There are times when learning something feels like you are driving on a super highway. And then there are other times when you feel like you are trying to climb Mount Everest. Any gain is hard-won, and the going seems treacherous. Feet slip easily and you find yourself sliding back over already-covered ground.
There are times to push through learning situations like this. I am a big proponent of perseverance, for sure. But sometimes, it helps to look for an alternative route through the mountain range. Building a Memory Palace might be one of those tools you can try. It just might be the pass your child needs.
Back when it was time consuming and cost-prohibitive to write things down, people had to employ different techniques to remember important things. One of the techniques they used was called the Memory Palace- in the Greek, the Method of Loci. In this technique, people build immense imaginary palaces in their mind, and fill it with the things they want to commit to memory. As they walk through the rooms, mentally, they are able to recall everything they have placed there.
Cicero was said to have used this technique to memorize lengthy speeches. Monks used it to memorize passages of scripture. It is said to have originated with the Greek poet Simonides, who had been attending a banquet. When he left the hall, tragically, it collapsed behind him. By remembering where people had been sitting during the banquet, in the days following, he was able to recall each person’s location -or loci- for the benefit of their loved ones.
Today I want to talk about how to teach your child how to build a mini-memory palace. It is an extremely effective learning technique that anyone can learn to use.
Mini-Memory Palace technique
Begin by Picking the Palace
The best place to start is with somewhere the child knows well.
Their house, or their room, works well. Though it is (at least in our case) decidedly un-palace like, because they know it well, the memories have the best chance of taking hold.
Teach them how to access their visual memory.
Ask questions like “How many windows are in your room?” or “How many doors are in your house?”
Watch to see how they look up to remember. To see the answers to these questions they will have to mentally tour their room or home. Explain to them that they are using their visual memory to see those things.
Start placing items.
Tell them that you are going to play for a little while, in their mind, using this visual memory.
Give them a picture of what you want them to remember. We used simple math fact flashcards, but the technique is easily expandable to other subjects as well- you can pick any number of things that need to be committed to memory.
Ask them to take a picture of the item with their eyes, and then glue it or place it in a specific place in their room. Have them glue it to the front of their dresser drawer, or write it on their head board…in their brain.
Make sure they can see it there, even after you remove the card, by asking them what is glued to the front of their dresser. If it isn’t there, have them write it down, or take a better picture. Get this first one glued down really well.
Then, go ahead and glue some more stuff in the room.
To the back of the door. On the ceiling, in the closet. Write things in marker on the wall next to the lamp or under their pillow. This is mental work, but for many kids it will feel like play.
Make each item that needs to be remembered specifically attached to something in the room.
Throughout the day have them recall the different glued-down or written-out items throughout their room or the house. “Look at the back of your door- what is 7×3?” or “Look at your drawer- what is 8×3?” Wait for them to look up, access that visual memory, and recall the answer.
Recall is important: every time they do this they are getting better at accessing that information, and it will become more readily available.
And that’s really it! So uncomplicated, and yet so effective!
The Method of Loci is an extremely powerful technique that has been used for centuries, and is responsible for incredible acts of memory, both in terms of quality and quantity.
Though our students might start small- with their bedroom or their house- this technique can certainly be expanded and added on to as they grow. This introduction is specifically aimed at an early, basic introduction to this technique. There are much more involved forms of this method, and it can be expanded to remember speeches, passages of literature or scripture, and even entire foreign languages. Many of our contemporary memory champions use an expanded form of this technique in competitions.
I am a big believer in helping our kids figure out how their brains work. No, we cannot learn for them, but we can teach them techniques like this- proven techniques they can use to really use their brains with skill.
Let me know if you try this! I am really interested to know how it works for your students!