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Train The Brain

I wanted to write a post specifically about how we use memorization in our home schooling.  Really, it is beneficital at all ages and areas in life, so feel free to use the same tools anywhere you want to apply them.

Memorization is amazing brain gymnastics.   I got tuned into the idea of using it for home school from The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition) which talks about the benefits of using it specifically in the first 4 years of school.  I have also loved Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything and did a blog post specifically on that book.

Our experience with memorization in the home school setting has been with my two kids.  Lily (just turned 8 ) has been memorizing since she was 5ish.  Ian (now 4) is starting to memorize.  Their brains are so powerful at young ages and they think much more than they can write.  It has been a great way to challenge them mentally without the burden of writing (which comes later to kids). I think it has had a huge effect on what Lily has been able to do in all her other subjects as well.  Since she has been going for three years I wanted to share what we have been doing with her.

First off, memorization has been its own subject with Lily pretty much since she started school at the age of 5.  Memorization doesn’t take that much time, it just isn’t easy and so few people (including myself) can handle or enjoy the focus of sitting there working on it.  We do memorization for 30 minutes a day.  We have experimented with when to do our memorization class, but this year Lily wanted to do it first and it has been working quite well.  We do it 5 days a week.

Set a goal for what should be learned for the day.  Depending on what piece we are learning, Lily now does about 2-3 verses of the bible, a few lines of a speech, or a few lines of poetry.  When she learned the presidents and capitals we did 4 a day.  Nothing major, long or hard.

We learn that goal and repeat it 5 times correctly.

After we have gotten our goal learned we add it to the already learned portion of the piece.  Right now Lily is memorizing the sermon on the mount (Matt 5:2-10) She learned verses 8-10 today, repeated it 5 times and then said the whole verses 2-10 2 times.

Tons of repetition.  After a whole piece is learned, the whole piece is said every day for the next week.  It is much easier to get it into the short term memory, but getting it to stick for the long haul is work.

Even more repetition.  After the whole piece is said for 5 days it gets added into our memory jars.  We have a ‘draw’ jar and a ‘discard’ jar.  Everything she has memorized is on a little slip of paper in the draw jar.  Each day we draw from it at the beginning of memorization class and do 1-3 whole pieces.  Some are much shorter and easier to do, so we do a few of those together.

So, to recap.  Our memorization class lasts 30 minutes (and sometimes has homework if she doesn’t get it all done) and this is what it looks like:

  1. Draw from memorization jar
  2. Re-study drawn pieces if necessary
  3. Recite drawn pieces (and any just learned piece that is being said for 5 days)
  4. Practice daily goal piece
  5. Recite daily goal piece 5 times perfectly (I usually allow her one ‘clue’ if she gets stumped)
  6. Recite all of the piece we have learned 2 times (unless we are on day 1 of a new piece)

I am one for big goals, and then let the day bang them around.  Depending on the day, mood, difficulty of the pieces (or previous piece being reviewed) we make modifications.

It isn’t the ‘one day’ or ‘one week’ that is making the difference it is our consistency now for almost 2 and a half years.  I am in awe of what she has learned.  These are some of the things she has learned that I recommend for kids of her age.

  • Bible passages.  Lily loves Psalms, they are short and I let her pick which ones to memorize.  We also did 1 Corinthians 13, and it is definitely on the harder side.  She also learned the books of the Bible which is such a great tool for learning and being comfortable with looking up passages.
  • Science stuff.  We memorized a list of about 30 bones when we were studying the body in other subjects, she has learned the planets.  I want her to learn the periodic table, … but she hasn’t been to interested in that yet.
  • Geography.  Love this stuff and the kids are picking up the love of it.  She knows all states and their capitals (and a general idea of where they are), all the provinces and capitals, as well as 60 countries and their capitals (she picked which ones she learned so it is an interesting mix all over the globe)
  • Math.  This is a great time for times tables.  Flash cards are how we memorized these as well as capitals.
  • History.  She knows the 44 Presidents with flash/info cards with their pictures.
  • Literature.  Several poems she has had in her other subjects.  This year we added speeches and did The Gettysburg Address and the last half (or almost half) of the I Have A Dream speech.

We have other things in there as well that she has learned with other subjects.  So much of school is learned and forgotten.  I am hoping that reviewing it for a few minutes every month or so will help her retain it better.  For most subjects I don’t test her yet.  There isn’t the cram and spill and forget cycle.  We practice, learn, and review and it comes back over and over again.

She doesn’t always like memorization.  I think it has been a way to learn and practice focus as much as it has been about the content.  Some days are better than others for all our subjects.  (right now she is struggling with math, but the subjects change out being favorites and dislikes every few weeks).  She is excited about what she has been able to learn.  It gives her a great sense of accomplishment when someone says “You know a whole Psalm?” or “You know the capital of Michigan?”

No only that but it creates markers in her head that more information can stick too.  When she hears the name of a President she perks up and the information that follows has somewhere to stick (and a mental picture of his face to put it with).  When she learns about cultures and people and food she has somewhere to file that information away with.  She lights up when there is something she already knows that we can tie new information into.

Looking at this list (or at my full memorization jar) I am in awe.  I never thought she would be able to memorize anything near this much (or me, because I can recite most of it too after hearing it that much).  Consistency is king.

And truly, on theme with the site, memorization is one of the simplest ways of learning.  Almost nothing required for planning, grading, writing, or books.  We have done it in the car, over meals, at the park, etc.  Simple, focused learning with amazing dividends.   It ties in perfectly with ‘… simplifying, destressing, and focusing on what matters’



  1. deaje deaje

    Hey Lorilee, this is Danielle Gerst from Union. Love your blog. I am trying to live a simple life as well. One of my friends from work jokes with me, “what do you give your kids to play with? Sticks?” My reply, “Actually, yes! And they have more fun with them than all the noisy, ‘entertain me’ toys.”

    I have two kids, 4 1/2 and 1. I have been working with my 4 year old, memorizing scripture for maybe a year now. He learns it so fast! Really like that you have it as a subject. Didn’t think of that. We are planning to homeschool, so will use that idea… So glad I stumbled across your blog.

    • Hey, Thanks for stopping by 🙂 Empty boxes, sticks, dirt, kids have a blast.

      Good luck with the homeschooling, let me know how it goes. The years are worth it, the days don’t always feel like it 😉

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