Monday, October 09, 2006

Finding a Balance in Memorization

Children possess an amazing ability to memorize; much more so than adults. Therefore, it is only logical that we, as educators, would want to make the most of this time and help them memorize that which we consider to be important for their spiritual, emotional and mental growth and well-being.

All too often, however, we are met with groans and sighs, "Do I have to?" We sense that this is a necessary part of their education, but we also don't want to overburden our children. So, often parents are in a quandary concerning memorization methods and choices. I know that I have been in the past, and still find myself trying to maintain a delicate balance between those two words, 'joy' and 'burden.' But I think this is a good place to be for all of us.

Charlotte Mason thought memorization was very important. She felt that children should memorize poetry and literature that caused their heart to sing. If you read many biographies of those who achieved great things, you will find that many, many of these people practiced the art of memorization and could recite whole passages of great works of literature, poetry and scripture. Why? Because it fed their soul.

Miss Mason also believed there was value in memorizing some helpful facts such as mathematical formulas, important dates, arithmetic facts and important grammar rules. She just felt that this should not be the main goal in memorization. This is where that delicate balance must come into play. I'm afraid that classical educators far too often are guilty of burdening their children with too many lists to memorize and not enough heart-stirring lines. We must be careful not to tip the scales in favor of fact- filling over joyful learning.

She also felt that whole passages of Scripture should be memorized rather than individual verses. I used to teach my children the latter way, but have since changed my ways and they agree that it is easier to remember a whole passage because the verses are kept in context. I think this is also more beneficial spiritually for a person; as my daughter states, "It just makes me understand it better and I love it more." I also believe that as children grow and mature they should help decide what passages of Scripture they would like to memorize. And I always let them choose their poems.

I have learned that children can memorize much more than we or they suppose and we mustn't let initial protest swerve us from our goal. Once they meet with success, they are so pleased with themselves and are ready for another. I found after reading Miss Mason's volumes that my expectations were much too low. When I raised them, my children rose to the occasion and did well.

Here is what Miss Mason recommended children of various ages learn within a twelve week term of school:

6 to 8 year olds- Recite a poem (each child may choose a different one), learn two hymns, a Psalm, and two suitable scripture passages of 6 verses each

9-11 year olds- A Psalm, and two suitable passages of about 12 verses each, two hymns, a scene from the Shakespeare play being studied this term, or, 40 lines from this term's poet such as Longfellow.

12-14 year olds- Learn two suitable passages of about 20 verses each from chapters in Bible Lessons. Two hymns, a Psalm of David. A scene from the Shakespeare play being studied this term, or 50 lines from this term's poet.

15-17 year olds- Learn two suitable passages of 20 verses each from chapters in Bible Lessons. Two hymns. Two psalms. Two poems (approx 50 lines), or, a scene from Shakespeare.

When examinations rolled around at the end of a twelve week term, the children were tested on these recitations but only one out of the two Bible passages was chosen for recitation.

These recitations did not include dates and multiplication facts, etc... although children were also drilled on some of these, as well.

This is one of the few subject areas where I give my children a reward for their hard work. They look forward to this. Basically, If they can recite their memory passages at the end of a term (I allow one or two errors per passage), I let them spend an entire day at a friend's house.

There is a ten minute time period every day in our schedule for the children to work on memorization. The older children work alone. The younger children practice with mom and the dry erase board.

On Fridays, I pick out an old passage from earlier years for each child to recite so that they don't forget previous memory work. This is done at random. Sometimes I award points with M&M's. It just adds a little more fun to the occasion.

Even though I have used the words interchangeably, there is a difference between Recitation and Memory work. Next time, I'll discuss this difference 'a la Charlotte Mason.'
(This information was found from CM's vol 1 and 6, the original CM programmes and PNEU articles)


  1. Chay Bigger25.7.07

    Hello Linda,

    Which CD's do you use for your hymnal memory work? I have 3 CD's of traditional hymns, but none came with lyrics. When I went to find the lyrics on the web, I was surprised to find differences in the the words!

    Thanks so much :)


  2. Chay, I don't use CDs. I just download from the internet or listen online. We were using cyberhymnal but found the following site and like it better because the music is not in midi form and there are voices too.

  3. Chay Bigger26.7.07

    Thank you so much Linda, that's exactly what I was looking for! I can't tell you what a blessing your site (and insight) have been for me these past 6 months in trying to understand the CM approach to homeschool. I finally feel ready to start and I can hardly wait to see the differences :)

    Many blessings,
    Chay Bigger

  4. You are most welcome!

  5. Linda,

    I'm wondering what to do for Memorization. The problem is I have a son who memorizes LONG passages - quite a few of them each term.

    I decided to follow your way and only work with them when they got to Week 10. When I did go over it with him in two different sessions it took almost an hour to cover everything he's learned from the beginning to now. I was about to go nuts! :)

    He wanted to go over everything because he doesn't want to forget anything he's learned in the past.

    Do you have a storage box that keeps track of what each child has learned? If you cover only one passage they've memorized in the past I would think they would forget a lot of their old memory work. Not so?

    Also, I don't know if it's possible for you, but I seen on another blog where you can click a button if you want to receive in your email box any additional comments made on the item you're commenting on. Whew! Long sentence. Anyways, I just thought I would mention it.


  6. Elisabeth,
    I'm not sure I follow you. I don't think you should have to listen to that much memorization. If they want to memorize so much, than that's great, but they must learn to follow through on their own time, reviewing it themselves. I do review EVERY week with each child, but I only pick one passage from the past, not everything they ever memorized.

    I also think it is important that you help them find a way to pull up old memory work so that it is easy to find (index cards or something). Each of my kids has a one inch wide binder with four sections. Term 1's memory work, term 2, term 3 and then the last section holds ALL memory work from previous years. Each year they just move the memory work to the back and each Friday I randomly pick something for them to recite from their past.

    I am aware of CoComment and use it whenever I think of it. Is that what you are referring to?

  7. I just found this after my daughter complained (again) about memory work. When we start our new term in January I am going at it this way--not the short verse of the week. We'll see.