Children memorize things. It’s what they are good at. Their brains are made for it.
Lean into it.
Helping them memorize stuff is the number one thing you can do for them when they are young (under 8). It’s still important until they reach an age where they can work to memorize things on their own. I’ve found that this is around the age of 10, though every child is different.
What if they are not understanding what they are memorizing?
Who cares? That can come later.
Besides, most adults don’t truly understand what they are reading anyway. Is a child really going to understand all of the theological implications of Psalm 2?
I don’t understand all of the theological implications of Psalm 2.
But if it’s in their head, it is part of their psyche. Their mind will chew on it while they sleep and it will make connections to other memorized facts while they play tag with their friends. All of this work gradually becomes part of the soil of their mind from which creativity can grow.
If they memorize something while young, they will have it with them for the rest of their lives.
Since your children are memorization machines, it is not hard to get them to memorize things. But it will require some work, patience, and above all, consistency.
I spend a little time every night helping them memorize Scripture, right before our regular reading time. (This is a good way for you to be involved directly in their education.) I spend about 5 minutes per child, going over what they have already memorized from the passage and then practicing the next line or two.
Over the past two years, my oldest has memorized 10 Psalms. On just 5 minutes per night. My oldest boy has memorized 7 Psalms. This is completely outside the normal school curriculum, which has its own things to memorize.
Sometimes there are tears and frustration. But just push through. Be consistent. Offer lots of praise.
The Memorization Regimen (How Do We Do It?)
- Have them recite what they already know. Important: if they get stuck, do not help them immediately. It’s important that they struggle a bit. About 50% of the time, they figure it out on their own. Having them go back and start a line or two from before can help them get momentum again.
- Read aloud the new line or lines. Have them repeat it. Do this a few times.
- Have them recite the new lines on their own a few times. It’s ok if you have to give them a hint.
- Link the new line with what came before. This is important. Have them start a line or two back and then recite back including the new lines. Do this until they can do it without any hint. Once they can do this last part, move on to the next line.
You might be on a new line for a whole week before they get it. Sometimes it only takes a single night. Just be consistent and patient.
What to Memorize?
You want them to memorize stuff that is good, beautiful, and true. Poetry is great because much of it was made to memorize. The rhythm and rhyme and parallelism speed things along.
We do mostly Biblical poetry. For now. If you are not a Christian, you will want to use your own holy book of choice.
If you are not religious, you can still find great passages in Scripture you find true and helpful.
There is a lot of great poetry that is suitable for kids. I’d recommend A Child’s Book of Poems to start with. I’ve heard good things about A Poem for Every Day of the Year. Memoria Press has curated a few poem books, and the first one has some great candidates.
Be Like the Bird by Victor Hugo is a good one to start getting your feet wet.
Be like the bird, who
Halting in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him,
Knowing he hath wings.
Some parts of the great speeches of history are also great for memorization. Passages from great literature also work.
You can start small, but do not underestimate your children. They will surprise you. I’m still amazed that my daughter can spout off a 12 verse Psalm a year after she finished learning it.