How I Learn Hymns with My Young Children

Edmund Adler (1876-1965)

 I have always loved the history and depth of hymns. I knew that I would want my children to learn them one day, but it wasn't until I dove into learning more about Charlotte Mason philosophies and seeing examples on social media, YouTube and different books flesh out her principles did I decide that I could be a lot more intentional with learning hymns together in the early years rather than waiting until they are much older. I had already started teaching my oldest (4.5 years old) simple church songs (many of which I learned as a child and were popular in the 1990s), but in the last six months, have been a lot more purposeful with introducing older, longer hymns as well. It has been such a sweet addition to our home to be singing hymns together in the morning, so I wanted to share how I do it in a relaxed yet intentional way in case you are considering adding hymns in your family routine and would like some ideas of how it can look like. Of course, my family isn't yours, so it will look different in other families. This is just what it looks like in this season in my home with a 4.5 year old and a 1.5 year old. It may look different in a few years, and that is expected and normal. 

1. Choose the hymns
As a new mom with a newborn, I would sing both Romanian and English hymns and worship songs to my child while nursing or helping him fall asleep. I hand-wrote a few favorites that would pop in my head and they were a balm for my exhausted mama soul while also served as a sweet lullaby for him. As he grew into a little toddler and we would have a short Morning Time during breakfast with a Bible story and picture books, I typed up a few easy songs I enjoyed as a child and teenager that he could learn. I added in some simple Romanian songs as well since that is my birth language and I am trying to teach it to my kids. I also used some of the songs suggested in The Good Gospel, a Bible curriculum for young kids from The Peaceful Press that I used bits and pieces from so far. Many of the songs were rooted in Scripture, so he was learning Bible verses without even realizing it at that young age. I found versions that I enjoyed and didn't sound too bouncy or childish (if I will be listening to it a lot with my kids, I want to actually enjoy it too!). Cedarmont Kids has a ton of Christian kids songs that we have enjoyed, which are included in the list below. These are mostly videos from the 1990s, but don't let the hairstyles, music style, or clothes distract you, haha. We never watched the videos. We would listen to a recording on my phone until we knew it, then refer to our song sheet. I am sure you can find other versions of the songs if they are too old school, but they worked for us :) 

Sunday school and worship songs I chose for the toddler and preschool season (age 1-4) included the following. 
When he turned four, I added older, longer hymns. There is no magical age to add these in; this was just the time I felt we were ready and I wanted to add some hymns with richer text and history in addition to these sweet, simple songs. We would still sing the above songs sometimes, but the focus started to shift to classic hymns. My 1.5 year old daughter is learning these beautiful hymns in addition to me singing the simpler ones when I am alone with her changing her diaper and getting ready for bed, so she isn't missing out on those ones just because my older son is ready for the more complex hymns.

When choosing hymns, I mainly chose the hymns I love. Obviously this will look different for you than for me. I have hymn books and Bible studies that focus on hymns, so I had a lot of places to pull from. I was going through Ruth Chou Simon's recently published Bible study called Pilgrim last fall, so the hymns mentioned in that book were fresh on my mind and many made it in my list. The more you enjoy the hymn, the more that hymn will shine and be attractive to your child and be easier to learn together. Find a version you like. I am linking the ones we love. Artists I enjoy that have great recordings of hymns include Paul Zach, Fernando Ortega, Keith and Kristin Getty, and a YouTube mom with a channel called FolksAndHymns. I love more acoustic versions, but you may prefer other versions. 

The hymns we have learned together these last seven months since my son turned 4:
Hymns I plan to learn with him through the rest of 2024 and into 2025:
With the simple Sunday school songs and worship songs, I had song sheets I quickly created my copy and pasting the lyrics onto a page and we would hop around each day from one song to another depending on what we felt like singing. I had the page in a plastic sheet protector so that it was more durable. With our slightly more formal hymn study, I made a list of the hymns for the whole year and assigned 1-2 hymns per month. Is started with one hymn per month and only recently increased to two hymns since it seemed we were ready for a new one every few weeks. But if it is a longer hymn, we can definitely take it slower. The hymn schedule is a guide, not a task master, so I can change the schedule as I feel is right for our family, taking some hymns out or taking more time with them. You may want to be more spontaneous, especially when you start out and that is totally fine. It was just so helpful for me to look at the year and realize we had the opportunity to learn so many great hymns and it felt more doable if I wrote them all down and assigned them to a month to keep track. 

2. Learn the hymn together
Carve out dedicated time 
Find a time of  day when you want to focus on singing the hymn together. It doesn't have to be formal, but it's more likely to happen if it's loosely scheduled in your day or week. For me, I already had a Morning Time built into our breakfast time that had expanded from Bible story and picture books to Bible story, Scripture memorization, catechism statements, and folk songs, so hymns fit perfectly with these beautiful "subjects". I try to sing the hymn with my kids about 4-5 times a week, leaving the other days for reviewing older hymns we've learned and the simpler Sunday school and worship songs we still enjoy. We often hear the songs in the car or while playing since I have a playlist, but the main time we are singing together is in the morning. Hopefully as the kids grow older, we can add or move the hymn time to the evening so my husband can join too, since he is working while we eat breakfast. 

Print the Hymn Out
I have a song sheet (printed off from online or copied from a hymn book I already own) and inserted in a restaurant menu plastic sheet protector. This is more for me because my son isn't reading yet, but I have been surprised that he can sometimes pick a word out after we have been singing it for several weeks. I guide my finger along as I sing so he knows where I am on the hymn sheet, which introduces him to following along music sheets. I usually print out the hymn sheet with the notes so that I can later play it on my violin if I want, but if you prefer a less busy song sheet with just the text without notes, that is fine too. 

Using a Playlist
I have a playlist on Amazon Prime Music that I add all our memory work that I can find music to (catechism, Scripture songs, folk songs, and hymns). You can make a playlist on Spotify or YouTube or whatever music listening platform you have. I will play the hymn while following along with our printed hymn. 

Using Movement for Memory
I try to use my hands, gestures, facial expressions, and a bit of miming to help add some action to the songs, helping my young children learn the songs through movement. For example, for Doxology, when we sing "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" we make wiggle our fingers downward to look like rain flowing down. The actions can all be done while sitting and they aren't wild or too silly, so they aren't distracting, just adding some movement to help their brains learn the text. 

Not Quizzing, but an Invitation
I don't quiz my 4-year old with learning hymns. I try not to pressure him to learn it. When I first introduce the hymn, I tell him why I chose it (usually it's because it's one of my favorite hymns) and I play a version from my playlist. Sometimes I will have multiple versions because they sound a bit different and I just couldn't choose between them. Then throughout that first week, I sing along with the recorded song on the playlist. I gently invite him to join along, starting with the chorus which usually is more simple than the verses. By the end of the second week, he usually has heard it often enough that he knows at least the first verse and the chorus. He isn't reading on him own, so he is learning it all from memory, so I do not expect him to learn more than that, but often times am surprised that he actually can! Little kids have an exceptional capacity for memory and they can pick up a lot more than we realize, especially when it isn't forced and seems playful and enjoyable. 

Defining Text
I define any difficult and older words, but don't focus too much on explaining to hymn too much all the time. I don't want it to be a deep study of the hymn, but I do find it helpful to give short details to help with comprehension. I sometimes will also tell him a bit about the composer if I know about him or her from previous hymn studies I have done on my own or from books I already have at home. 

Picture Books
There are picture books that have the lyrics to some of these hymns and are an incredible resource for young kids. HERE are some of our favorite hymn picture books. If I have a book with the hymn we are learning, I add that to my Morning Time basket and we use that more than my song sheet since the illustrations in the picture books serve as a great way to help kids visualize and learn the hymns in an engaging way. 

Using Instruments
It can be useful for kids to also have some simple instruments to shake and bang while singing the hymn. We have a maraca, tambourine, rattles, a recorder, harmonica, accordion, toy guitar, and other child-friendly instruments that were very affordable and not a big deal if they are accidentally dropped (although we don't use the harmonica during our Morning Time because I don't want breakfast food getting stuck in the instrument since we are eating right before or while we start a song). I sometimes (not as often as I would like) will also pull my violin out on a weekend (not during breakfast) and play a few of our hymns and see if my son can guess  the hymn without the text. He will often start singing the words on his own while I play, which is fun. 

Worship and learn alongside  your child
It can be easy to go into Mother-Teacher mode and focus on teaching your child the hymn, but fight the urge to think of this as a task or something only for your child. As with so many other things we teach our kids, we can learn right alongside with them. That is why I titled the blog post "How I Learn Hymns WITH my Young Children". I may be familiar with the hymns I choose, but I often do not know all the text, so I am learning too. But even more, I can use this time to worship my God at the beginning of the day alongside my kids. What a powerful way to start the day (or end the day if evenings work better for you). Some days my eyes tear up when I hear my 4-year old singing a hymn beside me at the table, sometimes I tear up because the lyrics are just so beautiful and comfort my heart during a difficult season, and sometimes I am just so astounded by the text I get excited and my heart just bursts so I tell my son why my heart is so happy singing that hymn. Don't be afraid of singing off-key (that is why singing along to a recorded track is helpful) and showing your emotions while singing. This isn't just a learning experience, it's an opportunity to worship together and can be such a blessing to your child to grow up worshiping God alongside you. Some families do this by attending church services together as a family, but our kids attend the great Sunday school program, so we don't worship alongside them in the church sanctuary on Sundays. So this is done in our home in this season and is just as holy and special. 

3. Periodically review the hymn together
Though your child can learn the hymn in a few weeks to a month, that memory work is mainly stored in their short-term memory bank. In order for those hymns to enter the long-term memory bank as well, it's important to return to the hymn every so often. I try to leave at least one day every week or two in our Morning Time to reviewing a hymn. I will also occasionally play older hymns, Sunday school and worship songs on the playlist while the kids are playing or we are cleaning up or when we are in the car so they can hear the song in other contexts as well, further helping to cement those songs in that long-term memory bank.  I place all my sheets of hymns, folk songs, Bible verses, catechisms, and poems we've memorized in a Memory Work Binder, and have them organized by subject, so it's easy to refer to the hymns we've learned and pick one to review. 


What are your favorite hymns? Are there any tips for learning them that you want to share in the comments below?