Practical Ways to Use Repetition to Memorize in a CM Homeschool

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth, practical look at the eight essential principles of classical education. This month we are focusing on repetitio mater memoriae or repetition is the mother of memory. You can also check out previous posts in this series: Charlotte Mason and Classical Combined, Slow and Steady in Your Homeschool, Multum Non Multa Exhibited in a Charlotte Mason Homeschool.
Memorization has become a bad word in most education circles today and even among most adults. Why memorize anything when you have your very own portable computer in your pocket or purse that can find out anything you need to know with a quick question? Probably the reason for the backlash is that memorization is usually not fun and it’s difficult (more so for some of us than for others!), but if our goal as homeschoolers is for our children to really remember what they are being taught, then we must employ some strategies that will lead to memorization. This month, we’re focusing on one of those strategies, repetition. Next month, we’ll look at songs, chants, and jingles.

While I don’t consider this list to be the be all and end all of ideas of using repetition in your homeschool to reinforce learning, I did want to give some practical ways that I use repetition with my kids to keep information from being forgotten almost as quickly as it was learned. Charlotte Mason had children memorizing loads of information in her schools even for children that were her youngest students. While most of the ideas I’m sharing today are easy to use with any homeschool method, some are very much a CM way to store things of most importance in your long term memory.

Why Does Repetition Work and Why Will It Fail?
Before we get started with practical let’s dip our toes quickly in some theory. We need to know why we are using repetition to lead to memorization in the first place. The more things are repeated the easier it is to remember. At some point I can repeat a set of numbers to you, like the first 10 digits of pi, enough times that you can eventually recite them along with me. At its most basic form, that is why repetition leads to memorization. Most people understand this, but the problem lies in two arenas: rote memorization and too much to memorize.

Rote memorization is what most of us think about where an elementary aged child can stand up in front of the class and recite the presidents or the times tables from memory. It’s impressive for sure, but drilling your children until they can accomplish this feat is probably not going to be enjoyable for either one of you. However, there are ways to repeat what you’ve learned without drill, so don’t let the idea of repetition or memorization scare you off just yet.

The other sure fire way to make sure repetition will fail to lead to memorization is if you have too much curriculum that is spread too broadly. I discussed this in my last post about multum non multa. When we are teaching our children a vast amount of information, instead of fewer subjects more deeply, it becomes very difficult, very quickly to keep up with the amount of information you want your children to memorize. Whenever I’m planning our studies for the year, especially history and science, I choose the facts, ideas, and concepts I want my children to remember from our studies. Those are the things I will repeat and focus on with our notebooking and activities. The amount I expect from each child varies depending upon age, but having a plan helps keep me on track and it helps me feel that we haven’t wasted a year of study when I can ask them what they learned in science that year and they can tell me. Don’t spread your too studies too thin or too much ground will be covered to make repetition and memorization nearly impossible.

Practical, Fun Ways to Use Repetition  

1. Create associations between different disciplines. Like we talked about last time, all knowledge is one big interconnected web so use that to your advantage when you want your children to memorize. Instead of repeating facts about Paul Revere, show them the portrait of Revere painted by John Singleton Copley. Explain that having his portrait painted meant Revere was an important man in Boston and holding a silver teapot with tools lying in front of him reminds us of his profession as a silversmith. Also it’s a good way to have children remember Revere’s participation in the Boston Tea Party. You just succeeding in repeating information that you wish your children to know about Revere without drilling it, but associating his life through art.

2. Use visual and artistic methods. We studied Latin together this year for the first time and one of the things I had my girls do was create Latin vocabulary notebooks. Instead of merely copying the words and their definition, I had each girl illustrate the word’s definition in their notebook. For poēta, Sophia drew a picture of William Blake sitting at a desk with a feather quill thinking, “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,” which was a poem we were memorizing at the time. She brought in her own associations across disciplines in that assignment!
When we were memorizing a passage from A Midsummer Night’s Dream some of the lines referenced different flowers growing on a river bank. I found pictures of the different flowers online and printed them out so when the girls were trying to memorize the passage, they could touch the picture of the flower they were talking about.

3. Play games. There are lots of educational games on the market and we own quite a few. They are wonderful to use as a fun way to review. One of our favorites is Timeline which all my kids like to play. It really helps with learning the order of events in world history and it’s a quick game. There are lots of online games the kids enjoy to help review information: Prodigy for math concepts, Reflex Math for math fact review, and Sheppard Software to review almost everything, but especially geography. However, we also make a lot of games. Grace made a version of Clue that was all about mythology. The rooms were various places mentioned in Greek mythology, the characters were different Greek gods and heroes, and the weapons were taken from Greek myths as well like a lightning bolt and Medusa’s head. We also made a board game to review Spanish vocabulary a couple of years ago out of a cereal box. Depending on the space you landed on, you would translate a word or sentence from English to Spanish or from Spanish into English. It was super fun and the kids never realized it was repetition leading to memory.

4. Look for built in review in your curriculum. Once I started thinking about it, I realized that almost all of the curriculum we use has review built into it. The spelling curriculum I use for my oldest, Apples and Pears, is constantly going back and reviewing words and spelling patterns. I use a studied dictation approach for Sophia like Charlotte Mason espoused using the vintage spelling book, Modern Speller. The book is set up to constantly review words that have previously been studied as well. Even our mastery based math books have review built into them as well because previous skills are touched on again and again in subsequent chapters. The phonics program I used with Sophia, Logic of English, is awesome at built in review using games and speed drills to remember phonograms so that learning them is pretty much painless. Let curriculum work for you in this area!

5. Point out practical applications. Grace is finishing up Math U See Epsilon this summer and as we’ve worked through the book, which is all about fractions, I’ve explained to her how useful it is to know how to manipulate fractions when it comes to cooking (something she loves to do), so for part of her “school” time, I would bring her a recipe and ask her to double it, halve it, third it, etc. By having her do this, I’m not only answering her question of “why do I have to learn this?” but I’m using repetition to make sure she remembers the steps to multiply, divide, add, and subtract fractions.

6. Let them be the teacher. One of the best ways to learn something is to have to teach it. Every evening, I try to let the kids tell their father one thing they learned about during school that day or demonstrate something they’ve mastered. Sometimes I give them a heads up ahead of time so they can really give a thorough presentation. For example, Grace recently learned about photosynthesis so I told her that I’d like for her to use her diagram she drew of the process and explain it at dinner that night. Come to find out, she didn’t understand it as well as she thought since she had to reference some books to make sure she said things correctly. She had to use repetition of what we’d already learned to memorize the process of photosynthesis.

7. Implement a Charlotte Mason style assessment week. In most CM schools at the end of the quarter or semester, there would be one week set aside for assessments of what the children had learned. I’m not talking about standardized tests or tests at all, but a time to present the body of knowledge they had learned. I’ve never actually scheduled these assessment weeks into our school year, although I might give it a whirl this year, but I think using some out of the box assessments that week would be a really fun way to see how much we’ve all learned. One spontaneous assessment that happened this year is I asked Grace to tell me all she knew about Hammurabi who we’d been studying for history. She decided this was the perfect time to throw a costume together, give me a list of questions to be the reporter, and have an interview with the ancient Babylonian king himself. I still think back on that and what a fun way to do a “test” for history. Assessing how much your children have learned doesn’t necessarily mean filling in bubbles or a pop quiz, it could be a great way to add in some repetition of what they’ve been learning.

Interested to see what the other Everyday Scholé ladies think about using repetition in your homeschool? Click on the pictures below to find out. I promise you that it will be good stuff!


What practical, fun ways do you use repetition in your homeschool?

Multum Non Multa Exhibited in a Charlotte Mason Homeschool

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth, practical look at the eight principles of classical education. This month we are looking specifically at multum non multa or much not many. You can also check out the previous posts in this series:  Charlotte Mason and Classical Combined and Slow and Steady in Your Homeschool.

Less is more. Quality over quantity. Depth not breadth. Jack of all trades, but a master of none. All of these quips are English equivalents to the second principle of Classical education: multum non multa or much not many. This concept is readily seen in our everyday lives. All of us have discovered that threshold of how much we can handle before we are doing too many things that we can’t do any of them well. The irony of the situation is that in the realm of education, the opposite seems to be true. Everyone crams more and more subjects into the school day because there is just so much children need to learn.  However, logically and scientifically, we know that this is a faulty approach. As Dr. Perrin says in his video, “What exactly do you remember about your public school education? Do you feel you mastered any subject or just skimmed a variety of topics?” So what did educators of days gone by, specifically Charlotte Mason, know that we have forgotten today?

When you look at the schedules of classes from Charlotte Mason’s schools, the amount of subjects covered seems to be the total opposite of multum non multa. It’s true that when you write out the subjects covered in a traditional Charlotte Mason education you discover a lot of boxes to check off, grammar, writing, foreign language, nature study, history, music, math, copy work, Plutarch, etc. How am I supposed to create an educational experience for my children which is deep and rich into a handful of subjects at a time when there are so many items that must be covered in a Charlotte Mason education? Here are four core Charlotte Mason tenets that actually promote multum non multa.

Spreading the Feast
Of all the educational ideas CM espoused this one seems to fly directly in the face of multum non multa. It’s hard to focus on a few subjects at a time (depth) if you’re trying to spread the feast of knowledge for your students (breadth). Unfortunately I believe this phrase is woefully misunderstood. Imagine for a moment you are an ant on the trunk of an aspen tree. You climb down, down, down the trunk until you are underground. Once you reach the tree’s root system you discover that multiple root systems are intertwined below. You follow along some of the roots before deciding to head above ground again. When you emerge, you find yourself on an aspen tree a few yards from the first tree. At that moment, you realize that all of the aspen trees in this grove have an interconnected root system. On the surface they look like individual trees, but below ground they are actually all entwined.

Spreading the feast is just like a grove of aspen trees. On the surface it looks like separate items or subjects of a feast of knowledge, but as you study and learn, the more related and connected the subjects become. Charlotte Mason actually incorporated time for this to occur in the school day. She knew that the goal of education was not to have a wide knowledge about a variety of subjects, but to take your knowledge and make connections across subjects and ideas that can only be found when a student can really spend time in their studies.

Cross Discipline Usefulness  
Charlotte Mason was a firm believer in using one educational practice to cover as many educational components as possible. This belief is most seen in language arts. In a CM school, students would use their copy work or dictation for the day to cover grammar, writing, and spelling. And where did teachers get the sentences or paragraphs for the students? Right out of the awesome living books the children were reading about various subjects. Today in most CM homeschools we treat these disciplines as separate subjects, but they were not. They were completely intertwined. The problem is that usually we, as parents, do not feel competent enough in our own grammar and writing knowledge to use copy work or dictation as a jumping off point to teach. I’m actually attempting this approach with Sophia right now and so far so good. It takes a little more preparation on my part, but it’s really given richness to our language arts study that was missing before.

Nature study was another area that did double duty in Charlotte Mason schools. Usually we tack nature study on our week as something fun to do if we can make it work, but if we get too busy it’s one of the first things tossed aside. Spending time outdoors in nature was an enormous part of CM teaching philosophy. Throughout all grades, students spent the bulk, if not all, of their afternoons outdoors. Of course, they weren’t formally doing nature study that entire time, but they were to be constantly observing. Why? Because this was science. Observation, learning about the world around you, and knowledge of wildlife and plants are how science was learned throughout elementary grades. Every one of the science disciplines (biology, physics, chemistry, etc.) are found in nature. In many homeschools today, though, studying science via the natural world is pushed aside so that science can be studied in separate disciplines each year. 

The hallmark of a CM education is narration. Unfortunately it is usually misunderstood and misused. Narration once you pass the early elementary grades is more than just a retelling of what they read or what you read. Narration in the older grades is the time when the connections of learning, the diving deep, are made. As children narrate they are to use past knowledge and learning and incorporate it into their current studies. The observations made are children showing they are diving deep, they are truly understanding, they are climbing around the root system and crawling up another tree.

As a CM homeschooler it helps me to know this is the goal of narration. I can help my oldest child draw out those connections by listening to her narration and asking questions (socratic method in classical education vernacular) to help her think about what she’s read in a deeper way, leading her to some of those connections by discussion and a mutual sharing of ideas and experiences. She almost always comes back to me after these talks and adds more to the conversation because she’s been ruminating on her own.

Living Books
The quote from which multum non multa originates is specifically in reference to books. It’s better to read great books than many books. I’m sure Charlotte Mason would have given a hearty, “Amen!” in response.  She knew that children love to listen and read well-crafted narratives on a variety of subjects. She also knew that these books needed to be savored and experienced slowly. While CM was a lover of great books, she also didn’t over schedule them. One of the first things I noticed when I began really exploring CM’s original school schedules is how long the students would read a book. Some were read over the course of two or more years. Most were read slowly over a semester. The amount of living books that were read, though, were relatively miniscule compared to the lists of books read by CM homeschoolers today.

I struggle so much with this so I made it a point this year to 1) schedule required reading and 2) not over-schedule required reading. Such a struggle when you love books as much as I do and want your children to read them all! However, I can honestly say that the slower pace has benefited us all. The kids are really able to learn from the books and by the time we finish, they feel like old friends because we’ve spent so much time with them. The most unexpected benefit was that I found my children chasing rabbit trails on their own time because of something they read in a living book. This exploration and self-directed learning is what multum non multa is all about.

For further reading on multum non multa and how it works, check out the posts by my fellow Everday Scholé bloggers, Tonia and Sarah.


How do you practice multum non multa in your homeschool?

Slow and Steady in Your Homeschool

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth, practical look at the eight principles of classical education. This month we are looking specifically at festina lente or make haste slowly. You can find my introductory post about combining classical principles and Charlotte Mason here.

One of the biggest worries and concerns I see voiced in the homeschool community is some aspect of “is my child behind.” Usually the parent begins their question by citing something a child of similar age or grade level is doing in the public schools or in another homeschool family. If you have had this worry, then this principle of classical education is for you.

Festina lente is a Latin phrase that is translated “make haste slowly.” The classic example of this principle is Aesop’s tale of The Tortoise and the Hare in which the natural winner of the race should be the hare but due to his over confidence and start and stop approach comes in last because the tortoise keeps plodding along, however slowly, but at a steady pace. A child who is mastering the material, however slowly, will have an advantage over a child who is pushed to run ahead based on the faulty idea that they are “behind.”

Two Ways to Turn Your Child into the Hare

1) Running ahead when the foundation has not been properly laid. When we are so worried about keeping on pace to meet some arbitrary standard {that’s an entire other soapbox I could wax poetically about!}, it is very easy to push our children on in their work when they don’t have the basics they need to move ahead. For example, Grace has a difficult time memorizing items in general. I never made a huge issue out of this even when it came to math facts. I listened to other homeschoolers that encouraged me she would eventually learn them without too much work on either of us. Nope, didn’t happen. It came back to slow her down when it was time for long division because you really need to have those multiplication facts down to work a division problem. Long division is difficult enough for most children without having to throw in the added impediment of trying to remember your multiplication facts. Needless to say, we had to put math on hold for a bit and concentrate on fact practice. If I hadn’t let her run ahead and made sure she had a solid foundation, we would not have needed to stop and back track.

2) Jumping over skills. This idea is similar to the first, but in this case you’ve given the foundation material and now you try to jump ahead in skill since you know the foundation is there. Recently Sophia finished her cursive workbook so, of course, I was certain she was ready to begin writing in cursive. The very next time she had a sentence of copywork to do, I told her to use her newly learned skill and do it in cursive. She made it through one word before she tossed her pencil on the table with tears in her eyes and informed me that she couldn’t do it. At which point, I was mentally kicking myself because it became obvious to me that I was turning her into a hare! Even though she knew the individual letter formation (foundational), she had not practiced enough at joining the letters to be successful at what I was asking her to do. I was jumping straight to mastery, which is the goal of festina lente, without taking the steps needed to insure an easy transition.

Applying Festina Lente to Two Common Homeschool Philosophies

When I started this series last month, I wanted to show how these seven classical education philosophies dovetail nicely with Charlotte Mason and other common homeschool approaches with which I’m familiar. We’ve all seen the fallout of the inability to apply festina lente in public schools due to the model on which public schools work. Teachers, despite how much they wish to, cannot put instruction on pause until Johnny and Susie have mastered the basics. They are teaching a class and must move on as needed to get the kids ready for the test {another soapbox which I could rant for days about!}. I bring up public schools because festina lente is definitely a classical education philosophy that is just a good education practice in general, so let’s see how you can use it in a non-classical homeschool.

Festina Lente and Charlotte Mason
One of the things I find most inspiring about Charlotte Mason’s schools is the students were grouped into levels, not grades, that were ability based instead of birthday based, like the public school system with which we are familiar. Usually within one level (or forms as CM referred to them), you would have multiple ages, and you entered that level based upon what you had mastered previously. In other words, you didn’t just jump into a level you were not adequately prepared for. I so wish that the American system would take this approach, and I wish more homeschoolers would view their child’s education this way as well. I’m not saying you should never talk about what grade your child would be in if they were in the public school, sometimes our children need to know those things for outside activities. Instead be aware that educationally if the cover of the math textbook says 5 on it, but your child is struggling with most of the lessons or some of the basic concepts presented in the book, you should NOT press on just because their birth date would place them in the grade 5 math book. Take a page from Charlotte Mason and put in place the principle of festina lente, work toward mastery not toward a grade level.

Festina Lente and a Traditional Homeschool
While I’m not a traditional homeschooler, I was a teacher in my former life so I know the system of using textbooks and workbooks as your main method of instruction for all subjects. The number one area in which I know textbooks and workbooks give a false sense of security is that if my child finishes the textbook/workbook for the year, then they have mastered the material contained within. Um….no. It means they have finished a textbook/workbook over the course of your homeschool year. To attain mastery of the subject, you might have more work to do. Think back to your school days. Usually you came relatively close to finishing a textbook over a year. How much of your high school Spanish do you feel that you mastered? Do you still know a few phrases here and there or could you say that you mastered the language? Did completing two or three years of work on a foreign language bring you to mastery? For everyone I’ve ever met that answer is no. Don’t fall into the trap of believing completion of curriculum equals proficiency. There is nothing wrong on stopping or backing up if you child needs more help, but there is a problem if you push ahead because it’s time for the next textbook. Also, there is nothing wrong with skipping entire chapters or half the exercises in the book if your child has already shown they have mastered the material. Focus on your child really learning the material, mastering it, instead of finishing it and calling that mastery.

My Disclaimer

Children and their abilities are different from one child to next. The amount of time it takes one child to master something will be very different with how long it takes another child to master the same skill. There is nothing wrong with your child, or you, if it does take longer than what it takes other children of the same age. Turning them into a hare because you are worried about the grade level on a book or curriculum is not the correct approach. Make haste slowly. Teach them at their pace making sure they master each step, and they will, in the long run, be better off and feel more successful.
On the other hand if you have a child who is gifted that doesn’t mean they will immediately master everything they come across. Be sure to watch for pockets of learning where they have not mastered the material or skills they have jumped over. Sometimes gifted children need the festina lente principle applied the most because they do seem to be a rabbit and speed through things, but the ability to learn quickly does not always equal mastery.

Check out what Tonia and Sara had to say about festina lente and how they implement this classical principle in their homeschool.


Do you struggle with festina lente in your homeschool as opposed to running ahead?