Monday, April 15, 2013

Classical Conversations: What about Memory Master?

Last week was the final day of class on our local Classical Conversations campus. For those who are unfamiliar with Classical Conversations (CC), it is an excellent option for homeschoolers, which adheres to the classical method of education. This was our first year with CC, though we had homeschooled for 8 years prior to joining.  Looking back, it was a terrific year.  Our 11 year old son and 10 year old daughter were even successful in their first attempt at becoming a Memory Master.

What is Memory Master?

So, what is required of a "Memory Master"? Well, alot. My kids had to recite the entire history timeline from the age of ancient empires to 9/11/01.  They also had to name all 44 presidents, recite multiplication facts through 15s, correctly define 4 math laws, equivalent measurements (eg. liquid, linear, metric), 4 geometry formulas, answer questions about 24 science facts (eg. What are some types of ocean floor? What are some plant systems? What are 4 kinds of volcanoes?), 24 history statements (eg. tell me about the Songhai....about Nepoleon...about the split of the Roman Empire.), Latin noun cases and Latin noun declensions 1 through 5, defined preposition, helping, and linking verb and gave lists of each, and had to both point to and name 24 geography sets (eg, Show me the Roman empire, show me Ancient Africa, show me the countries of S. America, show me East Asia, what is each continent's highest mountain?).  My kids worked hard for this achievement, but truly, all the kids in CC are required to work hard. The academic bar is raised, while the environment is one of helping the kids to believe they can achieve those high goals.

We are not "that" family.

For those who "do" CC and perhaps are curious, I'd like to share a little perspective on our family's path to Memory Master. To be sure, we are not "that" family. You know, the stereotypical "perfect" homeschool family that is gifted with uber intelligence, incredible homeschool organization and implementation, "whittling canoes out of birch bark," as one CC mom hilariously stated (conveying that they were not "that family" either.)  I mean, yes, my husband and I definitely value academics.  But our children, while always usually interested in learning, are not what I would describe as "hit the floor running" passionate about their school work. Sure, they're bright and capable. At the same time, they can be "average students" with regard to focus and motivation. 

Additionally, there are some unique health/cognitive challenges that are part of our homeschool picture, including mild Autism and mild Cerebral Palsy. I share this to make the point that, as I see it, Memory Master is not an unachievable goal. Likewise, I'm sure we all realize it is not a badge of honor which proves one student's value over another.  It is simply a great academic goal to strive for, if a student so chooses.  

How does one approach the goal of Memory Master?

If you're wondering (as I did) how other CC families approach Memory Master, allow me to share our approach. I'm sure there are several ways to do it.  This is just what worked for us.
  1. We were disciplined.  As our CC year progressed, we very regulary reviewed previous material. There is a great explanation and video at Simply Charlotte Mason, which, while provided for scripture memory work, can be modified for CC memory work. If you are unsure how to approach regular spiral review of the memory work, perhaps the video suggestion could work for you.
  2. I chose to do our memory work  last each day. I know many families like to get it done first, but I found that by saving it for last, we could take as long as necessary to learn the current week and complete our spiral review. I could even bounce back and forth between dinner prep and some of the work. No clock ticking as other subjects waited.
  3. I looked for opportunities to do extra review (emphasis on extra). My kids are competitive swimmers and we spend an insane amount of time at the pool each week. There is a 30 minute block of time where all 3 of my Foundations students are free to practice memory work at the pool. I tried to make good use of those minutes.
  4. I made sure my students were up for the challenge. I did not require my children to attempt Memory Master, but I did encourage them to think about it. I took the time to explain that it was in line with our family homeschool goal to "strive for excellence."  Here, the emphasis is on "strive", because I told my children that hard work toward the goal and increased confidence in their memory work was, in itself, success. Measure the journey, not the outcome. My 5/6 year old kept pace with his two older siblings throughout the year, and I'll encourage him to consider Memory Master in years to come.
  5. Do the time. We were not "casual" about getting memory work done.  It was a very important part of our school year (it's the "nuts and bolts" of the grammar stage, after all.) We purposed to accomplish our memory work each week, to know it well, completing no less than 30 minutes of memory work per day (necessary from around week 6 on).
  6. We committed to rewarding the effort. I sincerely believe this served as both a motivator and a stress reliever as our kids worked toward their goal. My husband and I wanted them to know we were truly proud of the journey, not just the outcome. They were content, knowing they could choose a book at Half Price Books and "any piece of candy you want" (a huge treat) after testing, regardless of the result. I believe that last part ("regardless of the result") took some of the pressure off them. They could count on us, in advance, to be proud of their efforts. Really, I think this helped them to just chill.
At the start of our year, I would not have pegged my two kids to accomplish this goal.
"We're too new."
"They're not motivated enough." 
"There are too many health/cognitive challenges in the way."

I'm glad I didn't listen to me in the end.
I'm glad our goal to "strive for excellence" prevailed, because if I had relied only on how I felt, if I had not honored their desire to try, I would have denied them the lessons of the journey.
Live wise in Him!
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