Monthly Archives: May 2019

Memorization…but that’s boring!


I have been thinking a lot about recitation since our homeschool recitation night is coming up. I found a great article on Charlotte Mason Poetry called Ruminating on Recitation. There were some great summaries and examples included of what it is supposed to look like and the purpose it is meant to serve. Thank you to the author Maria Bell.

I don’t think most of us have a super exciting idea in mind when we think of recitation.

This is my narration of the article above. I don’t propose to know what I am talking about or that I have summarized it accurately.

But just what is recitation? Is it the age old boring process of memorizing things? I don’t think so. Is this tedious practice even something that that is older than the school system that we have known for the past 200 years? Perhaps there are times that this memorization for the purpose of memorization is necessary (choral pieces, catechism, etc), but on the whole I think it wasn’t. Charlotte Mason certainly didn’t think so.

What is it for?

1. Recitation is a path to vital knowledge, whether the child is engaged as a reader-practitioner (doing) or as a listener/learner (hearing).

2. It is NOT just learning facts, without having them infused with the ideas that inform them. “…a child’s mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge.” (Mason) Unlike many who believe that children have all the knowledge within them that they need for life, I agree with Mason who believed that just as we have everything within us when we are born to digest food, children also have everything within them needed to digest knowledge, if like food it is put before them. This is distinct from the idea that children are born with all knowledge in them that just needs to be drawn out.

3. When someone has memorized something through the process of recitation, it does not mean that the person is just a mere sac holding space for these ideas. These ideas, once in our minds, are like the food we digest – constantly being ruminated upon and digested to become nourishment to our souls, as food nourishes the body. Recitation helps to increase the depth to which we take in the written or sung piece, holding the idea there in our mental library book stacks for our perusal . Charlotte Mason wanted young people to understand ideas, through living books or living poems, art and ideas, by knowing them at their very core.

How is it done? “A committing to memory without labour by listening to or reading a text aloud regularly” (Mason).

1. Recitation is the frequent reciting and reflecting of something (poem, song, oral speech, saying, psalm, etc), for the purpose of carrying it with us, digesting it, considering it, sharing it. Memorization may or may not happen in this process.

2. It will likely be the habit of memorizing without a tremendous amount of work. Like so much else, it is learned by the way. When kids are young, a parent may read while the child is colouring, playing or before bed. Maybe over lunch….just by the way. As they become of school age, there will be set opportunities during a 10- 15 min of recitation at least three times a week (this has worked for us). The piece is read to the student, the student may ask about it, and soon the child is encouraged to read it for herself. At each recitation lesson another opportunity presents itself. Before long, the student is barely looking at the page. In this way we can say that our student has learned a poem without the conscious process of memorizing. “The gains of such a method of learning are that the edge of the child’s enjoyment is not taken off by weariful verse by verse repetitions, and also, that the habit of making mental images is unconsciously formed.” (Charlotte Mason).

But what if this doesn’t happen??

Charlotte Mason assures us it is unlikely the child’s fault. The piece might be too hard and thus the process becomes laborious or even impossible, like asking a baby to chew and digest a tenderloin. It’s beyond them. Something that challenges the student, while also remaining within their realm of decent handling, is best.

3. The piece should be read to the student first of all in a way to bring out the beauty, humour, or whatever quality the piece illuminates, 3 or four times (likely different lessons) until they think they know it and want to try it (they likely don’t know it all by this time). At this point they are ready to try it themselves each lesson until they have it.

Here is a great example from one of my favourite movies, The Nativity Story.

What to recite?

Charlotte Mason writes that until six let the child pick up what he likes of what she hears along the way, then “let the poems [or other such material suitable for recitation] be simple and within the range of his own thought and imagination. (Mason, Home Education).

Does it have to be something they understand?

There has to be a balance here. How much of what we read, do we understand every word or turn of phrase? Not much. On the other hand, how quickly do we completely become disinterested when it is beyond our ability or interest. In general, the majority of the piece should be within their comprehension with little explanation necessary. However, there should be parts that they have to wrestle or grapple with.

Direct references:

“Ruminating on Recitation” by Maria Belll