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LEARNING BY HEART

Language Arts

RECITATION

Recitation is more than memorizing: memorizing is committing information to memory, but not necessarily comprehending it. The difference between memorizing a poem and reciting a poem lies in the technique and emotion used to portray the meaning behind the words. And to be able to portray the author’s thoughts you must comprehend the meaning, not just memorize words.

Literature is full of examples of recitation: in Sense and Sensibility, Marianne could not stand listening to someone read unless they read it with emotion. Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables brought her audience to tears when she recited poetry. Recitation is an important step towards eloquently reading-aloud, public speaking, acting, and even singing.

Furnish the Mind

The Greeks used the term “furnishing the mind” to describe committing something to memory. I love the imagery of our mind being “furnished” with beautiful and useful words: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden” and “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow.” Our children’s minds will be furnished with words–desirable or not– and we are the interior designers. When you recite phrases over and over again they become a part of your vocabulary. Your vocabulary is the material that you use to build your thoughts and ideas, and your thoughts influence who you will become. 

Learn by Heart

While we were reading the New Testament this past year, I took note of each time the Savior quoted scripture. It was fascinating to see how often he quoted past prophets, and I visualized Mary reading the scriptures and helping her son learn by heart the passages that she felt he would need someday. 

“Great power can come from memorizing scriptures. To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It is like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change” (Richard G. Scott,“The Power of Scripture,” Ensign, Nov. 2011, 6).

When we recite something, we must repeat it over and over in our minds before it is committed to memory. We ponder the words and their meaning, and as we grow older and gain experience we learn even more from it. When scriptures are committed to heart they grow with us, continually supplying us with nourishment at each stage of development. Elder Gene R. Cook of the Seventy said,

“I have discovered that many times you don’t fully understand a scripture until you memorize it. And sometimes I have memorized a passage because it seemed important and valuable to me—then afterwards I discovered deeper meanings that I hadn’t even known were there” (Searching the Scriptures: Bringing Power to Your Personal and Family Study [1997], 114).

I truly believe that for us to gain the full power of the scriptures, we need to ponder the author’s purpose, read them aloud over and over, and eventually commit them to memory. We cannot survive on just skimming the scriptures; we need to learn them by heart.

“For our lives to become the music of hope for the world, our learning must be heart deep; it must reach our very core. We must be able not only to access information but to understand; we must acquire not only knowledge but wisdom.” (Susan W. Tanner, Learning by Heart, BYU Speech, August 2004)  

What Should You Recite?

  • Scriptures
  • Poetry–just a favorite line or two is perfectly acceptable
  • The Family: A Proclamation to the World
  • The Living Christ
  • The Restoration Proclamation
  • Famous Speeches
  • Inspirational Quotes from Prophets and Great Leaders
 

How Should Recitation Be Taught?

The child should speak beautiful thoughts so beautifully, with such delicate rendering of each nuance of meaning, that he becomes to the listener the interpreter of the author’s thought.” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 223)

Be an Example

Pick favorite poems, passages or speeches you want to recite and learn them yourself, or as a family. Read poems and passages in Family Gather time to expose your children to beautiful language. By doing this your children will have a good selection to choose from when they start formal recitation lessons.

 Before you read poetry aloud, quickly read it to yourself and think about what the author’s purpose was, the overall mood, where to pause, and where to slow down/speed up.  I’ve noticed a huge difference in my sons’ enjoyment of poetry when I recite it and not read it.

“The teacher reads with the intention that the children shall know, and therefore, with distinctness, force, and careful enunciation; it is a mere matter of sympathy, though of course it is the author and not himself, whom the teacher is careful to produce.” (Vol. 6, p. 244)

The Child’s Choice

Aside from your Family Gather time, your school-age children should be spending a few minutes each reciting a short poem of their choice. They should also choose how to recite it. They do not have to memorize (although memorization is usually the result). Do not to correct or tell your child how you think he should do it.

When your child has learned it to their satisfaction, have them recite it to the audience of their choice. You can also record it so they can listen to it later.

Your child may choose short, silly poems, but have faith that as you read beautiful poetry aloud everyday they will be exposed to poems that speak to the soul, and as they mature they will gradually choose more meaningful poems to learn by heart. 

If you did not grow up reading or reciting poetry,, do not fear. It is very simple and much more enjoyable than you think. There are many helpful resources (see end of post)

In the beginning, I found it helpful to listen/watch YouTube videos of professionals reciting famous poems. We still listen to them occasionally because professionals do such a better job.

When Children Don’t Want to Recite

I did experienced some resistance from my young boys when we started reciting scriptures, but I had an idea that has made all the difference: recite with an accent! Some of our favorites are: robot, baby, cowboy, and British. I don’t always pull out the accent, but on those days when no one wants to recite it never fails to bring joy and excitement to young children.

One effective way to recite and review scriptures is from simplycharlottemason.com. I have included written instructions on how to use it, and you can also see an example in my Instagram Highlights. Another option a reader brought to my attention is Scripture Box, an online scripture and poetry rotation system.

Remember, the purpose of recitation is not to memorize. The purpose is to read a phrase over and over again, while pondering the meaning as you imprint it on your heart and mind.  

You can download scripture cards available in the “Downloads” section of this site.

ADDITIONAL READING

Your Morning Basket episode 2
with Andrew Pudewa

Learning by Heart
BYU Speech given by Susan W. Tanner

My Heart Pondereth Them Continually
Devin G. Durrant

Recitation: The Children’s Art
Arthur Burrell

Poetry
The Well-Educated Heart