Nearly five years ago a deal was struck. My kids had been wanting pets but my husband, never having owned an indoor pet himself, was not eager to introduce hair, odor and more chaos to our home . . . especially when we were planning to build a new house. Thinking he could postpone the inevitable, he told the kids they could get indoor pets if they memorized the book of James.
Between trying to sell our house, living with my mom and building our house, it was an easy thing to put off. But once we had been in the house over a year, the kids became more interested in working to get their pets. My son wanted a hamster and my daughter, a dog.
It took them about four months to memorize James. They were allowed to split the book which meant that my daughter memorized chapters one and two, and my son learned chapters three, four and five (53 and 55 verses, respectively).
When taking on such a task, I knew they would need help. They would need it to be accessible. They would need to be able to measure their progress. They would need my listening ear with verses in hand and they would need lots of encouragement.
Here is what we did and how you can help your kids memorize large portions of Scripture:
Print the passage. I printed the book of James and cut out each verse. (I found copying and pasting from Bible Gateway into Word was the easiest and then formatting the passage into two columns.) Knowing the wear and tear the slips of paper would take, I also laminated the verses. I love laminating!
Figure out a good spot to hang the verses. For us, this meant the kids’ bathroom mirror, knowing that they are in there at least twice a day when brushing their teeth. It became a habit to learn a verse while they were brushing.
Progress at their pace. Only one verse went up at a time. Then, when they felt they were ready, I added another verse to the mirror.
Work on verse to verse flow. Even though they were only working on a verse at a time, it was important to regularly read through the entire passage so as not to forget what they learned but also prepare for that final delivery of their passage.
Once each verse is learned, print another copy of the passage and keep it as a full sheet. After the kids had learned every verse, they began to take their (full) sheets of James around the house with them, capitalizing on different opportunities to work on the flow.
Help them connect verses by underlining key words. If I found a word that started two consecutive verses, I underlined it and drew little dots connecting them. (I did this with the verses on the mirror and on the full sheets.) Try this with repetitive words, antonyms, similar concepts or even a particular style of composition such as a series of questions. Think of how you can help their little brain to visually connect what they are learning.
Know that the brain remembers best in short, separated bursts of study. I didn’t have the kids ever spend a significant amount of time polishing their passages in one sitting. Short bursts not only work well for the brain, but also for their encouragement and sanity.
I shared this story about my college days in order to demonstrate the point: In all four years of college, I never pulled an all-nighter studying for an exam. In fact, I never even had to stay up late studying and this is how. About a week before an exam, I would read through my entire class notes. I would do this once a day. As it got closer, I may have added in a second read-though. The result? By the end of that week, I had such a good handle on the material, I didn’t even take long to study the night before the test. That little time each day working on my notes allowed me to learn it fully and without the stress of last minute studying.
Read a good portion or all of the passage before going to bed. I was amazed when my kids would read one of their chapters through once before bed, things just seemed to click better in a morning recitation. You’ve probably heard how the brain processes all kinds of things while we sleep. I think that in polishing memorization and getting that flow of verse to verse, a brief read before bed is invaluable.
Encourage, Encourage, Encourage. It was certainly more than once that my kids, particularly one of them, grew quite discouraged when thinking about how far there was to go in memorizing over 50 verses. This is natural and normal! It is a great opportunity to encourage your sweet babes in continuing on what they started, in perseverance and not giving up! This is lifelong lesson and skill to develop.
Celebrate! When they are done, celebrate! Maybe you have given them an incentive to drive them to finish. Maybe there is a reward shining that light at the end of the tunnel. Obviously for my kids, they wanted pets and this was their way to earn them. It was such a sweet trip to the pet store to get my son’s hamster after all his work and we loved bringing home the dog my daughter wanted and surprising her after school.
And in case you wanted to see what happy looks like, here ya go:
Have you had your kids memorize large passages of Scripture? What do you think would help them most?
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