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    The Purpose of Singing in the Home

    March 30, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    We have Singing Day once each week during Circle Time. We do our normal reading in the children’s Bible, our poetry, and so on, but each day Circle Time has a focus and on this particular day, the focus is singing. We began Term One by singing one hymn and one folk song, just as Ambleside suggests. Each term, I have stepped it up, adding new hymns but also reviewing the old.

    Ambleside suggests one hymn each month. This is a lot for children the age of my children. It is especially a lot when I consider that I want them to understand the words, both what the words are as well as what they mean. So, I have found that, if a hymn has four verses, we can learn one verse within three weeks, which puts us at exactly one hymn per term. At the end of Term Two, they were doing so well that I added Be Thou My Vision around St. Patrick’s Day {good to add an Irish hymn, no?} and so we are set to add a hymn at the end of Term Three. I’m using Ambleside’s suggestion and ending the year with a lighthearted rendition of Victory in Jesus.

    Children love hymns that are beautiful and hymns that are celebratory. If you want to lose a child completely, introduce them to todays’ angst-filled Jesus-is-my-boyfriend tunes. Kids do not like these sorts of songs as a general rule. Twenty-somethings do, and I think that is actually appropriate when you consider where most people are at at that age.

    Moving ever onward.

    There are a few goals I have with the singing time. I would say that none of them is to actually instruct the children in music. Now, they are instructed in music in this time, but I consider that incidental rather than primary.

    The primary goal for me is handing down culture to the children. Because of this, I am very selective when it comes to songs. The Drinking Gourd, a folk song about which tells the story of a man helping with the underground railroad, sets a wonderful precedent for helping those in need. The Cruel War was hard on my daughter, so my son and I sung it in private, but this song was important in how it embodied the senseless tragedy of war, and also the ugliness that comes with women doing battle.

    This is reinforced by C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia, when he discusses that battle is extra-ugly when women are involved and so, of course, Lucy remained behind for the majority of battles.

    But I digress.

    This term’s song is The Old Oaken Bucket, and it expresses a longing for home, symbolized by the oaken bucket with which the singer drew water from the well as a child.

    These are rich, wonderful songs, worth handing down to our children.

    As a general rule, I haven’t been using Ambleside’s hymn selections. I have nothing wrong with them, but my children are so young and inexperienced that they have not mastered the hymns we regularly sing in our own church. So, I’ve been picking my favorite regular hymns from our worship services and teaching them to the children. This hints at a secondary purpose, and that is enabling the children to participate more in church. Granted, most four-year-olds simply aren’t going to sing along, even if they know the songs. But knowing the songs engages them much more than not knowing the songs, and it means that they are prepared for the day that they muster up the courage to sing in public.

    Culture has traditionally been handed down through stories, poetry {mmmmmmmmm….epic poetry….}, songs, art, and dance. Also important is the fact that it was handed down in person. Of course, for those who cannot sing, there is nothing shameful about downloading some MP3s to use as an in-home music director.

    In order to solidify our songs, I have decided to sing one review hymn or folk song each day during Term Three. We will still have our focused day where we are learning new songs, but this will give us a chance to review each day, plus it will help the children keep a song in their heart daily.

    Our children will receive a culture regardless of what we do. If we are deliberate, we can make sure they are handed the culture of our choosing. They are heirs to a great tradition, but it is a tradition that has mostly been forgotten, so we will need to be much more proactive than our forbears. However, if we neglect these things, our children will receive their culture from popular culture: the children on the playground, the television, the radio. It isn’t bad to have our children exposed to any of these things, but I would suggest that it is sad to give our children a culture defined by default when there is so much more available to them.

    Now, does anyone have a good method for learning some traditional folk dances in the home?

    Singing Lesson for the Very Young

    I thought I’d add this for those of you with little ones. The key to singing isn’t necessarily natural ability, though of course this helps. The key to singing is listening. An out-of-tune singer generally cannot hear the notes of the song correctly. The simplest activity for young children which will train them for future singing is to play a note, on a piano if you have one, and challenge them to match their voice to the note. My children now do this on their own. They will play a note as they run by the piano and practice singing it, just for fun. My current two-year-old was born with natural perfect pitch, but the others are now surpassing her by practicing their “voice matching” on their own. If you want your children to sing well, spend a couple minutes each day challenging them to hear a note and sing it back.

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  • Reply Brandy March 31, 2009 at 6:49 pm


    Now that is a beautiful family culture! πŸ™‚ I will admit that we don’t sing with the children every single night before bed, but when we do it is just as you said–such a wonderful time together in simple reflection.

  • Reply Jennifer March 31, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Good morning Brandy!
    I enjoyed reading this post. Instead of “Bedtime Music”, Beau wanted us to sing traditional hymns to the children before they go to sleep. My son’s is “Be Thou my Vision” and my daughter’s is “How Great Thou Art” (disclaimer- sing the entire hymn or children may have narcissism issues). The adults in the home enjoy the end-of-day reflection on God’s goodness and everlasting power, and the children are learning traditional, meaningful worship practices. I can’t wait to add more as we begin formally schooling. Thanks for posting!

  • Reply Brandy March 30, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Ewwww…someone get me an editor because I just found three typos while skimming that one. Wow, was I off today.


    Mystie, I would LOVE for you to raise the question to the morning time group just because I would be curious to get their input. I, too, always like to know why I’m doing what I’m doing.

    You sound like me two years ago. We had just started kindergarten and I really, really didn’t plan on doing the folk songs. Ever. We here in California don’t have a folk tradition beyond Top-40 radio from the 1980s. πŸ™‚ To tell you the truth, I simply liked The Drinking Gourd with its rich history and even bought a children’s picture book that explained the tale and somehow we fell into it from there. As I started to reap some good results, I saw a rationale building.

    Sometimes I think that some of these things were lost because of the advent of radio. Humans naturally need a bit of music, but over time we decided to leave it to the experts. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I see that children love to make music and it is sad to me that families don’t regularly do such things together any longer, even if they do sing a little out of tune. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Mystie March 30, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Or, “singing lessons for inept mommies,” perhaps. I picked up a program called “Piano for Preschoolers” that we do irregularly, but just demonstrating the scale on the piano, matching my voice to each note, really has helped my ability to keep a tune! I need to figure out how to be more regular about doing it. πŸ™‚

    I had been thinking about asking the morning time group “why folk songs,” but I see part of an answer here in your post. Being in an area that doesn’t really have any traditional local/regional music heritage, I had written folk songs off as something for people in the south. πŸ™‚ How I would learn to sing them first is quite daunting to me, though.

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