We live in a world where we have information at our fingertips. We can “Google” anything, right? But, in reality, despite all the technology and resources to just “look everything up”, we still need to memorize many things. While rote memorization gets a bad name, the fact is, that in order to learn and develop a body of knowledge, we must memorize many basic facts.
Here are seven reasons to include memory work in your child’s education:
1. Memorization and repetition are the way children learn.
When my children were really young, they wanted us to read the same book over and over again. They would ask to sing and listen to the same songs again and again. Why is this? Well, children begin learning language and culture through nursery rhymes and stories, which they repeat continually. (In fact, we used to call our oldest child Peat, our second Repeat and our third Repeat It Again.)
Repeating things is not boring to children; memorization is not boring to children. Why? Because our brains naturally want to gather, store, sort, manipulate, and retrieve information. If no information has been memorized, though, there is nothing to store, sort, manipulate or retrieve. You see, the working memory is limited and is only able to process about seven pieces of information at a time. In order to amass this information in the long-term memory, one must repeat and repeat and repeat. But, of course! This is how children learn. Whether gifted or mentally delayed, children of all ages learn by memorization, because memorization is the foundation of learning. And you know what? Children find joy in repetition and memorization!
2. Memorizing facts provides a foundational base of knowledge!
Think about it: every subject or discipline has basic vocabulary which we need to know before we can understand or master that subject or discipline. We must memorize facts and lists and vocabulary before we can move forward to understand or apply in these subjects. Would we really want to go to a heart surgeon who has to look everything up, like the parts of the heart and diagrams, while he is performing surgery? No, we want to be assured he or she is confident in his or her knowledge of the heart and other important medical knowledge, passed his or her medical exams and then put that information to practice by performing heart surgery on multiple patients before us. Expertise in any discipline requires that one has a foundation of memorized facts stored in the long-term memory where there is no need to look it up, for it is always with you. By the way, this foundational period of memorization is called the grammar stage in the classical model of education and was the method for education for 2500 years.
3. Children’s minds are like sponges, soaking in information easily.
This is a critical period of learning which our children and we, who direct our children’s learning, should take advantage of for their sake! I started Scripture memory as an adult, and let me tell you, it is a struggle. But my children – and all children – memorize easily, so we should help them take advantage of this time.
4. Memory work exercises the brain and strengthens neural pathways.
Humans need to put something into their brains so they can begin to create neural pathways in the long-term memory and create an automaticity in connecting one piece of information with another. Can you really progress in reading without memorizing basic phonemes – letter combinations to help us sound out new words? No!
And there is no substitution for memorizing math facts, for you do not always have a calculator, and having to look up basic facts is such a waste of time. Currently, in the public schools, kids are not memorizing multiplication facts. They either use a calculator or have a flip book to find the answers to basic problems like 8×7. What will they do in the grocery store when they need to decide which product is the better deal but don’t have a calculator? How will they move on to higher math so some of them can be our future engineer who safely build our bridges. I guess the homeschool kids will have to become the engineers, right? But seriously, having these basics of math or reading memorized, one has a mental agility and can build upon this knowledge because the neural pathways are established. Building neural pathways requires repetition and memorization, which is like exercising the brain!
5. Memory work and repetition move facts to the long-term memory (if repeated often enough to create the neural pathway.)
As I already mentioned, the working memory is limited so we can only retain about seven pieces of information at a time. We will lose information in the short-term memory if we don’t repeat and repeat and repeat so it becomes part of long-term memory. We want a foundation of knowledge in the long-term memory.
A musician rehearses a musical phrase repeatedly and an athlete practices drills and physical movements over and over so that fine motor skills become gross motor skills and the actions become automatic and natural, part of muscle memory. Our brain also needs to be trained with new skills and information, and the way this is done is through repetition and remembrance. Skills and facts need to be over-practiced so they become part of long-term memory, and thus, so to speak, until one can recall the information or do the skill in one’s sleep. Memorizing is how fundamental information is permanently deposited in the long-term memory! An educated person will continue to take in quality content to strengthen and challenge the brain a little more each day to keep the neurons firing and neural pathways clear and to build up the long-term memory.
6. Having facts memorized enables the brain to move on to higher thinking.
In order to think, one must memorize, review, and build on that information to create a foundation of knowledge in the long-term memory! In today’s schools, children are asked to critically think and contribute to group discussions in the grammar years without a basis of knowledge. What are they “thinking” about or “discussing” without having stored anything in their memories yet? Thinking and understanding do not occur if one doesn’t remember anything.
As William Klemm, Ph.D. a memory specialist and professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University declares, “What good is learning if you can’t remember it?”
Educational psychologists Clark, Kirschner, and Sweller agree, saying, “If nothing has been added to long-term memory, nothing has been learned.”
Thus, knowledge that is kept fresh in long-term memory is the foundation for teaching the brain to think well and in a rational way, for the ability to think depends on what is in the long-term memory, and having a vault of data in one’s brain is preparation for higher-order thinking skills. Repetition of information and accumulation in the long-term memory of relevant facts leads to the ability to ask questions, compare ideas, find insights, solve problems, critically think, and inspire creativity (the dialectic stage of classical education) and so one is able to expand cognitive abilities so new understanding matures.
7. Memorization stimulates joy of learning. Further interest in a subject and curiosity blossom.
In the process of memorizing, learners come across words, sounds and rhythms which stimulate the mind and form the character. Children come to love education, for they have things to think about and thus, they want to learn more. Far from just being routine or dull, their minds are free to acquire more knowledge, to make links between what is already in their memories and new ideas that come upon. Thus, memorization gives one a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and purpose, and is rewarding. The more one memorizes, the more one can memorize, and the more one knows, the more one can know. Eventually, one will take memorized material and apply it in one’s life or in a field of study (the rhetoric stage of classical education.)
Memorization is the foundation to ask questions for understanding and then apply as wisdom.
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How do you include memory work in your homeschool?
We have been part of Classical Conversations and whether or not you want to join a community, you can buy their Foundations Guide, which has memory work for science, math, history, geography, timeline, English and Latin.
Other resources for memory work are classical curriculum like Veritas Press and Memoria Press.
Or you can choose facts you want your children to learn, like Bible verses, a catechism like the Westminster Shorter Catechism, math facts like addition, subtraction and multiplication tables, science facts like the periodic table or bones of the body, history facts and a timeline for books you are reading.
How do you go about memorizing?
1. Be sure to repeat new information at least 7 times the first day learning it. Then review it every day until it is mastered. Periodic review is necessary also, like once a week, to make sure it goes into long-term memory because if you don’t use it, you lose it.
2. Try not to add more than seven pieces of information at one time since this is all that will be retained in working memory.
What are good methods of memorizing?
2. Use actions to emphasize key parts of the sentence or facts.
3. Write the information out and use pictures for key parts of the sentence or facts.
4. Write the information on a white board and erase a word or fact in a list with each repetition.
Whether you educate classically or not, take advantage of the early years when your child is a sponge for knowledge and has a joy of repetition to memorize and repeat facts, lists and vocabulary in as many areas as you can! Knowledge stacking leads to understanding leads to wisdom. Have fun memorizing!