Dana Dirksen of Songs for Saplings: An Interview (and Giveaway!)

Interview and Images* by Théa Rosenburg 
At two years old, my youngest daughter is adept at shouting, “No!” She objects to pajamas and objects to her socks, so it isn't surprising that her favorite song is one that allows her to shout “No!” with gusto.

She doesn’t realize, though, that through that song, she’s learning doctrine: when she shouts “No!” with the chorus of kids on Songs for Saplings’ “Will God Ever Die?”, she’s learning the answer to a catechism question. As a toddler, she's taking in a deep, biblical truth. Her delight in singing as she learns is the delight that Dana Dirksen hoped to spark in small listeners when she began teaching children Scripture and theology through song.
 
Through their ministry Songs for Saplings, Dirksen and her family have adapted the Westminster Shorter Catechism and put it to music—lively, creative music that even parents don’t mind listening to over and over again. They have travelled the world translating those albums so that countries with limited access to children’s resources can teach Scripture to children in the languages of their hearts. Dirksen took the time to share with us the history of Songs for Saplings, as well as the work the Lord is doing through Songs for Saplings today. She has also graciously offered to bless five of our readers with a complete set of their Questions With Answers series, and to bless one reader with a hand-bound family journal and complete set of CDs. All readers are welcome to download Volume 1-3 of Questions With Answers for free: enter the code “DEEPLYROOTED” at checkout (offer expires 3/8/16). To enter the giveaway, please see details the bottom of this post.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born up in Portland, Oregon, and grew up in the woods with a motorcycle and a dog. I was brought up in a Christian home, and music has always been part of my life. I remember writing my first song when I was four (I am still constantly coming up with new melodies), and then singing in choirs and small groups as I grew up. I went away to college in 1990 to study music theory at Point Loma College. There I met my husband, and we moved to Alexandria, Virginia and started our family. We moved back to Portland in 1997, and now have six kids (four boys and two girls) with one married so far, and the rest hard at work with school.

When did you know that music was something you could use to glorify God? 

My grandfather was a pastor of a small Bible church. He started taking me with him to sing in nursing homes when I was in junior high. I remember how the people there felt so loved and cared for when we came, and “anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble” (1 John 2:10 NIV). This is where the light came on for me.

How did Songs for Saplings start?

My babies attended a classical Christian school called Cedar Tree in Vancouver, Washington in 2003. I volunteered in the preschool there, and the kids we took care of were called the “Cedar Tree Saplings.” I began by putting the ABCs they were learning to music, choosing one verse for each letter of the alphabet. I gave these songs to the teachers there on a cassette tape with the words “Songs for the Saplings” on it. The name (and the idea) stuck, and people seemed to like them. Now we’ve done eight albums in English and another fourteen in other languages since then.

How have you and your husband found ways to incorporate your whole family in Songs for Saplings?

As we were recording the six-volume Questions with Answers series, my babies were growing up around us. I used to take them and cousins and family friends and even kids from the neighborhood into the studio and we recorded them with their sweet kid voices on the albums from 2004 until 2012 when the last album was recorded in English. We’ve also toured as a family together in the US and done some concerts in Europe as well. We’re not a “professional” touring family by any means, but we had a lot of adventures.

What did Songs for Saplings look like when your kids were younger? What does it look like now that they're older?

I struggled to teach my kids theological concepts when they were younger. Telling them Bible stories and memorizing Bible verses were part of school and church, but, being a songwriter, it all started to click for me as I was putting these deep theological nuggets to fun tunes, and I could hear my babies singing theology, truth, and Scripture back to me. It lit up my heart.
 
Now that they are older, we can sit around the table talking about the grand sweep of the Bible, and we can ask, “How were you justified?” Ten years later my (big) babies can still sing the answer back to me. I hope I’ve given them a framework that they can bring to mind for the rest of their lives as they think about God, what he’s done for us through the work of Christ, and his active work on our hearts through the Holy Ghost.

What was your vision for Songs for Saplings when it first started? How has the Lord shaped that over time?

When I started I just wanted to be a part of getting scriptures into kids’ heads. I still remember the songs I sang when I was young, and I wanted to be part of shaping what that was for my kids. Over time I’ve realized that I was built to do this thing, and I’ve been shown by missionaries around the world that they don’t have resources like this in other languages. We’re committed now to translating and releasing the Question with Answers series into as many languages as God gives us partners and funds to do—that’s his responsibility. My responsibility is to stay available.

Was translating Questions With Answers part of the original vision of Songs for Saplings?

I couldn’t even have imagined it. We’re now working in French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish, Polish, Ukrainian, and Chichewa (from Malawi). Next year we plan to start Mandarin and Arabic. I’m a small town girl—this is all a bit much.

You have recently started offering a family journal to accompany the Questions With Answers series. Can you tell us a bit about that?

The family journal is really a journal/workbook that’s designed to be an heirloom. It’s got all the questions and answers and Scripture verses as they are sung on the album in a format that lets you sit down with your littles and teach them the deep things of God day by day. Then you can use the music to reinforce those discussions while you’re driving around in what we call your “minivan ministry center.” Also, remember all those cute things your kids (or grandkids) have said over the years? This is a place to write those down.
 
My dream would be that 20 years from now you will pull out the family journal and be able to show your kids the foundations of their faith they were learning when they were little, what their ideas were at the time, and you’ll just have a huge snuggle-fest.

How can we get involved in the Lord's work through Songs for Saplings?

1) Pray for us. We are always commenting about how life is the hardest and relationships in our family are the hardest when we’re serving the most. Half of that is just that the travel is hard, but we also don’t have any illusions that Satan doesn’t want us to succeed in what we’re doing.

2) Spread the word. Give away the music to people who don’t know about it, and also please tell your church children’s ministry leaders and your pastors that we make the music available for free to churches and tell them (forcefully) to use it.

3) If you can, please get in touch with us (songsforsaplings.com) and support our work financially. We’ve had half a dozen families who have faithfully supported us over the years, but the vast majority of the work was done with money out of our own pocket. That means we can do maybe 2–3 translation albums a year (they cost between $10,000 and $20,000 each to make). We want to do ten a year, but we need more support partners if we are going to do that. We’ve got six albums to do in a dozen languages, and we’re not getting any younger.

What are you working on now?

Translations, translations, translations. And doing a lot of cooking with Pinterest.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers? 

We’re always so encouraged when we hear your stories about how your kids are learning the deep things of God from our music. Go to our website, our Facebook page or find us on Twitter and tell us your stories—they keep us going.

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34 Responses

Thea Rosenburg
Thea Rosenburg

February 26, 2016

Carole: You can download Volumes 1-3 of Questions With Answers here: http://songsforsaplings.myshopify.com/collections/digital-downloads/products/copy-of-questions-with-answers-bundle-volumes-1-3-cd-format Don’t forget to the use the coupon code DEEPLYROOTED! So glad you’re checking them out :)

Courtney
Courtney

February 25, 2016

Your songs are a huge blessing! We give them for baby showers and any opportunity we can. It helps me to dwell on God’s truths as well and I find myself waking up to these truths set to music, which is lovely! Thank You!

Courtney Grisham
Courtney Grisham

February 25, 2016

Our family loves the Songs for Saplings Questions with Answers CD set! We got them for Christmas two months ago, and our three-year-old is already singing along to many of the songs. We know that as our children get older, these songs well play a big part in their spiritual formation. It would be great to win another set to give away! :-)

Gina @ Oaxacaborn
Gina @ Oaxacaborn

February 25, 2016

Your streaming songs have been such a blessing to our household. I can not WAIT for the Mandarin edition!

Kimberly
Kimberly

February 24, 2016

I love songs for saplings and would love to share these with my kiddos and their cousins!

Naomi
Naomi

February 24, 2016

Thanks for sharing! I’m excited to check them out. You can never have too many tools for sharing Jesus with your littles.

Sarah
Sarah

February 24, 2016

These CDs are such a blessing. Just yesterday afternoon I overheard my 2 year old son singing some of these songs to himself in the bathroom. I’m hoping to win so I can give these away!

Carole
Carole

February 24, 2016

Where do we download the songs?

Ashley Antkowiak
Ashley Antkowiak

February 24, 2016

I homeschool and this is going to be amazing for our bible study!! Thank you!

Ellen Mills
Ellen Mills

February 24, 2016

I am excited about this giveaway! So happy to see this kind of work being offered. ☺️

Erica Jimenez
Erica Jimenez

February 24, 2016

Excited to check this out. My girls love to listen and sing to music. I hope this helps them in their spiritual growth.

Ervina
Ervina

February 24, 2016

This is such a wonderful resource for parents! I’m excited to listen to their music.

Trudy Miles
Trudy Miles

February 24, 2016

Looks wonderful!

Jessica
Jessica

February 24, 2016

Always looking for ways to help my children learn about the Lord. So lucky to have stumbled upon this resource!!

Jessica
Jessica

February 24, 2016

Thanks for the giveaway and free download! We recently moved to France and are really trying hard to sow those theological seeds into our children’s hearts. So vital to combatting the world, the flesh, and the devil. Hoping to win!

Sarah
Sarah

February 24, 2016

We love to sing the word of God in our family and this would be a huge blessing to have!

Rosie
Rosie

February 24, 2016

Just want to say thank you DeeplyRootedMag for sharing this blog post and Dirksen for using your God-given talent to further the ministry of the gospel to our littles :) I’m a mom of a 2 year old and 4 month old and I have been struggling to teach him the word of God. I can’t wait to use this resource! It’s truly an answered prayer. I will pray for your ministry as well as share this wealth of knowledge to the moms and pastors of my church. Grace and peace to you all!

Alyssa
Alyssa

February 24, 2016

This is such a valuable resource! I still remember so many songs from when I was little, I know these songs would help to keep important truths with my kids for years to come.

Sarah
Sarah

February 24, 2016

What a great ministry! Absolutely love this. Thanks for the chance to win!

Kate
Kate

February 24, 2016

These sound like an amazing resource! My son loves music, I can’t wait to root him deeply in the truth in this way! Thanks!

Sarah
Sarah

February 23, 2016

This is great! Can’t wait to play it for my kids!

Zinnia
Zinnia

February 23, 2016

Love these cd’s!

Andrew
Andrew

February 23, 2016

This is awesome! We will be looking into this for our new church plant!

Amy D
Amy D

February 23, 2016

We bought the Songs for Saplings ABC and 123 verses CDs and love them! I catch my 3 year old daughter singing the verses throughout the day, in play, or on our walks. It’s also a great way for us parents to memorize Scripture! Great interview. I’m excited for what God is doing through your ministry, Dana!

Kat Pennylegion
Kat Pennylegion

February 23, 2016

Excited about this music for my kids!

Beth @ Pages and Margins
Beth @ Pages and Margins

February 23, 2016

These sound amazing!

Jen @ www.everymorningnewmercies.wordpress.com
Jen @ www.everymorningnewmercies.wordpress.com

February 23, 2016

Thea, this is beautiful! I’m so excited to see Songs for Saplings spreading across the world. Ever since I heard about it way back in 2010, I have fallen in love with this music and continue to tell others about it. Dana, your music has blessed our family, our churches that we’ve been a part of and now those at the seminary where we are attending. I will continue to tell others about this great work God is doing in and through you. Praise to God. www.everymorningnewmercies.wordpress.com

Jerri
Jerri

February 23, 2016

I have been wanting to try this cd for a while! What a great way to plant the word of God.

Heather
Heather

February 23, 2016

Our two year old daughter loves the original Songs for Saplings and when she hears key words throughout the day will start singing the associated verse…“Be kind to one another” and “Be patient with everyone” are some I’ve heard a lot the past few days :) Looking forward to adding more to our collection as our little ones grow!

Christina A
Christina A

February 23, 2016

We love Songs for Saplings!

Sue q
Sue q

February 23, 2016

Amazing ministry and music. I recommend it to all my friends

sarah
sarah

February 23, 2016

We love Songs for Saplings! I know we would listen so much more with the physical CDs to take with us!

Liz R.
Liz R.

February 23, 2016

We love these! My 4 year old asks all sorts of theological questions after listening. As a bonus they help us calm down when we’re cranky!

Michelle
Michelle

February 23, 2016

This sounds like such a great resource! Would love to have it!

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