For many of us, the burden of teaching our children about God leads quickly to a guilt trip. We search Christian catalogues for the right devotional material, written especially for children. We start off with good intentions only to fizzle out after a few weeks or even days. We salve our consciences by making sure that our children attend Sunday school and other children’s church activities. Can I suggest something both simple and effective? It is the singing of hymns.
By hymns I am referring to songs of our Christian heritage that are written to be sung by a congregation, that are loaded with theological intent, and that have endured through the kaleidoscope of cultural change over the centuries. This is not to say that other kinds of Christian songs such as choruses, “worship” songs, and even those rousing nautically-themed songs of the 19th century are not beneficial to us as believers. But if our passion is for our children to know Scriptural truth and sound doctrine then we must ensure that hymns full of those solid themes are taught to our children.
As a homeschooling mum, I have often pondered what Bible curriculum to use to help my children know God and understand the Bible. Last year I noticed that my two youngest children seemed to know very few hymns—a lot of choruses and children’s songs, but not many of the classic hymns such as those penned by Watts and the Wesleys. Taking one of our many hymnbooks, I flipped through the pages and chose a hymn that would lead my children to a fuller understanding of God–Isaac Watt’s “Alas! and Did my Saviour Bleed?” I provided each child with a copy of the song and a covered exercise book to serve as a personalised hymnbook as I planned to learn a new song each week. Then we began learning the song together. This is a routine that we now follow every week of the school year. Starting on Monday, we sing the song together each day of the week, talking about the vocabulary and concepts as we go along—just a little each day. Perhaps I will tell a Bible story that relates to the hymn (such as the story that explains “Well might the sun in darkness hide”), or perhaps I will pull out a Bible story book to show our Saviour’s “sacred head” bleeding for our sins. By the end of the week we consider the hymn learned and begin a new hymn the next week. On Friday we have “favourites day” and sing through several of the hymns we have already learned. For over a year now, we have been using hymns as the backbone of our Bible time, and the children have a growing library of classic hymns committed to memory with all their richness of vocabulary and wealth of Biblical allusion, vivid metaphor and poetic imagery. It is not only the children’s spiritual and educational benefits that make the effort worthwhile but also their delight when we bump into one of “our” hymns in another setting.
Perhaps you think that the language of hymns is over our children’s heads and that we are asking too much of them to learn such songs. But what better way to expose them to the language of our deepest doctrines? Shall we shelve the hymns just because those words are sometimes even beyond our normal vocabulary as parents, let alone the comprehension of our children? To do so will deprive us of a significant slice of our Christian heritage. Also, those weighty words coupled with simple tunes remain chewable as nourishment for the mind and spirit for many years to come. Even if our children do not grasp the full meaning of the hymn this month, its impact may dawn on them next year or even in ten or twenty years. I have many times had a phrase from an old hymn leap into my mind with fresh meaning years after I had learned the hymn. Teaching hymns is sowing in faith for a harvest of spiritual stability in the future.
If you are still convinced that teaching hymns to your children is beyond your grasp, resources are available to help you on the jourmey. Maybe you are unsure of which hymns to choose or perhaps you are not at all musical. I recently purchased a helpful book at Koorong called Hymns for a Kid’s Heart by Tada and Wolgemuth. Theme-based classic hymns are presented with historical and biographical backgrounds told in a child-friendly style without being “dumbed down.” A simple devotional reading that practically applies the message of the hymn is also included along with a memory verse and prayer. All the hymns are recorded on a CD included with the purchase of the book. Winsomely packaged as a hardcover with dust jacket and sensitively produced colour illustrations, this series of four books can help anyone who wants to familiarise children with the precious heritage of our hymns.
Whether you choose your own hymns and teaching method or purchase something like Hymns for a Kid’s Heart, teaching hymns to your children is a simple and rewarding way to acquaint them with spiritual truth. So quit poring over those internet sites for ideas and start singing your kids to a deeper understanding of God!