Monday, February 13, 2017

Learning by Rote: Friend or Foe?

I have begun planning our lighter school for the summer and our regular school load for Fall 2017, and this has me meditating on educational philosophy.

I used to think drill was practically a dirty word, and that being a Flash Card Mom was a real insult. Then I began trying to educate my kids for a few years--without requiring any memorization--and realized that populating the mind with memorized facts gives the human person information with which to be creative.

A mom whose oldest child is not yet in Kindergarten asked me, "Why would I ever explain something to my child more than once if she understands it the first time? Why on earth would I drill her? What does that even mean?"

I answered that understanding something the first time doesn't mean we've learned it, and most of us have to work to memorize the information. It's one thing for the Kindergartener to be able to count out beans to understand that four beans plus six beans is ten beans, and it's another thing to have memorized that abstract concept that "4 + 6 = 10". The child needs both, not just one. Watching a child try to learn division will convince anyone, I'd imagine, of the necessity of memorizing the multiplication facts!

I've been mulling over how everything in our homeschool curriculum falls into the category of learning the concepts or the category of drilling the facts. Of course, I had to sketch this all out for myself, which I share below in a bulleted list because I don't know how to create a more visually appealing table in Blogger.

    • Learning Concepts: reading Seton Religion daily
    • Drill: 
      • daily memorization of Baltimore Catechism No. 1
      • daily memorization of Faith Facts for Catholic Classical Enrichment (CCE)
    • Learning Concepts: 
      • Writing one composition for Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) every other week
      • Writing one oral presentation for CCE every other week
      • Weekly lesson in All About Spelling
      • Weekly lesson in IEW's Fix-It Grammar
    • Drill: 
      • spelling dictation daily for All About Spelling
      • daily memorization of poetry using IEW's collection
      • daily writing one corrected sentence from IEW Fix-It Grammar
      • daily memorization of grammar facts for CCE
  • MATH
    • Learning Concepts: daily lesson from Teaching Textbooks
    • Drill: 
      • daily memorization of skip counting and math formulas for CCE
      • daily drill of addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts using various sources (e.g., Math-It,,, worksheets from
    • Learning Concepts: reading daily from Apologia science books
    • Learning Concepts: weekly lesson from Beautiful Feet Geography
    • Drill:
      • daily memorization of locations on maps for CCE
      • weekly memorization from or the Stack the States app
    • Learning Concepts: daily reading from "From Sea to Shining Sea" (textbook) and living history (fiction) books selected by Connecting with History
    • Drill: daily memorization of history facts (with names, places, and dates) and of historical timeline events for CCE
    • Learning Concepts: weekly lesson from First Form Latin
    • Drill: 
      • daily memorization of Latin phrases, prayers, and hymns for CCE
      • daily completion of worksheets and use of flash cards for First Form Latin
    • Learning Concepts: Mama teaches daily class based on Snell books, theory tests, etc.
    • Drill: daily drill using various sources (e.g.,, Music Notes App, paper flash cards)
    • Learning Concepts: weekly lesson with teacher
    • Drill: daily practice for 45 minutes

I guess you could call me a real fan of learning by rote during the elementary grades. My educational philosophy has changed a lot over a decade, and I'm curious where I'll be on this journey another ten years from now.


  1. I didn't realize how important (at least some) memorization is until this year when coming to multiplication in my 3rd graders math.

    As a child learning multiplication I had to do timed tests, flash cards-- the whole works. My husband's elementary school was more progressive. He never had to memorize his multiplication facts. As a result, he still has to think about the toughies like 7x8 even today as an adult (and someone who majored in accounting!). I certainly wouldn't spend my whole homeschool day on memorization, but I certainly won't shy away from it where needed.

    Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. My educational philosophy has changed a lot as well in just the 2 1/2 years we've been homeschooling. Since joining CC and learning more about the classical model, I definitely see the value in memory work (before I thought it seemed pointless, but it definitely lays a foundation). I've also gone from trying to recreate school at home, to being a bit more laid back. I still do the basics, plus our memory work, but allow our days to be somewhat child-led/delight learning. So I guess you could call me a "classical unschooler" now. :)