How to Find a Happy Medium with Rote Memorization

Rote memorization- a memorization technique based on repetition

Rote memorization is one of those things that you either love or you hate. Some people swear by it and have their children memorize everything from their basic addition to verb conjugations in three different languages. Others despise the thought of it and tend to use technology as a crutch in order to avoid forcing it on their kids.

As a former unschooling mom, I used to fall in the latter camp. After being up to my eyeballs in books on natural learning for months, I came to the conclusion that rote memorization was the enemy. As someone who firmly believed that children learn best when they initiate the learning, which I still find to be true, I avoided it like the plague. I kept myself content with the thought that Google can help with anything and everything, and internet access would be even more prevalent when my kids became adults. 

Over time, however, I realized that it really is necessary to find a happy medium. You don’t need to have your kids memorize every Robert Frost poem known to man, but you also shouldn’t feel guilty for making your children learn basic math skills that they’ll need in day to day life.

Rote memorization
How to find a happy medium with rote memorization.

It all comes down to one key question:

When is rote memorization necessary?

These are the guidelines I use for our family:

When to use it:

 -To learn basic math skills.

Despite the fact that, yes, we live in a technological age where almost everyone 12 and older has a smartphone in their pocket, we simply can’t rely on our easy access to a calculator for everything. Do you really want your child to grow up to need a calculator to figure out how much change she should be expecting at the store? Or to add up three items to make sure he has enough money?

This holds true for multiplication and division, too. I’ve read so many resources that insist it isn’t necessary to memorize basic multiplication and division, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. It’s such a timesaver to know that you need three tables with four chairs to seat twelve people. Or to realize that if you’re going to give nine relatives $20 each for Christmas, you’ll need $180 without resorting to pulling out the phone to figure it out.

-To learn their address and phone number.

This information is crucial for your child to know, and sometimes it will come down to going over and over it again in order for them to learn it. It’s worth the trouble.

-To learn basic geography.

I know that this isn’t vital to everyday survival, but I don’t think anyone wants their child to grow up ignorant of the fact that Hawaii and New Mexico are in the United States and are not separate countries. I always made sure not to make this tedious by using the “Fifty Nifty United States” video on YouTube.


– To learn basic letter formation and sounds.

Many kids will pick up on at least letter formation on their own, but in the event this doesn’t happen, it is absolutely essential that children learn these skills, and rote memorization is sometimes the best way to do this.



These examples are the most basic instances that rote memorization can be used. To be quite honest, it just isn’t necessary for every child to memorize the Periodic Table of Elements; I did and have not once needed to use it to this day. It is not necessary for every child to remember every geometry postulate or how to find the y-intercept. As for state capitals, they’re nice to know but certainly not something your child will likely use often, if ever.

Just think to yourself, Will my child ever need this? If you struggle to find an answer in the affirmative, maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at why you’re requiring it in the first place. It’s so important to make these decisions based on the needs and interests of the individual child, not because “everyone else is doing it” or “the textbook said so.”

Be sure to keep in mind that you don’t have to fall in one camp or the other. Assess what is necessary for your family and comfort level, and move on from there. In a way, it’s a bit like textbooks. They’re both tools, but tools that should always be used discriminately. 

You’ll all be much happier for it.



Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

23 thoughts on “How to Find a Happy Medium with Rote Memorization”

  1. Totally agree! We rely on memorization for some things– definitely multiplication and division facts– but not everything. I remember I had to memorize the sine, cosine, and tangent for so many angles in geometry and never once needed them again after taking the class. I always ask myself if it will help the boys in the future or not.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes. If you can’t give a good reason that your kids will need something in the future, it’s usually not necessary to make them memorize it. Touch on it a bit to see if there’s an interest? Yes. Otherwise, don’t insist on teaching something you know in your heart they’ll never use.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rote memorization doesn’t work for our son. We have to come up with creative ideas to help him with things like math facts and months of the year. Usually songs and skip counting works well for him.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. There is definitely a place for memorization skills in learning. It is also a real world tool. As an engineer, I’ve had to memorize tons of facts. Also, day to day, memorizing names, faces, places, facts helps in so many areas. Each person has different methods to building this skill and I’ve had to fall back on this with my youngest son for math and CLEP prep for my other kids. Seems that they do remember our essentials like their home address, our phone numbers, their friends phone numbers, even locations of places we go daily or areas of their personal interest.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the reason so many people dislike it is because rhey picture kids mindlessly repeating facts over and over again, when, in fact, it can include music, rhymes, and so many other things that will help the child to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree to every point of yours Shelly, some things like maths (the tables) and geography can never be learnt by reasoning. You need to learn them by heart and be able to reproduce when necessary. I am impressed with how you have brought about the topic. Interesting read indeed
    Menaka Bharathi _ The Blogger’s Pit Stop

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That “states song” is the 2nd one Gv learned to sing – right after the alphabet song! It’s our go-to whenever we’re driving around somewhere. And I agree with Melinda – people are going to wonder if you’re paying me, too! So happy you continue to join us at #FridayFrivolity each week!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. When I first started homeschooling my oldest (now 19), I was adamantly opposed to rote memorization. Actually, I was adamantly opposed to anything that looked like a public classroom. Ha, live and learn. He did memorize Scripture verses, but there are so many great things I wish I had had him memorize. My four current students memorized all the presidents last semester, and we’re working on the states (thanks for the video) this semester. It’s such a great discipline to have!

    Liked by 1 person

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