Teaching children to sing the delightful songs of Christmas has been a joy to me throughout my life. Whether preparing for a holiday concert at school, or a sacred program for Church or just recreational singing, this is the best time of year to teach children’s music.
Handing out sheet music or hymnbooks to little children really is useless. Depending on the age group, many will not be able to read, let alone read music notes. So, music leaders generally resort to using visual aids to help in their teaching. Remember, when using visual aids, they are only means to an end. The goal is to be able to drop the visual aid as soon as possible.
Teaching aids such as pictures, word charts, games and hand motions should be used with specific goals in mind.
1. Does this teaching aid help bring to order the group and help them focus on the task at hand?
2. Does this teaching aid help guide their listening towards mastery?
3. Does this teaching aid help in memorization?
Notice that I did not mention entertainment as one of these goals. Occasionally, I have watched a song leader try to use so many elaborate pictures and gimmicks to make sure every child has a turn to hold something, that she uses up all of the time handing things out and does very little singing. There are many beautifully produced commercial products out there for use as visual aids, but unless you know how to use them, they are mere gimmicks to attempt to dazzle, mesmerize and entertain the children rather than help them actually learn something.
The song leader herself should be her own best visual aid. Her energy, pacing, and singing; her knowledge of the music, words and message of the songs; her rapport with each child should be enough without the use of complicated teaching aids. She must herself model good posture and singing, mastery of the music and lyrics, and concert deportment. She must connect with her students so that they do just as she models for them. On the other hand, using visual aids can be great fun and bring energy and variety to the teaching period.
Singing is the main activity in a singing class. So often, I have watched music leaders try to tell stories about the music or ask questions of the group or explain the words of the songs for so long that they lose the attention of the students and run out of time to sing. If the song takes 1:00 minute or less to sing per verse, why should it take 5 minutes to set up or explain a game or visual aid? In theater -speak, we say do a “walk and talk.” In other words, a song leader should be able to say a few words of transition or explanation or review while choosing helpers or setting up the game or visual aid. She should also know her students so well that she is able to keep mental track of who has been a helper and who needs a turn to do something. If she is wise, she will create opportunities of some kind for each student each session, even if it is just answering a question or doing an action in a small group.
So, you Song Leaders out there, I encourage you to sing more and talk less, learn your students by name and something about them individually, have specific goals when using teaching helps, and most of all, be your own best visual aid!