First off congratulations! My mom, who was a primary music leader for most of her life always says “It’s the best job in the church”.
For some, it might not seem that way, especially if you are not be musically inclined. But you get to reach these kids in a way no one else can, through music.
Music is powerful. It helps bring the spirit. It calms us. It strengthens us. It helps us learn things we never could learn otherwise. It sets the tone to learn in Sunday school.
Do you know what I remember about my whole time as a kid in primary? Music. I am sure some great lessons were taught but I don’t remember a single one. Do you know what I DO remember? The articles of faith (sung of course). Book of Mormon Stories. Stars Were Gleaming. I Am a Child of God. The biggest things I have carried with me from primary is the music and how it made me feel. I can still sing the songs I learned as a kid.
As wonderful and impactful as it it, guess what? It can be a pretty hard and intense calling. Getting in front of a big group of kids for 20 or 40 minutes every Sunday might not sound like much but it can be exhausting! But have no fear, here are my favorite tips, tricks and advice for those just starting. This is the info I’ve shared with friends when they get this calling and are things I wish I had
Get on the LDS Primary Chorister Facebook Group
Right now it is an almost 20k group filled with people around the world who are doing the same thing you are, have done it or play supporting roles. There is so much knowledge in this group! It is a closed group but just ask to join. LDS Primary Chorister Facebook Group. Also, it’s pretty amazing because I have seen old college roommates and friends from around the world who now have the calling. It’s a great community!
Remember within the group there is a list of different files you can download and use when needed. These have saved me tons of times.
There is a search function to search any conversations that have happened already in the group, cause trust me, if you’re asking a question chances are someone else has too. This search field is in the far left column about the middle of the page. It says ‘search this group’. You will love it!
Give ideas as well as take, be a participant. This is hard to at first because you might have never done this before but as you gain experience share ideas as they might come or experiences you might have.
Warning – Remember with this group comes tons of ideas. I mean a ton. One thing I had to remember as I first started out reading about different people’s ideas (and still have to remember sometimes) is:
1.) Everyone is different and has their own teaching style. Some like to do big elaborate games while others prefer things on the simpler side. Don’t ever feel like you’re not doing it ‘right’ if you’re not doing what “everyone else” is doing.
2.) It’s easy to get overwhelmed but remember these are all just ideas and treat them as such.
3.) Remember not only are you, the chorister, different from every other primary music leader in the church but so is your primary. What might work for one primary in New Hampshire might not work for yours in Oregon or in Mexico. You do you!
To Teach a Child a Song by Sharla Dance
I love this website and more importantly Sharla. I’ve been to a number of her workshops ( I just went last weekend for my 4rd time!) and she does an amazing job teaching music through movement, which my kids always love. I love that overall she keeps them moving and keeps everything fairly low key and simple.
As much as I love being crafty and creating things, cause seriously I do, for teaching music I’ve found the simple music times are my favorite and the ones the kids remember. Also, there’s nothing more frustrating planning something big and elaborate and things just not going to plan, which happens all the time because hey, it’s primary!
Because it’s Sugardoodle! If you go to the top bar it says ‘Primary Music’ on the far left and there you can find so much information. My favorite is the Song Index for when I’m teaching a new song or want to do it in a different way I can go there to find something, often times with stuff ready to print because who wants to reinvent the wheel?
Again, tons and tons and tons of ideas. Just look up LDS Primary Music or a specific song and you can find lots of information and resources.
What’s in My Bag
These are my go to activities that I always have because they are super fun, simple, work with anything and require little or no prep.
Yoga Cards – these are perfect for any song. Sing any song and flip through the positions, my kids love it!
Singing Cards – These are cards I’ve made up that are loud/soft, stop/go, slow/fast. I’ve done all of mine back to back so you just flip them. They also work with any song.
Book of Mormon Hero Figures – These we use for hot and cold games (someone hides it, another finds and the closer you get the louder you sing). I have Ammon. But you can find Nephi, Moroni, Heleman, Lehi, Samuel the Laminite, Sariah, Joseph Smith or even missionaries. You can really use anything to find. I just like these because then I tell a story or two about the characters and try to relate it to what the topic is. Plus I have 3 boys and they love them!
Hot Cold – The absolute easiest game that my kids LOVE. All you need is an object, any object. I use a figure of Ammon that my boys have which always stays in my bag. First pick a child to help. I usually let the first one decide if they want to be a hider or finder. Then pick another to be the other. The finder goes out of the room for 30 seconds or so while the other hides the object. So everyone watches and knows where the item is at. Let the finder come in and start singing. As the finder gets closer to the object everyone sings louder and as they get further get quieter.
Balloons – put a piece of paper with the name of the song to sing in it (or this could be the way to sing a song) then have them pop it. You could have them stomp on it, sit on it or use a pin to pop it.
Hot Potato – Have all the songs you want to review on strips of paper then layer them between pieces of foil on a potato. Start off singing one song while the others pass around the potato. When the song stops whoever has the potato gets to peel a layer.
Secret Word – I’ve done this a couple of ways but the basic idea is the same. You have someone go out of the room. Those in the room get to know the ‘secret word’ (a word from the song your working on, then when the other person comes in all the kids sing the song except for the secret word. The person who was out of the room then has to guess. To decide the word you can just say it, pull from a list.
Headbandz -Very similar to secret word but you just have the person guessing come to the front and
4 Corners – Played with Sr. Primary – Put the numbers 1-4 on each side/corner of the room. One person is blind folded and sat in a chair at the front. Choose a designated number of ‘movers’ depending on your primary size (I think we did 8 or 9). ‘Movers’ are allowed to move only while the song is being sung and at the end have to stop in one on one of the numbers. Now, it is the blindfolded person who gets to first decided if the singers (the rest of the group) passed and sang well enough to keep going. If they don’t pass and were too distracted by the movement they have to sing over again, if they pass the person in the front picks a number and then those ‘movers’ who are at that number have to sit down. Continue until there is only one person standing. This is a great way to help kids focus on one person, the music leader, despite distractions that will inevitably happen during the performance.
Stop and Go – For this you have a stop and go sign for singing (stop means they just mouth the words). I made up a set you can find here. You can do this a lot of different ways. Have can do it yourself. You can have one child come and do it. Or you can have 2 children in the front to hold one of each. For Jr. lift the children’s arms for them (sunbeams if needed) or touch them. For Sr. let them do it themselves by looking at each other.
Choosing Tree – I have this wire tree I made for my jewelry to display during shows (I run a jewelry biz) but I’ve found it works really well for primary as well (this one is similar). I hang different things from it all the time for kids to choose from. I’ve done fall leaves, ornaments, snowflakes, hearts, flowers. Then each item corresponds to a song or a way to sing a song. You can make up something similar using sticks in a vase and just hanging things off the branches. I use mine as a decorative piece for my house. It is a great go-to activity.
Pass the Beanbag – I usually have one for each side. I give each side a beanbag and then when we sing the kids pass around the beanbags on their side. When the music stops the child on each side who has the bean bag can try tossing it into a container (usually some sort of bucket I have on hand). Then we do another song. Sometimes I’ll give each side multiple beanbags so more kids get a turn. They love it.
Party Poppers – I use these for the Fourth of July and New Years. Take a party popper and carefully take off the bottom circle that keeps all the streamers inside with tweezers. Then place a small piece of paper with the song you’re going to review and put the bottom back on. Then I have the kids come up and pick one to pop. They pop and then we sing that song. I have the numbers so I can know what one it is and tell my pianist so she can find the page.
Skittles – Kids love the skittle game. Put a skittle in their mouth and if they guess the color, they pick a song. If they get the color wrong, you sing the song you’re working on. Be aware of any dietary restrictions kids might have and if they do you can have them pick a skittle (then they can give it to someone) then have a backup treat/prize like a sticker or pencil.
Rolos for Solos – Pick a song (or list of songs) you’re working on and offer a rolo or other prize for anyone who can’t have one to come up to the front and do a solo for everyone. While they are singing their solo you can have everyone else hum. I have seen where you can have separate bags Rolos for Solos – Starbursts for Duos – Smarties for Groups so it doesn’t leave anyone left out.
Movement and Rhythm
Shakers – you can buy them on Amazon (I did just to save time. I do keep them throughout the years and use them a lot with my kids at home) or make them by using Easter eggs and filling them with beans or popcorn kernels and using duct tape like these.
Clapping – You can do just about anything clapping rhythms. Do it standing up, sitting down, using their chairs, one handed. So many possibilities.
Paper Plates – Another one from Sharla Dance. You can see how she uses them here as well as other things she does to encourage movement.
Sticks – You can do rhythms with sticks like these or make your own using dowels or pvc pipe from Home Depot. I’ve only done this once or twice but they have loved it.
Yoga – These position cards (we call them yoga cards!) are great with just about any song, fast or slow, reverent or not. You hold up the position card for a phrase or two and they just have to hold that position. You can do it or have someone else. Kids love it.
Bells – Another favorite. I bought two sets of the smaller 8 bell sets and then a larger 13 bell set in the many years I’ve done this. Since I use them and plan on keeping them I have paid for them myself but you can ask about working them into the budget. They are great. Here is a great resource for printing out bell charts Handbell Heaven, Camille’s Primary Ideas, or make your own using a poster from the dollar store and using color circle cutouts like this leader did. I like the poster and use this circle punch that I had from my scrapbooking days. I use it for so many random things.
Glow Sticks – Seriously, they are so much fun and the kids love them. We usually only do them once a year a week or two after the primary program. I black out all the windows using sheets, paper or whatever I have on hand and then get enough glow sticks for each kid to have two. Usually, we’ll do this activity in a big circle with no chairs and I’ll often take the entire music time. Then we sing and sing and sing doing fun rhythms. I lead, sometimes I’ll have someone else lead.
I also recently tried finger lights and my kids loved them! I loved them because they work like glow stick but can be used over and over again instead of having to buy new ones.
Scarves – These are a ton of fun. Throw them in the air. Make circles. Cross your body. Up and down movements. Throw them to a partner. There are lots of fun ways to use these and the younger kids especially love them.
Note. When passing out instruments or just about anything I always go over rules and expectations. No hitting, using them when they shouldn’t. I’m pretty strict but since they all know I’m serious I’ve never had to take anything away. I almost did a couple of times….. Also everytime
Random Fun Activities
Would You Rather – I love this game that was suggested by a number of people from the facebook group. You ask a ‘would you rather’ question (some are more church related and some are silly), then I turn around for 10 seconds and they quietly have to move to one side or the other depending on which they would rather. Then I would pick which side would sing and which would hum. Sometimes one side, the other or both. The teachers and kids enjoyed it and we got to do a lot of songs. You can also point to different sides during the song (like you do in the ‘Hello’ song) and that side sings. One time we even did 4 sides where we had some people in the back (they couldn’t decide between the two choices and I was in the front and would do a solo if I just pointed to myself. Then I pointed to different groups individually or even did 2 of the four groups singing. This was ONLY with the Seniors and it was fun to see if I they could keep up with all my pointing between the 4 groups!
Name that Tune – Use two bells (or objects) and have two children come to the front. Have a list of fun silly songs for the pianist to play the melodies of and do them when someone gets them but in between do the verse or chorus of the song(s) your working on. You can also do this and have just one come up to see if they can guess. Or you could even do it by class to see if they together know.
Dry Erase Boards – I got a bunch of these at the dollar store and have used them for different things (they are similar to these).
- You could use it to fill in the phrase (so you sing then stop but then each class writes down the next phrase.
- Ask them questions about the song. Have the teachers or someone rate how they sang that part of the song.
- Have the main keywords on each paddle and slowly take them away.
- Have all the words on the paddle, mix them up and have them put them in the right order.
- Have them draw pictures for each phrase then have them put them in order.
Churning Butter – We do this for pioneer day and make butter as we sing pioneer songs. I make a batch at home to bring and then have the first group make butter by shaking it and passing it around for a full singing time (20 minutes or so depending on how hard they shake). You’ll need someone prepping but at the very end they will each get 1-2 crackers with butter. Then we use the butter they made for the next group. It is fun, easy and they love it.
Name That Singer – This is something I did for Fathers Day. I thought about having a number of fathers come into the primary and be hidden and sing then everyone had to guess what dad but I decided that would be too tricky logistically so I decided to just get them to make a quick audio recording of them singing a line from a song and text it to me. It was so fast and easy. This would work for Fathers Day, Mothers Day or just any day. You could have their teachers do it, the kids do it, their parents.
Freeze! – I love freezing the song at random moments. Sing a phrase. Ask a question. Bear testimony. Try doing it again to improve something.
To practice following – In random moments during songs hold out a note extra long to see if they’re watching. Review if needed.
Mess Up – Mess up words/phrases on purpose and see if they notice. Sometimes I don’t even need help with that!
Ready Singers – Her term for having the kids ready to sing. This means kids are sitting up straight eyes forward and mouths closed ready to sing. She usually has her hands out flat, psalms down to the floor and back straight, ready to go. It’s been pretty effective so far.
Mushy or Crunchy – I love this idea, comparing singing to either ‘mushy oatmeal’ when they start slurring words and notes (so when they don’t really know a song or parts) or ‘crunchy cornflakes’ when all the words are crisp and clear. I love this analogy. When she first taught it she brought in a bowl of each to help them understand. Also when a part is sounding ‘mushy’ she stops right in the middle of it to get it ‘crunchy’ whether it’s with the words or notes.
No teachers singing – Sometimes when I feel like they are not singing much I have all the teachers ‘turn their volume down’ as well as mine so that only the kids sing. This helps me to really get a good idea how well they know a song.
How to Store All Your Stuff
Keep things simple from the get go. I really try to think about that before I actually make something up or print something to teach/review a song. I try to keep the big elaborate one time games and activities to a minimum. If I’m not going to do the activity more than once I usually don’t do it because I’m all about saving time (busy mom of three and biz owner here!) Also, I really try to consider how much space something takes up so I usually stick to flat things when possible. I do have a cabinet full of rhythm stuff as well as a file box with the songs we learn. Posters I’ll store behind anything that’s against the wall, most often my desk in my office or my bookcase.
Use a shared closet. In our building, there is a shared closed for all the music leaders where music visual aids, rhythm instruments, and other things are kept. I highly recommend using it if you have something like that!
Borrow! I actually have numerous friends who hold this calling and we have borrowed each other’s stuff before. I’ve also loaned out a lot of my stuff when I’ve had friends newly called when I haven’t been.
I have done primary music off and on for years but honestly never did nursery singing time before because the nursery teachers wanted to do it which worked out well for me because I was either busy doing other singing time or with one of my kiddos when they were little. Now I’ve had it and done it for a couple of months and it has gone really well! The first week they just looked at me but now they are getting more into it and you can tell they recognize the songs.
Key things to remember teaching nursery (1 1/2- 3 year olds)
- It’s all about repetition. At first they will stare and watch you sing. Kids that age need to hear a song 100+ times to really know it. 100 times. So get singing
- They need to move. Do shakers, clap, jump, get silly.
- Be at eye level. I always sit on the floor and have them
Usually, I have these little mats I made for a sunbeam class I taught. I think it’s good to have them sit because it helps them follow instructions. Then they sit on their mat and get a couple of shakers. First we practice following. So I have my hands way in the air and wait until most do. Then low. Then to the sides. Then held tightly very quietly. This helps them practice following me. Then we sing a couple of songs, they love Do as I’m Doing. Then after a few songs with that I have them bring me their eggs and they get to switch it for a wand I made up and we do a couple of more. Then I have them bring them to me and we have a felt snowman we put on the wall. After putting all their stuff back we do a few more songs just singing.
Nursery Songs I do:
- Do as I’m Doing
- Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam
- Book of Mormon Stories
- I am a Child of God
- Once There Was a Snowman
- The Wheels on the Bus
- 5 Little Monkeys
- Twinkle Twinkle
Music for Children https://www.lds.org/children/music?lang=eng
Music in the friend https://www.lds.org/children/resources/type/music-resources?lang=eng