What I've Learned About How to Lead 40+ Kids in Singing Activities

Over Two Years as Primary Chorister in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

2018-09-10

Category: Conscious Living

Being able to lead singing activities with 40+ children for a couple hours every Sunday for the last two years has been much more personally enriching than I imagined it would be. Joining them in the purest Christ-centered music has made the calling a faith promoting experience in the same way described in this Church video - you would simply have to be there, join in the dance, feel the music.

For anyone recently called to be Primary Chorister, here is what I have learned over the last two years (in order of most to least important):

First Seek Guidance from Church Materials
There is so much content online written for primary choristers and it’s more from individuals than it is from the Church. The Church’s content is best for providing a base standard. Before seeking inspiration from Chorister blogs, reference the Church’s instruction first.

Spend Most of the Time Singing in Whatever Way You Can Engage Your Class
I never figured out how to effectively make the kids angel children eager for more spiritual thought. The danger of being too strict is teaching the kids to not like church. Since I couldn’t pull off making every sharing time every week just about singing spiritual songs reverently, I was primarily interested in giving the kids a good time. I prayed multiple times to be able to make my sharing times more spiritually edifying, but in practice kept finding myself having to just give the kids a fun time with the songs. The words of the songs are so good, I eventually came to peace with the idea that as long as singing songs is the primary focus, the how of doing so is less important. Church is three hours long and one of those hours is sacrament meeting. The need for kids to just have a good time is felt particularly strong in the third hour.

Maintain Variety in Song Choices With a Prioritization System
I planned my sharing time songs around this order of priority:

  • Topic of the lesson (unless the topic has gotten exhausted from multiple weeks of the same theme)
  • Sacrament program (unless the kids have sung the songs two or more weeks in a row)
  • Articles of Faith (because I think these songs do the most effective job of teaching doctrines through songs and probably have greatest lasting impact on their long-term spiritual growth and are very useful to know for seminary, missionary work, and future teaching callings)
  • Variety Songs (sometimes I taught the kids songs that were neither part of the program nor AoF songs just because too much repetition can get stale)
    Knowing the kids names and referring to them specifically is very engaging for all kids. Memorizing all their names and drawing their names from cups goes a very long way. The anticipation the mere possibility of being called on adds a source of engagement for kids during sharing time.
  • Wiggles Songs. Cycle through a new wiggles song every week or two. Wiggles songs are often the best way to start sharing time - especially after sacrament meeting.

Understand the Difference Between Gamification and Game-based Learning
Primary Chorister blogs are filled with more examples of gamification than game-based learning. Gamification draws from the external motivators of games - visually stimulating, external rewards. In practice, this means spending hours on making stuff for primary and bribing the kids to do what you want them to do. They have the appearance of games, but they’re not games and even a kid can quickly see through it. Game-based learning draws from the substance of games - what makes games actually engaging. In practice, you spend much less time preparing for primary, you keep the kids’ attention more effectively, and it’s no longer about the prize or candy but about the songs. A straight-forward example of this is tic tac toe for junior primary - a kid from one team draws an X on the board after a song, a kid from the opposing team draws an O after the next song. This grabs their attention the whole time and requires zero preparation. This is way better - for the kids and for you - than spending 45 minutes on a craft whose sole purpose is visual stimulation. (Tic tac toe is not a gold standard activity, I’m just illustrating a point.) Another universal example throughout the church is the picture matching game. It’s great for incorporating Church visuals, can be used for any sharing time topic, and keeps both junior and senior primary’s attention the whole sharing time. Games other than Matching that you can cycle through on occasion are Mad Gab (for song titles), a simple board game with a die and you see which team makes it to the end first, Sing or Dare, jeopardy… All of these games can be used every few months with variation tailored to new songs.

Treat Spot Light as Your Wild Card
Treat spot lighting a student as your wild card that you can draw on any time you need to fill 5 minutes. When your sharing time fills 15 minutes of your 20 minute slot or when a guest teacher only takes 10 minutes, you can start your sharing time with no worries about having to think on the spot of more songs to sing and activities to facilitate. Spot lighting a student will fill the time and the kids always love them.

Prioritize Planning for Primary Over Nursery
Visiting the nursery is cake. Visiting the nursery to lead a 5-10 minute singing time isn’t about much more than:

  • Grabbing a different prop from the primary closet each week and making use of it
  • Including at least one song in your routine about the lesson topic of the day
  • Varying your actions as you sing - hand movement songs, standing, sitting, marching, etc
  • Saying the kids names (and they love name games every time)

Avoid Resorting to Sugar
Some parents want to avoid having to resort to sugar to engage kids. My wife and I are such parents. Modern American sugar consumption is objectively an outlier and we’re not benefiting from it. This is just something to be cognizant of. Between all the adults who run primary, it can pretty much be counted on for kids to be given fun dip, candy bars, brownies, etc on most weeks at least once. I have increasingly avoided contributing to that.

Hopefully this helps. Enjoy the experience. You have so much to learn and benefit from kids!


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