Want to help your toddler build focus and improve performance all the way through high school and college? Research shows it helps to start with Humpty Dumpty.
That’s right, having toddlers memorize nursery rhymes and then continuing their memory work throughout their education is a proven but often overlooked tool of learning. Sadly, in our age of Google and Wiki, rote memorization has been thrown out of many classrooms. But now educators are beginning to realize the consequences of its absence.
At Christ the Savior Academy – a classical Christian school in Wichita for children aged four to 10 – rote memorization is considered such an important tool of learning that it is practiced daily. What starts with nursery rhymes and Bible verses soon culminates in much longer works. By fifth grade, CSA students can recite Longfellow’s “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” in its entirety.
According to Melissa Likiardopoulos, a CSA teacher, “If they can memorize a poem, they can memorize their geography and math facts, and when they get older, the periodic table in chemistry. It’s obvious that we’ve become a little too reliant on Google.”
Here are five reasons why you should begin to cultivate your child’s memorization skills now:
Memorization is not only easy for most children, they enjoy it.
The old saying that children are like sponges, ready to soak up information, is absolutely true, according to Father Benedict Armitage, CSA’s headmaster. “Children love to memorize. They may not know yet what to do with the material being memorized, but to have it on hand and internalized is a great asset for later on in their education.”
Miss Likiardopoulos says her fourth- and fifth-grade students beg to recite the “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” as they are standing in line waiting to go out for recess. What’s more, they recite the poem with meaning and inflection. “They actually get bored if I give them memorization passages that are too short.”
It builds critical thinking skills.
Too many modern educators treat rote memorization like a dirty word, saying it hampers critical thinking skills and creativity. Father Benedict begs to differ.
“Critical thinking has to begin somewhere, and so does creativity, since no one creates out of a vacuum. The best place for these to begin is with facts internalized by a student. This gives him material on which to apply his thinking, and a foundation on which to build his creativity.”
Miss Likiardopoulos says telling a child to think critically and creatively without first giving them a foundation of knowledge is like telling them to build something without giving them any Legos.
“Critical thinking is about building connections,” she said. “You can’t make those connections unless you already have the facts in your brain to connect.”
Rote memorization builds focus.
Today’s teachers often complain that their students have no focus; but have their students been given one of the strongest tools for building focus?
“Memorization is an important means to train and strengthen attention,” Father Benedict said. “All too often, we try to manipulate the student’s attention by entertaining it. But rote memorization is an act of the will, and therefore requires a wholesome effort on the part of the student. Attention, after all, is like a muscle, and so it needs to be exercised if it is to be strong. Attending, which means ‘stretching out’ towards something, should be a deliberate act. When it is, the student’s focus grows stronger.”
Memorization teaches essential presentation skills.
While watching the 10- and 11-year-old CSA students recite Paul Revere, one thing is clear: They feel the words they are saying – with stomps of their feet, hand motions and facial expressions.
“Memorizing poetry teaches students to convey meaning in words, which, in turn, helps develop their public speaking skills,” Miss Likiardopoulos said. “A lot of good rhetoric is tucked away in poetry. That’s why I teach them motions with the poetry, so they can easily recognize the rhetoric.”
Memorization fills their mind with beauty.
“Poetry has always been held as the highest literary art,” Miss Likiardopoulos said. “It has no utilitarian purpose. You do it for the beauty. I figure my students’ heads are going to be filled with something. Instead of Pokeman or whatever the latest craze might be, I might as well fill it with beautiful things.”
That’s why at Christ the Savior Academy, what the students memorize is carefully selected by a three-pronged test: it must be true; it must be good; it must be beautiful.
“A student who memorizes something is placing it in the ‘treasury’ of his heart,” Father Benedict said. “A heart filled with these things – the true, the good and the beautiful – will always be rich, no matter how impoverished one’s surroundings.
Christ the Savior Academy, located near 13th and Rock Road in Wichita, is a classical, Christian School, with classes from Junior Kindergarten (age 4) to 5th grade. The curriculum combines the wisdom of the Church and the best of secular culture to teach students to read well, write well and think well. It is a time-tested model used throughout Ancient Greek, Roman and Medieval times. Oxford, Eton and Cambridge have used the classical method to produce leaders for centuries.