Rhyme and Rhythm: The Fast Track to Memorization
- Monday, February 22, 2010
These little powerhouses of rhyme have become a vital aspect of our history studies. When we study a period in history, we devote a whole year to it. We act out important events, read historical fiction, watch documentaries, make food, listen to music, read, read, read, and of course, discuss the impact of this period on our world today. We sort of immerse ourselves in the period. Then, we cap off each study with one or more ditties that will cement not only some relevant facts, but also some dates. Yes, those dreaded dates that so many of us struggled with in our childhoods. But with a ditty that is repeated each morning over the course of three weeks, the memorization is effortless.
Take a look at one we created for the Irish Potato Famine:
In Ireland, eighteen forty and five,
They ate just potatoes; it kept them alive.
Then a blight came along and the crops failed for years.
One million, they died. Two million came here.
Not only does this affix the date firmly in your child's mind, but it also records the tremendous numbers that were involved. It's a great launching point for a discussion on immigration and its impact as well.
Let's do another one with the Pilgrims. But before we do, check yourself. What year did they arrive? What was the name of their ship? Why were they coming? How did they first govern? What document recorded their first form of government? Did men and women sign documents? How did you do? Let's take a look.
In sixteen and twenty, the Pilgrims they came.
Mayflower their ship. Faith, freedom their gain.
They drew an agreement on how they should act.
Signed 41 men the Mayflower Compact.
All these facts are recited simply in poem-like fashion at the start of the day. I say "poem-like" because a ditty is not a quality poem of great literary merit. It is not snippets of scholarly discourse. It is not necessarily even witty. It's second-rate rhyming at best. In fact, the simpler, the sillier, the better. The key isn't in great writing. It's in simplicity, repeated over and over again.
Who Can Use Ditties?
The power of the ditty as a tool works nicely for those using the Classical method, especially during the Grammar Phase (approximately K-6) when kids are like sponges, taking in the names of all the things in the world around them. A set of vocabulary words accompanies every academic subject. At this stage, kids are hardwired to absorb things by memory. That's why in the past, historical or character lessons were often taught via regularly repeated nursery rhymes. And that is also why the Classical method uses this time period to expose a child to a wide variety of information. It's as though kids are building a scaffolding onto which they can later arrange, build, and manipulate more complex thoughts.
The use of ditties also fits nicely in schooling a special needs child. For a variety of reasons, a child may struggle with remembering things that are needed in order to function, both academically and in life skills. A ditty is a way to make needed information stick so that it can be retrieved and used when needed. For some special needs kids, you might want to create ditties for the steps involved in making a bed, setting the table, or cleaning their rooms. For other kids with processing problems, it may be an issue of retention. No matter how many times they've seen a multiplication flashcard, they never ever seem to put it to memory. This child may benefit from some simple skip-counting ditties.
Even higher-level academics can be more easily retained with ditties. Every time my oldest daughter needed to memorize a mathematical rule or chemical formula, we put it into some sort of silly rhythm. Even years later, she can recall the facts that were memorized through rhyme.
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