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How To Improve Working Memory In Children

A working memory involves the ability to keep information active in your mind for a short few seconds so that you can utilise it for further processing. It is a temporary storage system that is vital for most daily tasks such as listening and reading comprehension, conversation responses, and organisation. Not to be confused with short-term memory, a working memory involves the manipulation and transformation of verbal and visual material and not the retention of short-term information that is meant for a verbal or visual task.

Why is working memory important?

It is important because it puts information that we are learning together with our current knowledge pool or our long-term memory. We mostly rely on our working memory to keep new information active so that we can focus, organise, and solve a problem. This allows our skills and knowledge to be automatic, minimising our need to give active thought to each and every step of a task.

For children, a working memory is crucial for academic performance as it is in essential part of executive functioning. In school, the areas of learning that can be greatly affected by poor working memory are math, reading comprehension, complex problem solving, and test taking. That is why it is imperative to ensure that your child consistently improve their working memory to to avoid difficulties during his school years.

How can I help my child to boost their working memory?

1. Work on visualisation skills with your child. Encourage your child to form a vision in his mind of what he’s just read or heard. For example, if you’ve asked your child to help you set the table for a meal, ask your child to come up with a mental image of what this table setting should look like. Then, have him draw out the picture and explain what he had visualised. Once he gets better at visualising, your child will be able to describe the image to you instead of having to draw it out.

2. Have him teach you what he learned. If your child is picking up a new skill or learning something new, have him teach it to you. Being able to explain how to do something will involve making sense of the information he learned and mentally filling it to fully understand the task. Teachers often do something similar in class by pairing students up with one another to start working with the problem they’ve been given rather than wait to be called on.

3. Play a game that encourages the use of visual memory. Matching games are a good way of helping your child work on his visual memory, and it doesn’t have to be restricted to a picture book. You can create your own form to get them started. For example, using a page from a magazine and asking your child to circle all instances of the word “is” or the letter “T” in one minute. 

4. Play cards with your child. Simple card games such as Uno or Snap can actually improve the working memory in two different ways:

  • As every game has a set of rules, your child will be required to keep the rules of the game in mind as he plays.
  • At the same time, your child will also have to remember what cards he has and which ones the other players have played in order to win the game.

5. Encourage active reading and highlighting important text. In addition to helping with the formation of long-term memories, active reading strategies can also help with working memory. Jotting down notes and highlighting important text within the reading material can help children keep the information in his mind long enough for him to answer questions related to it. Talking out loud and asking questions can also be of good help. 

6. Break down information into smaller bits. It’s always better to retain information when they are broken down into a few small groups as it makes it easier to remember. As such, it is important to keep this in mind especially when you need to give your child multi-step directions. Instead of giving him a whole chunk of information, write them down or give them the instructions one at a time. Alternatively, you could opt to use graphic organisers to help break writing exercises or assignments into smaller pieces for better comprehension.

7. Utilise multi-sensory strategies. A good practice to help with working and long-term memory is to try and process information in as many ways as possible. Involving a multi-sensory way of delivering information can encourage your child to keep information in his mind long enough to use it. Therefore, it would be good if you can write tasks down for your child to look at them; tell him your instructions so he can hear them or toss a ball back and forth while you engage in a discussion with your child about the tasks he needs to complete.

8. Help him make connections. Assist your child in forming associations that connect the different details he is trying to remember. You can do this in a fun way that will pique your child’s interest. Using mnemonics—a memory tool that helps you to remember an idea, phrase, name better—is one good way to try. 

An example of this would be a connection mnemonic: Imagine your child meets a new friend named Rachel, who is exceptionally fond of ribbons. Your child can easily remember her name by simply saying Ribbon Rachel in his head. The connection of her ribbons with her name and the “R” alliteration is a beneficial memory aid! 

Finding ways to connect new and old information helps with the formation and retrieval of long-term memory. It also helps with working memory, which is what we use to hold and compare new and old memories.

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