Praise Him with with the trumpet. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing...praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Psalm 150:4-6
I have always been amazed at the wonder on people's faces when they pick up an instrument in my classroom. Holding two mallets and sitting in front of a xylophone is sheer joy...and I don't just mean for children. Whenever adults come into my classroom filled with hand drums and xylophones and maracas (oh my!), they can't resist playing with at least one instrument for at least a few minutes. Instruments really add pizzazz.
Add Pizzazz to your Children's Ministry
Singing is a no brainer when it comes to children's ministry. We sing in Sunday school classes. We sing in children's messages or preschool classrooms. We sing in VBS or children's choirs. What we don't often use in church settings is instruments.
Why not? It could be your church doesn't own any. It could be they cost too much. It could be you don't know how. Whatever the reasons, I'm hoping to equip you to overcome the hurdles and put these bundles of joy to work for God's kingdom.
Look for Instruments you Already Have
I am shocked at how many instruments I can find in my home and at church when I start to look. We have a huge assortment of drums, little toy xylophones, and shakers: maracas, egg shakers, rattles, tambourines, etc. Go through your children's toys. Talk to your music director at church. I recently discovered this photo on my husband's computer. He's the pastor of our lovely church and somehow missed telling his music teaching wife that they existed.
These babies are gold and no one EVER uses them!
If you're on the hunt, look for hand drums, shakers, xylophones, handbells, kazoos, rhythm sticks, or any other unpitched percussion instrument you can find. The goal is to find enough instruments to put one of the same instrument in each child's hands.
Talk to a local elementary or preschool music teacher. Since resigning from teaching this summer and becoming a stay at home mom, I no longer have immediate access to a classroom full of instruments. This means I need to ask for help. I have borrowed an entire classroom set of xylophones for several lessons. I have borrowed a classroom set of rhythm sticks, egg shakers, and hand drums. It's worth the wonder in their eyes when they get to praise God with instruments. It's worth making magic as they learn God's word.
Often times children's ministries include both music and a craft. Use one of your craft times to make:
egg shakers: use Easter eggs and popcorn kernels. Tape it together and shake!
hand drums: use recycled oatmeal containers with their lids
rhythm sticks: cut up some dowels (at home, not with kids) 2 per child.
conga drums: ask a local business for their used 5 gallon blue water jug containers. Flip empty jugs upside down and use them as conga drums!
Store the handmade instruments in your room for future music times.
Buy Inexpensive Instruments
If you have a little money to spend, purchase some egg shakers. They run about 12 for $10. Rhythm sticks look like 12 pair for $17. You could try kazoos, but I typically stay away from them. Unless you are going to give them to each child and not use them again in the future, the germ factor makes them less appealing. Make sure to have a basket or bin to store your classroom set. Boomwhackers run 8 for $26 but you would need to know which of the 8 to use at any given time, and likely have about double the number of boomwhackers as students.
Buy Expensive but Awesome Instruments
If you happen to be in one of those rare but fantastic situations where you have a lot of funds to spend on your children's ministry or preschool classroom, I highly recommend a set of:
tubanos: conga-like student model hand drums
Orff instruments: a student model xylophone like in the picture at the top
handbells: these would take a bit more expertise on your end and older children
Lay the Ground Rules
Don't be intimidated by a large group of children holding ear splitting noise makers. Make sure to lay some ground rules you can handle BEFORE passing them out. I usually have a 'no playing out of turn' rule and take away any instrument that is played when it shouldn't be. That being said, I try not to talk a lot and give them plenty of space to play. I also ask them to 'store' their instruments while they wait for them to be passed out to other children. When children are holding mallets for xylophones, we store them by making an X across our chest with the mallets.
Shake, Hit, Rattle, and Play Them!
DON'T LET THESE INSTRUMENTS LAY AROUND UNUSED!
If you're new to teaching anything musical, use the instruments to add some color to your song. Think about where there is a rest in the song that could use a 'shake shake' or a 'ding'. Only put instruments there.
If you have a sense of beat and can clap to a worship song, lead the children in keeping the steady beat with their instruments.
If you have a little more than just a steady beat, you could create an ostinato (very short rhythmic pattern) that repeats over and over on their unpitched percussion instruments. I like to use words to help them learn the ostinato. For example: 'straw-berry, straw-berry, straw-berry' They say the words and play the rhythm of the words over and over until they've learned it. Then, they play the rhythm over and over while singing the song.
If you have a sense of pitch and can find the root of the chord, help the children find the root on their xylophones, boomwhackers, or hand bells and play on the first beat of every measure.
I would stay away from having the children learn the entire melody on a pitched instrument unless you have an older class, at least 4 lessons, and a song that lends itself to being played on an Orff instrument.
Looking for More Help?
If you want to add pizzaz but need a little more help, we've got you covered. We have created a whole series of children's ministry lessons that use instruments and can be modified to fit your preschool room, Sunday School opener, children's message, VBS, or children's choir. Not only are the lessons free, but there are accompanying videos to help you see exactly what it looks like in action. Plus, your children will walk away with a Bible verse they will remember for the rest of their lives!