The tradition of memory work has long been a part of Lutheran education. Bible verses, Luther’s Small Catechism, and hymns are part of the memory curriculum at most Lutheran schools. Memory work is, for many, hard work. So why do we persist at this? We have been commanded to learn God’s Word. In Deuteronomy 11:18a, God says, “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul.” This command is enough. However, research also shows that doing regular memory work is a proven method for helping children and adults strengthen their working memory, and it may increase crystallized intelligence, which is the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience.
First, we know as God’s dearly loved people, God’s Word is for us. It is His gift to us. In Romans 10:17 we read, “So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ,” and in 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Memorizing Scripture provides us with the tools we need in life, both for ourselves and to share with others. Luther’s Small Catechism is used for memory work because it provides us with explanations – simple words we can understand and use as tools to help others understand, as well. Hymns are a part of many memory curriculums, as well. Music has been shown to make things easier to memorize, and helps us to retain them in memory longer. Songs seems to get “stuck in our heads,” which leaves them often on our hearts, as well.
Research now supports what Lutheran school teachers have long known – memory work doesn’t only
increase our Biblical knowledge and help to strengthen our faith, it also serves an academic purpose. Multiple recent studies have shown that practice on the working memory is effective not only in increasing the abilities of the working memory, but in some cases also in increasing IQ. Yes, memory work can actually make you smarter! When students work to memorize through methods such as repetition, recitation, writing, and singing, they may be increasing their overall IQ, as well. The ability of students to memorize helps them in other subject areas and with overall study skills.
The long-term effects of memory work might best be supported by the stories of our loved ones. Ask a grandparent who did memory work in Lutheran schools as a child. Can they still recall many of those pieces of Scripture now? Think back for yourself. If you were blessed to have memory work as a child, can you go back to that when you need it? There are numerous anecdotes of people who, as they lay dying, recited Scripture they learned in childhood, sang hymns they sang while young, and found comfort in prayers that they were taught in early childhood.
The spiritual benefits of memory work are clear to us as God’s people. We also find great value in the brain development that occurs when we memorize. Next time, we will take a look at an exemplary memory work program in one of our TLSP schools, and share some tips for helping your child with memory work at home.