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Memory Work: The "Four Rs"

Posted by Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney
Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as
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on Monday, 31 October 2011
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Most of us are familiar with the “Three Rs”—reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic—but how many of you know the “Four Rs” of memory work?  These four might be less familiar, but they are critical to a classical education. The “Four Rs” are: read, research, record, and relate. They can be applied to Foundations memory work in order to build on the recitations of the community day. Older grammar stage students are able to flesh out their science and history memory pegs for deeper understanding, but do not underestimate the little ones; with the “Four Rs” they can do more than you might at first imagine. I have begun to follow the “Four Rs” with my six-year-old, and we are experiencing excellent results. (For another explanation of these skills, see pages 103-105 in your Classical Conversations Foundations guide.)   

The “Four Rs”


First, read about the Foundations history sentences. There are plenty of sources for supplementing the Foundations memory work, especially the Cycle 3 American history facts. Choose something that works for your family based on your goals, your time constraints, and the ages and abilities of your children. Your Classical Conversations director can supply a list of history textbooks and read-alouds for each week of the year. Below, I have listed some of the suggestions which are working for my family this year. 

• We spend one day a week in the car driving to piano, tennis, and art lessons. On those days, we listen to famous American speeches, tall tales, and legends. We like the recordings produced by Jim Weiss for Greathall Productions.

• This year, my oldest child is in Challenge A, but I did not want him to miss out on American history, so he is reading through The Story of US by Joy Hakim. (A word of caution:  Like most recent history textbooks, there is bias to this text. I chose to use it because the author thoroughly covers U.S. History, from Columbus to modern times, and because she includes graphics such as political cartoons, famous American paintings, and lots of maps. We skipped the first volume, which is largely speculative about North American history prior to Columbus. I have found it helpful to use this as a time to discuss bias with my son, which is good preparation for dialectic thinking. While this is a useful exercise, it is more work for busy parents, so some will prefer to choose a different resource.)

• My next child is ten, and she is enjoying much less detailed stories about U.S. History.  I wanted to give her a solid overview of the timeline of U.S. History to supplement the history songs.  So, every day at home, she reads a short selection from The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History. After she finishes these tales, we will read Don’t Know Much About the Presidents, and the Scholastic series If You Sailed on the Mayflower, If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon, and so on.  Her classical girls’ book club is also reading historical fiction about different eras in American history this year.

• My six-year-old needs to practice her reading, as well as learn the stories of history, so she is using the I Can Read series produced by Harper Collins. These are a range of short, independent readers for a variety of history topics including the Revolutionary War, the Dust Bowl, and even the founding of Rhode Island. These are slightly below my daughter’s reading level, so they provide lots of practice with phonics while she is introduced to interesting stories from American history.  I do not expect her to remember every detail of these stories; they are for her to read and enjoy.

With grammar stage children, you do not necessarily have to worry about reading history stories in chronological order.  Because they will memorize the timeline of history multiple times, grammar students know how to order the events as they read about them. As a result, reading history stories offers another opportunity to review the timeline. For example, when my six-year-old read Finding Providence about Roger Williams, we took out the history cards and reviewed what came before and what came after Williams founded Rhode Island.


Children in fourth through sixth grades can also supplement their memory work in history and science by completing research. 

• My older grammar stage students occasionally research famous landmarks, events, and people for their weekly presentations.  My oldest daughter especially enjoys dressing up as Abigail Adams, or showing pictures of herself at a famous landmark such as the Statue of Liberty while relating facts about its construction. 

• Students can also research more about the science facts each week and record these in a sketch notebook. The Classical Acts and Facts Science Cards provide a great beginning for science research.  Then, families can look at the “Science Snippets” on the Classical Conversations Connected community. 

• Finally, students can read science books. There is a wealth of books to complement the Cycle 3 emphasis on human anatomy, from Magic School Bus, to Usborne, to Kingfisher.


In order to cement their knowledge, it is important for students to record the information they have learned.

• My fourth grader complements her daily history reading by creating a sketch notebook (I use the Classical Conversations Sketch Notebooks from the Challenge program, which are inexpensive and perfect for this type of assignment). She draws a picture to represent the story of the day and then summarizes the story below her drawing. Usually, her summary is three to four sentences. These short pieces give us an opportunity to practice cursive handwriting, spelling, punctuation, and the identification of the main idea.


Students need to practice the valuable skill of verbally retelling the information they have learned.

• After my children complete their daily readings in history, they must give me a verbal summary of the selection.  Depending on the length of the selection and their interest in the topic, we might spend ten to fifteen minutes on it. Sometimes, they are excited to tell me what they have learned right away.  Other times, we save it for later so that there is plenty of lively discussion around the dinner table. This dinner conversation gives Dad an opportunity to be involved in the children’s history education. He asks excellent questions to test their knowledge and adds interesting facts to what they have learned.

The grammar stage of a classical, Christian education is about accumulating the facts or knowledge that students will use later. Spend a little time each day implementing the “Four Rs,” and delighting in the acquisition of these wonderful stories together. By the end of the year, you will be amazed by your newfound wealth.

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Jennifer Courtney has been home educating since 2004. In addition, she serves as the Director of Training and Development for Classical Conversations MultiMedia. She and her husband have been home-educating their four children classically since 2005. Jennifer is also a Challenge III tutor in her local community. She is the co-author of Classical Christian Education Made Approachable and the Classical Acts and Facts History Cards. Jennifer enjoys traveling throughout Oklahoma and to other states to speak to parents about home education and the classical model.

Jennifer graduated with an Honors degree in English from Oklahoma State University, summa cum laude. She was a Rhodes Scholar semi-finalist and a National Merit Scholar. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and four children.


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