For some people, the word “curriculum” may denote academic rigor, standardized tests, detailed lesson plans, and lack of freedom and flexibility. Do we really need this level of planning and detail in our church choirs?
To a certain extent, yes. Here’s why:
Curriculum can be defined a few different ways. My favorite definition is that curriculum is “the totality of student experiences that occur in the educational process” (Kelly, 2009).
Think of curriculum like a guide: a plan to help you do your best teaching and help promote meaningful learning experiences. Like I tell my students in Directing a Church Children's Choir 101, a curriculum is your basic framework for all the teaching and learning you hope will take place in your choir this year.
As a children’s choir director or leader, you wear many hats. You’re a mentor, a Christian example, a spiritual guide, a teacher, and a music educator. It’s important to be just as intentional with the overall plans and goals for your choir year as you are with your week-to-week interactions with your choir members.
Having a big-picture plan for what you want your year to look like (before you get started) and what you hope the children in your choir will experience and understand is vital to fostering spiritual growth, developing musicianship, and growing and building a strong choir program.
Today, I’m going to show you how to create your very own children’s choir curriculum, something tailor-made to fit your ensemble. This is the same process I use with my Directing a Church Children’s Choir 101 students, so grab a notebook and a pencil and let's get started!
Core Components of a Curriculum
Writing your own curriculum doesn’t have to be as complex or involved as a curriculum in a school might be, but there’s still a basic framework to follow and a few necessary components that will help set you up for success as an educator and ensure a rich learning experience for all involved.
generate, choose, and develop musical ideas
evaluate, refine, and share musical creations
select and analyze music
make musical decisions
rehearse, evaluate, and refine
present music with appropriate interpretation and musical accuracy
select and analyze music
develop an understanding of structure and context
demonstrate awareness of expressive qualities
discuss and compare personal preferences
connect personal interests, experiences, ideas, and knowledge to creating, performing, and responding
find ways to draw connections between music of different styles and make connections to everyday life
Creating, performing, responding, connecting - these are all things we can do with our church choirs, right? With these things in mind, let’s get to work crafting our own curriculum:
Step 1: Choose a Theme
I like to start with an overarching theme. I find it helpful to have this as a guide for my planning, choosing repertoire, teaching hymns and Scripture verses, and tying everything together in a cohesive way.
Here are a few ideas:
- Around the World (music, activities, and prayers)
- Images of God (Shepherd, Father, Emmanuel, King, etc.)
- Ways to Praise (move, sing, play, dance, pray, etc.)
- Thy Word is a Lamp Unto My Feet (a study of the Psalms)
- Celebrating the Church Year (liturgical seasons)
Make sure your theme for the year is broad enough to be broken down into 6-8 sub-themes - topics you can focus on for a few weeks at a time (like unit studies) throughout the choir year.
Sometimes, I find it helpful to make a list of keywords that relate to my overall topic (this is particularly useful for the next step below).
Step 2: Find Music & Resources
Once I have a theme in place, I begin pulling together songs, hymns, anthems, and other resources that tie in or connect somehow. Look through your church’s music library, your hymnal (and hymnals of other denominations, too), and your most recent reading packets.
I don’t worry too much about order or sequencing just yet; that will come later. However, as I pull resources together, I start grouping them together into smaller sub-groups. These may end up being monthly themes or slightly larger topics that we focus on for 6-ish weeks at a time.
Step 3: Look for Ways to Foster Spiritual Growth and Develop Musicianship
With a list of music, Scripture verses, devotional ideas, and other helpful resources at the ready, I dig a little deeper and start making lists of musical skills and concepts.
For example, when studying a new anthem, I’ll look for things that may be challenging - like singing in two or more parts, large leaps, not a lot of repetition, lots of text, etc. - and then think about the necessary steps it will take to get to a place where that kind of music is attainable.
- What is age/level-appropriate for this group of singers?
- How can those new concepts be prepared in advance?
- What do children need to be able to do successfully before they will be ready for this next level of challenge?
I also look for ways to foster spiritual growth - Bible stories we can learn, Scripture verses we can read and memorize, anthem texts we can talk about, devotions we can share.
I recommend starting the year with music that is accessible and reviews key skills and concepts that you introduced at the end of last year. After a month, or so, begin introducing music that features a new skill or concept and find other songs, hymns, warm-ups, etc. that reinforce it.
Save the more challenging repertoire for after Christmas, during the Winter/Spring months, and make sure to spend time at the end of the year, recapping and reviewing everything you’ve learned during the year.
If you need a little help or guidance with this step, here are a few helpful lists and charts worth checking out. Each one outlines what’s appropriate to teach when and gives you a better idea of how to sequence new skills and concepts in a meaningful way:
For spiritual growth and development:
Growing in Grace: Scope and Sequence
Step 4: Pull it All Together
Once I have some sub-themes figured out and a better idea of level and sequencing of the music I’ve chosen, I put the sub-themes (and all related music, Scripture verses, and other resources therein) in a logical progression, starting with the most accessible content at the beginning of the year and building up to the end of the year (or close to it - the last few weeks of the choir year are often a good time for review and/or preparing for Children’s Sunday).
With more of the building blocks in place, I go back to that list of core components recommended by NAfME: creating, performing, responding, connecting and think about ways to incorporate and touch on all these things during the year. I spend some time brainstorming ways to include opportunities for creative musicianship; interacting with music, listening, and responding to it; and ways to help young singers recognize patterns and connections across the different pieces of music they’re learning.
I jot down these ideas as they tie in with various songs, hymns, or other resources I’ve pulled together so I have everything in one place when I start outlining weekly rehearsal plans.
Step 5: Plan Weekly Rehearsals
My template for children’s choir rehearsals is pretty straight-forward: I always recommend starting with a few warm-ups, followed by a gathering song or hymn that stays the same for several weeks at a time, reading a Scripture verse the children are learning, and saying a short prayer.
From there, there’s some room for creativity and flexibility. I try to get through 2-3 anthems and maybe a few other short songs or hymns with a few fun musical games or change-of-pace activities thrown in to keep everyone engaged and participating.
Depending on the age of your choir, you may want to include a few quiet minutes for a devotion or a faith-based conversation about the text of an anthem you’re introducing.
Looking for more?
Curriculum planning is one of the big topics I cover in Directing a Church Children’s Choir 101, my 4-week online training program geared specifically toward children’s choir directors in church settings. I’d love to have you join me!
Have you ever written your own children's choir curriculum? What was your process like?
Kelly, V. (2009). The curriculum: Theory and practice. London: Sage.