Watching my sweet young son clap along with the singing in church was an almost painful experience. When I tell you that he didn't clap on the beat, you might sweetly assume that he clapped on the off-beat. Oh, no, dear reader. No such gracious allowances can be given. He did not clap on the on-beat. He did not clap on the off-beat. This child simply clapped where God never ever intended there to be a beat. His hands would shoot up and clamp onto a piece of rhythm known only to him and completely hidden to the rest of us. He almost appeared to be catching flies, his hands darting up and closing down on little odd pockets of air, completely oblivious to the regular rhythmical patterns swirling about him. 

Thus, it probably won't surprise you to learn that it never occurred to me to use rhythms or what I've come to call "ditties" in any of my efforts to educate him. In fact, I missed this extraordinary teaching tool for far too many years. Why bother? Surely his lack of rhythm would make any such efforts fruitless. But one day my previously comfortable notion of how this child learned was overturned. I happened upon this same child practicing his spelling words. He would spell the word out loud, over and over again, until a natural rhythmical pattern would develop. What was that? A rhythm? From my son? This was the day I discovered something that would radically change our schooling: the amazing power of the ditty. 

This is not a new method. Pause a minute and tell me . . . how did you learn to spell Mississippi? The old rhythm comes right back to you, doesn't it? Learning facts by using a rhythm or rhyme has been a part of schooling since the beginning. Still not sure? Let's try another one. Finish this sentence. 

"In fourteen hundred and ninety-two . . . " 

I'm betting a good 90% of you completed it with "Columbus sailed the ocean blue." You probably couldn't forget that date if you tried. Rhythms simply make stuff stick. 

When this idea began to take hold with me, I decided to test my new rhythm theory on my heretofore rhythm-less son. He had been struggling with fractions in our current math work. So I created a silly little rhyme and quickly incorporated some basic fraction rules. When you read the part that says your shoes should match, that simply means that the denominators must be the same. Here's how it went: 

When adding or subtracting fractions, you can't lose. 
Just be sure before you start you've got matching shoes. 
Once your shoes DO match, keep your shoes the same. 
And work straight across the top. That's the name of the game. 

To multiply 2 fractions, it's so easy if ya got 'em. 
Multiply across the top. Multiply across the bottom. 

When ya got 2 fractions that you need to divide, 
Just flip the second fraction and multiply. 

That's it. No big fanfare. Yet, the results were instantaneous, successful, permanent, and dare I say it . . . fun. He had the information down cold. This changed everything. Thus, we embarked on a love of the ditty. 

Start Each Day the Rhyming Way 

Now we start all our school days with a little three- to five-minute period we call "recitations." There's no pressure to quote the ditties perfectly on any given day, because they'll just hear them again tomorrow. It's similar to when I recited the Pledge of Allegiance in school as a child or the Pledge to the Christian flag in Sunday School. We repeated it at the start of every single class. I didn't need to memorize it, because I heard it with such regularity that it just naturally became a part of my long-term memory. 

Our homeschooling recitations cover a wide variety of academic subjects. We might rattle off the names of the Presidents in order, rules of capitalization, the planets in order from the sun, the classification system, common weights and volumes, fruits of the Spirit, speed of light and sound, music notes, the Ten Commandments, even the elements in the Periodic Table of Elements. My 8-year-old daughter can recite any of these and so much more. Any time I find something worth memorizing, I throw it into a silly little ditty and voilà—practically instant memorization.