Classical Beginnings: Memorization
Contributing Author: Mrs. Anni Maestri, Choir Teacher & Curriculum Writer
"Pharaoh, Pharaoh don't you know,
you should let God’s people Go!”
I hear this cute song as I walk down the hall in the C building. The little voices of the Kindergarteners singing about the ten plagues to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” makes me smile. If I travel to the D building, I might hear the eight times tables sung to the tune of “Star Wars Imperial March,” coming from a fourth grade class or the Gettysburg Address wafting out of the second grade. If I hop over to the B building, I can hear the sixth grade polishing the last verses of Romans chapter 8 and the fifth grade reciting John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Barbara Frietchie.”
What is memorization and why is it used so much? I know it's not because it makes me and the grandparents smile, and it better be more than just for the pride of the teachers when a tour comes through, so what is it?
The fancy way of describing it would be “Recitation and Memory work is a foundational element of classical pedagogy.” But if I were explaining that to our third grader I would say, “Honey, it is a very important part of how you learn at a classical school.”
Recently our two younger daughters became interested in Legos. I have helped them build a little and as with most building projects, real or brick sized, you need a strong foundation so your creation won’t tumble over. (I think there is a Bible story about this principle, but I digress.) Memory work provides this foundation for building on later. Memory work takes a piece of information and lays it firmly in the child's mind through repetition and recitation. Then as they grow, another brick is laid and a connection is made. So that when a first grader is asked the name of an explorer who discovered the new world they might say:
“Row row row your boat
America's so new
Leif the Lucky Erickson
Viking brave and true”
Or when a seventh grader is asked about the meaning behind the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths” . . . it is easy for them to freshen up something they committed to memory in second grade.
Memory work makes laying these bricks fun and easy.
How is it fun and easy? Done well the students will memorize something without realizing it. Just repeating it over a little every day will have most students singing it in the car on the way home. Just saying it together with the class through call and response or memory games like sparkle or erasing one word at a time off the board will soak it in the students minds and they don’t even realize it!!! Giving students these bricks in a simple way let’ them succeed in their school work by recalling what they have learned to their advantage. If a student can sing through a definition they learned for a chemistry test or say a poem to answer a question about an element of art, or skip count to find the right answer in math the student will build confidence in their abilities enabling them to succeed even more.
Why is Memory the tool we choose to focus on so much? Memorization is knowledge’s “I.V.” to the brain. Children are programmed to repeat and repeat. Let me repeat. Children are created to repeat and repeat. If you have spent time with any child you might have heard a song or story or a knock-knock joke more than once. Children love to watch the same movie over and over (Lord help me, I can’t watch “Blue's Clues" without twitching) and they love to make up songs about nothing and sing them like a skipping CD. It’s how they were designed.
We can take a page from our great Creator’s playbook and give the students worthwhile things to say, over and over. What better than hiding the Word in their heart so that when they are old they won’t depart from it. So, ask your kids what poem they are learning, or to skip count by the number nine, or what their verse is for the week. I bet they will be able to rattle it off to you without so much as breaking a sweat.