Qur’an Memorization: tips and tricks

I’ve been working every day (almost) on Abdullah’s Qur’an memorization for the last few months, because he lately showed a keenness and aptitude for it. He recently finished memorizing his first ten eleven surahs just before his third birthday–Al-Hamdulillah-il-adhee bi ni’matihi tatimmus-saalihaat. All praise is to the One who by His Grace, good deeds are accomplished!

I offer a few tips based on what I found has helped us so far. I realize that these tips may not be suitable for everyone, as each child has her own areas of strength. I try to blend a variety of learning methods (visual, auditory, tactile) to create as many pathways for learning as possible. Take and leave these tips as you see fit! I hope it will help those who are teaching children Qur’an.

First a note on concentration: it’s hard with little children to maintain their attention for long, so we usually do several small lessons rather than one long lesson. I also usually let Abdullah wander around, lie down, and be “fidgety” as we are reciting since he’s too small to expect to sit still. For some children these type of mindless motions help them learn as well.

And secondly a note on tajweed: it’s really important for the teacher to have proper tajweed before teaching the surahs, because it’s difficult for a child to unlearn a surah that has been learned incorrectly. If in doubt, see a tajweed teacher and have them test your tajweed and recitation to see if it would be a good idea for your children/students to recite after you. If not, use the recordings online to create lessons where you stop and start it according to their needs. You can also play the files in a program like Windows Media Player and adjust the speed so the playback is slower than the original.

And now, the tips:

  1. Prep: We usually start with some exposure to the surah, by playing it in the house, reciting it to him, reciting in salah, etc. before we actually “sit down” to memorize it. It’s less frustrating that way because by the time we sit to memorize it he’s already familiar with the words.
  2. End game: Initially, we play a game where we recite parts of the ayah and have him fill in the end word(s).
  3. Mouth aerobics: To get the right pronunciation, I have Abdullah watch my mouth as I recite with exaggerated mouth movements to demonstrate the pronunciation and tajweed.
  4. Visual prompts: Hand motions can help with tough words/phrases or learning the order of ayat. A couple of examples: For al-Kaafiroon, I put up one finger for each verse. I teach that finger #4 is for “wa laa ana aabidun” and #2 and #5 are “wa laa antum” sandwiching that verse. After five ayat, I show a fist to remind to go to the last ayah “lakum deenukum.” For Surah al-Maa’un, “Fa waylul-lil musalleen” I do a slow drumroll to get the “beat” down so that it is less of a tongue twister. For al-Feel, I show gestures that correspond with the meaning: “a lam tara” (point to eyes), “tayran” show bird-like motions, “tarmeehim” show throwing motion, etc.
  5. “Read” the surah: This works better for older kids who can sit down and concentrate on the written word: while teaching an ayah, I point to the Arabic word in the mus’haf and eventually they learn to recognize the surah or some words by sight.
  6. Using “al-Mu’allim” recordings: One of the clearest of these is by al-Minshaawi where he recites an ayah and then a group of kids recite after him. We play a game where Abdullah plays “shaykh” and we recite after him. It works sometimes on those days when he’s reluctant to recite after us. We then switch roles and we play “shaykh” or we recite together and he says, “Now we are both shaykhs!”
  7. Two at a time: For some kids this may be confusing, but it works for us– as Abdullah is nearing the end of one surah, we start on the next one. So for a few days we do two surahs at a time–the first is pretty much done but needs polishing, while we tackle number two.
  8. Learn the meanings: Abdullah has always demanded to know what he was reciting, so we go over the meanings of each surah. I try to distill each surah into a few important points and have him learn those just as he learns the surah itself. So, for example, his last surah (al-Maaun), we focused on four important points: help the orphans, help the poor, pray sincerely for Allah, and do small acts of kindness. We try and have him act out on the meanings as well, so for example I had him take a glass of soda to the worker who was repairing the house, telling him that it was an example of “al-Maaun.”
  9. Hands-on projects: This goes hand-in-hand with learning the meanings–we just started making a one-sheet visual representation of the surah. So for al-Maaun, I printed clip art illustrating each of the four main points above, and he glued it to a sheet labled “al-Maaun.” I then labeled each picture with the Arabic word for each theme (yateem, miskeen, musalleen, and al-Maaun). For al-Feel, we made a picture of men on elephants going towards the Ka’bah with a flock of birds in the sky with stones. We labeled each part of the picture with words from the surah (ashaab ul-feel, tayran abaabeel, hijaarah min sijjeel).
  10. Recite it all day: Memorization these days is the main focus of our day, we try and infuse it throughout the day as much as possible. So when Abdullah’s grandmother comes home from work, he recites his daily lesson to her, when we are just sitting around doing nothing, we try and review a little bit. Because at this age his attention span is so short, we squeeze in short mini review sessions whenever we can.
  11. Car time: This is a great time to review because there’s nothing else to do in the car!
  12. Peer pressure: Showing YouTube videos of people (especially kids) reciting helps build up enthusiasm.

I hope these tips were of help–remember, slow and steady wins the race: memorization will be really slow in the beginning, but eventually they get the hang of it. Even if they won’t recite, keep reciting to them and something will sink in once they are ready and willing to recite back. I pray that Allah gives us ikhlaas (sincerity) and tawfeeq (success) in our efforts!

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