Shake, rattles and roll: sourcing great children’s songs
We asked for some help a while back on recommended songs for kids worship and promised to share the resultant article with you. The article was commissioned by CCLI in the UK so the resources are pretty UK-centric. That will likely mean some great discoveries here for those of you in the rest of the world. And of course the chance for you to share your own personal favourites in the comments below.
Many a child’s musical toy-box overflows with songs and rhymes, especially when actions and movements are involved.
Classics such as The Wheels On The Bus, If I Were A Butterfly and the 1932 cuddly two-step Teddy Bears’ Picnic remain favourites. More recently, songs from Disney, High School Musical, and Veggie Tales, where computer animated vegetables help children learn about life and faith, have all packed-out the playground of sing-a-long delights.
As a result of Sunday schools, Parent and Toddler groups, seasonal fun weeks, school nativities and Bible-story animations, there is now a vast array of Bible-themed songs aimed at children of all ages. Of course, we’re all familiar with Father Abraham, The Wise Man Built His House Upon The Rock and He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands, but how do we stay up to date with the latest songs? And, with so much now available, how do we find the gems guaranteed to set children’s feet a-stomping and hands a-clapping? CCLI set out to find some answers…
Our Song Is A Great Big Song
A catchy tune seems to be the starting point for a great children’s song. Nigel Hemming of Vineyard Kids and the Great Big God series, adds that in addition to being catchy, “it must have a good vibe! It’s a myth that all children’s songs have to be bouncy or crazy, though it’s fun to have a few, but I think a good one knows what style it’s trying to be and works well within that.”
Jo Squires from BIG Ministries observes, “Music is a big part of most children’s lives, either songs from the radio or music from films, and so it’s important the songs we write are the same standard as these. We learn so much through songs too, as music and words can be so memorable. It’s absolutely crucial that the lyrics we write for children’s songs are not just thrown together but make sense, teach good theological truths and are written in ‘normal’ language.”
The instant-recall factor is obviously a vital musical element but Squires alludes to other equally important factors – content and lyrics. Many middle-aged adults possibly remember singing ‘Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning’which invoke memories of campfires and lanterns. For our media-savvy, net-generation the challenge is on to take God-truths and bible stories and convey them with cultural relevance.
A renowned exponent of successfully combining relevance with content and, at the same time making it fun is Doug Horley (aka Duggie Dug Dug).
His latest project, Noah A Musical Adventure, brings to life the story of Noah and has been playing to packed venues around the UK. Doug’s approach is to “have easily understandable lyrics that avoid religious jargon and use everyday language children relate. I sometimes use unusual, quirky words that are fun to sing. If the children are having fun, there’s more chance they’ll want to join in! It’s great if the lyrics can have some depth to them as well. Songs are a fantastic way to teach truth without being preachy. They’re also a great way to learn Bible verses too.”
The Bible Tells Me So
Dreamworks has obviously understood the bounty of drama the Bible holds, and Prince Of Egypt and Joseph: King Of Dreams are superb examples. Not only were the soundtracks brilliantly composed but they also attracted the A-list singers of the time.
Similarly, Friends And Heroes, an animated children’s adventure series, understands the potential of the Bible and through the tales of two young people in the first century – Macky and Portia – inspiring stories from the Old and New Testament are brought to life. Each episode includes wonderfully crafted and extremely memorable songs: Perfect edutainment!
Ishmael, known affectionately as the ‘Father God I Wonder man’, is a highly-regarded writer of children’s songs and his epic Glorie Company has impacted thousands of young lives. He describes his writing formula as “simple but profound.” Many of Ishmael’s songs are literally bible verses sung to easy-to-play music with accompanying actions, and the repetitive nature of many of his songs is a method highly favoured by other writers.
“Repetition of melody and lyrics makes a song more memorable to children,” explains Trevor Ranger, children’s worker and associate for Scripture Union. “The old ‘chorus’ had its origins in itinerant preachers leading services in rural communities where people couldn’t read hymnbooks. The chorus was the only part that was repeated and as such, the only part everyone sung. Rhyme is another helpful tool in remembering the song. Children love a song that is lively and exciting but we shouldn’t underestimate their ability to sing and worship God in a more reflective style.”
The All-Age Puzzle
A sizzling issue for churches, event organisers, children and family workers is whether or not ‘All-Age Worship’ is actually just children’s worship dressed up to feel inclusive. So are there specific all-age songs or do the band simply alter the arrangements of children’s songs to reflect more grown-up tastes? Has ‘All-Age’ found an ascendency because of lackluster children’s services? Jo Squires sheds light from her experience with BIG Ministries, whose music and resources are fast becoming the choice of many a playlist and programme.
“All-Age worship is a really tricky one to get right. It often gets a bad press because of negative experiences, which is a real shame because when it’s good, it’s brilliant.
We need to think differently about how to sing when all-ages are together. Choose a song for everyone and ask yourself how to make this accessible for non-readers, those of limited mobility, those who don’t like singing, those who like change and those more comfortable with ‘old’ ways of worship. To truly make a song fit all-people, we need to think more about abilities and differences and less about ages, and aim to unite everyone in worship.”
Simon Parry, who co-writes with Hillsong Kids agrees. “An All-Age song must try and cater for a wide audience. The style and environment of church is also important. I’ve led One Way in a rocking all-age style and then slipped in Father God I Wonder. It’s being conscious of how best to merge what the kids worship to and what the congregation worships to.”
Adding to the harmonious thinking on this topic, Nigel Hemming, who has been leading ‘All-Age’ worship for over ten years, thinks the key is “ finding songs which can be owned by both children and adults. To put it crudely what works best are children’s songs that are not too ‘kiddy’ and grown up songs that are not too complex!”
According To C.S Lewis
The highly influential C S Lewis said, “A children’s book that only children enjoy is not a good children’s book in the slightest.” This has become the mantra of Nick and Becky Drake who align themselves with that principle.
Becky believes ‘All-Age’ worship “shouldn’t just be entertainment but an opportunity for the whole family of God to be led into His presence together.”
In terms of approach, do the Drakes differentiate between writing songs for children and writing for ‘All-Age’?
“We don’t make a distinction in our writing,” clarifies Becky, “because of the C.S Lewis principle. But there are songs geared towards pre-schoolers or young children with more repetitive tunes and fewer words. In my view, God’s truths are ageless and timeless, so it should always be possible for parents to worship along with their little ones.”
Regardless of whom the songs and resources are targeting, there is, however, one consistent expectation – good quality!
The Rhythm Inside
iPods, mobiles and YouTube have made young children into avid fans of mainstream music and artists like One Direction, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato are rocking their worlds! This means tiny ears get accustomed to music with great production values funded by big budgets. Needless to say, children’s music in the Christian market can’t compete on a purely monetary basis. However, the difference in listening experience is often negligible, and there is a comparable commitment to quality, with real musicians playing real instruments producing a polished, authentic sound.
There is excellent music being released from the likes of those featured in this article – BIG Ministries, Duggie Dug Dug, Friends and Heroes, Ishmael, Nick and Becky Drake, Nigel Hemming, Simon Parry, Trevor Ranger – and by no means is this an exhaustive list! It appears the future of children’s worship music is looking ‘all things bright and beautiful’. Proverbs 22 verse 6 in The Message says, ‘Point your kids in the right direction – when they’re old they won’t be lost.’
Thankfully, there are many gifted songwriters with a real heart and passion to connect with the emerging generation and their families, and deliver top-quality, memorable songs packed-full of truth, faith, fun and God. With the right playlist, your church could turn ‘hide and seek’ into ‘seek and find’!
We asked on Facebook ‘What are you singing in your Children’s/All-Age gatherings?’ The songs below were the most popular choices. (CCLI numbers included. Songs link to SongSelect)
Creator God – Nick & Becky Drake 5100172
Big Family of God – Nick & Becky Drake 5100093
Unique – Nick & Becky Drake 6300964
Great Great Brill Brill – Doug Horley 1033422
Be Happy (I’m Gonna Jump Up And Down) – Doug Horley 3784552
I Love You – Doug Horley 6144591
One Way – Joel Houston/Jonathon Douglass 4222082
Superhero – Beci & David Wakerley 4343026
Supernatural – Beci & David Wakerley/Julia A’Bell 4776569