Christmas Carols & Hymns

Yesterday’s sermon at church encouraged our congregation to consider Christ in the midst of what can be a whirlwind Christmas season. The message resonated with me because I do love Christmastime, with beautiful decorations everywhere and wonderful time spent with family and friends, and I can get caught up in the activities and put the meaning on the back burner. So this was a well-timed reminder to continue to be intentional about the true message of Christmas and to delight in the Lord as we celebrate Advent and count down to December 25.

For those of you who are also looking for ways to keep the birth of Jesus at the center of your holiday celebrations, I highly recommend the book The First Noel: A Child’s Book of Christmas Carols to Play and Sing, published by DK Publishing. It has beautiful, exquisite artwork on each page from deceased and living artists. The music arranged by Lesley Applebee and Nigel Thomas is excellent for singing reference and instrumental accompaniment. The lyrics for each carol or hymn are printed on the page.

All in all, this is an elegant yet accessible book for children and adults. Many of the songs are well-known favorites, but there were a few new ones for me!

I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas season, and may the peace and joy of the Lord shine brightly in your hearts and homes.

Best Ages: pre-k and up

Musical Styles & Instruments

Music is such an integral part of each culture across time and place. It has been called the “language of the soul” and for the hearing world, music can communicate beyond spoken words. Music and innate musical ability is prominent enough that developmental psychologist Howard Gardner considers it to be 1 of 9 multiple intelligences outlined in his theory of the unique abilities each individual has at birth.

I look back fondly on my days playing in middle school and high school band – even one semester of university band. Being involved in music for eight years rounded out my educational experience and allowed me to develop wonderful friendships with other music students. Participating in concerts, competition festivals and other events gave me perspective on how to perform publicly and appreciate other performances as a member of the audience.

One of my hopes for my children is to allow them to experience various musical styles and instruments as they are growing up. My husband and I plan to start our children in piano lessons around the time they start kindergarten as a gateway to understanding and appreciating music.

And we recently found a terrific book to expose children to many styles of music and instruments: My Family Plays Music by Judy Cox. The child and narrator of the story shares how each of her family members play a specific genre of music, and the percussion instrument she enjoys playing with them when she listens. My preschooler really likes this story! It also has bright and colorful illustrations. I highly recommend it to parents and teachers.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Is there anyone in your family who plays music? (Or do you?) Ask that person to play something for your child and perhaps allow them to hold or play the instrument.
  • Play a few of your favorite songs for your child. Dance together or listen to it while you play. Ask what your child thinks of that style of music.
  • Print off and color in the instruments you saw in the book or that most interested your child. Listen to the instrument at this wonderful children’s music site.

For Teachers:

  • Arrange for a staff member or parent to visit your class and play a musical instrument. Remind students of best listening practices (body is still, eyes are watching, mouth is closed, ears are listening).
  • Make copies of musical instrument printables and allow students to choose one that they liked most in the book. Ask volunteers to share which ones they liked best, then listen to each instrument they colored in at this wonderful children’s music site.
  • Set up a percussion instrument learning center. Coordinate with the music teacher in your school or other staff members to borrow items such as mini cymbals, maracas, wood blocks, and more. Add other music books from the school or classroom library for students to peruse.

Caribbean Culture

For about two years, my husband and I had delightful neighbors from the island of Curacao, a small island just north of Venezuela. They are native Papiamentu speakers (which they describe as a somewhat antiquated version of Dutch) and some of the most welcoming, warm people we have had the pleasure of knowing. And naturally, I thought of them when my children and I recently read the colorful book Island in the Sun by Harry Belafonte and Lord Burgess.

The book Island in the Sun contains the lyrics of Harry Belafonte’s song of the same title, released in 1957. Belafonte was born in Harlem, NY, with parents who were born in Jamaica. The beautiful imagery of the lyrics remind us all that we have a homeland, a place in our hearts that is dear to us. My children enjoyed seeing the bight colors and hearing the rhythmic language as we read this book aloud together. I liked the rich vocabulary and the cultural insight the text and illustrations provide of Caribbean culture.

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Ask your child what an island is. Make sure he/she understands it is land completely surrounded by water and explain that people use boats or bridges to get on and off islands. Then use blue construction paper and tan, orange, yellow or white to cut out an island and glue on the blue “water.” Decorate and add to the picture as you like to give your child a more concrete image of what an island is.
  • After reading Island in the Sun, look through the illustrations and talk about the things that you do on a regular basis in your community. Are there more similarities or differences between where you live and the island described in the book?

For Teachers:

  • Harry Belafonte, co-author of this book and the artist who performs the original song, is of Jamaican descent. Show students where Jamaica is on a world map and check for understanding of the geographical term “island.”
  • Give students pieces of blue construction paper and tan, orange, yellow or white papers to cut out an island and glue on the blue “water.” Allow them to decorate and add to the picture as they create a concrete image of an island.
  • Go back through the pictures in the book and ask what your students would like to do if they visited this island (ride on a boat, dance to drums, visit the market, fish, etc.). Ask what people enjoy doing in the geographic area you live and during different seasons, if applicable.
  • Follow the title link to play the song Island in the Sun as performed by Harry Belafonte on black and white television. Ask students what they thought of the song – was it slow or fast? How did they feel when they listened to it? Did they like it? Why or why not?