Filling up the mental warehouse (or adding brain folds the old fashioned way…by earning them)

So my last post chronicled our homeschooling journey, but that wasn’t my original intention. I am so bad at staying on track when I write and go off on all sorts of tangents, whether they be interesting or not. The result is that I end up writing twice (or more) as much as I started out to do.

What I really wanted to share was what we’ve been doing for the past several months as a matter of course and for the past two months in earnest: preparing Patrick for something called Memory Master, and it has been no small feat. What is Memory Master, you ask? It has been more work than I expected (and definitely more than Patrick expected, I think, too!) but way more amazing as well.

First of all, I’ve talked before about CC and a bit about how it works. We are learning the trivium and have become a classical education homeschool, though we still have a lot to learn about both the method and the practicalities therein. For an extremely thorough description of what Classical education is, please go here. Susan Wise Bauer says it so much more eloquently and effectively than I could, so why reinvent the wheel? Finally, finally I feel like we’ve found the best resource and direction for our education. It has filled in the holes from my own education as well as the ones that I felt were lacking from me (and I constantly struggle with the thoughts that there are a lot of them!), and we’ve all made close friends within the group. It’s a lot of work, to be sure, but the payoff has been worth it. I whole-heartedly agree with the trivium–fill up their brains with facts and key ingredients when they are ready and able to absorb tons of information. One of the best things I’ve learned in CC is that you can learn just about anything if you put it to music! While the youngest three boys are still firmly in the Grammatical stage of filling their warehouses, Patrick is starting to transition to the next stage and Hannah is moving towards it at breakneck speed. They are both starting to ask “Why?” and digging deeper into the facts that they’ve already stored away. It’s fascinating to see their progression.

One of the aspects and challenges set before the students of CC in the grammar stage of learning (Patrick’s age down) is something called Memory Master. To become a Memory Master, the student has to memorize all the memory work from that cycle in one year. It is an impressive undertaking. The memory work includes 160 timeline cards from Creation through Modern America, 24 history sentences (this year from Charlemagne through the free elections in South Africa), 24 science sentences (which include ecology,astronomy, and physics), 6 Latin conjugations, multiplication facts from 1-15 plus the squares up to 15 and the cubes up to 10, conversions and math laws, Geography and map skills that require locating and/or naming over 120 countries, bodies of water, continents, capitals, or features, 24 English grammar definitions and lists, and naming all 44 US Presidents. Clearly the child cannot complete something of this magnitude unless it is by their own motivation. Last year (our first year in the program), we half-heartedly attempted it with Hannah, but it quickly became clear that without determination and time, it was not attainable. This year, however, after gaining the confidence of the previous year and the maturity that comes with age, Patrick announced that he would like to pursue the Memory Master goal. At first, he too was rather half-hearted about it, and didn’t really put his full faculties into mastering the material. I think in large part he thought it would be easier than it was to master everything…and then he began to see just how difficult a task it is. After both our encouragement (and promise of a coveted prize)–combined with his realization that he could in fact do it, he set his mind to the hard work required to become a MM.

For the past two months, we have been working on the facts and lists, and it has become a family affair. The middle boys have listened to him recite the timeline and at random times throughout the day we’ll go over his history sentences or English grammar definitions. As a parent, I can’t express how proud I am of our child who has set this goal before him and now stands poised to achieve it.

Starting next week, he will begin the four-step proofing process. The first step is the parent proofing stage. At the end of the week, I will ask him every single piece of information that he has been asked to learn at one sitting (or in his case, possibly pacing around), and he should make no more than three mistakes per subject. If he passes this stage and makes three mistakes or less per subject area, he will move on the next week to a second round of proofing with another mom of a MM candidate. She will ask him to recite or name every piece of information as well, but in this round, he should make no more than one error per subject.

If he makes it through those two rounds, the next step is called Tutor Proofing. His CC tutor will meet with him and she will ask him once again to recite every single piece of memory work from the year’s body of work. Zero mistakes allowed. At this stage, however, there must be 100% recall of all pieces. Since the goal of MM is to encourage excellence, at this stage the student should be able to recall each piece of information rather effortlessly. This means that with no help and no prompting, for example, the candidate will have to recite the 160 timeline cards in order, and so on with each subject area. He has done a truly amazing job of getting to this point. I’m astounded that he can somehow keep Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan all straight in his mind as he points to them on the map. He can tell you about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and what a gerund is without blinking an eye.

Once that stage has been tackled, the last phase is the Director Proofing. During this 20 minute session, the Director should be able to ask the candidate bits and pieces of the information and recall should be quick, and it is more of an affirmation of true ownership and mastery of the material. After that, we celebrate.

Whenever you think of Patrick, or specifically on Friday, March 11; Wednesday, March 16; Tuesday, March 22; and Monday, April 4, please pray for him as well as the other students who are working towards this honor. Although he hasn’t reported nerves being too much of an issue, I’m sure there are some there. He has truly taken ownership of this process and of course, as his parents we are both quite proud of him regardless of the outcome. I would ask that you pray for his quick recall, a sharp mind, a peace about the process, and an underlying realization of why he has done all of this. It’s not “because Mom said I need to” at this point anymore. For him, it is now “because I want to, Mom.”

Here are some of the timeline cards we've been memorizing. In order to help with the day in, day out kind of learning required to memorize so much information, I posted them on the wall so we would have them always before us.

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