Chana reminisced yesterday about how when she was younger, she was so excited to graduate to each new paragraph of bentching. "Remember when we used to go to pizza every Thursday and I was so excited at each new paragraph of bentching? Like when I finished nodeh? And then I got to start the next one?" I didn't remember, but I was happy that she had such fond memories of us singing each part together until she learned it.
Then she tilted her head to the side and said, "I don't actually know any of it by heart."
She's very meticulous about saying bracha achrona and always uses a bentcher. I didn't learn al hamichya by heart until high school, when I decided to actually be careful about saying it and realized it was inconvenient to not know it by heart. But I always knew bentching by heart. And I always felt that singing was a painless way to help the child memorize it.
I spent hours singing davening with Sarah for years and years, and it didn't help her remember tefila. And Chana doesn't remember bentching either. And yet I only know what I know by heart from davening and bentching from singing. Am I doing it wrong? I don't think so. With Sarah, whom I wasn't unschooling, I definitely put in the same amount of time as yeshiva dayschools do. With Chana, the year before her bat mitzva, we made sure she could fluently read everything she would be chayav to say when she became bat mitzva.
It is odd that neither of them learned tefila and bentching by heart. On the up side, I see that both of them are medakdek about their chiyuvim. And it doesn't seem to affect their sincerity or their actions.