Choosing Songs for Kids to Sing

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Growing up as a child who went to church Sunday morning and Sunday night, I learned a lot of songs. I remember following along in the hymnbook as my mom pointed to the words, even before I could read and understand them. Even though we had a hymnbook filled with hundreds of songs, our church only sang a selection of them. We all have our favorite songs, sometimes for melody and sometimes for words. Some of those songs became my favorites. Honestly, there were some I didn’t enjoy singing! But whether I liked the songs or not, they worked their way into my brain and into my memory. I’m amazed now at how I can hear a hymn I haven’t heard in years but I can still recall the lyrics or the melody. I know the same truths about God’s character that I sang as a child are still true today.

Now I’m a parent and I have three kids of my own. Our fourth is on his way! As a parent and a worship leader, one of the most exciting milestones I’ve witnessed in my kids has been hearing them sing a song about God. I remember riding in our car, playing a CD of music from a friend’s church and hearing my oldest daughter begin to sing along with one of the songs. “You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust.” She softly sang. Then she yelled it! “YOU MAKE BEAUTIFUL THINGS, YOU MAKE BEAUTIFUL THINGS OUT OF US!” That experience gave me a new perspective on the songs we sing in our worship services on Sunday mornings. I realized my kids were going to remember these songs, just the way I remember the hymns I grew up singing. As I learned about God from the lyrics we sang out of the hymnbook, my kids will also be learning about who God is from the songs we sing from our screen. I need to be more intentional in considering the songs we sing for the sake of the faith formation of my kids and all children in our church.

My kids are in the preschool and early elementary school years. One of the ministries our church has in place to form and shape the faith of kids this age is Vacation Bible School (VBS). We follow a traditional model, where kids come to the church every night for a week’s worth of crafts, science projects, games, stories from the Bible, and singing. In the past we used purchased curriculum for this week and that included using songs written to re-enforce the week’s themes. We found that a lot of these were great songs. They were catchy and fun for kids to learn and sing. But our kids would sing them for the week of VBS and usually never hear them again.

A few years ago we made a change to our VBS program. We chose some songs for our kids to learn in addition to the ones that came in the curriculum. We intentionally chose three songs we knew our kids would hear again on Sunday mornings in our worship service. We did this because we wanted our kids to learn songs about God that were not only fun for them to learn and sing, but that they would hear and sing again on a regular basis. Singing the songs over time (we hope!) would allow the songs to become a part of the children’s memories, so that as they hear and sing the songs throughout their lives, they’ll remember their faith from a young age. Maybe they will be reminded that the truths about God they learned as a child are still true when they are adults.

This year our church has written our own curriculum for VBS and we’ve chosen four songs for our kids to learn as a part of the week. The songs do speak to the main ideas we want our kids to learn about who God is and who they are as a part of God’s story. We’ve been intentional about the lyrics, asking ourselves if these songs speak about God’s character and his actions. We also consider whether the children are able to understand the lyrics. And we’ve been intentional in choosing melodies that will be easy for kids to learn. Of course we want them to be fun to sing, too.

If you’re interested in adding a few songs to your VBS program or your kids ministry that they’ll hear again as they grow up, here’s a couple of suggestions:

“Good Good Father” -It speaks to God’s character and to our identity as his children. And it’s easy to sing.

“God’s Not Dead (Like a Lion)” -This one is so fun to sing with kids. You can challenge them to see how loud they can roar and use that as a way to talk about how the Holy Spirit lives and speaks in us.

WorshipHouse Kids is good resource if you use videos in your children’s ministry programs. We’ve used lyric videos to worship songs to help engage kids in the lyrics, and sometimes to teach motions that help them memorize the words.

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Emily lives in Long Beach, Mississippi with her husband, Ben, and their three kids, Sadie, Joe, and Lizzie. Together they serve at The Well, an offsite service of First United Methodist Church in Long Beach. Ben is the pastor for The Well. Emily volunteers as the leader for the Worship Planning Team and helps with the spiritual formation of The Well's band. Emily graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2006. She loves learning more about planning and leading people in worship. When she's not working on something for The Well, Emily's probably telling her kids stories about growing up in Kentucky. You can find her on Twitter (@emilyhbarlow) but she mostly live tweets University of Kentucky basketball games.

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