Memory work or memorization is the backbone of any grammar or elementary school program that is classically or Charlotte Mason based. Recitations of dates, poems, timelines, speeches, and math tables are all examples of memory work. If you are unfamilar with Charlotte Mason’s educational theories, Dollie Freeman has some great information over at The Charlotte Mason Way.
While memory work sounds tedious to our tired adult brains, small children’s brains are perfectly primed to memorize just about anything. And if you do not give them something worthwhile to memorize, they will memorize advertisements, questionable pop lyrics, and movie scenes. To memorize is to contemplate and meditate. What do you want your kids to spend their time thinking about?
I have been putting together a memory work syllabus for over a dozen years, so I have a few ideas to share, whether you are new to memory work and are just getting started, or you need some fresh ideas. Our memory work is based on the cycle we are in for our four year chronological history study. I keep my kids accountable for making sure they memorize by incorporating it into our co-op.
We started with the Classical Conversations CDs and flashcards. Now that our oldest children are grown we have sorted through and found which information is invaluable and which didn’t turn out to be much help.
If you are a family of faith, this will be the most important thing your children commit to memory. It is amazing how those words of comfort, encouragement, and conviction that I hid in my heart as a child come back to me when I most need them. Everyone should memorize the Ten Commandments and a few Psalms at the very least.
With my toddler I have started with these A to Z Bible memory songs. The Harrow Family has several more Scripture memory albums. They nicely introduce the alphabet and I use them along with my favorite Disney themed ABC card art. With my older girls, I used Steve Green’s Hide ‘Em In Your Heart albums. I have one child that can memorize anything any way I present it. I have another that will only retain what is put to music.
For my teens I put together a Scripture memory contest. If they could memorize four chapters of the Bible, I would take them to Universal Studios. They had one year. We had fun screaming on Rip Ride Rock It.
Originally we used Veritas Press timeline cards as flashcards to memorize a lengthy timeline, Creation to 2011. Then Classical Conversations came out with a goofy song that really helped the timeline stick in the kid’s minds. We memorize it in chunks throughout the year, sometimes adding hand motions we have found on YouTube videos. One year we focused on this and nothing else. Most years we incorporate other things, but keep reviewing the timeline to keep it fresh.
We have memorized some less massive timelines like the U. S. Presidents, major battles of World War II, and Houses of England and Great Britain. Those help provide context when they are reading about events, dynasties, and rulers in history.
Nursery rhymes are the place to start for toddlers. The rhythm and meter teach an early appreciation for language. Then I move on to Poems to Read to the Very Young. A. A. Milne has beautiful poetry for children as well. By the time they read the nursery rhymes and children’s poetry books through four dozen times and naturally memorized what appealed to them, they are ready for Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Frost. There are a number of fabulous poetry anthologies (and a number of disappointing ones). Memoria Press has a lovely set for each stage. Circe Institute sells a lovely book called 30 Poems to Memorize (Before its Too Late).
My three year was surprised to find a spider next to her playing outside today and screeched, “Along came a spider and sat down beside me!” Poetry gives you the right words at the right time. Poetry is beautiful literature condensed down to its very essence. This makes it ideal for boys who would rather be playing.
Inspirational speeches are a favorite with our most dramatic kids. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and speeches from Shakespeare’s plays are all speeches my kids have memorized. Equally as useful are founding historical documents, particularly those of our own country. My kids have learned the preamble to the U.S. Constitution as well as the Amendments and the Declaration of Independence (minus the list of grievances). There are catchy little songs out there for many of these.
History sentences were a big part of our early memory work journey. We have found some very useful and others not so much. We select ones like the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Fall of Rome, and the Mexican Revolution. However, when she is trying to remember dates for an event, my oldest says those annoying little history sentence songs come right back her to offer her brain a helping hand. As far as I know these are offered only by Classical Conversations.
For students that will study Latin, Classical Conversations has Latin chants that will be invaluable. They may not understand what they are memorizing, but these are pegs to hang later information on. Skip counting songs will help kids learn times (multiplication) tables swiftly. My older girls learned the Periodic Table of Elements using a goofy song. A list of English prepositions is very helpful to memorize as are the state of being, linking, and helping verbs.
The names of the continents, oceans, and highest mountains, longest rivers and largest lakes in the world are helpful. Classical Conversations also had a lot random geographical features of each area studied on their memory lists. What we found far more helpful was memorizing every country of the world through Kathy Troxel’s Geography songs.
Since they are memorized by region, memorizing them makes any country easier to find on a map. We witnessed joy and excitement on several immigrant’s faces to find that we knew where their tiny African or eastern European country was located. And yes, Ms. Troxel tweaks the songs to make updates every few years.
This is a list drawn from 12 years of memory work. Don’t expect to cram everything in one year. There is a lot to choose from, so pick something and dive in! We can all use some fresh ideas so leave your favorite memory work ideas in the comments below!
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