Ever step in front of a group of preschoolers? Their wiggly bodies, grabby hands, and easily distracted...squirrel!....attention spans can make newer leaders shake in their boots. I remember tears streaming down my face in my first year of teaching elementary music. I taught 10 classes of kindergarteners and first graders in a single day. They could have eaten me alive at any moment. Preschoolers? Could be even worse.
2 Ways to Win the Day
When it comes to winning with younger children, you must consider how they learn. They naturally want to do, and the more they can do in your lesson, the more they will enjoy the experience. The more they enjoy the experience, the more their hearts are soft to what they're learning...namely, the Bible.
1. Talk Less
The less they have to listen, the better. Research shows they can pay attention for around the number of minutes that they are old. So a five year old can listen for around five minutes, a three year old for around three minutes. I personally think this is stretching it. The less I talk the better, so I save my words for very specific and short directions. The more I can show, the better. The more they can move, see, smell, touch, and taste, the better.
If you are telling a Bible story, visuals are essential. Use a flannel board with felt visuals. Make wooden figures and pieces for the story you are telling. Nativity sets are magical to young children because there are moving pieces that they can touch. I just did an entire story on the Tabernacle for three year olds. This seems like it would fail miserably, but they were mesmerized by the golden ark of the covenant, the alter of incense, the table of shewbread that actually had 12 pieces of wooden shewbread, the golden menorah, etc. Not only did they watch the story entranced, but when it was over, they got to touch and move each piece themselves.
In a Sing, Move, and Memorize lesson, children are asked to listen to the Bible verse song quite a few times before they are allowed to sing it. The reason is plain and simple. They have to 'hear' it inside their heads before they can sing it out loud. So how do you limit how much they need to listen, when they need to listen? Have them interact while they are listening. Give them something to listen for. "Listen to my song and count how many times you hear the word 'shaken'. " Or better yet, teach them how to move their bodies while they're listening. Pat or clap a steady beat. Do the sign language that accompanies the words in the Bible verse. Don't just talk at them, or you may end up in tears like I did!
2. Do More
Young children learn by doing. Sing, Move, and Memorize lessons are designed for children to be active. We don't sit around and talk about the Bible verse (at least not more than a few minutes on one lesson). We hear, speak, hum, sing, pat, sign, play, and move to the Bible verses in twenty different ways over the course of 3-7 lessons. They experience the Bible verse in so many enjoyable ways they can't help but love the verse and memorize it, too.
1. Start with the sign language. Songs with movements are magical. Teach each of the signs that accompany the Bible verse song one at a time, so children get to move while you sing for them. The movements will help them memorize the verse in the long run and are fun in the short run.
2. Teach them to sing it...by themselves The more they sing it on their own, the more they will memorize it. My favorite is the magic microphone. Take an item that resembles a microphone (I use a maraca or mallet) and teach them that only the people who it's pointing at can sing. I point it at me, and I get to sing. I point it at them and they get to sing. I will often echo sing back and forth each phrase until they can sing the whole song without me.
3. Let them move it. Have them walk around the room to the beat of the song while singing it. Play a mirroring game where they keep a steady beat on their body while watching you keep a steady beat and singing the song. Move the beat from their laps to their tummies to their noses.
4. Let them play it. Put instruments in their hands. Egg shakers or rhythm sticks are the cheapest and easiest to accommodate larger groups. I borrowed a classroom set of xylophones for a few lessons with my three year olds. Instruments are magical, and they will love the experience of getting to play them.
5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. In addition to moving, singing, and playing, I have had children hum the song. They can recite the words of the verse without any music at all. They could create their very own dance or choreographed movement for it. Throw in colorful scarves or gloves or ribbons and it adds an entirely new dimension.
The key is, keep on building. Use one song, one verse, one set of sign language movements, and keep on building. The more they interact with it the more they will remember it for a lifetime. Let them do more, but in the meantime, don't forget to talk less.