With this in mind, I debated about several options this Sunday to keep the energy level up but contribute to the lesson that day in a very simple way (no creative piano playing allowed), because I really want to get through as many of the songs as possible before General Conference.
So, here's what I debated about to prepare for the program but keep it simple (but appropriately engaging), both in prep work and during Singing Time.
Option #1: Complete a Puzzle
Cut a relevant picture (this month's theme - a picture of someone serving) into a puzzle, and hide it around the room. Reverent children get to go pick up a piece that they spotted, and help build the puzzle. Each puzzle piece will either have a song to sing or if they get a magic piece, they need to give one example of how they can serve others (to fit with this month's service theme).
You can find great pictures depicting service on the LDS.org service site here: http://www.lds.org/media-library/images/service?lang=eng&start=1&end=10
Option #2: Pick a Leaf
I'll hang leaves (or pumpkins for Halloween or turkeys for Thanksgiving ... you get the picture) from a tree (so many ways to make this, but I actually just own several different tree sculptures). Each leaf represents a song or a question about a song or both. The point of the questions is to make them think about the meaning of each song. I always tell them that these songs are about the gospel and our testimonies, and that we will sing more beautifully if we think about what we are singing.
Questions about the song:
Name one way that you know that Heavenly Father loves you.
(hint: "Whenever I ... I'm glad that I live in this ____________________ that Heavenly Father created for me.")
Name one thing you would do if the Savior was standing beside you?
(hint: "If the Savior stood beside me ... would I follow __________________ would I live more _______________ ...")
Name one way we know that we can return to our Father in Heaven.
(hint: "I am a child of God, rich blessings are in store, if I but learn _______________.")
Who lead Joseph Smith to the Golden Plates?
(hint: "An ________ came to Joseph Smith")
Why is it a good thing that just like every star is different, every child is different?
(hint: "Every star is different ... you're the only person who ...)
Why is it important to try to live like Jesus Christ?
(hint: "I like to look for rainbows ...I want to be the BEST I can to ...")
What does the gospel teach us about families after we pass from this earth?
(hint: "Families can be ...")
Have the teachers or children help judge their own singing. I'll have them hold up their hands to vote for if they felt for each song they are perfect, almost there, or needs work for gusto, volume, and lyrics. I was thinking I could either alternate classes to vote, or choose reverent children to come up and take turns being judges. I could print out little signs for them to hold up and help judge. We could write down the comments and see what we need to work on for the following week.
I decided against this one because I'm worried it will stress out the children pianists but I think this would be good for a program review.
Option #4: Silent Leading
I want to stand up, not say a word, and use motions to show that I don't want to hear any sounds (pointer fingers over lips), then swoop my arms up to show them that I want them to stand up or sit down. I want to have the pianist start playing a song without telling them what I am having them play and see if I can get them to start singing - all while remaining totally silent. The point of this exercise is to have a little fun with them while reminding them of how important it is for them to watch me while they sing.
I had laryngitis my VERY first Sunday as primary chorister, and had to call a sub, but I think now, had I had more experience, I would have been comfortable leading singing time (as long as it was songs they already knew of course) with no voice.
Option #5: Matching Game
This version is for Senior Primary only. I wouldn't want to take the time to cut out pictures for Junior Primary the same week I did this activity because part of the beauty of this one is that it's quick to prepare, so with Junior, I would find a different, simple game, like Pictionary or something I've prepared in advance, like my Singing Elephant.
Thanks to Camille's Primary Singing Time Ideas for sharing this post from livecrafteat.com about a fun take on the traditional matching game. I really want to focus on activities that teach the music, and this game makes them think about the words of the song since they have to match up the titles. You can get really fancy with laminating this and making it reusable but the thing I like about my version is that it required five pieces of paper, a permanent marker, scissors/paper cutter, and it took me 10 minutes to make, total. To do this quickly:
1. Cut up your sheets into four squares per page. Just eye-ball it!
2. Lay out your square so you can see if you have an even number, and arrange the colors in a pleasing manner.
3. Number the squares.
4. Now write the first half of a song title on one square, and the second half on another square. Because your squares are numbered, it's easy to stack your papers up and just skip from one section of the pile to another to quickly add the titles. I put the page number in the lower corner of both squares to easily confirm the kids have made a match and to quickly give the pianist the song number.
5. I had a few extra squares. Since I'm worried about time, I drew pictures on the empty squares. Those can be for "optional" song or whatever, but since I'm worried about time, for me they are bonus - the kids can leave them turned over once they find it, and the get an extra turn!