Knowing by Heart: the Powerful Beauty of Memory Work (with Andrew Pudewa)

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Might it be possible that something that seems the least practical might actually have the most value in your homeschool? Listen to my conversation with Andrew Pudewa from the Institute for Excellence in Writing and learn how the practice of memory work can be transformative, nourishing the souls in your home!

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

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Who is Andrew Pudewa?

Andrew Pudewa is the founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing and a father of seven. Traveling and speaking around the world, he addresses issues related to teaching, writing, thinking, spelling, and music with clarity, insight, practical experience, and humor. His seminars for parents, students, and teachers have helped transform many a reluctant writer and have equipped educators with powerful tools to dramatically improve students’ skills.

Although he is a graduate of the Talent Education Institute in Japan and holds a Certificate of Child Brain Development from the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his best endorsement is from a young Alaskan boy who called him “the funny man with the wonderful words.” He and his heroic wife, Robin, have homeschooled their seven children and are now proud grandparents of fifteen, making their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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Amy Sloan: Hello, friends. Today I am joined by Andrew Pudewa, who I’m sure you all know, but for those who don’t know, Andrew is the founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing and a father of seven. Traveling and speaking around the world, he addresses issues related to teaching, writing, thinking, spelling, and music with clarity, insight, practical experience, and humor.

His seminars for students and parents and teachers have helped transform many. A reluctant writer and have equipped educators with powerful tools to dramatically improve students’ skills. Although he is a graduate of the Talent Education Institute in Japan and holds a certificate of child brain development from the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, his best endorsement is from a young Alaskan boy who called him the funny man with the wonderful words.

I just loved that.

He and his heroic wife Robin have homeschooled their seven children and are now proud grandparents of 15, making their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am just absolutely delighted you are here. There was your official bio, but could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and think back to those early years? How did you first get started homeschooling?

Early years of homeschooling

Andrew Pudewa: Sure. Thank you, Amy. It’s awfully painful to hear your own bio read, but– We started homeschooling in 1990 and the two oldest girls were 10 and 8, and they had been in a cottage school. It was some woman in her home. She had 12, 15 kids. It was very Montessori-esque and it’s like a big home school, but with other people’s kids there. We had a three-year-old and then that school just stopped and there were no options.

There was nothing like it. At that time I was working very, very hard trying to eke out a living as a music teacher, waiting tables weekends and nights to bring in a few extra bucks. Private school was just out of the question. Public school was equally as unsavory to us at the time. My wife had just completed a degree in elementary education, she had the inside scoop on what it might be to put the kids in a regular school.

We had an infant, she was home anyway. We started the homeschool thing at that point and I quickly found it was very, very handy to have some older kids at home who could help you with various other things like the business you’re trying to do. Care of the younger children in the environment. Homeschooling was a natural. We didn’t know too many people. I think maybe we knew one or two other families, but we weren’t really connected with them.

It’s those early days where it was just you and you’re trying to find various stuff. There really wasn’t even an internet to search for information or curriculum. That was the beginning. Then in 1994, I got this crazy idea to teach a writing seminar, teaching writing structure and style and I did that in Seattle and managed to get a homeschool group over there to send out brochures or flyers.

This is pre-internet. There was no even email blast or websites really. I managed to get 20 people to pay $40 to listen to me talk for a whole day. I thought, “That’s a good deal. That’s more than I make in a whole week teaching violin as hard as I can.”

Between ’95 and ’99, I built Institute for Excellence in Writing as a side business, really with the goal to figure out, could I make enough money to afford to continue teaching music? I was a Suzuki, violin, and Kindermusik teacher and we had another kid by that time so we’re up to five. Then in ’99, we were up to six and I was making more money teaching writing seminars and selling VHS videotapes if you can believe that than I was teaching music.

At that point, we relocated to a different state, and I went full-time into IEW. Our seventh and last child was born in 2000. That was the decade and really with very few exceptions, all the kids were homeschooled all the time.

I have put a child in a particular school for a particular reason, usually to help save the mother’s sanity. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve hated it. Then I’d swear it off and say, “I’ll never put a kid in school again.” Never say never, but almost all the kids for almost all the time.

Amy: You were starting homeschooling around the same time my parents and my husband’s parents were and I absolutely adore talking to those who were home-educating and that first-generation, the first 1.5 generations of homeschoolers. I actually did a whole interview series and interviewed all these first-generation people who were on the cutting edge, homeschooling without the internet a lot of times making things legal in their states.

Then I did a contrast with other second-generation homeschoolers. I think it’s really good for homeschoolers today to hear both perspectives, both those of us who are like,– well not those of us, I am no longer young and fresh. [laughs] I’m middle-aged, but that young zeal and excitement and also this perspective. It’s really helpful to hear. Having this longer-term perspective, I’m sure you’ve learned and grown over the years.

sloan homeschool family

Changing perspectives on home education

Are there any ways in which your perspectives on home education have grown or changed in this time?

Andrew: Oh yes, absolutely. You couldn’t live 30 years without changing your ideas about things. Probably the biggest shift for us, and I think for a lot of families is, when we came into homeschooling there was this idea that somehow you were going to do school at home. That you were going to somehow replicate the very institution you’re trying to not be like. You get a nice little pile of textbooks with a number on the cover for each of your kids, and you start to administer curriculum and that can go on for years.

Then you start to realize this is frustrating. It’s very inefficient. They’re not learning as successfully as I didn’t learn when I was in school. What can you do differently?

I would say the first significant influence for me was John Taylor Gatto. Are you familiar with Mr. Gatto’s work? He wrote Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education, Weapons of Mass Instruction, and then his big magnum opus was the book The Underground History of American Education.

Those I think are tremendously helpful for all of us, especially those of us who went to schools for our whole childhood. As a teacher, as a teaching parent, as an adult, the single most significant thing you bring to teaching your children is your experience of having been taught. Having to undo that and realize that, for lack of a better term, we’re all schoolaholics. We are programmed in a way of thinking and behaving and we have to work hard to not just continue in that direction.

Reading Gatto, going to homeschool conventions, listening to some of the other– even before us there were pioneers and they all have the same thing. It’s not about academics, it’s about relationship and discipleship. It’s about experience. It’s about customizing our kids’ opportunities so they can grow in wisdom and virtue.

It’s easy to sit back and say, yes, after doing this 30 some years, I will tell you academics is the least important thing about homeschooling. All the young people who’ve got a six-year-old and they’re thinking, “Oh no, I have to be sure I don’t fail this kid so they can get into college.”

There’s that conceptual adjustment that we all have to go through. I mentioned my wife had a degree in elementary education, for her it was even a little bit harder because she had an additional five years of, I don’t know of programming, brainwashing, institutionalizing to overcome. That’d be the biggest shift.

Amy: I have actually heard from other moms who have that education background that it actually makes it harder. People say, “Oh, it must be so much easier for you.” They’re like, “No, it’s so much harder to break free of those boxes.”

What do homeschoolers mean by “memory work” or “memorization”

One of the things I really wanted to talk to you about today is this idea about memory work because anyone who’s been around Humility and Doxology or this podcast for any length of time knows that something I am passionate about and love to talk about, encourage homeschool parents to include in their homeschools is beautiful, true memory work but somehow, even when we’re talking about beautiful memory work like speeches or poetry or even scripture sometimes although less with that I think most people agree that we should memorize the Bible. Other than that, memory work still has this negative connotation in education and home education circles.

I wanted to start with this big-picture idea and first define what do we even really mean when we talk about memory or memory work?

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Andrew: It’s interesting because the word memorization does for many people carry a negative connotation along with terms like rote learning and drill. Those all have negative effects. In fact, you walk into any room with teachers and say, “drill” and they will all chorus back “kill,” whereas when I was a child and before that they didn’t have that same negative connotation.

Rote meant you knew something so well you didn’t have to try to remember it.

You knew it by rote. That was a good thing to have learned scripture poetry, music, excerpts from famous speeches. This was a totally normal thing that everyone did back before the early ‘1900s. It’s interesting if you read a book or watch a movie about kids in the ‘1800s, things like Little House in the Prairie, Anna Green Gables, Little Britain, that genre you will very likely hear in the course of the movie or reading the book more likely an expression that was common in that time period, which is never used today.

That would be, I have to go to school and say my lessons. No one ever would say that now because what do you do? You go to school and you take a multiple guest test on a tablet to prove whether you learn something or not but in those days, children were responsible for huge chunks of memorized language and facts and material all the way from their earliest years in grade one all the way through high school.

I think what happened was it was a very misguided application of Dewism. John Dewey, in the early ‘1900s, he had his little lab school at the University of Chicago, and he wrote books like Education and Experience and everybody was all quite enamored with Dewey. Not everything he said or wrote was in error, but I think one of the greatest errors he introduced was this idea that memorization at best is a waste of time and more likely will stifle creativity and curiosity.

We have this big hangover of Dewism in the world of education such that most teachers my age and younger we’re basically taught that you should never make children memorize things. Now that’s an interesting shift because in the last 10 years in particular that has been eclipsed by the philosophy that you really don’t have to memorize anything because technology can provide it for you instantaneously.

Now we have these twin prongs of the hangover of misguided educational philosophy from Dewey and his followers along with technology.

Why learn dates of a war? Why learn what somebody said? Why even memorize scripture? It’s right on your phone.

There’s that now twin-prong argument against memory but my mother was a music teacher. I feel very, very blessed by having grown up in a home.

She taught piano and voice, and I was a violin student from a very young age. What I reflected on somewhat recently was the fact that she never used the word memorize. She never said you have to memorize your piece. She always used the word, you have to learn by heart. You have to learn it by heart. If you knew a piece of music that you were going to say go and play on a recital, you had learned it by heart.

I think we all forget that when we commit to memory, we’re doing far more than just furnishing the mind. What you memorize it becomes a part of your soul in a way. To this day I have music and poems and scriptures that are so deep inside me that it’s more than just a mental thing.

It’s more than just I memorized it mechanically so I can spit it back. Or people use this word regurgitate in a condescending or derogatory manner. No, it’s deeper inside me than even my conscious mind.

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1. All children will memorize something

There’s a few things to consider there. Number one, all children will memorize stuff.

They’re wired to do it. That’s how they learn a language. That’s how everybody learns. Everything is through imitation and memory. If you don’t give them good and beautiful things to memorize, they’ll memorize stupid stuff. They’ll memorize garbage TV commercials, rap songs. That’s one thought.

2. The higher the quality of what you memorize, the better your soul is enriched

Another thought is the higher the quality, the more the good, the true, and the beautiful that is in what you are committing to memory and furnishing your mind with and learning by heart, the better you will be.

Your soul is enriched by that. That’s something I don’t think a lot of people necessarily reflect on in the day-to-day business of memorizing multiplication tables because you won’t let your kids have a calculator or whatever mean thing you’re doing as a homeschool mom.

Amy: I love what you just said. I got goosebumps because I’m one of my favorite posts, I share 12 poems that I think everyone should know by heart. In that post, I actually make the case that I like to speak of it as knowing by heart rather than memorization because these things that we are meditating on really do become a part of who we are, even when we can’t recite the necessarily word perfectly, which we’ll get into later.

That’s something I think is so important to realize and now I feel like I said something true because Andrew Pudewa’s mom said the same thing. [laughs]

Academic benefits to including memorization in your homeschool

We’ve talked about this big-picture idea. Are there any academic and linguistic values to memorization? Maybe for someone who’s listening and is thinking but, tell me about this academic value.

Andrew: It’s huge. I have somewhat of a background in child brain development as you mentioned. I worked for Glen Doman and a team of very, very brilliant people. For three years I was just steeped in learning and helping to teach parents of brain-injured children truths about how the brain works. When we make connections between neurons to store information there are variables.


The first variable would be repetition or what we might call frequency. When we hear something or say something or do something again and again and again and again the neurons that allow for us to do that the first time, they keep making those same connections again and again and again. Until we can do it without having to think hard to make those connections, it becomes like a second nature.

We can say something that we know without having to figure out what word is next. Really the truth is everything we learn from what our mother’s face looks like to how to conjugate a Latin verb or how to do a layup on the basketball court.

I mean, anything that we can say or know or do or recognize, we do that because we’ve had repetition of neurons making connections with other neurons.

That first variable of frequency or repetition is extraordinarily important and you have to have that to do anything at all.


Now, there are a couple of other variables. One would be intensity or power of stimulation. If we think back to our childhood when we were 7, 8, 9, 10 years old, and we remember something, it may have only happened once, but we remember it because the intensity of the experience could be painful, may be dramatic, may be very exciting, may be thrilling.

For me, most of my memories have intensity and are attached to pain, which is fine. I don’t have a problem with that. Those one-off memories we need little repetition because the intensity is so high. We use– we can leverage intensity to help kids remember things. For example, most people, if you say I before E, they will complete that by saying, except after C. That is a mnemonic device to help them learn to spell a certain set of words that follow that particular guideline.

Of course, you also have to go memorize all the exceptions to the rule because it’s not really a rule in the literal sense, but we had that mnemonic. That increases intensity, so we don’t need quite the same amount of repetition. Most people find that 5 x 5 and 6 x 6 are easier to memorize than 8 x 7, because somehow the 5 x 5, 25, and the 6 x 6, 36 have a greater intensity or charm, or balance or symmetry or rhythmic quality orthe rhyme scheme.

There’s certain things that are just harder for everybody, and so they need more repetition. That would be true with stuff like math facts, spelling words, geography, et cetera.


Then there’s duration, which would be the reinforcement over time. We all have experience of learning something with high repetition, holding it long enough to pass a quiz, pass a test, use it somehow, but then if there’s no reinforcement, those neural connections will dissipate and we won’t remember something that we used to know.

Looking at those three variables, then as teachers and parents and coaches for kids trying to cultivate memory, we would say, “Okay, we need enough repetition. We also want to add intensity, drama, imagination to that and space that repetition over time.” There’s reinforcement with the goal of lifetime retention.

Those are the three variables. Oftentimes people don’t, they don’t think about the fact that those variables are present. In doing so, they make it a little harder for themselves or their children to learn things and memorize things.

Amy: This makes me think as someone who is– music was a big part of my growing up, and memorization does not come as easily to me as it does to other people. I have to work much harder at it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still do it, but it’s just harder. There’s some embarrassing piano recital stories that would bear me out with that. I will never forget when I was, I don’t know, maybe 12 years old or so, and my teacher assigned me Golliwog’s Cakewalk, and I went home and I listened to it, and I just fell in love with this piece of music.

One week later I came back to lessons with the whole song completely memorized. Just loved it so much. Sometimes that just I guess you were using the intensity but sometimes the intensity too of just loving something deeply can really connect with our memory as well.

Increasing returns

Andrew: Absolutely. Another thing that we can consider in this process of furnishing the mind memorizing is that when you get into a certain area of cultivating memory, there’s a law of increasing returns. Meaning the more you have memorized, the easier it is to memorize more of that thing. I’m sure you’ve experienced this, that with scripture or maybe with Latin vocabulary or music. Certainly, I’ve seen this as a music teacher for half my life half my adult life.

The more repertoire that a student carries around in their mind and heart, the easier it is to add to that repertoire. The first 10 scripture verses that you try to memorize you may find, well, that’s really hard and it took me a long time. Then the 11th one comes easier and faster than the 10th one and the 12th one providing their of approximately the same length or complexity comes easier and faster. This is why a music student should maintain a memorized repertoire.

If you learn a piece, play it on a recital and forget it, learn another piece, play it on a recital, forget it, learn another piece, et cetera. You could learn 10 pieces, but at the end of the year, how many do you know? Maybe one, and then you forget it. Whereas if you maintain all of the pieces that you’ve committed to memory by playing them often enough so that you don’t forget them, learning that 12th piece is going to go twice as fast or even more than twice as fast as learning the first one.

I’ve constantly been preaching this to parents of my music students, is if you want everything to go well if you want to learn new pieces easily and smoothly and happily maintain all the pieces you’ve ever learned. I carried this over into our program on poetry memorization, which is essentially a Suzuki method for memorizing poetry so that you say every poem you’ve learned every day until you don’t have enough time.

Then you say every other poem you’ve learned every other day until you don’t have enough time and every third poem, every third day, and you just constantly recite all the poems you’ve ever learned. Then learning a new poem, even three or four or five stanzas is so much easier than if you didn’t have that great bank of memorized poetry.

Amy: You’re inspiring me to get back out our old poems and review them. That is something I haven’t considered how that affects even the ability to memorize new things. That’s great.

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Memory Work and the Development of Virtue

Now, one of the reasons why I really prioritize poetry and scripture memory, historic speeches in my own homeschool with my kids, is that I want their minds and hearts to be filled with things that are true.

We are in a time where they’re constantly being bombarded with things that are not true. I want their hearts fortified with these things that are beautiful and true. I sometimes joke with them that if they’re ever in a difficult situation, they’re going to be really glad they know Death, Be Not Proud by John Donne. The date of a historic battle is probably not going to bring the same level of comfort to them. [laughs]

When we’re thinking about memorization, we’ve talked about different aspects of it, but getting to this heart issue, how does what we memorize affect our children’s imagination and development of virtue?

Frederick Douglass

Andrew: Sure. There’s a few ways to look at this. One thing I will mention, something that I have mentioned in many talks I’ve given on the subject because to me, this particular man is one of the most remarkable people to ever live, and that is Frederick Douglass. A lot of people are familiar because he wrote several versions of an autobiography. I have read them all. I have read many biographies of Frederick Douglass.

I am fascinated with this man for not just basic historical reasons, but because educationally he had a very, very odd circumstance. He was born a slave. He grew up as an enslaved person in a time and place where it was illegal to teach an enslaved person to read or write. He lived in a fairly abusive, very harsh, abusive situation, separated from his parents at a younger age for the first 12 years of his life, which neurologically speaking, would be the most important developmental period in a child’s life.

I think you could argue maybe being chained in a closet. He had the worst educational environment that you could imagine during the most important developmental period of his life. Yet he became, I would argue, the greatest orator our country has ever produced. Now, you might argue that some people before him, maybe Patrick Henry, whatnot were superior in some ways. If you go, for example, and I would encourage all the listeners to do this, just go read his speech, which is very often titled, What To the Slave is The 4th of July.

It is an amazing, amazing speech, and it just will blow your mind with how eloquent it is. How many incredible illusions and references he makes to the Bible and history and other things. He was regarded as the greatest public speaker of his time, and I don’t think anyone exceeded that. You might make an argument for someone like Abraham Lincoln, but certainly, there’s no comparison in terms of education.

Then by the 20th century forget it. There’s nobody as articulate in the last 100 120, 150 years as Frederick Douglass. It raises the question, how did this happen? He had the worst possible education. He became the most articulate, eloquent, and powerful communicator of his day. We know because someone asked him and said, “Mr. Douglas, how did you become such a powerful speaker?” This is his answer? He said, “One of the first books that I owned was The Colombian Orator.” This was published in 1795 if my memory is correct.

It was essentially a collection of the greatest speeches that had been given throughout the history of the world, from Cicero to probably Augustine all the way up to Martin Luther, Patrick Henry, things that had been said or translated into English, the best. He essentially said, “I committed them all to memory.” He memorized the whole book of speeches. What did that do? It furnished his mind.

Not just with vocabulary, which is huge. Because you can’t really think a thought you don’t have words to think it in. Which you can’t do so in a concrete way to make it communicable. It furnishes not just with the vocabulary, not just with the beautiful syntax and grammar of the English language, not just with that and the literary devices, the schemes and tropes that make language effective and beautiful, but also with the seminal ideas of what is right and true and just according to essentially God’s law and perennial truth.

It steeped his mind in all of that. When he went to give speeches, he was able to draw on all of that, not just the language, but the beauty and the richness of concept that had been developed for 2000 or more years. If Frederick Douglass can become that type of person, I’m sure he had a very high intelligence, to begin with, any child today, could furnish their mind in a similar way for perhaps a similar mission to speak the truth into a world that is in desperate need of that.

Preparing for Persecution, a Curriculum Proposal

That’s one way I would look at it. If I can keep going here, I’ll give you my other angle on this. Last year, I did a conference talk about seven, eight times, I think called “preparing for persecution, a curriculum proposal.” My argument in this was, we as Christians in the West, in America, in North America, in western culture, as it is, could actually face a literal persecution.

We could have rights stripped from us. We could be oppressed. We could– and we’re seeing it. People say the wrong thing. What happens? The bank decides we don’t want you as a customer. We’ll cancel your bank accounts. We’ll cut you off. The ability for technology to oppress people is greater than ever before in the history of mankind. We could even face a point where we would be cut off from everything.

Maybe we end up without a home, without a car, without our family and friends as support. Maybe we end up in prison. Maybe, worst case scenario, we end up with no phone. How would we survive? What would remain if we didn’t have our books, if we didn’t have our computers if we didn’t have our resources, even the people. Imagine a worst-case scenario, you’re in prison, naked, cold, starving.

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What do you have left?

Only what you carry around in your mind.

I have read over the– in the process of preparing for this talk and contemplating it — I’ve read several autobiographies and biographies about people who suffered in prison, extreme persecution for long periods of time, and what’s so notable? Two things.

Number one, they were profoundly grateful for what they knew.

They were profoundly grateful for the scripture or the things they had studied or the stories they could recall to memory and share with other people in that same condition. They were just profoundly grateful for knowing stuff.

I think that it’s our responsibility to furnish our minds so that if everything were stripped from us if we couldn’t just ask our phone something if we couldn’t just pull our Bible off the shelf and open it up to remind us of what it says. Would we have enough stored? Would we have enough that we know by heart? Would we have it readily accessible in our mind that it could help sustain us through those times?

One guy in particular just blew my mind.

This guy was in prison in Cuba for 21 years under Castro suffering the worst horrible. Armando Vlardes is his name. Suffering the worst kind of horrific abuse and he could have ended it. He could have stopped it all by simply agreeing to go to the re-education program and accept the communist principles. He said, “No, I am a political prisoner and I will stay here and claim my identity as a political prisoner.”

What sustained him? He would recite to himself things he learned as a child. He would give lectures on things that he had studied to other prisoners to keep his mind active. I think this idea no one wants to think of worst case scenario, our kids or us or our grandchildren being physically oppressed and abused or imprisoned for their faith or their ideal, but it’s not impossible. if it doesn’t happen, guess what? We’re richer for having been ready for it. That’s my point in that preparing for persecution idea. That’s a lot to lay on people but that’s where I’ve been thinking these last couple of years.

Amy: In that story you shared, it wasn’t just for his own personal sustenance in that dark time, but he was able to share that hope in the community, even with the other people who were in prison with him. The things that we know by heart, these things that we’re storing up for potential hard times, all of us are going to face dark times in the future. This side of glory.

No matter what that looks like, we will all face hard times. To be able to have these things that not only bring joy and hope to our own hearts, but things that we can share with others, that’s really a gift. I think that’s something we can sometimes forget when we think about memory work or memorization because it seems something to me inside your own head. It’s a very personal thing and it is personal, but it’s something that’s designed to be shared.

Think of Paul and Silas. Singing hymns in prison and the Lord breaks them free. That is how there’s this whole transformation of that town and that jailer and the lives rippling effect of something they had in their heart.

Andrew: The early Christian martyrs going to their death singing hymns and psalms. If you’re going to do that, you better know them.

Amy: Yes, exactly. Hymns and psalms, you guys, I will put some links for references for studying and singing the psalms in particular in the show notes, because that’s something important to me. I’ll also add to the show notes if you’re listening, make sure you check those out.

I have a free resource for historic speeches, actually, one of which is Frederick Douglas’s speech that you mentioned earlier. I think I have, 13 speeches, so I share little excerpts, but then I have a printable. It’s over 100 pages. I originally had it in–

Andrew: That’s wonderful.

Amy: Originally it was in the blog post, and then it was this is too long for Google. [chuckles]

Andrew: That’s something I would love to share too, just in general. Be sure that you send that to me as well so I can put links to it because I’m often asked, people hear me talk and they come up and say, “I’m convinced where do I start?” We have a poetry memorization program we sell.

I also point out, all the good stuff is free. All the best poems are public domain. All the best speeches that have ever been given are readily available. They do need the list. They need to know where to start, especially so many– I meet so many moms who they just pulled their kids out of school, a year or two ago or yesterday, and they really do not know. They don’t have the tradition of homeschooling to join into in the same way that you had, or my kids had. They’re saying, “Tell me what to do. I want to do it, but I don’t know.” Please share that with me and then I can put that out as well, especially when I’m at a conference and people say, “Okay, well, where should I start?”

Amy: Yes, I will send you that link. It’s not all of the great speeches, but it’s certainly a good place to start because if you just go to the internet and are like, what speeches should I read? There’s too many, you just need a starting place.

Andrew: Like anything, you have to start with one.

Amy: Yes.

Andrew: We have to start with one thing. If that one thing goes well, then you can do another one thing and then another one thing, and then pretty soon you can have half a dozen things. That “tell me what to do first” is so important whether it’s, good heavens, music or cooking or memorizing.

Amy: Yes, definitely.

Andrew: Good.

memory work homeschooling poetry Andrew Pudewa IEW podcast interview

What about when a child struggles with memorization?

Amy: When we think about memorization, I think about even within my own children, I have that kid, I’m sure many of my listeners have that one kid who reads the thing one time and suddenly can just spout it all back and the rest of us are just a little bit irritated at the corner of the living room. You have other children who maybe just it’s not a natural gift or maybe have some other challenge where memorization is just really hard. Is there value in continuing in this process of memory work even if maybe a child never gets it completely word perfect or really, really struggles?

Andrew: Yes, absolutely. A couple thoughts. First of all, one of the logistical benefits of reciting everything you know every day is that you have a group of kids, whether it’s a home with kids different ages or a class where everybody is approximately the same age or even a group of college students, everyone’s going to have a different aptitude and need different amount of repetitions to memorize.

If you have a culture where you’re basically reciting everything you’ve learned every day, then the ones who know it they’re going to keep knowing it and they’re contributing to the experience of group recitation by being on the strong side. Then you’ve got younger kids, or kids who are less apt, that are getting another repetition, another opportunity. They can try, they can do it.

You see this with young children. You watch a three-year-old joining in to say a table blessing. Well, they don’t get every word when they’re three years old, but they try and they follow along. By the time they’re six, they probably get every word and they could say it just like everybody else says it. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth having them join in when they’re three.

In fact, it’s creating the aptitude so that it’ll be easier down line for them to memorize more. This group recitation where some people know it, other people are still learning it, gives everyone a chance to move on that pathway towards mastery or second nature or whatever you want to call it. Logistically, that I think is a very important idea.

The other idea that that comes to mind is having specific goals for recitation, individual recitation. There’s group and then there’s individual. We see this, say, I don’t know if you’ve ever had any kids getting into competitive speech and debate, but you get in to a point where you say, okay, I’m going to memorize this poem or this speech and I’m going to practice it and practice it and practice it until I can stand in front of my peers and other people’s parents and random people, like judges, and recite this as best I can.

Having that goal can be very motivating to kids. I would say, particularly around middle school when kids tend to be less happy about making mom happy and more interested in just doing whatever they want to do, and so at a certain age it’s harder to get kids motivated yourself. That’s where they become very helpful in terms of motivating kids of that age.

I’ve seen this again and again and again. There are, both in the homeschool world, cultures that do that as well as in the larger world, opportunities for kids to write a speech, memorize it and give it or learn someone else’s speech and give that acting like the person who gave the speech, a declamation or a poetry recitation. This is not completely dead from our culture, it’s just very narrowly available, but you can find that out. Poetry Alive I think is one organization that promotes that.

Amy: If somebody is maybe turned off by the idea of a competition or can’t imagine adding one more thing. I know when I was growing up, our homeschool group would have a night of the arts, a big end-of-year celebration, and everyone could come and perform or share one thing, whether that be a speech or a bit of Shakespeare or a piece of music or something like that. There are ways to fit it in where it doesn’t feel you’re making one more commitment to that can have that same motivating impact in a child who’s maybe not so sure.

Andrew: Yes. My grandchildren aren’t old enough to really do any of that competition, social stuff, but they will learn poems and then their mother will record the poems on the phone and send me the video of them saying the poems. I’m not there but I am an audience, and having an audience is very motivating to everyone, really. I’m a very friendly audience because, of course, I’m the grandpa. I’m going to love whatever they do. I appreciate my daughters who have worked in that direction of maintaining my involvement as a positive motivational factor for their kids to show me what they can do.

Amy: Oh, I love that. We always love sharing stuff with the grandparents too. It’s very fun. The kids get a kick out of it and it doesn’t feel scary to them, but it gives them just enough of that motivation.

Memory work that has struck Andrew’s heart over time

Well, Andrew, I’m really curious if there has been a particular thing you have memorized over the years that just comes up in your own memory or is something that really has struck your heart over time.

Andrew: Well, I would say that, although I did not grow up in a Christian home, our family was culturally Christian, we did Easter and Christmas, and my mother would drag my sister and me into Mount Olive Lutheran Church, I don’t know, maybe somewhere between two and six times a year. Our family religion was actually sailing. When the weather was good, which was almost all the time in Southern California, we’d spend the weekends on our sailboat, because that was my dad’s thing.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian culture the way say you did or the way that I have tried to create for my children, but for some reason, I did memorize the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. I don’t remember why or how I was motivated to do this, but doing that at a young age, it just stuck with me my whole life, whether I thought it meant anything or not, the truth of it was deeply embedded.

I look at that as just one of those things that cultivated the soil of my soul in a way that later, I was in my mid 30s when I came to Christ, so I’m often contemplating what were the things in my childhood that weren’t overtly Christian, but were helping to, like I said, cultivate, aureate, enrich the soil of my soul so that I could respond to the seeds of the gospel message?

Another thing that I did as a kid was I memorized poems, because my dad loved to read poems on our boat. We’d be over at Catalina Island, there’s nothing to do, there’s no radio, there’s no TV, there’s no internet, there’s no nothing. It was like being totally cut off. He would read poems, same poems week-after-week, year-after-year, so I memorized a few poems. Jabberwocky was one of my absolute favorites and The Embarrassing Episode of Little Miss Muffet by Guy Wetmore Carryl.

It’s funny because I carried these around with me my whole life, so wherever I would go, I could entertain people. That’s not a super high-end noble calling, but it was really fun to have these humorous, dramatic poems to share. I was a counselor at summer camp in my early teens, an assistant counselor. I would recite poems to kids there because I knew them. Of course, Jabberwocky is the ultimate defeat evil story. It’s a fairytale encapsulated in a few stans in a way that I just adored it. I’ve maintained certain poems like that that have been very useful.

I would say more recently I have combined my desire to memorize more with my desire to improve my Latin, because I taught Latin for six years but I really just don’t have any fluency of putting words together. I tell the story in one of my talks nurturing company communicators about when I was living in Japan and I memorized a Japanese version of Jack and the Beanstalk in order to expand my vocabulary and my use of grammar. That memorized patterns would hop out of Jack and the Beanstalk, I could change the nouns, verbs, adjectives, articles. I could change the words but keep the grammatical pattern. That became a breakthrough in my fluency of speaking Japanese when I was living there.

I was reflecting on that, and so I started to memorize Latin prayers. I’m also on a health kick, which means I’m trying to spend 12 to 15 minutes in 185 to 90 degrees sauna, five, six days a week. Time moves very slowly when you’re that uncomfortable. In order to help the time pass, I just go in and I recite my Latin prayers very, very quietly. I don’t want to freak out anybody else that might be in the sauna at the gym.

It’s very interesting how everything’s true. The first one was hard and it took a lot of time. It was like I could sometimes only add one or two words a day to this Latin prayer. Then once I got it, I would recite that several times every day. Then I started in on the next one. I’d just basically recite everything that I’ve got as much as I can to eat up the 12-minute target of being in a 190 degree sauna.

It is getting easier, it’s fascinating, and it’s also interesting that the Latin words are connected with the English words. Sometimes I’ll be thinking in English and that Latin word, because I memorized it, it’ll just pop into my mind at the same time. I think for those who are pursuing a foreign language, as I experienced both in Japanese in my early 20s, and as I’m experiencing now with these Latin prayers, there’s benefits that way as well.

I don’t know, there’s also something– with English memorized prayers it seems to be very easy to get mechanical about it. I’m not opposed to memorized prayers at all. I think they have a whole lot of value in addition to, of course, spontaneous prayers. In a way, memorizing the Psalms was like memorized prayers, that’s what it was. Jesus said, “Pray like this.” When I’m in this world of Latin, because it’s not as familiar, I’m even more engaged in thinking about the meaning.

Anima Christi, sanctifica me

Corpus Christi, salva me

Sanguis Christi, inebria me

Soul of Christ, sanctify me

body of Christ, save me

blood of Christ, inebriate me.

There’s this intellectual and spiritual and emotional engagement with these memorized Latin prayers I never would’ve predicted when I began doing it for much less noble spiritual reasons. [laughs]

Amy: My teen daughter’s French teacher is a dear friend of mine, a local lady, and she, from the very beginning of French 1, they’re now in French 2, has included recitation of the catechism in French with the students at the beginning. They’re working through– my daughter, anyway, recognizes it’s a very simplified children’s catechism that we use in our church. It’s the same things that she’s familiar with in English and now she’s reciting them in French.

Now, is she quite to that level of French? Not really, but like you were saying, it’s training your mind, it’s developing your ability to think in this other language in a really unique and practical way too. I know sometimes we want to avoid the word practical but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being practical too.

Andrew: Well, sometimes the things that seem the least practical end up being the most valuable. We can’t necessarily always judge that well. I think that’s, getting back to the first question you asked me, how have things changed over time in homeschooling, is we tend to want to be very utilitarian. We want to teach this because we need it on a transcript. We want to teach this because it’s going to give these particular skills. We’re going to teach this because it builds towards, I hate the term but people use it, college and career readiness blah, blah, blah

Whereas I think after a decade or so, you don’t have to justify it. You can say, well, let’s read this because it’s beautiful. Let’s contemplate this because it will enrich us, and there is no immediate practical utilitarian value. Yet later on then we look back and say, I’m so much richer. I’m so much better for having done that. In a way, I think we want to be very careful about saying, well, we have to do everything for a reason. Some of the best things we may do might have been for no reason at all. Then we look back and say, well, I’m sure glad we did that.

Amy: Because education rightly understood is about making us more fully human. So all these things that are humanizing, in a biblical Christian sense of what it means to be truly humanized, are a gift to our education and a gift to our children, for sure.

Andrew: Yes. Absolutely.

What is Andrew Pudewa reading lately?

Amy: Well, this has been such a delight to get to chat with you kind of in-person, over the computer. Here at the end I’m going to ask you the questions that I ask all of my guests. The first is just, what are you personally reading lately?

Andrew: I always have two or three things going at once. One is audio, because I do a lot of audiobooks, and then things that are more technical or that I want to stop and contemplate, I usually read those on paper. The book that I just finished on audio is a biography of the father of Alexandre Dumas, who wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

His father, also named Alexandre Dumas, was just this incredible mind-blowing person. He was born of a French count and a Black slave in what is now Haiti. His father disowned him and so he got over to France and enlisted in the French Army as a private. Although he had nobility, he was also Black and he had no wealth and so it’s his story. He rose up to become broadly acknowledged as the strongest and most brilliant general in the French Army during the time of the French Revolution and then under Napoleon, only Napoleon, I think, felt threatened by him in many ways.

What’s really interesting to me is how his life experiences filtered into the novels of The Count of Monte Cristo. In fact, the subtitle of the book, it’s called The Black Count: The Real Life Count of Monte Cristo, a fascinating book. I love well-written biographies because you end up learning a whole lot of history, but it’s contained within the narrative of a good story. I learned more about the French revolutionary time period than I had previous to this. I finished that book.

Then I try to alternate fiction nonfiction. I’m listening to a book I’m very unhappy to be listening to. It’s called The Cheese Trap and I fear that this book is going to convince me that I would be healthier if I stop eating cheese. I don’t want to do want to do tha.t

Amy: Oh, I’m glad you warned me. I should not listen to this book.

Andrew: Yes, I don’t want to do that but it’s a compelling argument. Then I’m reading a book by a friend of mine called Going Deeper and it’s essentially an apologetic for the existence of God based fon reason. It’s starting with a argument toward first cause, so it’s really a classical argument for Christianity but through the path of reason.

This, I think, is very valuable for us. Because so many times we run around and we say, how do we know that’s true? Well, it’s in the Bible. Well, there’s a whole lot of people that don’t accept the Bible as the source of truth. So, how do we draw them into an argument of reason toward the existence of God? then once you get to the existence of God, then you move on from there.

Anyway, it’s by a friend of mine. It’s very well done, he’s a very good writer, and it’s a tiny little small book. I started that. Then I also am reading a book, it’s a collection of stories by a friend of mine, who have an organization that ministers to parents who’ve lost children. It’s called our It’s a collection of stories by parents who lost children and how they found comfort in their faith through that. Kind of a weird mishmash of stuff, I wouldn’t say any one of those is ‘a classic’ but I’m at a point in life where I’m probably not going to read 95% of the books that I own, but I don’t have to.

Amy: That’s right. I actually read a very compelling article shared by a friend in my book club with me this past year, that was talking about the power of all the unread books and our home and how it teaches us to be humble, because we can never actually know everything there is to know. So the argument was, we should always have more books than we could read, which I really need to share this article with my husband. Be like, “No, really, all these bookshelves that are overflowing, these are to help my sanctification.” [laughs]

Andrew: I heard a fantastic quote, I don’t know who originally said it or where it came from but it really resonated with me, which is a man’s bookshelf is not who he is, it is who he aspires to be.

Amy: I love that.

Andrew: When I look at all the books that I have not read, that I would like to read, I hope it’s reflecting who I’m hoping to be someday, only at my age it’s only going to be on the other side.

Andrew Pudewa’s best tip for helping a homeschool day run smoothly

Amy: Yes, further up and further in. [laughs] Final question would be, what is your best tip for helping a homeschool day run smoothly?

Andrew: Oh, wow, this has totally changed. I’m going to go out on a limb here and probably say something that people would challenge as being the most important thing. Because my life, my mind, my heart, my spirit has been totally transformed because of this in the last few years, I’m going to say exercise. I think that every homeschool would do very well, to, if not start with, but in the morning, sometime, have an organized group exercise time for the whole family. Well, maybe dad’s gone.

We do not do this well in the homeschool world, and I think for a couple reasons. One is we look at kids and they’re already moving all the time anyway, so you’re like, what I really want them to do is just stop moving for a little bit, sit down and listen to me. I think there’s some real value in organized, consistent things like calisthenics and resistance training that are so good not just for the body but for metabolism, for processing nutrients. People say you are what you eat, no, you are what you absorb.

I’m increasingly aware of a lot of homeschool families that, especially if they just came into homeschooling because they pulled their kids out at COVID, and they’re not attuned to the physical side that allows for better intellectual and spiritual growth. I would very strongly encourage all parents to say, okay, where in our schedule can we just take half an hour and do family calisthenics?

I started a program, not this year, but the year before, of doing a certain number of push-ups increasing one every day. Whenever the grandchildren would come over, I’d be like, “Okay, it’s push-ups time,” because I got to get a couple hundred in before the end of the day, and they respond so well to this, to this kind of structured, consistent, athletic, move your body build your muscles idea.

It’s like anything, it’s like memory work. If we don’t consciously do it, we will default to not doing it or doing it inconsistently and not getting the benefit. That’s my kind of, probably off-the-norm, suggestion for having the best homeschool day you can have is get the exercise that will allow everything else to go more smoothly.

Amy: I love that. Y’all, you heard it here. Don’t be a Gnostic, the body matters too. [laughs] We’re going to have pushup challenges entering everyone’s morning time routines this semester.

This has been so wonderful. Thank you for chatting with us today. Where can people find you and your resources all around the internet?

Andrew: Pretty easy. We broke down and did it. We bought this somewhat expensive three-letter domain name. Now we own it,, and it’s got links to all of my talks and free PDF downloads, and of course, all the products. Then we have a pretty good presence on both YouTube and Facebook, and so people can search for Andrew Pudewa, my name is pretty unique, there’s only one other person in the world, as far as I’m aware, with that exact two names.

Also, just IEW is pretty common. We did a conference last week where I did five convention talks and we live-streamed it to the world and that’s still on the Facebook page. Lots and lots of info, more than anyone would actually want or need.

Amy: I will have links to all of those resources in the show notes with the full transcript for this episode over at Thanks so much.

Andrew: Well, thank you for your great work, Amy. God bless you.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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