The Case for Memorization

As a young girl I was a devoted fan of Anne of Green Gables. I found Anne’s imagination enchanting, of course, but I also admired how she could recite poetry and quote stories at her whim. It seemed that whatever she played at – fairies in the woods or the Lady of Shallot upon the river – she could recall the perfect, enduring words to make her play all the sweeter.

I wanted to be like Anne – to hold within me delicious, impassioned words.

Unfortunately, by the time I reached school age it had fallen out of fashion to require, or even encourage, children to memorize anything beyond letter sounds, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the multiplication tables.

I think this is a shame really, and a glaring hole in my education. Sure, I could have taken it upon myself to commit great works to memory, but without someone to guide and inspire such a pursuit, memorizing can seem a daunting task to a child.

I hope to be that guide for my boys – that when they step out into the world they will have a host of powerful, meaningful words at their disposal.

If you have not yet made memorization a part of your homeschool experience, here are six good reasons to consider joining us.

1. For the Love of Beauty

The purest reason to memorize great works is just that – they are great.

Imagine taking a walk with your child on a rainy October morning and together recalling the bittersweet words of Robert Frost,

“My sorrow, when she’s here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be”

Having lovely language near to him enhances a child’s experience of the world. It connects him, and his feelings, to the whole of humankind.

What’s more, internalizing well-written words inspires a child to observe more closely; to think, speak and write in more eloquent terms.

As Andrew Pudewa says in a related article “there is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain.”

The Harp and Laurel Wreath, Serl’s Lanuage Lessons and A Child’s Garden of Verses are great places to begin committing beautiful language to memory.

2. To Inspire Creativity

To the boy who can recite “Paul Revere’s Ride,” a lowly broomstick is the noble steed that will, at midnight, help him to warn his countrymen of approaching danger.

A girl who has internalized Lewis Carroll’s “Jaberwocky” runs after the family dog with her paper towel tube saber crying, “Beware … my son, the jaws that bite the claws that catch.”

The great speeches of days of gone by, issued from atop the jungle gym, make history ring true to a young heart. When he can speak them, he has, in his own way, lived those pivotal moments in history through his own imagination. They are no longer simply trivia, but wisdom gained through experience.

3. As a Scaffolding for More In Depth Studies

In the same way that a child must recognize letter sounds before he can read words, memorizing the basic “grammar” in any field of study gives a student the tools necessary for deeper discovery.

For music, this means learning to read notes and copying the work of the masters before composing one’s own pieces.

For history, it is memorizing a timeline of major events because, as acclaimed classical educator Leigh Bortins states in her recent book, The Core, “The splendid narratives of history become more meaningful when one can identify both where and when they took place.” Bortins goes on to say that these memorized basic facts become the pegs on which future knowledge and understanding are hung.

I saw a wonderful example of this recently in my own home. After memorizing the basic classification system of life, my son decided to learn the major phyla in the Kingdom Animalia. Afterwards, he memorized the scientific names of all the butterflies that visited his garden. In doing so, he was able to make the connection, on his own, that butterflies that share a common genus name also share common characteristics.

Memorizing a few basic facts gave him the tools he needed to embark on more sophisticated studies.

4. To Enhance Faith and Core Beliefs

Memorization is a wonderful way to reinforce your family’s core beliefs. A child who has memorized scripture takes his foundational compass with him wherever he goes.

You might memorize some of Benjamin Franklin’s proverbs or working definitions of virtuous character traits. Whatever your family’s central beliefs, you can strengthen those ideas through memorization.

5. To Foster Diligence and Achievement

My boys have, through memorization exercises, learned that what may at first seem like a Herculean task is nearly always achievable through steady, persistent effort.

They are proud of themselves when they can call to mind a poem and recite it for a grandparent. They feel learned and accomplished when a former president is mentioned on the news and they know something about when and how he led our nation.

We have learned, in striving to commit knowledge to memory, that we are capable of anything at which we are willing to work–and that is perhaps the most valuable lesson of all.

Do you still remember something that you memorized as a child? Is memory work a part of your home learning environment?

About Stefani

Stefani believes that beyond "I love you," one of the most valuable things she can tell her three young sons (and herself) is "take your time." Homeschooling has afforded her the awesome privilege to say it often and with conviction. Stefani writes about her journey to mindful parenting and her learning adventures alongside her boys at her blog, Blue Yonder Ranch.

Comments

  1. jennifer says:

    What an inspiring post. We’ve just started homeschooling, so I’m sticking to the basics for the moment. I’d like to add in memorization, though. You make some fantastic points – thanks for sharing.

  2. se7en says:

    Brilliant post… Whatever happened to memorization and why was it so unpopular? My kids love learning things off by heart and my daughter just bought me a list of things we need to be learning!!! It is always something I think we will get around to when my school ducks are all in a row… but I have discovered school is never totally under control and some things you just need to do as you go… We read a passage once or twice together every day for a week and then we have it!!! (We is a very lose term here – then my kids have it – my brain is in the addled phase!!! and it takes a lot more work to stick things in my head!!!)
    se7en’s latest post: The Week that Was – 39…

    • Stefani says:

      Oh yes, you’re so right on both counts!
      School is never running absolutely according to plan here. Life is like that I guess.
      And yes… my kiddos absorb this stuff with what seems so very little effort. For me though memorization is HARD work! My boys find this endlessly funny, “poor old mom can’t remember” :-)

  3. Jess says:

    I spend five to ten minutes with each of my kids (almost) every day doing memorisation in the rocking chair. It is the highpoint of our day. We love Odgen Nash, his poems are hillarious and use of language sublime! I have found that repeating these poems has been a fun way for my four year old to start using sounds like “th” and “r” which he was struggling with. Because he loves saying his poems and scriptures, he has started really trying hard and it has bleed over to make his speech much more understandable.
    Jess’s latest post: Book Review- Girls Guide To Life

    • Stefani says:

      Well help with speech difficulties is an added bonus to memorization that I had not considered! How neat!

      Now that my boys have several poems and a couple of short prose pieces under their belts we’re going to start working their delivery – elocution. Then, when the weather grows colder we can gather around the fire at night and regale each other with beautifully delivered passages :-)

  4. Kim Bauer says:

    I agree it is so important. It helps with reading skills as well. It is so easy to forget to do this, but I have found that one of the easiest ways to incorporate it into our day is to begin the day with 5 or 6 memorized prayer passages. It also serves as a reminder of the things we should be focused on.

    And, believe it or not, we do say the Pledge of Allegience. We also learned the pre-amble of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I think this year, I will have them memorize the Getty’sburg address.

    If you plan it out, and print out the material and keep it in a memorization book, it really helps.

    Thanks for another great topic.

    Kim Bauer
    http://www.confabulicious.com
    Kim Bauer’s latest post: Woman in Mid-Forties Dreams Only of the Nissan Cube

    • Stefani says:

      My boys LOVE saying the Pledge of Allegiance and, were it not for all the fighting over who gets to hold the flag, I’d say I rather enjoy it too :-)

      We’re studying American History this year (explorers through Lewis and Clark), so I’m really looking forward to adding some of the wonderful words of our founding fathers to the mix as well!

  5. Lise says:

    As a child, I memorized “Jabberwocky,” just because I loved it. Now, I memorize children’s books and poetry from reciting them so often to my daughter. I wish I knew more. I just read “Run” by Ann Patchett, and in it, the characters quote liberally from political speeches they’ve memorized–and I wished I had some in my repertoire! Definitely a plan for the future…
    Lise’s latest post: Still in vacation mode

  6. Love this post, Stefani — The Core is such a rich book that I couldn’t put it down, and the idea of understanding the “grammar” of a subject has changed the way I teach and learn. Definitely a must-read for any homeschooler, no matter what your educational philosophy is!
    Mandi @ Life Your Way’s latest post: A Clean Slate

  7. Laura says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I feel less like a freak now. I think memorization is so important, and it is one of the gifts of homeschooling that I can fill my kids up with beautiful words that they would never have heard, let alone memorized, at public school.
    Laura’s latest post: This Moment- Painting the Water Lilies

  8. hillary says:

    Although I’ve always loved to sing a song from start to finish without skipping a beat I’ve never appreciated memorization. We had to memorize certain prose in English class in high school and I remember finding it so frustrating and in my experience it felt pointless. I worked so hard to memorize it for the day I had to recite it out loud in front of the class, but soon after I was not able to remember it.

    I think if this is the sort of thing one enjoys then by all means go for it, but if it’s causing stress for the kids it’s not necessary.
    hillary’s latest post: Blogging Sabbatical- Intentionally Balancing Family- Work and Life

    • Stefani says:

      I can completely see how learning a one-off poem just to recite it for a grade, and then promptly forget it, would not inspire a love memorization. In fact, I think that’s the trouble with a LOT of our current educational system. Kids learn arbitrary facts just long enough to pass a test and then rarely revisit them. It’s less about gaining beauty and wisdom and more about jumping through hoops.

      That’s not the kind of memorizing that I’m talking about. What we do in our homeschool is more akin to singing that song that you mentioned. We memorize because we like the flow and sound of something, because it pleases us, because it’s beautiful, or meaningful or because it is a stepping stone to something bigger – more in depth study.

      Last week for example, my middle son (he’s 8) decided to memorize Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Swing” just so that he could say it while actually swinging. He liked the idea of that, and as it turned out it made the idea of poetical rhythm very real to him. After saying the poem aloud while swinging, he smilingly declared that “the words sound just like it feels to swing”.

      There’s no grade when we memorize. There’s no firm date by which it must be accomplished . Once we have something committed to memory we don’t forget it easily either… we take turns reciting after dinner, on long car rides, while on walks, or when something reminds us of a particular passage. We revisit our favorite words and ideas with regularity.

      I would definitely agree with Heidi (below) as well… kids really do enjoy memorizing things. They don’t seem to find it stressful at all. It’s a game to them. They greet their grandparents with “I have a new poem. Wanna hear it?” or “I can name all the presidents in order, can you?” That last bit has won them a bet or two :-)

      It certainly sounds like you didn’t have the best introduction to the joys of memorization, but giving up on it altogether might be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Maybe challenge your family to try to commit something small to memory, just because you like the sound of it… you might find you like it!

  9. Yes, yes, and yes. :) This is an incredible post, Stefani. I have read Andrew Pudewa’s article on memorization before, and it makes complete sense. And then I read The Core recently, and it cemented the philosophy of memorization for me. We are participating in Classical Conversations this year, so I am hoping that will jump-start our memory work and keep us consistent and accountable. We also love listening to poetry CDs in the car. There are so many benefits to having so much information and so many beautiful words at your fingertips (and on the tip of your tongue). Young children in particular often find memorization both simple and rewarding. What a gift we can give them!
    Heidi @ Mt Hope’s latest post: Im Still Here

    • Stefani says:

      Thank you, Heidi!

      I read over on your blog that you all were beginning Classical Conversations! I’m so anxious to hear all about your adventures there! There’s a local chapter here in our area too and I’ve been tempted so many times to join up. It seems like a really neat opportunity for families! I’m trying so hard though not to add too much to our plates, and right now I just don’t think we could fit it in without having to give something else the axe. If only there were more hours and days!

      I DID order the Foundations Cycle 1 CD and the accompanying cards to use at home though. I’m so anxious for their arrival!

  10. Kate says:

    I love this Stefani! We just are starting our homeschool adventure and I’ve got some public school UNdoing to do, but I hope to incorporate memorization into our routine. Growing up going to church, we had a memory verse every week to learn and I still remember some of them! Such a great treasure trove for kids’ minds.
    Kate’s latest post: Life With a Side of Crazy

  11. Just today I’ve been reciting a poem to my mum which I memorised as a child – I’d not thought of it for years but could still remember everyworld. I think it’s surprising how very young children can memorise things. In terms of their language development they certainly benefit from repetition – just think how many times they ask to re-read their favourite stories. I’m going to explore this more with my girls
    Cathy @ NurtureStore’s latest post: Alphabet games

  12. Renee says:

    Stefani,

    I really enjoyed reading this. I haven’t required any memorization from my children but my oldest daughter does it on her own. I see that it might behoove me to carry that a little farther with her.

    In fact all three of my children enjoy playing with words and reciting them. Making rhymes and remembering lines from poetry we’ve read.

    I think it’s all about how you approach it. If you approach memorization from a “loving language” perspective it becomes motivating. I think many of us have bad memories of having to memorize as a child (unlike yourself whose own interests and desires weren’t encouraged).

    I too would love to have more meaningful words and phrases “hidden in my heart”. I totally agree that words well written can express emotions we don’t have the words for.

    Lots of food for thought in this post.

  13. Hallie says:

    I so enjoyed reading this! A friend of mine once said of her kids (who also homeschool) that to be a good writer you must first read good literature…I really took that to heart and rememberif often when chosing books for my girls and I to read. We recently moved and found that there were a few books in particular that we dearly missed…A Children’s Garden of Verses and Robert Frost’s Birches…we are trying despritely to find them among the many boxes of books now! Having some of our favorites memorized has been such a comfort when we felt so displaced!

    The Swing
    by Robert Louis Stevenson

    How do you like to go up in a swing,
    Up in the air so blue?
    Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
    Ever a child can do!

    Up in the air and over the wall,
    Till I can see so wide,
    River and trees and cattle and all
    Over the countryside–

    Till I look down on the garden green,
    Down on the roof so brown–
    Up in the air I go flying again,
    Up in the air and down!

  14. Jennifer says:

    I was just writing on my blog about how much we enjoy memorizing. The kids and I have fun chanting the lines of a beautiful poem or even a boring old definition sometimes. We are all so proud to be able to recite the poems to family members and guests. I love that people are so surprised by this task. Thanks for encouraging me to keep up this important part of our education!
    Jennifer’s latest post: Our Day

  15. Anitra says:

    I would encourage other parents to START EARLY! A few weeks ago, I noticed that our not-quite-two-year-old was in a phase where she was repeating back the things we wished she wouldn’t… and so, I decided we would start adding some Bible memory practice to our after-dinner Bible time.

    Less than a week later, she could recite John 1:1 – not completely understandable to an outside observer, but we can tell that she is getting every word. The next step will be to keep practicing it until she can say it more clearly.

  16. Lucy says:

    When I was young, I memorized quite a bit of Scripture. I have always been grateful for that memorization. I wish I had been able to memorize poetry, and I agree it was one of the things I loved about Anne Shirley! While we didn’t do poetry, my family of origin has many quotes (and usually not just one line) that we use frequently from books and movies. We didn’t purposely memorize them, but we remember them because we love them.

    When my youngest was three, he memorized Bedtime for Francis. All my children have memorized prayers. But now that I have started homeschooling my nine-year-old, I would like to broaden his memory (and my own!) to include poetry and other great works. Thanks for a great post and a good reminder of the importance of memorization. I think I’m going to have to find that book, too!

  17. Thanks for this post! I didn’t do any memorization in school, except for memorizing the times tables, which I struggled terribly with and hated. So I hadn’t given any thought to approaching memorization in a fun way with my girls at home.

    I took out A Child’s Garden of Verses and The Core from the library today and love them both. And now I feel inspired to memorize something lovely just for the fun of sharing it on long car rides and walks in the woods. :)

  18. Bonnie says:

    We started homeschooling this year, 1st, 2nd and 4th grades. I asked my Dad, a teacher/principle of 29 years, what, in his opinion, was the #1 thing I should focus on with the kids. “Memorizing”, was his very quick answer!

  19. Rebekah says:

    My mom made a point to teach memorization during my homeschooling experience (I was a K-12 homeschooler!). She focused mainly on Scripture memory and much of it is still rattling around in my mind today. We also participated in Awana bible clubs at church and memorized tons and tons of verses that way. Mom also required me to recite passages at our homeschool co-op’s parent nights. I always felt nervous, but I think it was good for me to get used to talking in front of an audience.
    All that memorizing REALLY came in handy once I went off to college … I could easily memorize class notes for tests, because I already knew a dozen tricks to help me recall the information.
    I didn’t take poetry very seriously until college, when I had an excellent teacher who helped me to appreciate it. Because of her, I cannot go to the ocean without remembering Lord Byrons, “Roll on, deep and dark blue ocean, roll.” I can not experience melancholy without thinking of John Keats saying, “Forlorn! The word is like a bell, tolling me back from thee to my sole self!” And every time I observe the profound influence singer/songwriters have on our modern worldview, I remember that Percy Shelly told us that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
    Needless to say, as soon as my one year old is ready for formal schooling, she will be memorizing!

    :)

  20. Jennifer says:

    LOL…I remember “Twas brilig in the slithey toves that gire and gimbled in the wabe..”! I think I memorize that one on my own too. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of memorization for fun too!
    Jennifer’s latest post: I’m In A Rut

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