At one time, memorization was considered to be the only acceptable way to learn. At church or during music lessons, memorization was the ticket to success. These days, however, memorization is less utilized to commit information to, well, memory.
The argument against it is that when children memorize something, do they really understand what it is they have committed to memory? With regard to facts, figures, prose and music, once memorized, does a child then understand the meaning behind it? What makes that chemistry equation actually work? What is that poem actually saying, and what is the structure behind it? Thus, more and more educators have turned to other methods of imparting information to children in the hope that learning the "whys and hows" behind the facts will support longer retention. And for the most part, that approach has proved to be successful. After all, committing a lengthy verse or passage to memory and then being expected to regurgitate it verbatim can be a very daunting prospect—for kids and adults.
But memorization still has its place in the arena of learning. Sometimes it really is just helpful to be able to bring up a recipe, a text or mathematical formula the way Google would.
So how can we use this method with children? If we want them to learn scriptures or music or historical facts with the goal of having them stored in their brains at the ready, what can we do?
Memory verses are still important in classrooms and Sabbath School rooms. But the ways in which children learn to memorize texts and their motivation for doing so is as varied as kids are. So here are some ways that might appeal to children with different learning styles.
Use music. This is a pretty common trick that a child can utilize to memorize just about anything. Set it to music. Take a scripture and either applies its words to an existing and familiar tune or creates something original and start singing it. It's no different than hearing your child shows an appreciation for music and is able to recall little songs with relative ease, mastering scriptures via song can be a very useful method. Catchy little advertising jingles on TV or radio and finding that you can't quite get it out of your head.
The Whiteboard is your friend. This method makes a lot of sense and can be useful for children who are visual learners. It works best, of course, with kids that already know how to read. Begin by writing a verse on the whiteboard and read it out loud with the child several times. Then erase one word at a time, read the verse and include the erased word by memory. Keep doing this until the entire verse can be erased and the child can repeat it in its entirety. This is a handy tool to use with memorizing poetry or short speeches.
Record it. Have your children listen to recordings of the Bible. Parents can either record themselves reading a selected passage or purchase recorded Bible versions on CD, DVD or MP3 files. It is important to let the child hear these recordings again and again to learn them effectively. This is also a great little trick to use to memorize text for virtually any subject.
The trusty flash card. This method for memorization is an "oldie but goody." And most parents can attest to its effectiveness during their own schooling years. This method works very well for learning math facts, state and country capitals and historical dates. Write questions on one side of a stack of blank index cards. On the other side, write the correct answer. Children can spend some time reviewing the questions and answers then give the cards to a parent (or helpful sibling) to quiz them. As the child answers a card correctly, discard it. You will then be left with the cards/questions that are proving to be the most difficult, and you can spend more time reviewing them until the facts on each card are mastered.
Play a game. There are many computer games on the market that help children master a variety of subjects. It is worth it to investigate everything out there to help choose the most appropriate and interesting application for your child's specific needs. Most of these games are easily found online.
Children have so much information thrown at them on a daily basis that it can be overwhelming to wrap their brains around the concept of memorization of yet more facts and figures. But with the right tools, parents and kids can work together to get the job of memorization done in an efficient and fun manner. And hopefully, the time spent in memorization will yield results that last a lifetime.
This article originally appeared in Kids Ministry Ideas, December 2010.