Mnemonic Rocks

Even before my eldest could write proper words, I made him keep a journal. I was inspired by a friend of ours whose daughter (same age as my eldest) kept a sketchbook diary – images of events she felt were important to record. Every week I would ask him to “write” – usually a picture or invented words (spelling) – about something good that happened and something bad. Or he would be asked to draw something after a “special outing” – a trip to his grandmother’s, a trip to the zoo, a friend’s birthday party, etc.

My eldest knows words now but despite my starting early still has trouble putting them together and figuring out where to start. I wonder if it is really from a lack of something to say or not wanting to contend with the challenge of where to start? OR just a general lack of interest? (I am careful not to push him into my mold – just because I enjoy writing, doesn’t mean he does.)

He likes to read but writing is troubling for him – despite my “spelling doesn’t matter right now” approach. He’ll draw pictures – comic strips chronicling his days and thoughts but he’ll struggle for something to write when asked to write without the benefit of pictures.

Digging around the Internet for resources I came across this 2008 Rocky Mountain News article putting forth this scenario:

Put a blank sheet of paper in front of a girl and ask her to write about three things she did over the summer. She might think it’s a dumb assignment, but she’ll do it.

A boy, on the other hand, might go blank as he struggles to assign words to complex scenes and emotions. But let the boy draw a picture of his memories first, then hand him a pen. The words just might flow.

That’s my son! – struggling “to assign words to complex scenes and emotions!”

While I do not agree entirely with all of the teachers’ opinions on the issue, I do believe in gross generalization girls are better at communicating complex emotions than boys. I would add that this phenomena has its roots far deeper than the 21st Century classroom – it’s cultural and it’s social.

However, I don’t buy into the argument that girls are better decoders and more patient than boys. Again, it is a result of socialization and upbringing. I do agree that girls and boys learn differently – In fact, I believe how children learn is partially genetic and partially a result of environment.

Do you remember your first words? The first words you strung into a phrase, a question, or statement? The first sentence you wrote?

I can barely remember the first book I read on my own. I have no recollection of my first sentence. I only remember that it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began keeping a journal. It was mostly poetry that rhymed. My sister had been writing her journal since middle school. There was a poem or two but it was mostly very overt thoughts and emotions.

I think there is a reason my sister was comfortable with straightforwardly stating the facts, whereas I used rhyme. I am very susceptible to ear worms – Not the kind your dog might get but the kind that you might get when you find yourself humming a song you wouldn’t readily admit to liking.

This can be a curse socially – I drove my wife to the brink of insanity once when Brtiney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” got stuck in my head for two weeks. But in retrospect it also works as a blessing because it helps me remember things – phone numbers, screen names, passwords, and school facts like the multiplication table and the Preamble to the Constitution

There is a lot of writing available about using songs as a mnemonic technique. But just putting facts to music isn’t enough. The song has to be “good” – Good meaning it has to be catchy and include enough important facts on the subject to be useful. That’s what Schoolhouse Rock did well – And what it’s still doing every time I count change or put together a budget.

It is still too early to tell whether the Schoolhouse Rock songs about grammar and punctuation have made my eldest a better writer. However, he enjoyed the songs so much I recently ordered the 30th Anniversary DVD. I also bought a CD of Schoolhouse Rock covers.

I couldn’t resist the temptation of ending this post with two of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs:

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