Songs help form memory. Songs help prompt memory.

A long time ago, my then 6-year-old son Brandon and I were playing catch in the front yard. As we threw the ball back and forth, I could hear him singing softly to himself. He was practicing the chorus for the 3’s song from the set of skip counting songs we had.

But he wasn’t singing the whole chorus. As we threw the ball back and forth, I could hear him singing, “Three, six, nine, twelve, …” – but then he stopped at twelve as he threw the ball to me.

I threw the ball back to him, and as he kept going through the motions of catching and throwing, he continued singing softly, “Three, six, nine, twelve, …” But he was stuck at twelve.

This happened several more times. Finally, I realized what was going on. He was trying to recall the rest of the 3’s chorus – but he couldn’t. He was stuck on the number that came after twelve.

Then I further realized something very positive was occurring here.

His mind was searching for completion. He was seeking that sense of satisfaction and completeness – that we’ve all experienced – of trying to remember that next line in a song.

He was wrestling – as 6-year-olds do – to figure out the number that comes after 12 when counting by 3.

This is not an automatic thing for a child only in first grade.

This momentary brain-freeze he was having was actually working in his favor.

His brain was searching and seeking – maybe even doing some mental calculating – to try to determine that next number. This sense of incompleteness was driving him, motivating him, urging him to find that next number.

I kept quiet and let him wrestle with this.

After a few more throws, he finally found it: “…, fifteen!” – and then the rest all poured forth – “…fifteen, eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-four, twenty-seven, that’s how many wheels I count.

He had a huge grin on his face.

So consider what was happening here. Like all songs, skip count songs provide the sing-song-y scaffolding that both forms and prompts memory. As with other songs we enjoy, our brains want to recall the whole song – every word, every line, every stanza, the whole chorus.

This dynamic was helping Brandon master the powerful skill of counting in multiples.

What was cool was that he wasn’t singing the 3’s chorus because his father told him to. He was singing the 3’s chorus because he liked it. Because his mind was searching for that sense of completion. While he was outdoors. Playing catch. Having fun.

Way cool.