how to choose best memory work for morning time homeschool
Education,  Morning Time and Memory Work

How to Choose the Best Memory Work for Your Homeschool

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Read this post and learn how to choose the best memory work for your homeschool and how to practically implement memory work in your Morning Time and family’s life!

How our memory work journey began:

My husband and I, both second-generation homeschoolers, always knew we wanted to educate our children at home. As our firstborn grew older, I couldn’t wait to begin our own educational adventure.

From the beginning, I was filled with a yearning to memorize beautiful words. I even brainstormed grand and glorious lists.

Those were some great plans.

The problem was that they never happened.

You know how it is: you’ve managed to finish the math and get dinner in the crockpot and maybe even read a book aloud to the toddler. Then the baby is screaming or someone poops somewhere inconvenient and everyone is tired and the last thing you feel like doing is gathering all the crazies from around the house to recite Shakespeare.

This is when you just send everyone to their room for rest time and Mama sends herself to time-out in the corner, right? Preferably with chocolate!

Practical Tips for choosing the best memory work for your homeschool

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When I first heard about the concept of “Morning Time” it was a big AHA moment!

This was how I could finally make my ideals a part of my reality!

We jumped in right away with some of my personal favorite poems: “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” “Death be not Proud,” “Ozymandias,” “Jabberwocky,” and Psalm 139, to name a few.

Right from the beginning, I knew we had limited time and limited ability to sit still and concentrate for long periods, so I focused on what I consider to be the top priorities of memory work time:

Scripture and Poetry, Truth and Beauty over random lists of Facts.

Morning Time, especially the memory work we learned together, quickly became and still remains one of our favorite parts of the day!

The selections we have memorized have provided us with a shared family culture and lots of inside jokes. Years later, our hearts and minds are filled with beautiful words, elegant rhetorical devices, and profound reminders of truth.

How to Choose the Best Memory Work in Your Homeschool:

First, I’m going to share practical ways to CHOOSE memory work, and then I will talk about simple ways to ENJOY memory work within the limits of time, energy, and multiple ages in your living room.

When it comes to choosing memory work, I encourage you to focus on poetry, Shakespeare, historical speeches/original source documents, and Scripture.

Yes, there are many facts that are worth memorizing. Our own family has memorized geography facts, math facts, the bones of the human body, grammar songs, and more. Today, however, we’re focusing on what I consider the most important elements of memory work instead.

But with the thousands of possibilities, how do you know where to start?

1. What brings you joy, Mama?

Mom’s enthusiasm is the most important foundation for a successful memory work habit. You cannot expect your kids to respond with joy to the latest assigned poetry memory work if you’re over there mumbling or droning on or, worse yet, just listening to their recitations!

Get goofy. Be willing to embarrass yourself. Dance around. Have fun. I promise it will be contagious!

A good first step is to choose something that you like, and share that love with your kids, rather than picking the thing you think that you’re “supposed to” memorize.

2. Utilize Pre-Curated Resources:

You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the options. Maybe you don’t even know what would bring you joy. Maybe you don’t have any idea where to begin.

The good news is, you don’t have to! Check out these open-and-go resources filled with meaningful memory work:  

Each week throughout the year, I’ve uploaded a memory work video recitation and a printable copy of the corresponding poem, speech, or Scripture passage so you can recite them in your own families. Watch the videos as a family, or watch them on your own to help inspire your own enthusiasm!

I even have free printables for several of these poems you can access here!

This list will definitely keep your memory work plan filled for a while!

These curated memory work collections are organized by topic so you can integrate them with your other studies.

Pam’s Morning Time Plans include memory work, reading lists, and more for a complete, easy, open-and-go experience!

3. Integrate Memory Work With Your Other Subjects

Personally, I like to start with what we’re studying in history and go from there. I find original sources or poetry from the time period, as well as poems that apply to the themes or events from that period of history.

For example, if you’re studying the ancient world, you might choose the opening lines of Homer’s Iliad, Pericles’ Funeral Oration, and an excerpt from Virgil’s Aeneid as your original sources. “Ozymandias” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” are more modern poems that would fit perfectly within that historical context.

Learning all about early American history? Start with the Preamble to the Constitution, Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty” speech, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address! “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and the opening to “Evangeline” would also be fun selections to learn.

Of course, integrating memory work is not limited to your history studies! You can do the same thing with science (for example, weather), Geography, and more. By integrating your memory work with other areas of study you will find unique areas of connection and intersection. It will enrich your time of memory work because you’ll have a larger context, and it will enrich your other studies because of the beautiful words you’ve selected.

Poems to memorize in your morning time

Practical Tips: how to make the best memory work for your homeschool actually WORK

1. What do I mean by memorize?

If you remember one thing, please remember this: memory work is NOT about drill work and ad nauseam repetition. If you treat this as a test or a quiz, no one will be having any fun. If you repeat tiny phrases over and over again, you will lose the sweeping flow of the language. Robotically repeating words will defeat the entire point.

We’re also NOT working towards everyone in the room being word-perfect. Some will memorize quickly and precisely. Others will struggle. It is not a competition or an area where comparison will be profitable.

What to do instead? I’m almost embarrassed to tell you because it sounds too easy.

Literally Just Read Together or Read It Aloud to Your Children.

No. Really. That’s it.

Read through the selection once today, then you’ll read it again and again in future days. You will be blown away how quickly your children have even long passages memorized!

You think this won’t work? Ok, who out there has a 3-year-old that knows every single word of their favorite picture book? If you’ve ever tried to skip a page to get the bedtime routine over more quickly, they know! All you ever did was read that book aloud to them, but over time it sunk deep into their heart.

The same will hold true of your memory work.

2. Setting Up the Memory Work Notebook

In our homeschool, I type up and print off an “order of events” for our Morning Time that everyone keeps at the front of their notebook. Each passage of memory work is also printed off and placed inside sheet protectors. I place them in the same order in each person’s notebook. This makes it easy for us to keep on track together.

3. Getting to Everything

Loop scheduling has changed my life. I use it for everything.

With a loop, say you have 3 poems. You would read Poem 1 on the first day, Poem 2 on the 2nd day, Poem 3 on the 3rd day. On the 4th day, you’re back to Poem 1. The beauty is you can never get behind! You just do the next poem on your list, or, in our case, in our notebook. I generally pick 4-6 items for us to memorize each semester.

Block scheduling is another helpful tool for memory work planning. Since I want to be able to pause in November for Thanksgiving-themed memory work, in December for Advent-themed memory work, and I want to be able to take a month periodically to focus on a Shakespeare play, I use block scheduling in conjunction with our loop scheduling.

For instance, this year August was for regular memory work, September was Shakespeare, October was back to regular memory work, and November and December have holiday themes. We’ll resume that kind of alternating poetry month/ Shakespeare month in the spring semester.

4. But actually, you CAN’T get to EVERYTHING

You may have noticed that our family only reads about one memory passage a day. We loop and block so we are never doing all the things all the time. Start small and actually do it.

An imperfect thing you actually do is better than the perfect thing you never start.

Don’t get all excited and try to memorize a dozen things next week. You’ll burn out and you and your kids will hate me.

Other Practical Memory Work Tips for your Homeschool Day

1. Scripture Passages: try Responsive Reading

This method for memorizing lengthy Scripture passages has been a game changer. I take longer passages and type them up in alternating light print and dark print. We take turns being the one to read the light print, and everyone else responds with the dark print. It keeps us focused, and enables us to memorize a chapter of the Bible more quickly. You can see a video where my kids and I demonstrate that here.

2. Move on when it becomes drudgery

Read and recite only to the level of enjoyment and understanding. We want this to be a delight, not something that makes our children hate what we’re doing. If you or your children are beginning to dread a particular selection, it’s time to move on, even if everyone does not have it perfectly memorized.

3. Make it non-negotiable

Have a “this is just what we do” attitude. Faithful, simple consistency trumps grandiose spurts of glory.

4. Include memory work for all ages

If you have a wide range of ages, gear the memory work you choose towards the older kids; memory work is for everyone. Even the littles can enjoy the sonorous syllables of trickier poetry without understanding the details.

Recently, our family memorized a few passages from Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It.” I also got the audio version of the play to listen to while we drove around town. One day, Jacques famous “all the world’s a stage” speech began to play through the van speakers. My 4-year-old son piped up from the backseat, “I know this one!” Now, if you had observed one of our Morning Time sessions, you would have thought he was paying not attention at all. But he recognizes those words, and knows they belong to him. Don’t underestimate what your little ones will enjoy and pick up on!

But don’t neglect a few simpler poems the younger children may especially delight in. Just like the littles can enjoy the more challenging poetry, even the bigs will enjoy the goofiness of silly poems. (Who doesn’t love “Sneezles” after all?)

Help for Potential Memory Work Struggles

  • Mom is self-conscious?
    Sorry, you have to be willing to embarrass yourself a bit if you expect your kids to put themselves out there, too. Be goofy, be enthusiastic, be excited. If you’re bored, the kids will be too.
  • “Help, I’m the only one who knows how to read!”
    OK, so my “just read it aloud” process is going to be a challenge if your children are pre-readers or struggling readers. My suggestion here is to choose shorter and/or fewer selections, and to read them aloud yourself more frequently. Add body movement whenever possible. For instance, in “Jabberwocky,” even my littles love it when we recite “One Two, One Two, and Thru and thru the vorpal blade went snicker snack” with lots of dramatic arm thrusting.
     
    In the many years I’ve incorporated regular memory work in our family, I’ve always had a pre-reader or 2, and it is astounding how quickly they pick it up just hearing it read a few times. Encourage them to recite as much as they can along with you. You can definitely try reading a line or phrase and having them repeat it, but I find that can be difficult to sustain interest for very long. Only do that for very short passages.
  • Everyone hates the selection?
    If you’ve tried a passage a few times and it’s boring everybody, move on. There are too many fabulous things to recite in this world to worry about it. If you hate it, you probably won’t end up doing it consistently anyway.
  • Some members of the family struggle with memorization?
    That’s ok. Not everyone will end up knowing the memory work at the same level of competence. It’s sinking into their hearts; again, we’re not going for word perfect.
free poetry printable

Back to the Big Picture: What is our goal with memory work?

There’s a simple poem that begins, “Little drops of water / Little grains of sand / Make the mighty oceans / And the beauteous land.” These poems and speeches we’re learning in our memory work are those “little drops of water” that will fill your children’s minds with good things.

We call this “memory work,” which makes us think of the relatively simple act of memorization, but I prefer thinking of this process as “knowing by heart,” because one can regurgitate words without having them sink into one’s soul. Knowing a poem intimately causes one to think on it deeply, love it well, and carry it with you always.

So friends, DELIGHT in the memory work you choose, and share that delight with your children. INTEGRATE your memory work, if possible, with other subjects you’re already studying. UTILIZE helpful collections of memory work that have already been curated for you. Always choose humility and simplicity over an idealized perfection that won’t ever actually arrive.

You just may find that this becomes a favorite family tradition in your homeschool, too!

Do you have memory work questions for me? Please ask in the comments below!


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Amy Sloan and her husband, John, are second-generation homeschoolers by grace alone to 5 children ages 4, 7, 9, 12, and 14. Their educational philosophy is one of humility and doxology, and follows primarily a classical approach. Amy loves coffee, and starts getting nervous if the stack of to-be-read library books beside her bed is less than 2 feet tall. Get her started on Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Homer, or Hamilton the Musical and it might be hard to get her to stop. Mostly, though, she gets really excited about the Gospel. The Sloan family adventures in North Carolina.

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