Using Muscles for Memory


Wiggles! Kids seem to be full of them and they can make sitting still, learning, focusing, and concentrating extra hard!

If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em. Time to use those big muscles to help kids learn!

I have a chin-up bar hanging over a doorway near where we do homeschool. Over the years of raising lots of wiggly, restless boys (and girls), I have found the chin-up bar to be worth its weight in gold! Tape a scripture or poem to the wall in view of the chin-up bar, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly those children can memorize while they swing.

One mother I know told me she taught her very active son his phonics sounds by placing big flashcards around her large family room and having him run, jump, hop, crab-crawl, somersault, and otherwise use his big muscles to retrieve the cards, making the phonics sound as he went. Pretty creative. Pretty hard to forget information taught that way!

Ammon, my son, was a very wiggly little boy—so restless in fact that he had trouble holding still during school. (He is the one who caused me to write Happy Phonics, a game-based phonics program to teach wigglers to read!) Whenever I tried to go through flashcards with Ammon, he would end up upside down on the couch: his head touching the floor and his feet sprawled up in the air. Rather than spending my time lecturing him, I learned to work with it. I think Ammon learned to read upside down! (He is a studious, intelligent 15 year old now, who can sit still and concentrate longer than I can!)

Thanks to advances in brain research, we now know that most of the brain is activated during physical activity—much more so than when doing seatwork. In fact . . . sitting for more than 10 minutes at a stretch ‘reduces our awareness of physical and emotional sensations and increases fatigue’ . . . [resulting] in reduced concentration and, most likely, discipline problems. Movement, on the other hand, increases blood vessels that allow for the delivery of oxygen, water, and glucose (‘brain food’) to the brain. And this can’t help but optimize the brain’s performance! (More Movement, Smarter Kids by Rae Pica)

So, if you are having a tough time getting your kids to hold still and learn, how about getting them to move and learn?


May I recommend:

What to Do with a Restless Little Boy?

October 1696
Memorizing Magic

Happy Phonics

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A Moment for Memorization

louisapiesMy little Julianna, at the age of 9, came home from Sunday School excited about the fact that they were going to be expected to memorize lots of Bible verses that year and that the teacher had a reward in store for whoever could do it. She also expressed disbelief that, except for another homeschooled girl in her class, the other children were mortified at the prospect of having to memorize so much. “I guess homeschoolers just like to memorize things,” she surmised.

Many homeschool families make memorization a daily affair and reap great benefits from doing so. I recently met a homeschool mother of 11 outstanding children, and I was amazed at how much memory work her children did. From the time they can sputter out a few words, this incredible mother has them learning and reciting little poems and scriptures.

I was pretty impressed, so I attempted to teach my children to memorize things also. Every week in my homeschool, we work on a memory verse taken from our assigned scripture reading. I search out the best verse, hopefully one that describes an eternal law and its accompanying blessing. I dictate this passage of scripture to them, and they write it and then correct their work as an English lesson. They keep this in a section of their notebooks where they can refer to it for memorization. I also write this verse on an index card and stick it to the bathroom mirror where it is seen often. My children work daily on memorizing it, with the goal of passing off their verse by Friday. As you can imagine, children can accumulate quite a bundle of Bible verses in their memories, which I know will make them better people.

I love to hear children recite excellent poetry. I think it exercises their brains and gives them worthy things to think about. One of my favorite poems is “I Love You, Mother,” and I have only to start the first few lines when we are having a problem getting chores done and everyone knows exactly how I am feeling and can finish the poem themselves. It gives us a common bond of emotion and experience.

swing-407428_1280I Love You, Mother

“I love you, Mother,” said little John.
Then forgetting his work, his cap went on
And he was off to the garden swing,
Leaving her the water and wood to bring.

“I love you, Mother”, said rosy Nell,
“I love you more than tongue can tell.”
Then she teased and pouted full half the day,
’Til her mother rejoiced when she went to play.

“I love you, Mother”, said little Fan.
“Today I’ll help you all I can.
How glad I am that school doesn’t keep.”
So she rocked the baby ’til it fell asleep.

Then stepping softly, she fetched the broom
And swept the floor and tidied the room.
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and happy as a child could be.

“I love you, Mother,” again they said,
Three little children going to bed.
How do you think that mother guessed
Which of them really loved her best?

An excellent way to get your children to learn a lengthy poem without much effort on your part is to make a recording. You can read the poem into the recorder or you can have a child do this. Then listen while you run an errand, and the children will learn it easily with enough repetition. Some of my favorite poems that would be good for this purpose are:
“The Spider and the Fly” (a great lesson on temptation and vanity!)
“Paul Revere’s Ride”
“Hiawatha” (parts of it)
There are so many others that I love. These are just a few common ones to get you started.

Another good way to get make memorization easy is to use recordings that have educational songs. My children learned their multiplication facts this way, as well as the capitals of the United States. It is tough to forget anything set to song. I still can’t flip through the New Testament, looking for a verse, without singing to myself, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John . . .” taught to me 30 years ago at church!

Memorizing freedom documents and quotes is a way to understand the Constitution and our country’s principles of liberty. Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”  is an inspiring, short work perfect for memorizing. I also have my children memorize the preamble to the Constitution and quotes of the patriots.

A friend of mine hosts a Poetry Festival each year, inviting grandparents, relatives and church teachers to a performance where their children recite poetry from memory. The children dress up to act the part and enjoy a chance to be in the spotlight. This is a great idea and gives the children a good reason to learn something challenging.

One leader recommended the use of hymns to dispel bad thoughts and temptations. He advised people to memorize the words to a hymn so it could be sung when there was a need for help. That is what is so useful about memorization: many a time the words to a song or poem have come into my mind when I needed some wisdom in making a decision or needed an enlightened perspective. Consider the truth so beautifully portrayed in this poem:

robins-nest-494009_1280Not In Vain

by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Try memorization in your home school. It is amazing how capable children are of remembering things with a little practice. It gives them a wonderful feeling of achievement and satisfaction. They are going to memorize things anyway (such as jingles, TV commercials, lyrics to songs, etc.), so take the opportunity to instill your values into their receptive minds through memorization of inspiring Bible verses, poetry, etc. They’ll reap the benefits for years to come!


May I recommend:

October 1696
Memorizing Magic

Wisdom from Jefferson

Poems for Memorization

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Memorizing Magic

Louisa and kitten

Louisa and her kitten “Nimbus”

If there is one thing in my homeschool that I am very thankful we’ve done over the years, it is “memory work”. It seems as a natural part of conversation, one of my children mentions a poem they have learned that pertains to the topic we are discussing. For example, today we were talking about prayers that don’t seem to get answered, when Ammon said, “That reminds me of a poem,” and he went on to spontaneously recite, “God Answers Prayers”. It can bring tears to my eyes to hear my teenage boy bring forth from his memory such beautiful words and profound truths that he has learned and stored from years of memorizing.

When do you begin to add memorizing into your child’s life? I start when children are about 4 years old, teaching them a very simple 2 line rhyme or scripture verse. Poems are much easier to learn because the rhyming words help out. I type the poem and print it in large font and add the page to their Memory Notebook (just a 3 ring binder). I have young ones draw a picture on the poem page, so they can remember more easily. Every morning in homeschool, I go over the poem together with my child, helping him to learn faster. This only takes a few minutes, but it is almost magic what a few minutes a day can do, year after year after year.

Poems for Memorization is one of my favorite books to use for providing poems for children because it is organized by grade level and has wholesome, old-fashioned poems.  I have gleaned many poems out of the Pathway Readers also.


Pathway Readers

Once a child is reading, memorizing can go even faster and more independently. I put “Memory Work” as an item on their daily school assignments. When I print out a copy for their Memory Notebook, I also print a couple of extra copies: one for the bathroom wall, and one for the wall next to the chin-up bar. It is amazing how fast a poem can be learned from just reading it over a few times per day. The copy by the chin-up bar works very well because facts can be more easily learned when a child incorporates big muscle movement while learning. So my kids swing and memorize, and benefit from both.

If your children are all on a similar level, the whole family can learn the same poem, but I have found it works better to have a unique poem for each. For one thing, it prevents the other children from piping in when a child is reciting and forgets a line! I usually choose the poems when they are young, but I have found the children often wanting to learn certain poems that their siblings have learned and recited. As children get older, I let them choose from 3 poems that I have selected. By the time they are 12 or 13, they are selecting good quality poems on their own from the books I have.

Here’s our schedule:
Monday: every child gets a new memory verse or poem to learn and reads it through a few times
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: we work on the poem (or just 1 or 2 stanzas if it is long)
Friday: the children recite the poems to the whole group during homeschool, while I follow along in their Memory Notebook, underlining words that need to be worked on. It is a joy to listen to them! Generally they pass off their poem on Friday, but if it is long or they haven’t got it down, we may extend it one more week.

Best of all, these poems and scriptures stick with them, and provide comfort, truth, hope, courage, understanding and a host of other virtues. By the time they become teens, they enjoy memorizing long poems. My teens have wanted to learn long pieces of their choice, such as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and the “Gettysburg Address”, which they have recited to entertain and inspire at events, such as a 4th of July program.

I hope you enjoy the magic of memorization in your home. It will bless your children forever!

Here is one of our favorite poems to get you started:


If you have hard work to do,
Do it now.

Today the skies are clear and blue,
Tomorrow clouds may come in view,
Yesterday is not for you;
Do it now.

spring-641994_1280If you have a song to sing
Sing it now.
Let the notes of gladness ring
Clear as song of bird in Spring,
Let every day some music bring;
Sing it now.

If you have kind words to say,
Say them now.
Tomorrow may not come your way,
Do a kindness while you may,
Loved ones will not always stay;
Say them now.

If you have a smile to show,
Show it now.
Make hearts happy—roses grow,
Let the friends around you know
The love you have before they go;
Show it now.

                    -Charles R. Skinner


May I recommend:

A Moment for Memorization

Wisdom from Jefferson

Poems for Memorization

Would you like to share this?

Indispensable Math Facts


Math facts! Those stalwart, foundational facts that carry us through our lives, making us able compute things in our head at the grocery store and figure out the cost of a tank of gas. We need them! Our kids need them! Let’s give it our best to teach them to our kids, making their experiences with math much easier.

I heard a Calculus teacher at the university explain that most of the errors he saw on his student’s test papers were not problems in forgetting a math formula. They were simple math fact mistakes that made their answers wrong! Math facts must be learned, and learned to mastery in order for math to be “fun” or “easy” for children.

When should a mom start teaching math facts? I think just as soon as children are able to grasp the concept using hands-on objects. If you set up 2 blocks and add another 2 blocks and your child can conceive of the concept of addition, it’s time!

image-1How? I am not a flashcard fan. I don’t like drill. But I do love math games that make computation part of the play, like Muggins or 24 Game. I like the games that roll dice, and have the player add up the sum (or subtract or times or divide it) and use that number to advance so many spaces.  You can make your own games with just a pair of dice.

Setting the table is great for mental math practice. My kids, as they were growing, used to recite, “We have 9 in our family and Daniel is gone and that makes 8 and Mark is at work and that makes 7 and Emily’s friend is staying for dinner and that makes 8.”

image-2As children progress in learning their math facts, you can play a fun game we made up called “Gotcha”. Each player has a stack of number cards face down in front of them. (You can use Uno cards, or write your own numbers on index cards.) Players both flip a card at the same time, and the first player to say the answer wins both cards. Once the cards are depleted, measure the stacks side by side, and the player with the highest stack wins the game. You can use this to practice addition, subtraction, multiplication or division facts. When I play with my daughter Louisa, I clap my hand down on the table 3 times softly before allowing myself to answer. This evens up our ability level and gives Louisa a chance to answer before I whip her!


Multiplication Songs

When I teach times tables, I always start with the “9’s”. They are the easiest! Here are two tricks to get you started:

Hand Me the 9’s

Hold your hands out in front of you. Now look at the math problem: let’s say it is “9 x 4″. Bend your 4th finger and take a look. Starting on your left hand, how many fingers do you see before the bent finger? “3”. How many fingers remain after the bent finger? “6”. The answer to the problem “9 x 4″ is “36”. For the problem “9 x 6″, you would bend down your 6th finger, and see the answer: 5 fingers before the bent down finger, and 4 fingers after = 54. Try it with a few numbers and you’ll get actually see the answer in your fingers.

Magic Digits

Another trick for learning the “9 times facts” is the realization that all “9 times” problems have an answer in which the digits add up to 9. Look at the “9 times” answers below:

9 x 2 = 18

9 x 3 = 27

9 x 4 = 36

9 x 5 = 45

. . . and so forth. Do you see that in every answer, adding the two digits will equal “9”. In “9 x 3 = 27″, adding the digits of the answer (“2 + 7″) will equal “9”.

To get the first digit of the answer, just look at the number being multiplied by “9”. In the case of “9 x 3″, look at the “3”. Now count back by one. “3” counts back to “2”. That is the first digit of the answer. Write down “2”. Now, to get the second digit of the answer, you just have to find the number that adds up to “9”. In this case, “2” plus “7” makes “9”, so you have figured out both digits of the answer!

Here are my top choices for ways to make learning those indispensable math facts fun!


#1 Math It
Game-like format, great memory clues to help those math facts stick!



#2 Math Wrap-Ups
Wonderful for practicing math facts. Fun and unique!



#3 Multiplication Songs

Stick in it when you drive somewhere and your kids will be signing their times tables before you know it!


May I recommend:

Opposite Math

Help for Math


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