Many parents and educators want to instill in children a lifelong love of great hymns. You might visit a church where hymns are sung – or you might miss the experience and want to re-introduce the richness and beauty of classic hymns. But you are not a professional musician or music teacher. What now?
Like any education, learning hymns begins with making purposeful decisions. As you make these eight choices, we believe the children in your care will learn to appreciate hymns.
1. Add anthems to your passive playlist.
Passive listening occurs when you are listening to music in the background while you are doing something else. Learn to reclaim the moments spent doing chores or homework. Some of us still use CDs (and our retro friends use vinyl), but most stream music. Try this anthems playlist on Spotify or search “traditional anthems” on YouTube.
2. Make active listening a regular part of your family activities.
From time to time, bring anthems to the fore from the background. In other words, stop doing other things and focus on the songs—enjoy active listening.
From time to time, bring anthems to the fore from the background.
Try this on family trips where you have a captive audience for an extended period of time, or on the way to church. Listen to hymns as part of your family worship. Ask everyone to vote for their favorite version. Ask them to discuss which rendition best conveys the text to them and why. Name the instruments played. Have a basket of dollar store goodies ready to reward responses and discussion.
3. Play an “alphabet game” with hymns while traveling.
We loved this game when our kids were younger. Work through the alphabet and sing hymns that begin with each letter. Getting started is easy (everyone remembers “Amazing Grace” to the A), but you are challenged by later letters. Be flexible enough to start with the second or third word of the title, and don’t forget “O Zion Haste” if the game stalls near the end.
4. Make hymns an important part of family worship.
In his helpful book family service, Don Whitney suggests a simple formula for family worship: “Just remember three syllables—read, pray, sing! You don’t have to prepare anything beforehand. Just read, pray, and sing.” Try to have a hymnbook for each family member. Like a personal Bible, a hymnbook will be something every child will cherish over the years. You can start slow, but stay tuned! Before long, singing hymns will become as normal as praying before every meal.
5. Discuss the story of the song.
In the hymnal we have compiled Our Hymns, Our Heritage: A Student’s Guide to Church Hymns (Moody, 2022) we have included background information for each song. Write down the dates and countries of the author and composer. Do any of your family’s birthdays or milestones fall on these dates? If possible, relate the hymn narrative to your family’s knowledge of this time in world history. Sometimes the beauty of a song is revealed when you know who wrote it and why.
6. Explain any words that might confuse.
Don’t be alarmed if you come across lyrical phrases like “Elevezer,” “Unction,” or “elend.” Instead of modernizing classic texts, explain obscure words and expand your child’s vocabulary. While singing “Here I raise my ebenezer; by your help I have come hither” (from Come, Fountain of All Blessings), explain the clue in 1 Samuel 7:12. Never underestimate the power of connecting songs to specific scriptures. Your children may not understand the connections immediately, but they will soon.
7. Sing well-known hymns without accompaniment (a cappella).
If no one in your family plays the piano or guitar, sing anyway, and sing fearlessly—unaccompanied! If a cold sweat runs down your spine, consider other options such as the piano accompaniments, which we’ve recorded as MP3 files available on a USB flash drive. We have also created downloadable hymn resources at Hosanna Hymnals.
8. Choose an “Anthem of the Month”.
If you are part of a Christian school or home community, offer a hymn at chapel meetings or class devotionals. Repetition is often the best teacher – sing your chosen song several times a week. At the end of the school year, review the nine hymns of the month by singing them all the way through.
Martin Luther observed: “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our minds, thoughts, hearts and souls.” So get your children a hymnbook. Join them as they learn and sing great hymns. Give them the power to place these truths deep in their hearts. If they learn to love the hymns, they will pass them on to the next generation.