The word "memorization" often triggers adult visions of gruesome Old World teaching: Teachers with long sticks demanding that children spend hours repeating the same old thing.

Yet memorization is a part of learning we can watch children do - as a natural do-it-yourself part of teaching themselves. With nothing else to learn, kids will sing TV ditties and repeat long advertisement soliloquies - just for fun.Kids want to have something they think is real to say. Even at age 2, kids are looking for words to say. When they hear things that sound like fun, such as bad words, they will repeat them with great inflection.

At 3, children are looking for things to learn. They will memorize favorite passages from books, nursery rhymes and things their parents say, such as graces before and after meals, bedtime prayers and songs from church. They will learn them "by heart" because they love the sound of the words, all together in a powerful string. At 3, children can learn to memorize long poems such as "The Night Before Christmas."

But children can't memorize good stuff if they don't hear it.

Cultures that maintain oral traditions have an advantage. For children learning school rules, the Pledge of Allegiance, number facts and the letters of the alphabet come faster to them.

Oral tradition, or passing the culture down from generation to generation by words, still goes on with storytelling. Families that take the time to tell mom-and-pop stories often, which encourage family tales, will keep family traditions alive for generations. Most of it is memorization.

How does this fit into child care? When children spend as much time away from their homes as the average day-care child does, providers can help children learn to memorize, and it begins with song.

Songs are the gateway to learning by rote. Children in child care should sing every day. When children have mastered simple songs, it's time for nursery rhymes and longer poetry. In time, children develop a real repertoire, a treasury of memorized things to keep all their lives.

"One, two, button my shoe," says a happy provider to a child. "Three, four, close the door": The child will begin to copy as soon as he catches on it's something for him to repeat.

It doesn't have to be a drill session. It's a matter of choosing something delightful and then delighting children with it.

Taking advantage of simple things such as tying a shoe can begin a lifetime love of knowing things "by heart."