It happens often. One of my kids will turn to me with delight in their eyes and exclaim, “Hey I know that!” It’s happened when our priest mentioned Emperor Constantine in his homily one Sunday. It happened when Olivia heard one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems on the Disney Channel. It happens often.
It happens because we use memory work for homeschool. My kids are building this huge collection of hooks in their brain — historical, geographical, and cultural context for everything they will ever learn.
Memory Work for Homeschool
Memorization is fun for us and we like to do it. We work on it during our Morning Time each day and play games for review. I know it can be daunting to start a memory work program. Even selecting the items to memorize can be a chore. To that end, Jessica and I have selected a few (ok, a hundred) ideas to get you started.
We start with the Holy Grail (so to speak) of memorizing — Scripture. Hiding God’s word in your heart is a necessary tool. By becoming intimately familiar with Scripture, we are able to shape our souls through the mental discipline of memorizing. If you memorize nothing else, start with these.
- John [3:16]
- John [11:25],26
- John 1:1-18
- John 14:1-6
- Ephesians 2:8-9
- Galatians [5:22],23
- Psalm 1
- Psalm 100
- Psalm 8
- Psalm 103
- Proverbs 3:5,6
- Romans 12
- Exodus 20:1-17 – The Ten Commandments
- Mathew 5:3-12 – The Beatitudes
- 1 Corinthians 13
- Mathew [22:36]-40
- Joshua 1:9
- Romans 10:9-11
- Genesis 1
- Ephesians [6:10]-18
- 2 Peter 1:5-9
- Mathew 6:1-15
- Mathew [22:36]-40
Of all the memory work, I think my kids have some of the most fun with science facts. There is something about knowing those little factual tidbits that is just fun for them. Maybe it’s because we often turn them into a song or a cheer. The list of scientific facts you could memorize is endless, but here are some practical ones to get you started.
- Names and Order of Planets
- Classification of Living Things
- Names of the Human Systems
- Periodic Table of Elements
- Newton’s Laws of Motion
- Laws of Thermodynamics
Poetry is one of those things that spans the generations. Many poems will bring a smile both to a child hearing it for the first time and the adult sharing it with them. The rhythmic nature of poetry makes it an easy choice to memorize, so if you are at all intimidated by memorization, start here.
- Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling
- If by Rudyard Kipling
- Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
- The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
- The Duck by Ogden Nash
- Wynken, Blynken, and Nod by Eugene Field
- The Moon by Robert Lewis Stevenson
- All Things Bright and Beautiful by Cecil Frances Alexander
- I Heard the Bird Sing by Oliver Herford
- Thanksgiving Magic by Rowena Bastin Bennett
- Who Has Seen the Wind by Christina Rossetti
- The Gift by Christina Rossetti
- Jaberwocky by Lewis Carroll
- Father We Thank Thee by Ralph Waldo Emerson
- The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- A Dream Within a Dream by Edger Allen Poe
- The Tyger by William Blake
- There Was a Little Girl by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- There Was an Old Man with a Beard by Edward Lear
- The Vulture by Hilaire Belloc
- The Mist and All by Dixie Willson
Ah yes, he deserves his own category. The Bard offers hundreds of choices of beautiful, quality language to add to the memory banks. Don’t hesitate to give your children Shakespeare. They do not know to be intimidated and will soak it up. My seven-year-old proved that recently at our Fall Poetry Tea where he recited a passage from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to an audience.
- St. Crispin’s Day Speech from Henry V (Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3, lines 18–67)
- Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2 lines 1ff))
- The Advice of Polonius (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3, lines 65-86)
- Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1, lines 64-76)
- MacBeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” (Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5, lines 18-28)
- All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts. (As You Like It)
- Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.(Macbeth)
- Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
- Sonnet 18
- Sonnet 73
More information on memory work
By no means do we recommend that you memorize every single word, but these documents, both religious and secular, contain portions that are good to know. Choose you favorite parts and learn them.
- Catechism – Choose the one most closely affiliated with your faith tradition.
- Preamble to the Constitution
- Bill of Rights
- Declaration of Independence
Many of these are very long. You can often find worthy excerpts online. Another Great Resource is The American Heritage Book of Great American Speeches for Young People by Suzanne McIntire.
- The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln
- I have a Dream by Martin Luther King’s
- Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give me Death!”
- The Sermon on the Mount
- Funeral Oration by Pericles
- Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate by Ronald Regan
- Resignation Speech of George Washington
- Farewell Address by Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Inauguration Address by John F. Kennedy
The Art of Manliness has a great post on 35 Greatest Speeches in History, complete with introductions and worthy excerpts.
No, not nearly as fun as poetry, but oh so necessary. The working memory only has so much room. In order to have room to do advanced computation, free up space in the working memory by creating instant recall of mathematical facts and formulas. Math will be so much easier on everyone.
- Skip Counting Tables
- Metric Conversions
- Communicative Law
- Associative Law
- Distributive Law
- Order of Operations
- Roman Numerals
- Quadratic Formula
This category is a fun one. Our ideas will get you started, but don’t forget to add more of your own favorites and have your children choose favorites of their own as they get older.
- “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered, full of darkness and danger they were. Sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when there’s so much bad that had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.” – Samwise Gamgee
- “Deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.” – Aragorn
- “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” – Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine
- “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
- “Fable is more historical than fact, because fact tells us about one man and fable tells us about a million men.” – G.K. Chesterton
- “Better be wise by the misfortunes of others than by your own.” – Aesop
History and geography
Probably one of the most practical and necessary of all the categories, history and geography facts provide a huge source of context for what your kids will learn in all walks of life.
I am teaching an English grammar and writing class at our co-op this year. I can tell you from experience that the kids who have the following lists memorized are having a much easier time diagramming sentences and discussing their writing than the kids who do not. Handy lists, these.