The child has an unfortunate experience with a hot stove and tender fingers bear the cruel scar. Must some one always watch him, year after year, to save him from a succession of burns? He is taken to school by his mother; must she forever accompany him to insure his safe arrival? Is there no way of understanding a present experience except by passing through it? Life would be an unsatisfactory thing indeed, if this were true, but the soul has the power of retaining past experiences in order that they may throw light upon the present. The business man does not deliberately do again that which was disastrous before, for he remembers the past misfortune. The child will not tomorrow press his little burned hand against the heated iron, for he recalls the pain of yesterday. This gracious gift of God to life, we call memory. Without it, there could be no understanding, no reasoning, no imagination, no knowledge, no growth.
The physical side of memory is most interesting. On the covering of the brain, each in its own place, the images or impression brought in by the senses and the activity are registered. So sensitive and susceptible are the brain cells during childhood, that these impressions are received as clay receives the touch of the sculptor’s finger, and under right conditions, they are ineffaceable. When the soul acts upon these images, they live again, and we say, “We remember.”
Two important questions are suggested by these facts. First, what kind of impressions should we attempt to store in the memory during childhood? Second, how may these impressions be made permanent?
To the first question, the child himself makes answer through what he most easily retains and through his needs.
Since he is interested and curious in regard to things, since he spends all his physical activity upon them, since he desires them and thinks about them, we would expect that things, together with experiences and ideas associated with them, would naturally fill his memory. Any observer of childhood knows that this is true. The memory of a little child is overwhelmingly for the concrete, the impressions through the senses and from what he does being far more easily retained than ideas alone. A child will recall the story of the Good Samaritan more readily than the isolated verse, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The reward or punishment of an act makes a more lasting impression than the dissertation upon it. Since the concrete must be the starting point of thinking, it must come to his soul at some time, and, judged by every condition, this is God’s time for it.