Friday, August 17, 2012

The Merits of Memorization

I recently read an interesting article on the disappearance of memorization activities in our school systems. While the author makes some political statements I find unnecessary to the broader context of the issue, it was fascinating to think about how our children no longer memorize passages of poetry, great speeches, or other things of literary value. 

As a child I had to memorize some poetry and can still recall the opening lines to Longfellow's The Village Blacksmith, "Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands..." In college I had a professor who required each student to memorize a passage of poetry each week. While much of what I  crammed into my head has disappeared into the dusty reaches, I can still relish the haunting lines of Blake's The Tyger

There is something about memorizing poetry that allows students to revel in the pleasure of beautiful language. Often this is something overlooked in our modern curriculums as they strive for efficiency and production, but I would argue that cultivating an enjoyment of language is a wonderful skill to give your children and students. 

There are many poems that just seem to be made for memorization. My youngest sister used to entertain all of us with her adorable rendition of Great Grey Elephant

Great grey elephant
Little yellow bee
Tiny purple violet 
Tall green tree

Red and white sailboat on a blue sea
All these things You gave to me
When you made my eyes to see
Thank you God!

I was not always a fan of poetry, I found it too symbolic, too flowery, too overwrought. But in college I had a professor who opened up the fact that poetry is linguistic gymnastics and poets are having fun with the boundaries of grammar. What a different way of looking at it! So, I was wondering if any of you have your students memorize poetry? If so, what poems do you find work best with youngsters? What about older students?

I love some of the classics like The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, All Things Bright and Beautiful, Flint by Christina Rosetti, others by Robert Louis Stevenson, George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, and Longfellow. What poems have you memorized?

One excellent resource for introducing your children to poetry as well as the linguistic tools used by poets is A Child's Introduction to Poetry by Michael Driscoll. It includes an interactive text as well as an audio CD of poetry readings.

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  1. We are reading through a Children's Introduction to Poetry this summer in the evenings! Almost finished! I have a post about this, entitled Limericks After Dinner on our family blog...

  2. We do this in our homeschool! My children have at least 25 poems memorized so far and we plan on continuing this through their high school years. It's so amazing to see everyday occurences bringing a poem to mind. Now everytime we have a windy day, someone in the house will spontaneously break out in a recital of Who Has Seen the Wind by Christina Rossetti. :)