Training Children through Song

I write this in the wee hours of the morning after preparing a Sunday School lesson for the kids in our church community. As I was searching for a few songs to teach alongside the Bible lesson, I happened to listen to a lullaby that transported me back to our old apartment more than five years ago, rocking my baby girl to sleep to the tune of “Jesus Loves Zacchaeus” by Rain for Roots. I have listened to their album, Big Stories for Little Ones for a hundred and million times until my daughter was about two years or so. Music has helped her calm down and drift to sleep all those years. I remembered the long nights, and it brought me back to the first few months of being a new mama.

I also remember being a sleepy girl in a church sanctuary on a Sunday morning whenever I listen to Cedarmont Kids, and seeing my own mom right in front teaching all the Sunday School kids how to sing the songs with matching actions. Likewise, I remember being a carefree elementary student sitting in one of the pews inside the hot auditorium of my old alma mater and following along to the lyrics of Steve Green’s Hide ‘Em In Your Heart while the smell of ripe sugarcane permeates the air. I still remember those songs, and I remember the memories well. These songs have helped me in putting Scripture to heart, and the Spirit of God brings them to memory whenever I need them.

I grew up attending Sunday School all my life, and I am also thankful that my parents forced me to attend the Chinese worship service where they only sung hymns. This exposure to Scripture songs and old hymns during my youth has proved useful in the ministry even as I married a Reformed pastor. How wise is God’s providence!

From Music to Memory

The Reformer Martin Luther said it best: “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.” Luther always emphasized the importance of music in training people in the faith. He went on to writing many hymns, one of which is A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

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Music is an able aid in memorization. Young children, particularly those in the Pre-Grammar and Grammar stage according to Classical Education, can absorb vast amounts of information when taught through song and rhyme. This old practice is often times neglected by modern education. Rote memorization and drill and practice aren’t to be abandoned. They are the essential building blocks of education.

Recommended Resources

If you want to train your children to learn Scripture and theology through music, I would like to recommend the resources listed below. Thanks to wonderful Internet technology, most of these are readily available for streaming on Spotify, Amazon Music or Bandcamp.

Ask Me Whooo

This is a recent discovery, and it easily became my favorite resource. These are beautifully written tunes sung by Diana Beach Batarseh, and are based on the First Catechism. Scripture verses are also recited at the end of each song. I cannot recommend this enough. DOWNLOAD. NOW.

Songs for Saplings

My preschooler started listening to their ABC memory verses album, and pretty soon she memorized them. They also have other music based on the New City Catechism.

Rain for Roots

The Big Stories for Little Ones album is based on Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Baby’s Hug-a-Bible, which in my opinion, is the baby/toddler’s version of the famed Jesus Storybook Bible. These are my favorite lyrics from the song “Jesus Is Born”:

Who was there when time began?
Who came to earth to live as man?
Whose cradle was a cattle stall?
Who is the greatest gift of all?

Judy Rogers

My favorite song is “What is a Sacrament?” from her album Why Can’t I See God? What a way to raise covenant children!

What is a sacrament?
It is a holy ordinance
Given by Christ unto believers
Showing His great love for us.

Baptism was ordained,
And the Lord’s Supper;
Jesus gave them to His church
To keep and to remember.

Sacraments, given us by Christ
To signify and apply God’s covenant to our lives.

Family Devo

These are also songs based on the First Catechism. They are more upbeat than the classic tunes of Ask Me Whooo, which may be more appealing to some people.

Sovereign Grace Kids

I always watch out for whatever new album that Sovereign Grace Music releases. One of my favorite albums from them is The Ology, a companion to the The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New, a storybook theology by Marty Machowsky. Here’s a lyric from the song called “All About Jesus”:

From Genesis to Revelation
There’s one story of Your great salvation
It’s all about Jesus, oh, it’s all about Jesus
Shoutin’ out from every page
There’s one Hero that’ll save the day
It’s all about Jesus, oh, it’s all about Jesus

Getty Kids

If you want your kids to learn old and new hymns, listen to Getty Kids’ albums. Like Sovereign Grace Music, they are blessings to the local church.

Other Classic Resources

What are some of your family favorites? Feel free to share them below.

How to Prepare Children For Marriage or Singlehood

The month of February has caused a lot of people to think about their own love lives or the lack of it. For some, it is a celebration of mutual love. For others, it is a constant reminder of their loneliness and lack of romantic excitement.

I have been reading through Josh Mulvilhill’s Preparing Children for Marriage: How to Teach God’s Good Design for Marriage, Sex, Purity, and Dating. And God has been using this book to provide new insights on how to raise covenant children in the area of marriage, etc. It also made me realize that while it is important to teach children about the possibility of marriage, it is equally important to train them for the possibility of singleness as well. Of course, I would want my children to get married someday. Even my five-year old told me she wanted to get married someday. But marriage is God’s gift to some people, and it is the ultimate picture of Jesus and His Bride, the church.

Marriage between a man and a woman is meant to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church. It is a living example of Jesus’ love for the church and of the church’s submission to Jesus. How Jesus loved the church is how a husband is to love his wife. How the church follows Jesus is how a wife is to follow her husband. Every marriage is a picture that tells the world about Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. Marriage points to a greater reality—it’s a living, breathing reminder of Calvary.

God never promised anywhere in the Bible that all Christians will find a life partner. Anyone teaching that purports this claim should be rejected. It is not only un-Biblical, it is utterly dangerous to be dispensing unrealistic hopes.

People want to be loved and desired by others. But we are bound to be disappointed when we make marriage the be-all and end-all of things. Instead of longing for marriage and avoiding singlehood, we should be teaching our children to be satisfied in Jesus. Because anything that replaces Christ as the supreme center in our life is an idol. If love becomes our idol, a difficult marriage can devastate us. If  acceptance becomes our idol, the prospect of singlehood can make us feel rejected. I love how Dr. Mulvihill expresses God’s design for singleness in his book,

Singleness is the ultimate state for every believer. Because it is your future state, you should seek to understand and appreciate it. If God calls your child to a life of singleness, your child should embrace that life with contentment. As parents, we ought to avoid expressing disappointment if this is the path that God has for our children. Instead, let us support our children in this self-sacrificing endeavor.

That is a good way to put things into perspective, isn’t it? But the bottomline is this, We should be teaching our children to find their ultimate joy and supreme satisfaction in Jesus. 

[T]he kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

If Jesus is our joy, whether we marry or remain single for the rest of our lives, we will find true contentment. I certainly hope my children  grow up to be contented Christians as their understanding of the Gospel grows each day. Even I long for the very same thing.

In a word a contented Christian, being sweetly captivated under the authority of the Word, desires to be wholly at God’s disposal and is willing to live in that sphere and climate where God has set him. (Thomas Watson)

Exploring the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale in Manila

The fourth day of The Classical Preschool focuses on Exploration. We decided to take a break from our regular schedule, and explore the book fair called the Big Bad Wolf (BBW).

BBW has been known to hold insanely discounted book sales in other parts of Asia. So upon hearing that they were coming to Manila for the first time, I was ecstatic. We didn’t make it for preview day even though I won tickets. So we braved the long drive from the North, and headed for the World Trade Center in Pasay City. The fair is open 24 hours a day until the 25th of February.

Go for Children’s Reference Books

A big section of the book sale featured children’s books. There was a vast selection of picture books, reference books, and activity books. You could easily get lost in the aisles. We got there almost 10:30 AM on opening day, and there were a lot of people already.

The Young Adult (YA) section was the most crowded part of the fair. I didn’t even bother checking out the titles. My husband and I brought our preschooler and toddler, so it wasn’t exactly a smooth shopping day—it never is, I suppose. Big crowds aren’t usually fun for small children.

I spotted a lot of beautiful picture books. But there were also a lot of twaddle in the mix. I tried to prevent myself from looking too much so I won’t get tempted to add them to my cart. I went to BBW for the Reference Books since we already have enough picture books that could last us a few years. I also tried to apply what I wrote about choosing books for children.

Book Prices

To be honest, I didn’t have the time and energy to look around the whole place. I centered around the children’s books area. To give you a rough estimate, here are the price range for the different children’s books:

  • Activity Books: PHP100 to PHP 150
  • Picture/Board Books: PHP160 to PHP350
  • Reference Books: PHP290 to PHP 450
  • Book Sets: PHP1300 and up

I thought I could score cheap book sets, but I didn’t. They weren’t as affordable as I would have liked. For example, the Mr. Men Collection and Little Miss Collection were priced at PHP 4850 and P3900, respectively. A Classic Case of Dr. Seuss with 20 books was priced at P3900. The more affordable option is The Peter Rabbit Library at P1350. Even so, you could get the preloved editions for way less. Another good find though is The Crayon Box Collection big lap book set priced at P780. Again, cheaper options can be found at second-hand book shops. My biggest target was the Thomas The Tank Engine Classic Library. But it was priced at P5800, so I had to let it go.

Our Big Bad Wolf Book Haul

I ended up with ten books, which are mostly Reference titles.

If I could dig in a little more, I would. But it isn’t advisable when you have small children with you. My top three finds are definitely the following: Usborne Big Picture Atlas (Php 370), Where Did They Go? (PHP 270-290) and The Family Storybook Treasury with CD (P275). I could hoard these books, and hand them out as gifts. They are surely value for money, except for the Spotting Book which is what I would call an aesthetic piece.

5 Tips for Parents

Shop Alone

It is certainly best to shop alone, if that is possible for you. Young children could easily get bored when you’re on the hunt for good finds.

Have a List

The book display and the sheer size of the fair can get overwhelming. Having a list of books you want to look out for is particularly helpful so you won’t get lost in your purchases. You could easily spend thousands of pesos in a book sale like the Big Bad Wolf.

Set a Budget

Be sure to set a budget. But don’t be afraid to explore a few investment pieces if you can afford it.

Take your Time

I missed a few good books upon seeing other people’s purchases. Having the luxury of time could only be possible if you are shopping alone, or have someone with you who could watch the kids for a while. It could take more than a day to see each and every title if you take your time. But I’m sure it will be worth it.

Bring a Reusable Bag

They do provide plastic bags in the venue. But help lessen waste by bringing your own reusable bags. The BBW organizers did say to bring luggage bags for your purchases.

How to Choose Books for Children

Time and again, I get asked for children’s book recommendations. I am a self-confessed bibliophile, and I have maintained a modest collection of children’s books at home. You should know that I am not an expert. But I am a mother who wants to share the love of great literature to my own children, and I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned over the years in choosing books that would help build a home library. I say this because the Philippines does not have a lot of public libraries. This is why having your own library is essential in raising readers in our country. A decent collection could greatly benefit your kids or perhaps even your grandkids in the future, Lord willing.

Start Early

I don’t mean start hunting for books early in the morning, although that is good, too. What I mean is to begin building your collection early on, as long as your budget allows it. I started collecting children’s books when I was still single. Although I was unsure if I was going to have kids or even get married, I was placed in children’s ministry when I was doing practicum while I was in seminary. From there, my love for teaching and training children reflected my collection of worthy resources that would help address children’s needs. For more practical reasons, you may begin building your collection while your baby is still in the womb. Reading to children in utero helps mothers bond with their babies, aside from other developmental benefits.

Stick with the Classics

My biggest tip if you have a limited budget is to pick the classics—classic books or classic authors. There is a reason why they are bestsellers. Their style and content has lasted from one generation to another, making them family favorites for years. Another tip is to look out for the Giesel Award, Caldecott Medal and Newbery Award badges when hunting for good books. Any of these awards boost the credibility of a children’s book. Find out more about these badges over here. The same goes for all-time favorite children’s book authors like Dr. Seuss (The Cat in a Hat or Oh, The Places You’ll Go), Eric Carle (Brown Bear, Brown Bear or The Little Hungry Caterpillar), Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon or The Big Red Barn), and others. Their books come up often in recommended lists (see below). You might want to stick to these classic authors if you’re building a small collection.

Stay Away from Twaddle

Choosing classics does not mean you should not buy new ones. But try to stay away from twaddle as much as possible. You can recognize twaddle when you have been surrounded by good books. Twaddle books are badly written second-rate literature that underestimate children’s intelligence, and are often book versions of their TV or movie counterparts. You can read more about what twaddle is over here. Not everyone will agree, but educator Charlotte Mason was adamant about not tolerating twaddle books when reading to children,

They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told.

Study Book Lists

Familiarize yourself with recommended book lists. I was surprised how little some people know about good resources that would point them in a right direction. A quick search in Google or Pinterest would get you there. But knowing the difference between quality books and twaddle take a lot of practice, and reputable book lists help you with that. See The Classical Reader for a compendium of age-appropriate book recommendations by different classical educators. You could also try homeschooling resources like Five In A Row or literature-heavy curricula like Sonlight or Veritas Press.

Scavenge Second-Hand Bookstores

If you have a mental list of good books to find, going to second-hand bookshops like BookSale or Biblio would be so much easier since you already know what you’re looking for. I could spend all day scavenging for good finds. But if you’re like me—a hands-on mama with two active kids—you know it’s next to impossible. So I resort to online shopping. Sure, you pay a little more than the brick and mortar shops, but it saves you a ton of time and energy. I will provide a list of my recommended online stores some other time. Also, watch out for book fairs like the Big Bad Wolf Book Fair this month, and the Manila International Book Fair every September for books sold at bargain prices.

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So far, these are the top five basic things you should look out for when choosing books for children. Selecting Christian books deserve a full post, and will be reserved for another time. My recommended book lists are also in the pipeline.

Please let me know in the comments section if this post has been of help to you and your family. Feel free to comment if you have anything to add as well. 

Keep Writing

I have long kept a blog, and I have started sharing my thoughts online since 2001. These were random posts from an idealistic teenager, but it was cathartic. However, since I became a mom about five years ago, this practice was put on hold. I read less, and so I wrote less. And I really want to change that.

I know it’s not exactly an eloquent first post. But it certainly is an attempt to keep writing.

Hello, world!