Memory Work: Homework for a Lifetime, part II

As we examined last time in Part I,  there are excellent reasons why memory work is a part of the curriculum in our Lutheran schools.  However, it isn’t always easy for children to learn their memory work.  Many children and parents experience a weekly struggle with memory work that may attempt to steal the joy of sharing that time in God’s Word together as a family.

One of our local schools has developed an exemplary memory curriculum that provides useful ideas on making memory work meaningful and effective.  Pastor John Stube of Ascension Lutheran Church and School developed the memory program “Learn by Heart.” He used Lutheran Catechesis by Rev. Peter Bender as a model and starting point, customizing it to fit Ascension’s needs.  

Students at Ascension Lutheran School worship together 4 days per week, usually led by Pastor Stube.  During chapel, they recite their shared memory passages for the week.  Weekly memory work includes a Bible verse, a passage from Luther’s Small Catechism, and a hymn verse. The daily repetition provided is a proven method for memorization. Students are also graded in their classrooms on the memory work, with increasing requirements for older students. The “Learn By Heart” program follows a three-year cycle, meaning students come back to memory assignments, further cementing them in their long-term memory.

Good old repetition, repetition, repetition, is a very effective way to memorize.  However, repetition can get tedious, especially at home.  Research suggests there are other ways!  As with all learning, knowing and using our multiple intelligences (as identified by Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences) is effective in helping students memorize with lasting results.  Below are those intelligences, with a brief description in parentheses, and an idea or two for helping that learner with memory work.  You can likely identify multiple areas that your child will be drawn to, but focus on their areas of strength for best results.

  • Visual/Spatial (think in terms of physical space): have him or her illustrate the memory work.  Keep those illustrations and make a book that you can enjoy together as a family!  
  • Bodily/Kinesthetic (use the body effectively): have your child physically write the memory work on an index card, and hold the card while reciting the memory work – no peeking!  The act of holding and feeling the card can help kinesthetic learners.  Again, save the cards, and put them on a ring.  Students can go back to those words again and again.
  • Musical (sensitive to rhythm and sound): sing it!  There are common tunes that can be used as a setting for many memory work passages.  Try “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and “Jesus Loves Me,” or have your musical child make up their own tunes!
  • Interpersonal (understanding, interacting with others): have a conversation about the memory work.  Talk about what it means to each of you.  Note: this conversation benefits all types of learners as we build our families of faith.  Make it a weekly dinner table ritual!
  • Intrapersonal (understanding one’s own interests and goals/independent): have your child research and explore the words in the memory work, or have him or her put the memory work in his or her own words.
  • Linguistic (uses words effectively): ask your child to write or tell you about the memory work, or tie it to a story.
  • Logical/Mathematical (good at reasoning/calculating): make a puzzle of the memory work.  Write the memory work down, cut the pieces apart, and have the student put them in the correct order.  You could also write the verse, leaving some key words blank, and have the student fill in the blanks.  

No matter the method used, time spent studying God’s Word and committing it to memory is valuable.  What a blessing that, along with our schools, we work together to follow God’s directive to us in Deuteronomy 6:6–7, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”