The music of the verse was as entrancing to [my daughter] as to any grown-up. Without knowing it, a child who has learned a scrap of verse has been drawn into the civilizing interplay of music and language, rhythm and sound, melody and words—just as educational theory as far back as ancient Greece posits, according to Werner Jaeger in his classic account of Greek education, Paideia.
From The Cat in the Hat on up, verse teaches children something about the patterns and relationships that bind together the words of which it is composed. Poetry sets up an abstract system of order and harmony; the rhythm and the rhyme scheme are logical structures that a child can comprehend even before he understands the words themselves, just as he can grasp the rhythmic and harmonic relations of a piece of music.
What the child discovers, in other words, is not only aesthetically pleasing, but important to cognitive development. Classic verse teaches children an enormous amount about order, measure, proportion, correspondence, balance, symmetry, agreement, temporal relation (tense), and contingent possibility (mood). Mastering these concepts involves the most fundamental kind of learning, for these are the basic categories of thought and the framework in which we organize sensory experience. Kids need to become familiar with them not only through exercises in recitation and memorization, but also, as they proceed to the later grades, by construing, analyzing, and diagramming particular verses. In The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman called this close study of language “a discipline in accuracy of mind,” a “first step in intellectual training” that impresses on young minds notions of “method, order, principle, and system; of rule and exception, of richness and harmony.” And of course memorization is a kind of exercise that strengthens the powers of the mind, just as physical exercise strengthens those of the body.
This article is beautifully written, and I love what they have to say. I can say that the little bit of memory work Monkey has done has been surprisingly successful - he knows bits of "Who Has Seen the Wind" after only a few readings, and he's doing well with the scripture memorization we ask him to do, which seems like a lot of memorizing for such a little guy! For me, I was just amazed when I started doing memory work: not only was I able to memorize, but it made my brain work better all the time, I remembered more of everything, not just the verses that I had set myself to remember. No more Mommy-brain for me! My memory box takes care of that for me.