It's nearing the end of your home day schoolwork. As your child begins cleaning up their work space, Mom starts checking over their work making sure everything was understood and done correctly.
You notice that she missed a couple of math problems so you circle them and call your child back. "Honey, great job on this math. I circled numbers 2, 7, and 13 that you got wrong. Can you come over here and correct these?"
What happens next?
Tears, exasperation, drama, and a melting down child because the answers are wrong, or because they have to fix them.
The typical parent response is often one of two things:
1) The sing songy, sweet Mama voice saying, "Oh sweetheart, you don't need to get upset. You are so smart. You just need to fix these right here. Let me stand here and help you."
2) "Why on earth are you acting like this? If Mr. Brown was telling you to fix these answers you wouldn't be melting down and throwing a fit in the middle of class would you? You absolutely better not do that!"
Neither of those responses are necessarily bad, but they are likely not the most helpful responses.
Both are emotionally charged, just on different ends of the spectrum and most of the time, our children who get extremely emotional over schoolwork, wrong answers or correcting mistakes simply need fewer emotionally charged confrontations and SPACE.
Try this instead.
"Hey sweetheart. Great job on this math paper. I circled numbers 2, 7, and 13. You may want to look at those. I need to go get started on laundry. If you need some help or clarification, come get me and let me know." AND THEN WALK AWAY.
What we typically do as parents when our children get wrong answers on their schoolwork or have to correct something, we stand over them. We stand over them, and hover, often nitpicking their work, being overly specific in how we want them to fix it, and we frustrate them because "this should be simple and I know you already know how to do this." For our emotional, perfectionist driven kids, and our strong willed kids, this response makes them dig in their heels.
This would be similar to you being at work all day and you prepared a company budget or put together a product launch presentation and your boss walked into the room. "Hey, this is good, but some of your line items are off, and you didn't present this information well enough in this section. Can you fix this?" And then he stands there. He puts his hand on the back of your chair and watches as you type and work to fix your mistakes. As adults, we would not handle this well. Our kids don't handle it well either.
You need space and they need space.
Another reason our kids don't do this at school is partly because they aren't within the normal emotional comfort of their parents (which is good and normal), but also because teachers don't tend to hover. The classroom environment naturally gives space. When you have a class of students teachers tend to point out areas that need improvement and move on, leaving the students to work out the mistakes. Then as needed, students ask for help or clarification. But this isn't what we tend to do at home. We emotionally charge the situation by being overly sweet and trying to build confidence (which at the moment is not what they are usually needing) or by getting upset at their meltdown. Both ends of the spectrum often don't work.
Instead, bring their attention to what needs to be fixed or worked on, and walk away.
When you walk away you are giving them space to deal with their own frustration. Their frustration isn't necessarily bad and not even something they can directly just "not feel." So instead of fighting them on it, give them space to wrestle with their own emotions without you standing over them. Give them space to own their own reactions.
The other thing giving them space will do is help your reaction. We cannot control our kids emotional reactions (as much as some parenting gurus want to make you believe you can). But what we CAN do is control our OWN reaction. We know we don't want to fight or wrestle with them, so space takes us out of the immediate emotionally charged space. When we control our own reactions, it makes us more calm to deal with what's in front of us, and it helps our kids to calm down.
What is The Classical Academy? The Classical Academy is a classical, Christian, university-schedule school that brings the style of university education down to K-12. We provide a full, private school education utilizing professional teachers and dedicated parents. Students attend classes 2-3 days a week with teachers and peers, and work at home on the remaining days under the guidance and tutelage of their parents. Check out our Best of Home AND School post. Interested in learning more about the Academy? Our next info night is April 15th.
Why do we memorize poetry? Why do our students participate in Recite Nights? Isn't memorization just "kill and drill?" an educational past time that should be drown out by now? Absolutely not!
When you set out to achieve something, the first thing you do is decide where you are going, or what you want to accomplish, then, you work backwards. You have to know where you are going in order to know how to get there.
At The Classical Academy we want to produce graduates who are effective thought leaders, people who can communicate well, and with confidence, using their knowledge, investigation skills, analysis, and evaluation to express themselves logically and persuasively. This doesn't just happen and it doesn't come simply through taking one speech class elective in high school. It begins with memorization and starts all the way back in grammar school.
Andrew Pudewa has some of the best remarks on memorization and poetry, "You can't get something out of a child's brain that isn't there to begin with." Being a competent writer or speaker doesn't only rest on learning grammar and practicing more and more writing. Students need a large database in their brain of reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns. Even more important than knowing grammar rules and knowing vocabulary words, is knowing how those words naturally, correctly, even artistically fit together in phrases and clauses. Students who write and speak well are always the ones who possess an extensive repertoire of words, an intuitive understanding of when and how those words can be used in idioms and combinations, and an automatic sense of when they have been used correctly or awkwardly. What enables this type of sophisticated linguistic talent is not a conscious knowledge of "rules," but the database of language information which has been stored in the brain.
This brings us to the obvious question- where are students growing their database of linguistic patterns? Your typical child's main source of language is through TV, movies, internet, media, and same age peers. It won't take long observing our current culture to realize that if media and peers are the main source of linguistic patterns we are in big trouble! Parents, teachers, and other adults are also means of linguistic patterns, but most of our conversing with our children is not exactly on a sophisticated front as we tell them to, "Please put your clothes away." "Did you get your schoolwork finished?" etc.
This is why we have such strong convictions about reading not just any book, but good books, to our children and students. The quality of books your child reads and hears is essential to their development of language patterns.
But is that all there is to it? Read and hear good quality literature? While reading and hearing sophisticated language patterns in consistent, large quantities helps build a repertoire of sophisticated language, all too often schools and parents neglect the other essential piece- memorization.
Andrew Pudewa continues, "Memorized (or "by heart") language was a mainstay of education for almost all of recorded history until about 60 years ago, when misguided educationists began to promulgate the idea that memorization, along with other types of 'rote' learning, was harmful to children's creativity, understanding, and enjoyment of learning. Perhaps one of the most damaging doctrines ever to invade teachers' colleges, the concept that memorization was at best unnecessary and at worst downright harmful, is now handicapping another generation of students, who, because of the sad state of the popular media, are most in need of the linguistic foundation that memorization provides.
Young children will naturally memorize language patterns from their cultural environment. If teachers and parents don't provide enough high quality models, kids will automatically internalize and memorize random stuff from their environment- mainly TV advertisements and songs on the radio, most of which we would not find to be "reliably correct and sophisticated." If we don't provide the content and opportunity for organized memorization kids will let popular culture be their teacher. If we don't provide them with Belloc and Rossetti, they'll memorize McDonald's commercials and the theme song to their favorite TV show. Memorization is not only natural for young children, it is culturally powerful and educationally essential.
Neurologically, memorization develops the brain in a way nothing else can. Neurons make connections through frequency, intensity, and duration of stimulation. When children memorize (and maintain the ability to recite) interesting poems, all three of these variables are involved in a powerful way, strengthening the network of neural connections which build the foundation of raw intelligence. In short, the more neurons we have connected to other neurons, the more "RAM" we have in the CPU of our brains, and the rigor of memorization of poetry is a powerful tool in this process."
What are other benefits of memorization?
Why poetry specifically?
So what does this practically look like? Do we actually see the benefits pour back out of our students from memorizing good poetry? We do!
One of the poems our 1st graders have memorized is "Who Has Seen the Wind" by Christina Rossetti. One of our students was working on this poem with his mom. She used the poetry as a teaching opportunity and told her son, "The wind is like the Holy Spirit."
Then, all on his own, he spontaneously began to say his own poem, modeled after the concept and linguistic pattern of Christina Rossetti's poem that he had internalized. He wasn't taught how to do this. He wasn't asked to write poetry from scratch. It's a natural outpouring of filling their minds and hearts with truth, goodness and beauty.
Who Has Seen God
Who has seen God?
Neither I nor you:
But when you believe in Christ
God is passing through you.
Who has seen God?
Neither you nor I:
But when the Holy Spirit comes
God is passing by.
This is a 1st grade version of what it is all about...Educating students in such a way that their education naturally pours out of them. This is what they have to show at the end of the year. We seek education that naturally pours out in hundreds of ways over seeking standardized test scores and a report card.
Take an example from an older student memorizing a portion of "Overcoming Fear" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
We name the One who overcame fear and led it captive in the victory procession, who nailed it to the cross and committed it to oblivion; we name the One who is the shout of victory of humankind redeemed from the fear of death—Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Living One. He alone is Lord over fear; it knows him as its master; it gives way to him alone. So look to Christ when you are afraid, think of Christ, keep him before your eyes, call upon Christ and pray to him, believe that he is with you now, helping you . . . Then fear will grow pale and fade away, and you will be free, through your faith in our strong and living Savior, Jesus Christ.
Why is it important that this rich and beautiful prose is permanently resting in his heart and mind? In times of despair, worry, or anxiety, this student will have a feast of words, along with Scripture he has memorized, to draw on, to fill his mind with truth, and to encourage his heart. Not only that, he will have a repertoire of language and concepts on which to draw as he speaks and encourages others in times of difficulty. This doesn't mean that students start weirdly reciting things from rote memory to themselves or others in times of trial. What it means is that his brain and his heart have internalized the concepts and language patterns and those things begin to pour out. You simply cannot tell what you do not know.
Students at The Classical Academy have the common experience of committing to memory a wide range of sophisticated poetry, prose, Scripture, and great speeches and having the opportunity to present their pieces at Recite Nights throughout the school year. These nights are the exact opposite of dry, boring, drill and kill memorization. You wouldn't believe the wonderful pieces our students from PreK all the way up recite. It's one of the best loved programs at the Academy.
Interested in seeing what it's all about? Contact us to attend our next Recite Night, or come find out more about The Classical Academy university-schedule school at a parent info night.