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Teaching Hymns to children

Dear Colleagues,

The following is a compilation of the responses I received concerning my
query about teaching hymns to children. There was quite a response from
many of you, for which I am grateful. I am posting the compilation for
those who have requested it.

All the best,
P. Kevin Suiter, D.M.A.
Music Program Coordinator
Appalachian Bible College
Bradley WV 28642
(304)877-6428, ext. 3255


I am preparing to present a workshop on the value of teaching hymns to
children (elementary age and up). Do any of you have information and /or
experience that you could share which might be of assistance to me in my

For example:
1) Are there journal articles that deal with this topic? (Titles, authors,
2) What hymns have you used successfully with children?
3) What is your opinion on the value of using hymns with children?
4) Are there web sites that might serve as a resource in this area?

The title of the workshop is "Sacred Hymn Texts: A Rich Treasury of
Biblical Truth," and is aimed at reinforcing the value of teaching doctrine
through music, and will briefly examine trends in modern sacred texts. I
realize that this is a bit broader that my question above suggests, so I
may have to narrow the topic a bit.

Thanks for any leads you might be able to share!

P. Kevin Suiter, D.M.A.
Music Program Coordinator
Appalachian Bible College
Bradley WV 28642
(304)877-6428, ext. 3255


Friends in song,

I normally would reply privately, but this is a serious topic for me and I
feel like getting on my soapbox...gently, of course!

Absolutely, it is our responsibility to teach the children ALL the hymns
the congregation sings. We are quite possibly the only source of their
sung heritage that they might see in the course of a week. Any hymn you
love will work with kids. We sell them short when we make special hymns
only for them and then do not expose them to the great riches of our (name
your church here) history. I have been a church musician for 32 years (oh,
I don't feel that old...) in a variety of denominations and my experience
is that children will sing anything (good OR bad, actually) that you give
them with enthusiasm and love. Don't underestimate their intelligence or
sophistication. Give them good stuff so their minds and souls will grow
strong! Give them the entire hymnal, for heaven's sake!!

OK, I am getting off the soapbox and going away, but I'm humming a little
hymn I learned in church when I was 5...and it's Gregorian--chant based.
Ah, heaven!

Peace to all,
Sandra LaBarge-Neumann
Unitarian Universalist Church, Nashua, NH

* * * * * *
I have taught these hymns, which the children seem to enjoy:
Lift High the Cross
I am Jesus' Little Lamb
How Firm a Foundation
Beautiful Savior
A Mighty Fortress


* * * * * * *
Sounds very interesting. Are you aware of what the group Indelible Grace is
doing with the historic hymn texts set to folk and light rock styles?
( and ) The texts they
use are from Puritan sources or the first Great Awakening. (Watts, Toplady,
Wesley, etc.) The target audience is the theologically attuned reformed
movement in protestant churches, largely PCA, RCA, reformed Baptists, etc.

Are you interested in hymn texts for children or the customary musical
settings that we usually use?

Personal comment on part of the decline in the use of historic hymn texts:
Sadly, many Methodists have abandoned the texts of Wesley because they are
too focused on the atoning death of Christ. The hymns of Watts, Newton, and
others have too much mention of personal sin for the tastes of those who
retreated from the bold gospel of the cross. I think you are right that
there is a current pull toward experiential faith. Wesley and Watts had
that, but coupled it with a clear vision of God's holiness and our need for
his forgiveness. Does any of this make sense?

I have a hymnal collection of about 700 volumes.

Carl Stam
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

* * * * * * *
Not "modern" in the way you might be thinking but I once read--- wish I
could remember where I read it and reassure myself that I am not simply
making it up ----that Cecil F. Alexander wrote hymns for children to
teach/expand on the Apostle's Creed--- "I believe in God the Father
Amighty,Maker of Heaven and Earth" (All things bright and beautiful) "Born
of the Virgin Mary (Once in Royal David's City) "He was crucified" (There
is a Green HIll Far Away) I've never tried figuring out what the whole set
should be-- many I'm sure did not become well known-- and I wish I could
document where I heard the story that this is what she really did. Anyhow
the idea has always interested me-- and shows that it is an idea that has
been around for a while.

John S. Chaney

* * * * * *

You will find a host of resources through Choristers Guild:
They have several book resources on hymns and the teaching of them.

Also - published by choristers guild is a terrific resource - a very usable
edited resource of essays by all the leading children's sacred choir
experts called "A Child Shall Lead".
Another resource is Worship and Hymnody - 12 ready to use Hymn Services by
Gary Shiplett - (a resource guild for any tytpe of hymn-related program)
published by Meriwether publishing.
Still another resource is the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada

Good luck
Ruth Becker
Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church
Fairfax, VA

* * * * * *
I'm using the Stepping Stones curriculum published by the Lorenz Corp. this
year in my Cherub Choir which has a hymn per month for study. The stepping
stones curriculum is based on the Kodaly methodology combined with the
materials for the liturgical church year. It's ecumenical. Each hymn
that was chosen can be found in all major hymnals. Looking forward to
using this over the next two years.

Melissa Roth

* * * * * *
Just a few thoughts, mostly because "I believe in hymns"! and have always
taught hymns to any children's choir I've worked with, and as part of any
Vacation Bible School I've worked with, and for that matter, children I've
taught piano to...

Oct 4th was the day of Francis of Assisi, so how could we not sing "All
creatures of our God and King"? and connect this hymn with Francis,
ecology; following this with "Make me a channel of your peace" [modern
tune, but still a Francis' text].

I also find teaching "traditional" hymns a way of broadening out the
picture of Christian community - "the cloud of witnesses who have gone
before". Even geography is included. "Oh here is a hymn from Ghana, who
knows where Ghana is?"

"Songs of Faith" [GIA publications, Chicago] is specifically targeted as a
hymnal for young people [meaning grades 1-5 probably; not euphemistic
teenagers], there is a nice mix of new and old, blending of the repertoire.
In any case "traditional" hymn repertoire is not excluded.

Best wishes to you and for your project.

Roger Petrich, AAGO ChM, Director of Music Ministry, St Thomas More Church,
Chapel Hill NC.

* * * * * *
I have had a hymn memory program in place with my elementary children's
choir for 10 years. This program is optional for the chorister, but
basically I present a new hymn each month which we practice during
rehearsals. Any child may come to me after rehearsal and sing the first
stanza from memory. The children who memorize and sing all 8 hymns of the
year for me get to go on a reward outing (usually mini-golf).

I am a strong believer in teaching the children this part of the Christian
tradition. Knowing the most famous and ancient hymns ties this new
generation of worshipers with their ancestors, while also teaching them
important Biblical and Christian concepts through the text. I am also a
proponent of maintaining tradition in worship, while bringing in the best
of current new hymns.

I choose a variety of hymns each year--some are "classics" such as O God
our Help In Ages Past, some are more recent songs such as Eagles Wings, and
some are new hymns to the congregation that may be old standards in some
other denomination (our congregation didn't know "If thou but trust in God
to guide thee (Wen nur leben Gott lasst walten)" and I felt that this was
an important hymn to add to their repertoire--so I started with the
children--they teach their parents so much, you know.

I have taught every hymn successfully with my children's choirs. They are
sponges, and if I have conviction behind the hymns, they will learn them.
If the text is difficult, we take time to learn what it means.

Some of their favorites: Seek Ye First, Be Thou My Vision, All Creatures
of Our God and King (Lasst uns erfreuen)--very traditional ones....

Lastly, as a choral director, hearing the children sing individually for me
is a very valuable thing- ometimes I can help pitch-challenged kids, and it
helps develop their confidence.

Good luck with your project.
Clair Rozier
S.t David's Church
Wayne, PA

* * * * * *

Two suggestions:
1) Look at and contact Choristers Guild to see if their philosophical
material contains any specific references to hymns.
2) For actual use in elementary school, contact Fr. Jay James at St.
Timothy's School, 4523 Six Forks Road Raleigh, NC 27609, tell him about
your research, and ask about the Character Education Program and the
hymn-of-the-month. The latter has been a staple of the school's program
for a long time, while the former is a codification/expansion of what they
have done in terms of fostering Christian character since their inception,
but only formalized as an "educational program" last year. Tell Fr. James
I sent you (I teach at the sister 5-12 school, my son is at St. Timothy's,
we're members of the parish, and Fr. James knows that I value his clarity
of thought and expression). In the parish, the Sunday School regularly
learns great hymns in Children's Chapel and "leads" them in the Eucharist
by singing the first verse alone followed by the whole congregation.

I see the value of learning hymns and the love of hymns it fosters not only
in my son but in the children when they arrive in fifth grade at my school.
The ones who come here from "the Lower School" have a internal repository
of hymns and the understanding of the doctrine embodied in those hymns that
exceeds that of students from the non-denominational churches that use
nothing but contemporary praise choruses (and we get a sizeable number of
those students as well). Among the Upper School (9-12) students, those who
have a strong background in singing hymns are far more primed for their
courses in Christianity and their growth in Advisory (our spiritual
formation small groups that meet three times weekly and function as
prayer/fellowship groups and only incidentally with the housekeeping
functions of 'homeroom'). I can look at the student leadership and see
them singing hymns with great gusto and familiarity, and could tick them
off in my mind by elementary school and/or church home (several Baptist
churches that only use traditional, doctrinal sound hymns, for instance, or
St. Timothy's Church and/or School, or the kids from one or two of the
Lutheran churches).

Stepping off my soapbox now! Should you organize your research in any way,
or offer a transcript of your workshop, I would be very interested.

Pax Domini sit semper tecum.
Patricia Warren, DMA
Fine Arts Chair and Choirmaster
St. Timothy's-Hale School (Episcopal)
3400 White Oak Road
Raleigh, NC 27609

* * * * * *

Well, I threw out my old copies, but it seems like either or both of these
Lutheran publications, "Lutheran Partners" and "Seeds for the Parish" had
some recent articles on the topic. Try contacting the Evangelical Lutheran
Church of America (ELCA) and who knows, they might even have the articles
archived online.

I teach hymns every Sunday morning, for five minutes, to the children in
our Sunday School. Primarily, I am using the hymns that we use at some
point, though our congregation sings about 300 different hymns each year
(Lutherans!). This year, I am focusing on baptism hymns. Last year, I
used hymns that called us into service. Another year, communion hymns,
another year, Christmas carols (all year long, but I found a way to link
the texts to the current season).

This year we are really going overboard to make the link. We have switched
to a "Morning Prayer" service for the two non-communion Sundays at our
second service. We are using the hymn that I am teaching the children at
both of these services each month, and children and adults are participa
ting in the
accompaniment of these hymns with instruments along with the organ.

My goal is that the language of the hymns and their meanings become a part
of the common language of our children. During the 6 years they
participate in the elementary Sunday School, they will learn about 45-60
hymns. What I really enjoy is to hear them singing the hymns outside of
specific church activity, much as they would any children's song.

I hope this is helpful!
Nan Beth Walton
Faith Lutheran Church
Seattle, WA

* * * * * *

on January 12, 2003 10:00pm
I just read your request and also the many responses you received on the subject. In a few weeks I am presenting a similar topic at a daylong music workship for the Archdioceses of Milwaukee, WI I would be interested if you have presented this subject yeat and if you have a transscript of it. I would be greatly interested in receiving a copy of it.

Brian A. Eggers
on March 13, 2003 10:00pm
I just want to applaud all I have read here re: teaching hymns to children. So many good ideas; all reinforce my belief of the importance of the same. Having grown up in a church where I remember learning to sing alto in the junior dept of Sunday School, I want to note just how instrumental that was in my participation in singing groups from that point on. AND as a 53 yr. old woman, I am still enjoying the rich text and meaning in these hymns, perhaps because they have been with me from an early age.

Whatever it takes, and whatever methods you find work successfully, God Bless you all for your efforts to keep Hymns alive even unto the next generation!

How can(we)keep from singing (hymns)!

June Cleaveland
Music lover
on January 8, 2008 10:00pm
the BEST children's hymn collections are from DOT Music Resources They presently have two volumns of hymns.
on December 24, 2008 10:00pm
Old topic, I know, I just wanted to chime in with my two cents and respond to one the first response, "Give them good stuff so their minds and souls will grow strong! Give them the entire hymnal, for heaven's sake!!"

Amen! I remember around 6th grade in children's choir we had something like a hymn a month to memorize the first verse text to. If we did, we were presented with our very own hymnal! I still have that hymnal, and it is one of the hymnals I regularly use when planning services.

Now, this is hardly the only reason I love hymns and church music in general so much (honestly, there are hymns that I have considered some of my favorite songs since I was 6), but it is certainly one of the biggest reasons I do!

Keep teaching those hymns! They are a great educational tool for music (simple melodies and harmonies) as well as a rich fountain of theological instruction!