Pouring the Footing: Memory Work With Little Children, by Lisa Appelo

My Facebook feed has been saturated with uploads of kids lip syncing the Frozen soundtrack. It’s the most recent confirmation of what we all know – kids have an amazing capacity to memorize, and they enjoy it! Learning by heart is almost a game for little ones. And while it looks like fun to your littles, memory work has enormous academic benefits.

Memorizing teaches the rhythm and patterns of language. It helps to increase vocabulary and flexes the neural passages for more complicated memorization later (hello, Periodic Table!). Memory work provides a respite from seat work for the wiggly preschooler and is our kids’ first introduction to public speaking as they recite to family. Finally – and my favorite – memorizing allows even the young child to own the verses and information. I love when my littlest leans over and excitedly whispers, “That’s our verse!” after hearing something we memorized.

So given the benefits of memorization, the next question is what to memorize. In preschool and kindergarten, my kids have learned primarily scripture (Psalms and whole chapters), poems, math facts, months and days, address and phone information and hymns. Psalm 23 is an excellent place to start. We’ve also enjoyed the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Both are iconic cultural pieces and filled with metaphor and allusion. My kids have also worked through Level One of Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization by the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Level One moves from shorter to longer poems, helping the child to build his memory. The selections are excellent for preschoolers and kindergartners and include zany poems by Ogden Nash (“Ooey Gooey was a worm . . . “) and timeless childhood favorites from Robert Louis Stevenson (“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me. . . “). Another venerable resource is The Harp and Laurel Wreath by Laura Berquist. This book is laid out by age and can be used with even young children.

Now that you have an idea of what to memorize, how do you go about it? First, do what works for your family. We don’t have one set memory period in ours. In the morning, we memorize scripture as a family during our Bible study time. Later, after some independent seat work, I meet with my younger two for Level One of Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization. Other memory work is done as needed. Math facts are part of the daily math lesson, and hymns are memorized with a CD as we run errands in the car.

Adding sign language, music, or chanting the natural rhythm of the piece can help to memorize. When memorizing long portions of scripture or poetry, we use American Sign Language or make our own hand motions. This is an excellent site to find ASL signs. Using hand motions is a great mnemonic and adds some fun. Music is also helpful. We have friends who have set whole chapters of scripture to their own melody and can successfully recall it years later. Chanting the selection or overemphasizing the poem’s natural rhythm also helps us memorize it.

Adding memory work to a day filled with math and babies and writing and laundry may seem difficult. It’s tempting to do it tomorrow or set it aside altogether. But memory work is really fairly easy and can be done as you feed the baby or fold laundry. Starting memory work for even 10 – 15 minutes a day will help your preschooler or kindergartener lay the footing for deeper and more complex learning in later years. It’s been one of our family’s favorite shared experiences, and it’s also been one of the best academic pursuits we’ve done while our kids were little.

Lisa Appelo is in the 16th year of homeschooling her seven children. The oldest three were homeschooled through high school and went on to their first choice colleges. Lisa continues to teach the others in grades 2nd through high school at home, most recently as a suddenly widowed single mom. Each day is an adventure in life and grace.


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