I have had a few questions emailed me about what I am doing for preschool and kindergarten with my son. I’ll occasionally share what we are doing and how we approach learning in our home.
I’m not sharing this because I know how to do this, and know what the best way is. Not at all. In fact, I am mostly learning as I go. But I do know that I have found incredible inspiration and encouragement from observing what other people are doing so in that same way, I hope to inspire and encourage someone else.
But what you need to know is that this is what learning looks like in our home. Your home will be different. And, in fact, you may have completely different learning goals than we do. That’s okay, and thankfully we can all learn from each other.
Many people are able to do rote learning in a natural and effective way. But I have also seen it done ineffectively. From an educational viewpoint, here are the reasons I don’t emphasize it in our learning.
It Could Give a False Perception of Intelligence
When I was growing up there was a particular homeschool method that had children memorizing the Greek alphabet at a very young age. I remember children spouting off the alphabet to the applause of adult onlookers. “Look how smart they are!”
It isn’t that these children weren’t smart, but they were not really any smarter than the next child. They had simply learned something by rote.
Children can learn anything if we repeat it enough. They can learn the names of presidents, lists of British monarchs, parts of speech, and on and on. These aren’t necessarily bad to learn and memorizing has its place, but I hesitate to emphasize that because I don’t think that it gives a true understanding of intelligence.
Read carefully Merriam-Webster’s definition of intelligence:
a (1) : the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : reason; also : the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)
Do you notice what is not there? Facts.
Obviously, intelligent people will know a fair number of facts, but that is not what makes them intelligent. It is their ability to learn, reason, and apply knowledge that makes them intelligent.
Some children memorize easily by rote, some don’t. You probably know which of your kids are better or not so good at this. Because of the first reason of a misunderstanding of intelligence, too much emphasis on rote memory can be a great disservice to children.
They might think they are smarter than they really are because they know facts and lists of things. Yet despite their factual knowledge, they may not have good reasoning, critical thinking skills, or they might not be good at problem solving in various contexts.
On the other hand, they might think they are unintelligent because they struggle with memorizing facts. This is extremely dangerous. You may have a child that has convinced himself that they are not intelligent simply because they aren’t good at memorizing facts. This thinking can linger into adulthood and actually hold them back from trying things or from developing their intellect.
What children think about their own learning and abilities has a powerful long-term effect.
This is something that we as parents must really be careful about. It is tempting to short-circuit our children’s long-term education for the satisfaction of something short-term.
We sometimes feel the need to “show something” for the learning that is taking place. But very often, the best learning is happening organically, inside them, intrinsically, and does not come off in a nice ship-shape list to recite to grandparents.
As difficult as it is we must keep the long view. A love of learning. A grasp of ideas, not facts. An ability to communicate those ideas. A creative problem-solver.
Children are Capable of Ideas
This is one where I must acknowledge my good friend, Charlotte Mason. I am convinced that children are capable of learning ideas not simply facts. Charlotte Mason bemoaned the fact that educators often viewed children as “empty vessels” that needed knowledge poured into them.
No, children are human beings, and as such they are capable of ideas. These are small and immature, but they are ideas none the less. The sooner we can have our children expressing themselves in words, paintings, music, and writing the better they will learn.
When a child can re-tell you a book he has been read, he is grasping far more than when he recites a memorized lists. It is putting himself in a world of ideas that are bigger than himself. That is learning. That is intelligence.
Memorizing has its place. But I fear that too much of it too young could short-circuit our children’s long-term education.
What do you think about rote memory either from your own experience or your children’s?