Songs Children Should Know

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To pass Christianity on to the next generation, we tell Bible stories, speak about faith, and teach children how to worship. This last includes teaching them to pray and praise, giving them language to do so until they can form their own. It is important, therefore, that the songs we teach them help them worship with the whole community.


Many hymnals and songbooks include indices for “children” or “children’s choirs.” These songs are generally chosen using several criteria:

  • Songs originally written for children (“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God”)
  • Songs about children (“Jesus Loves the Little Children”)
  • Songs with refrains or repetition (“This Little Light of Mine,” or the songs from Taizé)
  • Texts that can be read or understood by children (“For the Beauty of the Earth”)
  • Tunes with rhythmic vitality (“Heleluyan” or “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ” with Linstead)
  • Texts rich in visual imagery, as opposed to abstract concepts (“God of the Sparrow”)

A study of recent hymnal and songbook indices revealed the following as the top five most frequently mentioned children’s songs:

  • “Jesus Loves Me”
  • “All Things Bright and Beautiful”
  • “All Glory, Laud, and Honor”
  • “Away in a Manger”
  • “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love”

Seasonal songs, though not sung year-round, can easily involve children:

  • “O come, O come, Emmanuel” (beginning with the refrain)
  • “Silent Night, Holy Night” (and other carols)
  • “We Three Kings”
  • “I Danced in the Morning” (general)
  • “Were You There?”
  • “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (beginning with the alleluias)
  • “We Are the Church” (Pentecost)
  • “Thank you, Lord” (thanksgiving)

Scripture songs or songs that tell the biblical story help children recall the Bible:

  • “Thy Word Is a Lamp unto My Feet”
  • “On Eagle’s Wings” (beginning with refrain)
  • “When Israel Was in Egypt’s Land/Let My People Go”
  • “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder”
  • “Jesus’ Hands Were Kind Hands”
  • “When Jesus the Healer Passed through Galilee”
  • “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God”

Hymns about creation are often ones that children can understand and love

  • “All Creatures of Our God and King”
  • “God’s/He’s Got the Whole World”
  • “Morning Has Broken”
  • “This Is My Father’s World”
  • “In the Bulb There Is a Flower”
  • “Many and Great, O God”

Although it is important to consider the theological and biblical complexity of a hymn text when choosing hymns and songs to teach children, it is equally important to give them a faith to grow into and the experience of singing with the larger congregation. We all can identify the comforting feeling of knowing the worship songs, even in a new or different congregation.

Practical Tips

One of the easiest ways to involve children in worship is with songs that are sung each week as part of worship—the Doxology (“Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow”), the Gloria (“Glory Be to the Father”), and any other frequently used worship song. Some congregations begin each service with a song, such as “This Is the Day the Lord Hath Made,” “Kum Ba Yah,” “Jesus We Are Here/Jesu, tawa pano,” or a short scriptural song. Some end worship with “Bless Be the Tie That Binds,” “Shalom to You,” or “Go Now in Peace.” Some congregations sing the West Indian version of the Lord’s Prayer with its constant response, “hallowed-a be thy name.”

Prayer songs are an easy way to involve children. Some that congregations might use are:

  • “Alleluia” (various versions)
  • “Dear Lord, Lead Me Day by Day”
  • “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian”
  • “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying”
  • “Santo, Santo, Santo”/“Holy, Holy, Holy”

Sacramental times can involve children as well. In congregations that include children in communion, “Let Us Break Bread Together,” “Eat This Bread,” “I Come with Joy,” or “Take Our Bread” can involve them in singing before, after, or during communing. During baptismal services, children can join in on such songs as “Wade in the Water,” “You Have Put on Christ,” or “Little Children, Welcome.”

Congregations that take children out of worship midway for Sunday school or children’s church should make sure that the opening part of worship includes hymns that children can sing, either one of the hymns already mentioned in this article or one with a refrain (“Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord” or “Alabaré”) or with repetition (“Every Time I Feel the Spirit” or “Soon and Very Soon”).

Rehearsing or practicing songs with the whole congregation before worship can always involve children. It is also a good idea to teach songs that the whole congregation sings to children in Sunday school, vacation Bible school, or children’s choirs. Learning anthems and curriculum songs is fine, but it is ultimately more important for children to learn songs that will sustain them as they grow in faith as part of the congregation. It seems that the time that the church has to teach and influence children grows smaller and smaller, so it is simply good stewardship to use that time wisely on faith songs that will endure.

Don’t be afraid to teach children songs in another language. This opportunity will often keep older elementary children interested in singing by challenging their mind. There are a broad range of songs available from the traditional Latin of “Dona nobis pacem” and “Ubi caritas” (Taizé) to the world music of Christian songs (some mentioned above) in Spanish, Native American, African, and Asian languages, in addition to any other languages indigenous to the congregation.

The resources for teaching children to sing their faith, to praise God, and to join the eternal song of the church are almost endless. May God grant us the energy and wisdom to pass on this wondrous gift of singing to our children and our children’s children!

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