March 22, 2018

15 Folk Songs and Hymns to Learn with Your Children

I just finished selecting the folk songs and hymns we are going to learn during our next school year and I decided to share my picks as well as the resources and practices that make this work for my family.

Why learn folk songs

Short answer: it feels right.

I love seeing my kids learn folk songs and favorite hymns, even though I sometimes feel ill-equipped to teach them the songs myself. The tunes and lyrics are often fun, catchy, moving, comforting, or beautiful.

When you sing a folk song, you feel something. They help me better understand different places and time periods as well as different emotions and experiences.

Folk songs and hymns also bring people together. I am not a good singer, but I love singing with others. Whether sitting around a campfire or in church or singing The Star-Spangled Banner or Take Me Out to the Ballgame with a crowd of strangers, it is a powerful experience to sing together. But you need to know the words to enjoy it!

I hope I'm giving my children a gift of music and understanding that they will be able to enjoy for the rest of their lives.

These are my personal reasons for making folk and hymn singing a part of our days. For a more thorough discussion of why to include folk singing as part of a Charlotte Mason education, I encourage you to read the notes on the Ambleside Online Folksongs page.

How to learn folk songs

There are so many different ways to make learning folk songs and hymns fit into your life, but here is how I do it with my three children, ages 7, 6, and 3.

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First, I select the songs we are going to learn. I choose those songs from my own memory, the AmblesideOnline Folksongs Rotation or the book, Gonna Sing My Head Off! American Folk Songs for Children (highly recommended!).  I often try to pick some songs that relate to the historical time period we are studying or mention places that will come up in our studies if I can.

I also have a rule that I will only choose songs that I like! I don't have to know the song before finding it, but when I hear it or read the lyrics, I need to like it. If I dislike the song, which doesn't happen often, it is going to be very hard for me to sing it well with the kids.

Because honestly, teaching my kids these songs doesn't come easily to me. I'm not a "good" singer. I enjoy singing, but I have a hard time carrying the tune of a song, especially if I don't know it very, very well. And if I can't get into it, I'm not going to be able to teach it.

After selecting the songs, I turn to YouTube because I am going to need some help learning the tune to most of these songs! AmblesideOnline links to many good YouTube videos for the songs on its list, but sometimes I don't care for the versions or sometimes I have chosen songs that are not on their rotation.

Generally speaking, I try to choose a YouTube version that matches the lyrics I prefer. Most of these songs have been reinterpreted many times. The most popular version may not look anything like the original version. And I'm no purist. Sometimes I prefer the original version and sometimes I prefer a more popular interpretation.  One thing I love about homeschooling is that I get to choose the exact thing that I think is best for my family to learn.

I save a link to the YouTube video into a list I make in Microsoft OneNote. I use OneNote to organize my documents, links, and ideas, but Evernote or a word document could work as well. I like that when I post a link into OneNote, it embeds a small version of the video on the page. When we go to study that song, I can play it within OneNote which has the benefits of 1) keeping the video small so my kids are not obsessed with the video that goes with it and 2) not showing related videos or autoplaying another video immediately afterward.

Also, if you haven't turned off autoplay on YouTube for yourself, go ahead and do yourself this favor. See below:

Then, I print out a copy of the lyrics that we are going to use.

For songs with standard lyrics, like The Star Spangled Banner, I can easily find a version online that is ready to go. I could just print it out, but instead, I print it to PDF and then save a copy in my OneNote. This way, I have an electronic record of what I chose ready to go if I want to use it again. If the website has a lot going on, I just highlight the lyrics then print the highlighted selection instead of the whole page.

Sometimes, I cannot find printable lyrics that match the YouTube version I have decided to follow. In this case, I copy a similar version and edit the words to match the version we want to do. I almost always try to format things (often using 2 columns) so I can fit everything on one page.

Now that I have my song and a YouTube version and lyrics to go with it, we are ready to learn. In our weekly homeschool schedule of lessons, I have two 10-minute slots for singing. We take one song at a time and I put the printed lyrics into a slip sheet in a small report folder that also contains the poems and passage my son is preparing during his recitation time. [See our recitation choices for this year here.]

During the singing time in our weekly schedule, we sing our current song several times and then I take requests or make suggestions to practice some of our past songs. When my school-aged child(ren) and I know the words to our current song, I pick the next one on my list (or I just scramble to find a new song if I run out!). I only require my school-aged children to learn the songs, but the 3-year-old keeps up very well on her own initiative.

I try to vary the types of songs we are singing by following a funny song with a longer, more serious one, or a long song that tells a story with a shorter, more light-hearted one. I pay little attention to how quickly or slowly we learn a song. Some songs take weeks to learn while others are almost mastered in one session. We just move on when I think we are ready. If we don't get through my whole list of songs, there is always next year.

I like putting folk songs on our weekly schedule because it keeps me accountable. As much as I value this learning for ALL of us, including myself, I usually don't feel like doing it. But, because it is on the schedule, it gets done! You might find it easy to just sing the song informally on a daily or weekly basis. Or, you might do it as part of a daily morning time or some kind of loop schedule.

My kids are young and are high energy and silly. I originally wanted to use singing time as a way to break up "more academic" lessons. This did not work for us, however, because after singing time, the mood changed so much that it was hard to get my son back on track. Instead, we save it for our last lesson and on the 2 days a week we do it, our lessons go out with a pleasant bang of high spirits.

15 Folk Songs and Hymns to Learn with Your Children

These are the songs along with accompanying YouTube videos I've selected for our singing time next year, arranged roughly in the order I plan to learn them in our homeschool. We usually get through about 5 songs in every 12-week term so that is why I chose 15, but I will not be stressing out if we do more or less than these.

Note: Those with * I found the links on AmblesideOnline, and the remaining links are ones I found myself (to the best of my knowledge). I strongly recommend AmblesideOnline for scoping out more great folk song selections. Personally, my choices over the years reflect more American folk songs and more patriotic songs than their list.

The Gypsy Rover*

Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow)

The Minstrel Boy*

If I Had a Hammer

Go Tell Aunt Rhody

Low Bridge--Everybody Down (The Erie Canal)

Let There Be Peace on Earth

Cockles & Mussels (Molly Malone)*

Amazing Grace

The Rhyme of the Chivalrous Shark*

Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above (Catholic) [Sister Act Version, just because]

Star of the County Down*

Turkey in the Straw

Will the Circle Be Unbroken


Want even more recommendations? 

To see the songs we learned this year, see our 2nd Grade Plans: 2017-2018

After learning the songs

When we move on to our next song, I switch out the learned one, hole punch it and put it in my son's binder behind a memory work tab along with the poems and passages done for our recitation lessons. Sometimes we use the lyrics for copywork, but otherwise, they are there if we forget some of the words during our review singing.

At the end of the year, I am moving them to a binder of all the pieces our family has grown closer to over the years. This includes all of the pieces done for recitation as well as all the folk songs we've learned. I'm sure I'll need to better organize this binder over the years, but right now, I'm just getting it done. The binder is not pretty; there is no cover or organization. But it is a start!

What are your favorite songs or resources for folk or hymn singing?


  1. First of all, thank you for the autoplay tip. I didn't know that, and it will make a world of difference to me! Second, I simply delight in your answer for why you're learning folk songs--"it feels right."

    Best answer ever!!!!

    1. Happy to help with the autoplay. It is so annoying . . .

      And I'm glad you like my answer :-) I remember someone called it "mommy-radar" and several years into mothering I began to get the idea. A lot more peace is possible if I learn to listen to my instincts . . . although I will continue to spend the rest of my mothering career honing them. It's a work in progress!


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