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    Memorization: The Form Enters the Soul

    February 23, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I used to think that memorization was a kind of necessary evil. Math facts, for instance, must be memorized. I didn’t particularly enjoy the process, but I did eventually enjoy math, which was only possible because I had facts at my fingertips. Kids who haven’t memorized their math facts cannot enjoy math. So we see that memorization has some immediate practical benefits.

    I have mentioned before that I am so thankful for Charlotte Mason and Cindy Rollins, the two reasons my ideas about memorization are maturing. While Miss Mason told us that memorization could consist of things that delight the soul–the things memorized could be a resource hidden inside oneself in times of trouble–Cindy convinced us that man cannot live on facts alone. Miss Mason, via Ambleside, encouraged us to include hymns and folksongs, while Cindy told us that poetry and speeches  and important documents ought not be neglected.

    We’ve not attempted speeches and documents yet, but we now have a nice little list of poems under our belt, a number of hymns and folk songs, and beautiful parables and Psalms from Scripture.

    What has fascinated me lately is what I have observed in my children. Things like…

    • Daughter Q. is singing in the bathroom. I recognize the tune as it is a mixture of two hymns we have learned. But the words are her own; she is expressing how her morning is going so far.
    • Daughter A. is scolding her older brother. “Speak when you are spoken to!” she yells (that’s Stevenson). She tells him to share something with someone else. “Let us give from our full measure,” she reminds him (that’s Alexander). They turn out the lights in the hallway at night. “Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark!” she says mysteriously (that’s Tennyson).
    • Son E. is taunting his sisters. He has completely re-written Robert Louis Stevenson’s My Shadow for the occasion, complete with rhymes. It is loud and annoying.

    I was listening to one of the 2011 CiRCE talks (can’t remember which one), and the speaker mentioned that Frederick Douglass had memorized many classical speeches. It was said that when he went to give a speech, the form of those memorized speeches was inside of him, and he could use them to shape what he had to say.

    I was thinking of this when I noticed my children using what they had memorized in these other ways. I had not thought that I was giving them material with which to frame their very thoughts, but apparently that is what is happening.

    This makes me want to be very careful what I choose to give them, of course, but it also makes me excited to add more to our repertoire. I love the way that all three of these children (Son O. isn’t much for memorizing yet; he wants to play cars and “twains”) are so very different, and yet all of them show signs that the memory work is working its way into their souls.

    I once called these things — hymns, folksongs, poetry, or what have you — extras. I don’t think there is anything extra about it. Feeding the soul is our job, and memorization is just as important to the meal as anything else.

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    13 Comments

  • Reply dawn March 3, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Brandy, I listened to Christian Kopff’s talk “Rote Memorization and Classical Education” from here today and immediately knew I had to tell you to listen to it. Choose it early, it is tremendously encouraging. Whenever I start to think we’re doing too much I’m going to listen to it. Wow.

  • Reply Jeanne February 28, 2012 at 6:16 am

    I am totally in awe of Jemimah’s capacity to memorise. She knows almost the Whole Westminster Shorter Catechism, hundreds of Scripture verses as well as many Psalms and passages in context. She also memorises Scripture in French.

    We learn a poem a term – of her choice. some are long; some are not. Like your children she often mixes them up and adds her own words to a stanza to make it ‘hers’. I love, love, love hearing her recite.

    I totally agree that these gentle subjects are not extras. Not for us, anyhow.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 28, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      I am amazed that she is even memorizing verses in French! That is another thing I hadn’t considered. Perhaps we can make that part of our Latin study next year…

  • Reply dawn February 23, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    I’ve loved recently hearing “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken” about my house recently 🙂

    And catechism questions… we use those *all *the *time!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 28, 2012 at 10:21 pm

      Forgot about the catechism questions! That should have been included. I think what is most helpful is that they now use this to discuss amongst themselves, which is fascinating to me.

  • Reply Jenn February 23, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Children are capable of so much memorization, especially when they are young. I am so grateful for the scripture memorization we did when the kids were younger. Memorization is beneficial for grown-ups too. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been neglecting this part of my life lately, but thanks to you I just had a great idea for incorporating this into my Lenten activities.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 28, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      I totally agree that it is important to adults. I *never* disciplined myself to memorize as an adult. But working with my children, I naturally come to memorize, and I hope that the habit becomes ingrained in my character before they leave home, that I might continue when my nest is empty.

  • Reply RobertT February 23, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Brandy – we memorized them by using some medieval memory techniques in the book Memorize the Faith by Kevin Vost so that everyone in the family knows them all very well. We memorized them first and gave simple definitions. But really the children are learning as we use them. So, when 7YO son did more sanding than his older brothers I told him he demonstrated fortitude. Now everyone knows what fortitude is. It has been pretty natural.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 28, 2012 at 10:15 pm

      Robert I had just noticed that Vost book on your blog. I see you are reading Carruthers, too. The latter is on my wishlist, and I believe the Vost book will be joining it there. 🙂 Actually, now that Carruthers is available in paperback, I might actually be able to afford it.

      Thanks for explaining this, by the way. I like it.

  • Reply Books For Breakfast February 23, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    We’re involved in a scripture memory program at our church, but I’ve become frustrated with its limitations. I feel that the memorization of verses taken out of context reinforces our tendancy to hang a doctrine or belief on this verse or that verse. So, around Christmas time (when the program was on break) my daughter and I started with the book of John, first chapter,first verse, one verse at a time. So far, she can recite beautifully the first twenty or so verses, and with help up to verse thirty-two. We’ve also added Deuteronomy, beginning with verse one. We’re also memorizing some poems by A.A. Milne for a Poetry in the Park day in April. I’m amazed at the young child’s memorization capacity. While I struggle with the same verses over and over again, my six year old daughter can always correct me down to the word.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 28, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      Okay, I don’t usually talk about this, but that is part of why we left the Awana program at our church. (Well, that and the bribery involved in earning patches, bucks, candy, and so on.) We were concerned that all we were really doing was flirting with memory work. Our children learned to put some odd, disconnected verses in their short-term memories in order to get prizes. When we stopped, I finally had room to do some serious memory work, and really we have never looked back. I miss, the date night 🙂 but I don’t miss the memory work because what we are doing now has much more depth.

      I know some families manage to do both, but I wasn’t very good at the Awana thing–I didn’t do well with everyone have different verses depending on their age, with learning new verses almost every single week, etc. Part of that is a personality thing, I think, so I don’t want to insult the program.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Now that is one I hadn’t thought of! So tell me: did you simply memorize them as a list? Or did you have short definitions accompanying? I’m curious how you did this so that, for instance, a 7yo really understood exactly what they were. I’d like to know, because I am definitely tempted to add this to my list of future memory work!

    Thanks!

  • Reply RobertT February 23, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    We recently memorized the seven cardinal sins and seven cardinal virtues. Now we are constantly using them in family situations and in our reading narrations. (My seven year old demonstrated great fortitude in his helping me with some home repairs!) We always knew that virtue was important, but memory has helped us actually use the concept in daily life. The ancients were right to think so highly of memory as an aide to living and contemplation.

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