Practical Application
Comments 4

Memorization “Learnt Without Labour” by Tina Fillmer

My children and I are currently reading Laddie: A True Blue Story by Gene Stratton Porter. Many Charlotte Mason principles are intertwined throughout this book, especially the recurring theme of poetry. This book gives a glimpse into early colonial education, and the eight-year-old narrator, “Little Sister,” effortlessly weaved poetry into her everyday conversation. I discovered that the Little Sister learned poetry “without labour” which was recommended by Charlotte Mason in Volume 1, pgs. 224-225.
….”Some years ago I chanced to visit a house, the mistress of which had educational notions of her own, upon which she was bringing up a niece. She presented me with a large foolscap sheet written all over with the titles of poems, some of them long and difficult: Tintern Abbey, for example. She told me that her niece could repeat to me any of those poems that I liked to ask for, and that she had never learnt a single verse by heart in her life. The girl did repeat several of the poems on the list, quite beautifully and without hesitation; and then the lady unfolded her secret. She thought she had made a discovery, and I thought so too. She read a poem through to E.; then the next day, while the little girl was making a doll’s frock, perhaps, she read it again; once again the next day, while E.’s hair was being brushed. She got in about six or more readings, according to the length of the poem, at odd and unexpected times, and in the end E. could say the poem which she had not learned.”

To read what Ms. Mason had to say about a particular subject and then to identify it in literature furthers cements the meaning of what she was trying to convey. Look at what Little Sister had to say about her memorization techniques…. “The night before he (father) had been putting me through memory tests, and I had recited poem after poem, even long ones in the Sixth Reader, and never made one mistake when the piece was about birds. At our house, we heard next day’s lessons for all ages gone over every night so often, that we couldn’t help knowing them by heart, if we had any brains at all, and I just loved to get the big folk’s readers and learn the bird pieces.”

Ms. Mason implemented this plan which was suggested by her friend and found that it worked. “The child must not try to recollect or to say the verse over to himself, but, as far as may be, present an open mind to receive an impression of interest. ….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.” (Volume 1, pg. 225). A child should naturally delight in poetry without the pressure of being forced to learn it line by line. It should not be wearisome. Little Sister further comments after being sick in bed for a period of time….”I might have been lying there yet, if it hadn’t been for the book Frank sent me, with the poetry piece in it. It began:

“Somewhere on a sunny bank, buttercups are bright,
Somewhere ‘mid the frozen grass, peeps the daisy white.”

“I read that so often I could repeat it quite as well with the book shut as open, and every time I read it, I wanted outdoors worse. In one place it rain:”

“Welcome, yellow buttercups, welcome daisies white,
Ye are in my spirit visioned a delight.
Coming in the springtime of sunny hours to tell,
Speaking to our hearts of Him who doeth all things well.”

“The piece helped me out of bed, and the blue gander screaming opened the door. It was funny about it too. I don’t know why it worked on me that way; it just kept singing in my heart all day, and I could shut my eyes and go to sleep seeing buttercups in a gold sheet all over our Big Hill, although there never was a single on there…”

I attended a seminar entitled “Nurturing Excellent Communicators” by Andrew Pudewa, author of the Institute of Excellence in Writing. Charlotte Mason’s ideas were heavily incorporated into his presentation, and as a result, I have been contemplating the concept of memorization for months. Mr. Pudewa stated that children educated today do not typically memorize poetry and therefore tend to have lower intelligence compared to children centuries ago who memorized huge “chunks” of information and were actively involved in recitation. Children would say “I have to go to school and SAY my lessons.”  Mr. Pudewa once taught preschool, and his students memorized large “chunks” of poetry by listening to the poems multiple times. One day a little girl informed him that she had a problem, and this is what she said, “In her busyness, my mother forgot my lunch, and what we shall do, I haven’t a hunch.” Sound familiar? This child had no idea that she had assimilated a poem into her own vocabulary. Like Little Sister, the poetry became a part of her daily life “without labour.” For an MP3 of this talk, you may refer to

Rafe Esquith, a well-known Los Angeles 5th grade teacher and author of Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, directs his “Hobart Shakespeareans” (students) in performing plays across the nation. How do they memorize their lines? He attributes it to this:  “I burn CDs of the scenes for all the actors, who listen to them at home. Shakespeare is just like music. Instead of memorizing thousands of lines of pop music, the Hobart Shakespeareans use the same energy to memorize beautiful language. It is astonishing how quickly children learn by listening.” This 21st century teacher uses the same techniques that Charlotte Mason once suggested but with an advancement in technology.

A friend of mine devised a creative way for her daughter to memorize Bible verses for AWANA. The child seemed to hit a roadblock when memorizing scripture line by line, so her mother recorded the verses into a free software program, Audacity, and downloaded them into her child’s iPod. What a difference this made for her daughter! After listening multiple times to the recordings throughout the week, this child walked into AWANA with a high level of confidence and was able to perfectly recite verse by verse. Many iPods now have a “recording” feature which allows a child to record his or her own words. This is a wonderful way to effectively memorize poetry, plays and Bible verses. Now that we’ve identified the success of this method, why would we subject children to old habits of “verse by verse repetitions” that potentially zap the joy of learning? Why not take advantage of this “secret” and encourage our children to memorize “without labour?”

This entry was posted in: Practical Application


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. willowspring says

    I once sat spellbound at a presentation day in Nashville during which a child of about eight recited the entire Paul Revere’s Ride poem. Her mom said they just read a stanza each morning each week until they all knew it by heart. Wow! I was so impressed. I was actually a little “distressed” to tell the truth. Distressed that this woman who wasn’t even a Charlotte Mason enthusiast had accomplished such a thing using her methods and I hadn’t! It was truly spectacular.

    Thanks for sharing, Tina!

  2. jsmph48 says

    Thanks, Tina!

    Today in preschool we had our Christmas Tea. My class performed a scene from The Nutcracker and sang Christmas carols. These were all learned by “playing” with them over the past month. We’ve simply listened to The Nutcracker Suite all month. After seeing the NCDT’s educational performance and a precious play put on by several talented young ladies, my class began to recognize the scenes just by hearing the music. It was wonderful to hear them ask, “What part is this from?” After telling them, they would remember the scene by talking about it and then came up with their very own play!

    The two songs we sang today were learned similarly. We just listened to the music for several weeks. While getting ready to go outside, or marching around the garden or while reading The Christmas story, we’d just break out into song. Now, I wasn’t quite sure if they were learning the words, but my doubts were erased today as they sang their hearts out for their families!

    The point I’m trying to get to is that these things were learned happily without effort and without us even realizing it! It is such joy to implement CM’s philosophy in my classroom.

  3. storybookfamily says

    Tina, that is so inspiring AND practical!

    Remember we talked about this back in the fall Tina? I’ve been such a failure in this area of recitation with my children! Recently my daughter, without any prompting from us, took on our Sunday school teacher’s challenge of memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism and did it in two months. One technique that she came up with was recording the questions and answers into an MP3 player, just like you’re suggesting. Now she has more confidence about memorizing and is recording for her and her brother the Bible verses, poetry, folk song, and hymn we want to learn this term. Looking forward to reading “Laddie” aloud soon for more inspiration.

    Beth S.

  4. Pingback: Soli Deo Gloria Academy, Fall 2009 « Stay, Stay at Home My Heart

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