This is part three in my series on memory work. Find the other parts here:
For some kids all it takes is to hear something set to song just a few times, and it becomes embedded in their memory. Olivia is a kid like that. I think she can learn just about anything if we set it to a tune. So using songs for memory work is something we do all the time.
Many times there are already songs written for a topic we want to memorize. We use songs from Classical Conversations even though we are not in a community. The skip counting songs, timeline song, and Latin chants are all available on their CDs and are superb.
We have also used songs from Classically Catholic Memory, Math-U-See, and Kathy Troxel’s Geography Songs. Yes, many memory work songs are hit or miss — not something you want to spend tons of time listening to, but they do manage to get the job done.
But what do you do when there is no song for something you want to learn? Then you have to get creative and make one of your own. Here are a few tips to get you started.
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Pick a familiar tune
You don’t want kids to have to learn a tune in addition to learning the memory work, so choose an easy tune that either they know or will pick up on very quickly. Children’s songs and old standards are good, as are the familiar tunes from hymns. Don’t underestimate the catchy jingles from our television youth either. There is a reason why “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz” sticks in your brain.
We have great fun some of the time trying to match the theme of the memory work to the tune. The kids learned the British Isles to “I’m a Little Teapot” and the five types of mountains to “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”
Stick to the memory work
As tempting as it might be, don’t stuff the song with additional information about the topic — just stick to the words you want the kids to remember. Every once and a while we add a filler word or short line, but nothing substantial to confuse the issue. This is especially important with poetry or scripture.
Repeat as necessary
The tough part comes when trying to make the memory work “fit” with the chosen tune. I usually do it by just trying a few tunes to start and seeing which one of them sticks. Once it starts sounding good, then I try repeating all or part of the memory work or adding in one of those filler lines I spoke of. With a little play, I find it usually pretty easy to end up with something I like.
Practice, practice, practice
The more you do this, the easier it will get. I can usually put words to a familiar tune within five or ten minutes these days. Since we spend plenty of other time with Mozart and Tchaikovsky, I am not concerned that these ditties be masterpieces — just something the kids have fun with and remember.
Once you have your ditty, you can then record it using an app like iTalk and add it to your iTunes playlist for practice.
Songs for memory work
The kids agreed to make you a couple of videos. First is John singing about some geographical features of the Iberian Peninsula. If you can’t see the video, you can check it out on YouTube here.
Not to be outdone, Olivia sings about those five kinds of mountains. Video on YouTube here.
Have you ever written your own songs for memory work?
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This is how my kids learn their memory work best. My daughter is known to make her own songs up when there isn’t one. Do you own just the CDs for the Classically Catholic or do you need the books to go with it as well, if you were just interested in their memory work and not the whole program?
Julie — We have the CCM books as well. Their teacher book has great information to go with their science memory work — all kinds of suggested activities and experiments. That is why we went with CCM science over CC. CCM is much weaker in the song department, though. Only their history sentences are set to song. The rest of the material on the CDs is recitation unless there is a Latin hymn.
Great series of articles you have here! I have made up a few songs, but the only one I have done for memory work was the days of the week. When my son was a baby, I used to make up verses about things that he liked: puppies, snakes, what kinds of food, which toys, etc. A few weeks ago, he got sick, and I stayed up late with him and sang them all back to him. There was only one I couldn’t remember all the way through. He’s ten now, so it was really neat to remember what he was like nine years ago!
We are part of a CC community and my oldest has graduated and is in college now. He tells me that his professors and other students are always surprised at the things he remembers and he is often asked to sing the songs he used to help learn memory work. We also try to use songs that relate to the memory work when we can. We used Go Tell it on the Mountain to learn the highest mountain on each continent, for example. Jingles really DO help retain information long term.