A few months ago, I received a very sweet comment from a reader who believed I had used the term “recitation” incorrectly. She had read one of my very first posts, about teaching children to memorize scripture. When I was a teacher, we called this worthy art of memorizing and beautifully repeating scripture, poems, and passages “Recitation.” But this lovely reader believed I had used the terms recitation and memory work incorrectly, stating that recitation was simply the art of reading something beautifully, and that it wasn’t said by memory. I can see how this could be, but I wanted to dig into this a little more for myself.
Is recitation the art of reading something beautifully, and memory work is the art of memorizing and saying something by memory?
Or- is recitation the art of saying something beautifully that has been memorized, and memory work is the actual process of memorizing?
Or- are recitation and memory work similar and compatible, to be used interchangeably?
As we draw nearer to formal lessons, these topics interest me more and more. I want to be prepared for these things when our formal lessons start!
Why the Confusion?
In Home Education, Charlotte Mason calls recitation the “fine art of beautiful and perfect speaking.” (page 223). On the same page, she goes on to say, “The child should speak beautiful thoughts so beautifully, with such delicate rendering of each nuance of meaning, that he becomes to the listener the interpreter of the author’s thought. ” During her description of recitation, she does not say anything about speaking from memory.
In fact, on page 224 she says, “Recitation and committing to memory are not necessarily the same thing.” (emphasis mine.) This is where it gets confusing. Should our children be encouraged to memorize something and recite it beautifully? Or do we allow them (when they’re older!) to read passages to recite?
In Recitation: The Children’s Art, which Charlotte Mason referred to on page 222-223 of Home Education, Arthur Burrell said that recitation informs good reading. He recommended filling a copybook with beautiful passages and poems so that a child can learn them. Here, it seems unclear to me if he means learn them as in “reads fluently” or “commits to memory.”
Up until this point, it seems like recitation definitely means learning to say it beautifully, as is read from a book.
But then, Miss Mason adds this passage:
Bible Recitations.–The learning by heart of Bible passages should begin while the children are quite young, six or seven. It is a delightful thing to have the memory stored with beautiful, comforting, and inspiring passages, and we cannot tell when and how this manner of seed may spring up, grow, and bear fruit…” Home Education, page 253
Notice the name of the section: Bible recitations. Storing the memory with beautiful, comforting, inspiring passages.
Related: The Complete Charlotte Mason Preschool Guide
What is Recitation?
According to Dictionary.com, recitation is:
Recitation as Reading
So what does recitation as reading look like? In his article, Arthur Burrell gave these guidelines:
(1). Be very careful about pronunciation.
(2). Let pieces be learnt bit by bit, after a careful explanation has been given.
(3). The child must stand to read. Other positive rules come in here.
(4). A piece once learnt must be occasionally repeated.
He recommended keeping a commonplace book and writing down beautiful passages, poems, and verses.
Recitation as Remembering
In continuing her thoughts about storing the memory with Bible passages, Charlotte Mason said-
“….but the learning of the parable of the Prodigal son, for example, should not be laid on the children as a burden. The whole parable should be read to them in a way to bring out its beauty and tenderness; and then, day by day, the teacher should recite a short passage, perhaps two or three verses, saying it over some three or four times until the children think they know it. Then, but not before, let them recite the passage. Next day the children will recite what they have already learned, and so on, until they are able to say the whole parable.” Home Education, page 253