Okay, the short answer is: repetition. I learned hymns by listening to my grandmothers and mother sing daily while doing housework. They even had their hymnal open so they wouldn't mess up the words. By the time we made it to church, we knew those melodies like pros. When I became an adult and paid attention to the lyrics, my spirit was greatly uplifted.
I no longer have the luxury of living close to my parents, so my kids won't grow up listening to their grandparents singing hymns. I decided to intentionally teach hymns to my kids at home by playing a CD of hymns during meal times. We already to the "no TV on school nights" so the presence of screens are not a distraction to our plan.
The CD I am currently using is the Favorite Hymns for Kids by Wee Worship. I pay attention to which song they are interested in learning. Last night, my youngest was singing "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." I made sure that we sang it together before they went to sleep. I also pay attention to any questions they may have. My other kid asked "what are they saying?" which opened up the conversation about the lyrics. And vocabulary. You see my point.
My goal is not that they memorize it properly but that those melodies become familiar to them. When they hear the hymn again years from now, they will know it and they will know the message of God through that hymn.
I understand that different denominations have different hymns they enjoy. I don't discriminate, I'm often trying to learn new hymns for myself. Yes, I enjoy holding a hymnal and going forth. Ha! Here are a some of the hymns I'll be teaching my kids this academic year:
* Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
* This is my Father's World
* Amazing Grace
* Fairest Lord Jesus
* All Things come from Thee
* Christ the Lord is Risen Today
* It is Well with my Soul
* O How I Love Jesus
* Precious Name
* Sweet Hour of Prayer
* The Battle Hymn of the Republic
* When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
• A trick I learned to teach children (and smart adults) is that the more movement you add to the song, the easiest it is to memorize it.
• I often start by teaching the chorus (with a movement) and then I let the verses take care of themselves.
• Repetition is the name of the game. Repetition is the name of the game. Repetition is the name of the game. Repetition is the name of the game. Repetition is the name of the game.
• I try to match the hymn with the liturgical calendar. Meaning, I'll work on my Easter songs before the Spring. I'll start on Christmas hymns before December.
• Kids have amazing memories: don't be surprised with how fast they'll learn.
• While we play random games, I'll turn on the hymn of the month and the kids quickly start singing the song because of that extra exposure.
• We are a bilingual family, so the hymns are also taught in two languages. Again, no pressure to perform: I sing them in English, I sing them in Portuguese and I encourage the kids to sing with me.
I believe that by teaching hymns to my children, it'll be easier to live Ephesians 5:19 which says "speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord."
How do you teach hymns to children?