( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IT was one of my small nephews-by adoption-who first set me to thinking deeply on the subject of memory-training. I came upon the small chap crying bitterly in an out-of-the-way corner of his father's boat-house. He had been publicly dubbed a "dunce" by teachers, stood in the corner with a paper cap on his head, while the other children gleefully pointed fingers and shouted "Foolscap! Foolscap!"
"Am I a dunce, Uncle Nat? Do you think I'm ever going to 'mount to anything, just because I can't recite my lessons like the other boys? I study and study-but in class my rememberer just shuts up."
The boy was far from being a dunce. I knew him for a bright, active child, who in those days before nature-study had become the vogue, knew every bird and flower and tree by name. He had a passion for the water, and there was not a part of his father's fishing-schooners that he could not describe. There was no trouble with his " rememberer " where his interest was aroused.
Psychology for the school-room was then in its infancy. Froebel's symbolic songs and games had not trained children to quick, accurate observation, and easy, because unconscious, memorizing. Boys and girls were still taught in blocks rather than as units. Johnny's irritated teacher, and worried, discouraged mother, actually thought him stupid. I thought otherwise and determined to prove that his lack of verbal memory was due to bad teaching and unaroused ambition.
Verbal memorizing was not yet thought out-of-date pedagogics. The revulsion against treating the mind as a receptacle in which facts were to be pushed by parrot-like repetition has caused many modern instructors to go to the other extreme and despise learning things by heart. I was glad to hear so authoritative an educator as William James declare: "The reaction against verbal memorizing has been unduly strong. Verbal material is, on the whole, the handiest and most useful material in which thinking can be carried on. Abstract conceptions are far and away the most economical instruments of thought, and abstract conceptions are fixed and incarnated for us in words."
" Johnny," I said, "I believe you only think you cannot remember. You are going out sailing with the skipper to-morrow; let's see if you cannot surprise him by reciting `The Sailor's Rule of the Road.' See how quickly you can learn this verse that will help you to steer a ship:
`Both side lines you see ahead,
It was a revelation to both of us how quickly the "bad rememberer" gripped that technical jingle. It proved my theory, that one must care enough for a result to attain it. Try it on your boat-loving boys, you mothers who worry over their bad memories.
What can the mother do in the training line when her boys and girls have bad memories? Arouse their interest, stimulate their pride, and help them through games and other unconscious influences. There are children who would make no effort to improve if the motive were suspected, who show steady progress when the bait is temptingly disguised.
There are undoubted differences in the memory of children. Some are "born poor," others are made so by improper education, and Nature has to bear the brunt. To start life's race with a quick, retentive memory promises an unhandicapped run.
Mothers can be a big help in memory-training-even busy mothers. They need no great equipment beyond common sense. This should teach them that memory must be economized -there are things that are important to remember, other things are as well forgotten: that a hodgepodge of unclassified, un-assimilated facts never yet strengthened memory; that slow and sure is a good motto in memorizing; that learning by heart must have a backing of ideas if it be not parrot-like.
Memorizing of good poetry should be made a pleasure, not a task to be dreaded. Begin with short quotations-those that tell a story are best for the young-go on to short poems and finally, the hardest to remember, prose. Make the committing a sort of contest, in which parents and children join. Perhaps there is a special hour, when the family is gathered together, which can be given over to recitations, with a system of awards. If the boys and girls can remember better than father or mother they will be delighted.
There should be no force-work nor sense of obligation. Learn for all time. Arrange for a gala memory-day every month, when all the old poems will be rehearsed, no one knowing which he will be called upon to recite. One American school devotes a school-year to committing the poems of a single poet, taking a new one the next year.
Another excellent memory-stunt, as our boys would call it, is to have some one read a paragraph aloud to a circle of children and see who can repeat it most correctly. Or a story could be rapidly read, each child to give a full synopsis, sometimes verbally, again in writing. It is a help, if a child has trouble in memorizing, to write the difficult bit out.
In all this memorizing everything depends upon the mother's power to interest and make it seem "fun."
When memory-culture must depend on games, those old-fashioned ones of "The Minister's Cat" and "The School-master" are amusing and good training. The latter is particularly valuable. Similar games could be arranged for any pursuit or study in which the children are interested.
Adapt the observation-games used by the Japanese schools with such telling effect. Trays are brought to the children filled with a number of familiar articles. At first there may be fewer things on the tray and more time given to it, gradually the order is reversed, until finally the children are merely al-lowed to glance at a tray crowded with several hundred articles, yet are expected to repeat what is on it. Mother-wit can suggest many ways of making this profitable to children of all ages.
Have another game called "The Seeing Eye," to be played when out for a walk with children. In passing a store window glance in it and see how many things each one can remember later. Or when the youngsters are out alone, devote a few minutes at the close of the day to have each one recall what he has seen. This is good training for the heedless child, especially if he has brothers and sisters who are keen observers. Agassiz knew the value of it when he would tell his pupils to go out and use their eyes-keeping secret from them what he wanted them to see particularly.
Get the children interested in plays; waiting for cues is splendid memory-drill. If the mother could write these plays herself, giving them a personal touch, so much the better. Puppet-plays, or those for marionettes, or paper dolls, are less trouble and quite as good training. Monologues for children are also valuable.
If a child's memory is very bad it might be permitted to keep lists for a time. Each article should be numbered and memorized. Often a missing fact is recalled by connecting it with the number. In the same way, keeping accounts and making them balance at the end of a day or week is good for the memory if one has not the habit of jotting down each expenditure as made. Or the bad habit of letting a journal or line-a-day book lapse for a week or month will give the memory work. If one goes back-ward over the days, most of the salient doings will be recalled.
Who of us does not recall Mrs. Whitney's Bobby and his famous buttons? That youngster's "forgetter" was helped by being taught to remember his errand by his buttons. In similar ways mothers can train children to recollect by association of ideas.
Mothers have a great part to play in developing a faculty on which may depend a child's success through life. Do not think it too much trouble to strengthen your child's memory in every way; and do not overlook the value of trifling every-day things in this task. Mere seeming trifles often count more than the most elaborate systems of memorizing studied by the child in after years, when the handicap of a poor memory is realized.
It is wise, however, to keep in mind that the memory should be a storeroom for what is needful, not a lumber-room for useless things.
"Nursery Rhymes" in Volume I of the Library, and "Nursery Songs" in Volume XII are the first splendid aids to memory-training in the little folks. Parents should encourage them to learn all the selections. As special tests encourage the youngsters to learn " Chicken-Licken," "Teeny Tiny," "Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse," and "A was an Ant" in Volume I. Of course the departments of "Indoor Games and "Little Plays" in Volume X will be also of the greatest help in training the growing memory. And one of the best verbal treasures to possess for the older boy or girl is "The Deserted Village" (Volume XI), and both subject and treatment are most charming to the juvenile mind. Maturer readers are advised to consult "How Shall We Learn to Remember?" and the section "How to Read" in Volume X.