having to do with singing Staccato ...

... or I might just work on other review songs ... or new songs ...

or I might do a class SING.
Sing the whole song but have one child or teacher sing each word of the song ...

or I might work on having Boys sing one vs. Girls in another verse ... something I wanted to do in sacrament but didn't have time to teach the song well enough to practice yet.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Guest Teacher: "Dare to Do Right" and tips on teaching music to children

Today was Ward Conference so the stake primary presidency taught the sharing time and singing time lessons. They were wonderful! I hope our ward children know how much they are loved - it is so evident by the dedication from their ward primary presidency and teachers, as well as the stake primary presidency.

Our stake primary music leader is Megan T. She has been a primary chorister more than once, and works with young children. We just had stake primary music training too, that she taught, so I was able to watch her incorporate some of her instruction into her lesson today. One thing I really liked about her instruction is that she didn't try to reinvent the wheel. She taught about the basics, reminded us how important they are, and then gave us specific examples of how she does this when she teaches. I was then able to see her put this into practice when she taught the music today.

Here's how she taught today's main music lesson, that can be done with any song. The primary manual also gives little hints about these teaching methods so if you read church instruction, none of this should be a complete surprise. In fact, I've used most of the same concepts at some point in various lessons but the same concepts feel like a very different activity in different contexts. What I love is how Megan combined everything into THIS lesson, and the way she interacted with the children. She was very fun and engaging. I was impressed. The children really loved her. I also love how she handled children that were less participatory.

Three basic principles to remember here, that Megan (who also just went to the world leadership training for music leaders) advocates:
1. Children like and appreciate repetition.
2. Children like to be challenged.
3. There's a magic number for how many times a child needs to hear a song before they can learn it - three times.

Today's lesson:
Obviously, this isn't word per word, but this gives you the gist of how it went ...

Part 1: Introduce the Song and Give them an Incentive to Listen Closely

Megan: How many of you know what a DARE is? (Said in a fun, "daring" voice.)

Children raise their hands.

Megan calls on several children who give examples of a dare. She responds appropriately.

Megan: Did you know there's a primary song that dares you to do something? Listen while I sing it and tell me what the song dares you to do.

Megan sings the song Dare to Do Right (without a piano! This is where I need more guts. I try hard no to sing solos in primary.)

Megan:  What does the song dare you to do?

Children raise their hands. Megan calls on a child to list each of the two dares. She spends some time asking the children if they know what it means to "be true" and giving children opportunities to respond.

Part 2: Repetition. Sing the Song Again and Give them a New Incentive to Listen Closely.

Megan: I want you to LISTEN closely and tell me how MANY TIMES you HEAR the word DARE when I sing it again!

Megan sings the song again, interacting with the children and watching them count.

Megan: How many times did I sing the word "dare?"

Megan lets different children give different answers.

Part 3: More Repetition.

She then sings the song AGAIN and counts how many times she sang "dare" with them.

Part 4: Adding Movements. Physical Participation.

Megan asks them to stand up the first time they hear the word "dare," then sit down when they hear it again, so they are popping up and down throughout the song.

Part 5: Adding More Movements.

Megan: Can the boys in the room stand up and show me a "brave" pose?

Megan gives them time to get warmed up to this. She shows them her own "brave" pose, then points out children who have great "brave" poses, for example, showing off their muscles. She stops to admire a little four-year-old's biceps, and just interacts and has fun with them, giving them time to demonstrate their different ideas. They love this.

In senior primary, there is one class of all boys that I think sometimes tries to be "too cool" and therefore is less responsive. Megan teases them, "Oh, you must be girls because you don't have any brave poses." Instantly of course, there are a set of "brave" poses. She does this very carefully - I think we all know that teasing has to be a delicate thing with children, but these kids are older and are obviously being tough, so she reads them well.

Megan: Girls, can you stand up and show me a "kind" pose?

Megan does the same things with the girls. A sweet little CTR4 girl stands up, tilts her head to the side, clasps her hands in front of her, and gives a sweet little smile. Great "kind" pose. The teachers were having fun watching all the children participate as well.

Megan: OK, TEACHERS, can you stand up and show me a "well" pose?

This one was tougher but one teacher pats himself on the back. Another teacher gives a "thumbs up."

Megan: Okay, now I'm going to add to the song, because not only are you going to stand up and sit down when you sing "dare," but you are going to stand up for boys when you hear "bravely" and strike a brave pose, and for the "kindly" and "well" pose, too. This time, sing with me okay?

We sing the song again. By this time, I'm surprised to realize how much I've memorized.

I realize as I write this post that not every child was singing but the important thing is that they were engaged and participating, and whether they realize it or not, they were learning the song. From my perspective as an observer, Megan's methods were very effective and fun. I think it's easy when you are directing the music to be critical of yourself and think you want 100% singing but it's good to be in the chairs and remember that the perspective changes when you are not leading the music.