Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Poetry Speaks: A Tricky Trick for Memorizing the U.S. Presidents in Chronological Order

Will has a real knack for memorizing. To be honest, I have a real knack for memorizing, too, but I primarily use my knack to memorize TV theme songs and jingles and pop music, prompting my poor Matt, who often has to listen to me show him how I can still sing "Ice, Ice Baby" in its entirety, to regularly ask me why I can't ever memorize anything normal and useful, like the directions to the Indianapolis Children's Museum, or my mother's birthday.

Knowing something about the benefits of a good memory, therefore, and seeing how Willow genuinely finds recitation from memory pleasurable, we've actually been doing quite a bit of classical-esque education around here lately. Of course, being a medieval scholar, I can't quite call the modern interpretation of classical education simply that with a straight face, but there you go, do with it what you will. In these early elementary years, the movement is all about rote memorization, and Willow enjoys rote memorization, so we're going with it a bit for now.

For math, we've been memorizing skip counting (which I lately got sick of, and moved Willow into coin arithmetic, which I'm happy to report she's proving quite adept at, thanks to the skip counting!); for geography, we're memorizing the countries of Africa (a nearly futile exercise, I know, as they keep changing); for grammar, we're about to start English and Latin grammar concurrently; for science, we're still doing mostly hands-on stuff; for handwriting, we're doing copywork of relevant facts from the other subjects; and for history, we're doing both Ancient history (through Story of the World) and U.S. history at the same time.

As a scaffold to U.S. history, I asked Willow to memorize the names of all the U.S. presidents in order--later, of course, we can do biographies and relevant dates for each president, but even just their names are important contextually, since, for example, in our study of Martin Luther King Jr. that we just finished up for now, Willow can pin him up historically with John F. Kennedy, since she knows that they were acquainted. That's extremely useful, because she also knows MLK's connection to segregation, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Civil Rights, so whenever she memorizes the dates of any one of those, she'll have approximate dates for all of them.

As a child, I memorized this poem of the presidents--the original, from A Young People's Speaker, ends with Grover Cleveland's first term. Some enterprising teacher, perhaps local to the Ft. Smith area, since the blogger who quotes the more recent rendition is also from my hometown, keeps adding to it. As a little kid, I memorized through Reagan. My little kid, however, gets to take it all the way to Obama:



It's a little devoid of affect, probably because she ends up miserable with a high fever later that evening, but you should see the kid when she really gets into it, standing on a chair and bellowing out her lines at the top of her lungs (which she thinks, correctly, is really funny).

And if you ever find yourselves at the same cocktail party, you'll know what party trick to ask her for--either that, or balloon animals!

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