Friday, May 7, 2010

Why don't the children sing?

Too often children who sing in bed after the lights go out, who hum while drawing, sing the national anthem, or a footy team song, fall silent in the worship context.

What is it about the worship experience that inhibits the song of children?
At what moment in our lives do we move from listening, to contributing to community singing?

Reflecting on your own situation, consider these questions:
1. Do you encourage children to sing?
2. Is the "children's song" understood as code that they are not to sing at other times?
3. Which songs do the children most enjoy? Do you know what they are?
4. Can they read the words?
5. Can they see the words?
6. Is there more than one instance each week where a song is accessible to non-readers?
7. Have they other opportunities to learn/sing the songs away from worship?
8. Is there a person in your faith community who encourages children to sing?
9. Has a culture of not singing developed?

Encouraging the voice of children
From what I have observed the principle barrier to the participation of children is the inaccessability of the songs themselves. We are big on words in the church, and lots of long and complicated ones which require definition. Using simple repetitive songs and chants can make a big difference.

A story to illustrate perhaps. One Sunday in my congregation we learnt Kyrie Eleison (Bridget) by John Bell. This particular Kyrie has a cantor/song leader singing a phrase, which is repeated by the gathered people. We sang it perhaps 5 or 6 times in the context of a spoken prayer. After worship had finished several families met at McDonalds for a birthday party. It was possibly 2 hours after the Kyrie had been sung, and silence had descended as the kids sat about eating their 'happy meals'. All at once one of the 5 year old put down his burger, looked around at his friends, and launched into the cantor's part - "Kyrie eleison" to which the other children responded, "kyrie eleison!" It was quite a moment. The children had all absorbed the song, despite its unfamiliar text, becasue it was repetitive, attractive to them and musically accessible. They had taken the song beyond the worship context and into their lives.

If all else fails....
- Regularly include short prayer responses, amens, alleluias and doxologies that children can sing well. 
- Teach the children a new song, and have them teach the congregation one Sunday morning. Not only will you have captive learners, but the rehearsal during the week will ensure the families are all on board too.
- If you must hand out percussion instruments (no I'm not a fan), do so only when the songs are inaccessible.
- Introduce actions, claps or stomps.
- Have children teach the adults the actions
- If you have a goodly number of children allocate them their own part in a round
- Expect them to sing - they are part of the worshipping body like everyone else.
- Enlist the 'help' of older children

What other tips do you have for engaging children in the sing?

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1 comment:

Squirrel said...

Encourage the parents to sing, and to encourage their children. If the parents don't feel obliged to sing, the kids won't either.