Training the Memory with a Classical Education


From Cheryl Swope | October 28, 2016 | On Classical Education

Training the Memory with a Classical Education

A classical education strengthens a child’s memory. Consider this, written in the 1500s when Christian Humanists reclaimed classical education for all time.

Students must daily be given something which trains both understanding and memory.  Indeed, … as much must be offered as the powers of their memory and the nature of the subject matter can accommodate. Even material which they have already learned once must be repeated at brief intervals.

Five Steps

Try these five steps for any child, especially the child who needs to strengthen his “working memory,” a new term for the old construct of holding material in one’s mind for good use.

1. Introduce memory work in small “bites.”

2. Have the students echo each new portion — “Repeat after me….” Example — “The Lord…” (The Lord) “is my Shepherd….” (is my Shepherd.) “I shall…” (I shall) “not want…” (not want).

3. Work on the memory passage each day. Then say the entire verse “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

4. Add new bites of the passage each day until fully memorized.

5. Establish a schedule for ongoing review.

When my children were small, we learned Psalm 23 in this way. The Golden Book The Lord is My Shepherd served as review in bedtime-story form. By 8th grade, their capacity for memory work had so expanded, they memorized Ephesians 1:1-2:10. This occurred despite significant processing and memory dysfunction in both children, and despite my own inconsistencies in application. Imagine the possibilities for your own students!

Understanding through Questioning

Contrary to misconceptions, classical educators always emphasized understanding, not mere memory work, but at the proper time for the child’s mind. We teach with Socratic questioning, and we employ question/answer learning in a catechism format. Example: “Who is the Lord?” (“The Lord is God.”) Consider this program for teaching English grammar in an unusually efficient, effective manner through oral question and answer.

Memory & Music

Students learn text set to music. Place your memory work to music. Create your own music and add movements, if this assists your child. For common learning such as nursery rhymes, math facts, and the Presidents of the United States, see resources available through

Find reverent music for memorizing Holy Scripture. The Lord is My Shepherd referenced above includes a beautiful song in the back of the book. Your hymnal provides rich text, psalms, and liturgical elements set to sacred music.


We utilize the ancient practice of Copybook to assist Scripture memory, memorization of poetry, and even the days of the week. View samples of the Memoria Press Copybook sets or Simply Classical Copybook series. Lesson plans are available, or simply teach one verse weekly.


Classical educators make use of efficient, memory-strengthening oral recitations. Recitations instill poise, confidence, and a vast fund of knowledge in brief periods each day. Read this article on How to Conduct a Recitation and Why by Prima Latina author Leigh Lowe.

Memoria, -ae

The hallmark of a classical education is the use of memory work. For this reason, Memoria Press founder Cheryl Lowe named her publishing house after the Latin word for memory, memoria.

When we give our children strong memories, we give them stronger minds.

  1. Sturm, Johann in Johann Sturm on Education: The Reformation and Humanist Learning, 91. Specifically, in 1538 Sturm recommended memory training for anyone opening an “Elementary School of Letters.” 


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