When the kids were about three and four, and just beginning to watch movies, I was excited to show them the Disney films I had grown up watching. In the car, we would rock out to Pandora’s Disney Children’s station. It was all they wanted to hear and, honestly, I was glad to sing along with them. Such fun childhood memories and it occupied all of us until we got home.
But then one day, I began to recall other childhood memories that were just as fond, but far more meaningful. From birth, my parents took us to church and we sang worship music together, at home, at Sunday school, and yes, in the car.
I especially loved the songs that were taken directly from pages of scripture, many from the Psalms, of course and others packed with Biblical truth. Mom and Dad had a cassette tape (yep, I’m that old) of this track called “Songs from the Red Letters,” and we memorized passages of the Gospel message and Jesus’ teachings. I took a quick peak on YouTube and sure enough, someone had published them, and the music came back to me like it was yesterday.
So many worship songs, hundreds maybe, have been logged into my memory bank since I was young. My parents always had this church music playing, like a soundtrack to our life. All kinds of Christian music: hymns, rock, contemporary, classical, local artists, and I had piano songbooks once I learned to play.
I couldn’t help but think, “Had I been wasting time on Disney songs and squandering the precious time I have with my young kids to teach them the Word of God? They are still so impressionable and at this rate they’re going to be experts in Disney before they know how to love and worship Jesus.”
I Needed to Make a Change
About this time, I was trying to solidify a good bedtime routine for them. Up until then it had been a story (or two or three), and prayer for our family, the day, and a goodnight’s sleep. I began adding a short worship song in between the story and prayer. At first, the same one for a few days straight… then for the whole week. Chloe caught on fast and began to sing along by the end of the week. Asher would smile peacefully and drift off to sleep, the singing soothed him.
A week later, I rushed to my closet to find my old worship songbook for some new material. Each week I found a new one that had been dear to my heart or sometimes I was unprepared and would recall a simple one quick from memory. It became part of our natural routine, and the kids made sure to remind me every night.
Story. Worship. Prayer.
What I ultimately hoped for in this lifestyle decision was that the kids grasp the importance and the beauty of not just singing, but giving praise to God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Worship is what we can give back to Him, but also a constant message of the amazing God He is. Worship should be a musical reminder of the foundation of our faith. It is not about us or how well we sing it, but about the God who is worthy of this adoration and love. I want my children to know Him, to trust Him, and believe that He has a perfect plan for their lives.
Each time we got in the car after that, I played at least one of the songs I had been singing to them at night. Their eyes lit up when they recognized the tune, and they sang along. Soon a whole list of “Jesus Songs” were a part of their regular repertoire and the Disney station was requested less and less. Sometimes I would just have to deflect or pull the Mommy card and say, “Not right now, babies, were listening to this.” We will still enjoy some other pop culture stations once in a while, but most of the time it’s worship.
Reading the Lyrics
At four and five, they started to read a little bit more. I began to print out the songs as we learned them at bedtime, mostly for me to keep the lyrics on one sheet and maybe save it in a family songbook someday. It was so sweet because Chloe would take it off the desk during the day and try to sing it from memory.
Then it hit me – these words needed to be visible to them where they spend the most down time. I printed three copies, one for the bedroom, and two for the back of each seat in the car. I try to switch them out every week or two, but it never fails for one of the kids to request the song they are staring at on the way to school.
The Benefits of this Method
It’s been over two years now, and while I’ve been known to break a couple months to play Christmas songs (yes, all of November and December, lol), we probably have over twenty songs in their memory banks. Many of the songs we learn are not actually written for kids as you might find some to be created and marketed that way. We teach them the adult songs we learn in church and this is why:
- Engaging the Senses – children learn better when two or more of their senses are engaged. Listening, reading, and repeating is what they practice most often. Sometimes they will add in dancing, too.
- Learning through Repetition – When they see it and say it over and over, each day in the car, it sticks! We are making the most of those time slots. Not to mention that music and lyrics are pneumonic devices that help tremendously with memory and retention.
- Building on Vocabulary – they are reading and hearing words beyond their “grade level.” The full meaning will come to them over time, but this exposure leads them to ask deeper level questions.
- Reinforcing an Attitude of Praise – When they hear songs of adoration, honor, and thankfulness, their mindset switches to focus on those things and when we talk about God, or they ask questions based on the song the are singing, it opens endless opportunities to teach these values and attributes of God.
- Cultivating a Heart of Worship – In my own experience, being able to recall a song of praise that reflects the truth of who God is and His faithfulness towards us is what anchors me in my faith and allows me to step outside of myself to see that He is really the one in control. No matter what, God is faithful, He never changes, and when our hope is in Him, we will not be shaken. My kids will sing as these words come to them, and as we lead them in their own walk of faith in Jesus, they will have this truth put to music to guide their hearts when we cannot.
A Gift For You
I am so excited to share something special with you today. I have compiled twelve of our favorite songs in PDF files as my gift to you for joining the Practical Family community. Take and read and listen with your family as a starter kit on your journey to cultivating hearts of worship! Some of the songs in this first offering are popular in most Christian circles, others are the special ones from my childhood that have stuck. I hope these bless you as much as our family!