I’ve been learning a lot about memorization techniques lately: memory palaces, the Major system, and tools in that family. At first, I learned about them just out of nerdish curiosity. Then I was impressed at just how effective the techniques can be; I memorized my family’s 14-digit library card numbers, credit card numbers, and social security numbers each on a single pass and, once I figured out a suitable memory palace, all the Presidents of the United States in about half an hour.
Still, I’m mostly just stuffing my head with trivia. But a part of me thinks, “Gee, I wish I had known about this when I was in school. I could have slacked off way more than I did.” And I looked at my 8-year-old daughter and thought, “Well, she can still learn it.”
Unfortunately, most books about these techniques are aimed at adults. They talk about adult things like bank accounts and meetings and giving speeches, and they specifically suggest using lewd imagery to make an image stick in your mind. Not something I’m quite ready to suggest to my kid.
So I was happy to find the recently released How to Remember Everything by children’s book author Jacob Sager Weinstein, which is specifically written for kids—though adults can use it, too! Weinstein covers all sorts of memory techniques, from mnemonics such as “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” to memorizing a deck of cards, with a path that leads through memory palaces and brain biology.
The slim, well-illustrated book walks kids through the basic ideas: your mind is adapted to remember places, silly and bizarre images, and stories. So if you can translate the things you want to remember into wacky, extreme images arranged according to some story or physical space, you’ll remember them more efficiently and for a longer time. And you’ll have lots of fun doing it. By the time she finished the book, my daughter had used her room as a memory palace to remember the Major system, come up with a story about a friend of hers that translates to my wife’s cell phone number, and is now working on state capitals. We share stories about the wacky images we come up with.
One thing I particularly liked about this book is that Weinstein frequently reminds his readers that he doesn’t have a particularly good memory, either. He shares humorous memory lapses from his own life. I feel this helps kids adopt a growth mindset to the task by giving them something to relate to. But he also highlights staggering memorization feats of younger people to give them something to aspire to.
And this may sound silly, but I also appreciate that, unlike some of the other books I’ve read, Weinstein suggests lists of things to memorize. Shortly after learning and applying the techniques, I reached a “Well now what?” moment. I figured out other things to memorize on my own, but I think the prompt to kids, which includes such interesting topics as Chinese dynasties and your relative weight on different planets, will give them extra material to practice with.
I wish he had covered memorizing poems and/or speeches, as this seems like a thing kids would need to know in school. And, selfishly, because I’d appreciate his perspective on something I’m working to master.
These techniques aren’t often taught at school—though I feel like they should be—but fortunately How to Remember Everything will give you and your child the tools you need to learn them yourselves.