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Improving Your Child’s Working Memory

elephant reading and scratching his head.

Have you ever been introduced to someone only to realize five minutes later that you can’t recall their name?

Or maybe you’ve experienced this one: you suddenly remember that you need to add something to your shopping list, but by the time you find a pen, you can’t remember what you were going to write.

Have you ever been frustrated by your child’s inability to remember a short list of tasks you’ve asked him to accomplish?

The examples above demonstrate the potential shortcomings of the working memory. Inevitably, we all face these issues from time to time. But for a child with more significant memory challenges, these issues can have a dramatic impact on the learning process. Is there hope? YES! But let’s back up to consider several important questions.

What Is Working Memory?

Working memory is the ability to hold information in your brain for a short period of time while you work with or manipulate the information. Working memory is critical for learning to read and spell.

child silhouette with brain

For example:

  • It helps you sound out unfamiliar words.
  • It helps you keep your place in the text, allowing you to look away from the page yet still find your place again.
  • It helps you remember the words you just read as you finish the sentence or paragraph, enabling better comprehension.
  • It makes it possible for you to compose a cohesive paragraph, writing down one sentence while you think of the next.

Working memory is one of the most important indicators of how easily a child can learn. In fact, research has shown that working memory is actually a much better indicator than an IQ score of how easily a person can learn.

Signs Your Child Has Poor Working Memory

Children with poor working memory will struggle with tasks that require them to hold some information in their minds (such as a dictated sentence) while doing something else that is challenging to them (such as spelling the words). Without some adaptations, a child may fail to complete a task because crucial information (in this case, the remainder of the sentence) is dropped from their memory and is no longer available to them. It may appear that the child is not paying attention, but in reality, the child may simply have forgotten what he or she is supposed to do.

In addition, children with poor working memory may have one or more of the following problems.

  • They may have difficulty paying attention to lessons.
  • They may seem uncooperative during learning activities.
  • They may fail to comprehend what they are reading.
  • They can’t follow a string of instructions.
  • They “space out” during lessons.
  • They seem forgetful.
  • They often misplace things.
  • They struggle to complete multistep activities.
  • They often forget what they were going to say.

6 Ways to Build Your Child’s Working Memory

As you implement the six ideas below, you will begin to see improvement in your child’s working memory.

  1. Avoid information overload. When too much information is presented in a lesson, your child’s working memory becomes overloaded.
  2. Eliminate distractions. When your child is working, try to reduce distractions such as TV or radio in the background, siblings or classmates talking, and toys or other interesting activities nearby.
  3. Make sure your child is comfortable during lessons. Physical stress (from things like headaches, an uncomfortable chair, hunger, being too hot or too cold, and eye strain due to vision issues or from facing a bright window) can have a negative effect on working memory.
  4. Read aloud every day for at least 20 minutes. When you read aloud, your child has to recall what you just read and anticipate what is coming next. All the while, he is interpreting the words and comprehending the story.
  5. Do motivating activities with your child that require following instructions, such as crafts or recipes. She should read one or two simple steps and then complete them. (Depending on your child’s reading level, either you can read the instructions or she can.) This will exercise and stretch your child’s working memory.
  6. Play games that build memory skills. Concentration-style and matching games are a great option. Hedbanz is another great memory-building game the whole family will enjoy playing together.

And above all, have patience! This might be the hardest part! Be encouraging, and keep emotional stress to a minimum. If your child is worried about performing properly or disappointing you, that just adds another layer of stress that taxes working memory even more.

AAR and AAS Work Well for Kids with Working Memory Challenges

All learning involves working memory, and I made sure that the lessons in our programs reduce unnecessary load on the working memory.

  • Lessons are short and focused on just one concept at a time.
  • When there are activities involved, we give only one or two instructions at a time, and the scripted verbal instructions are easy to understand.
  • The lessons follow the same routine each day. This lessens the demand on working memory because the student knows what to expect, making it easier to focus on the lesson.
  • The letter tiles are color coded, giving the students visual cues as to what category they belong to on the magnet board.

  • Improving Working Memory - Memory Series #5 from All About Learning Press
  • With our mastery-based program, we make sure that students understand the basics before asking them to move on to a more complex task. For example, before asking a student to comprehend the sentence The hawk sat on her nest, we make sure that the child is able to easily decode the word hawk. Because the sounds of the phonogram AW have already been mastered, the child’s working memory is freed up to work on comprehension.
  • Crucial information is reviewed frequently. This pushes the information into long-term memory, freeing up working memory space.

An effective working memory is a necessary part of the learning process. But the good news is you can help strengthen your child’s working memory! With a bit of extra effort, you will both see big rewards!

Additional Help for Your Child’s Memory

Download my free e-book, “Help Your Child’s Memory,” to learn more techniques to help strengthen your child’s memory and achieve learning that really sticks.

Pages from "Help Your Child's Memory" e-book

In this e-book, you will discover…

  • Why information goes right over your child’s head … and what to do about it
  • How the “Funnel Concept” can improve your teaching and result in long-term learning
  • Schemas—what they are and how they help improve memory
  • What “Simultaneous Multisensory Instruction” is, and why it is such a powerful teaching method
  • Six things you can do today to improve your child’s working memory

Photo credit: Rachel Neumann

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Sarah S.

says:

I think I need this for myself more than my kids,

Amber

says:

I appreciate the thoughtfulness behind this resource! I, myself, have had troubles with my working memory. I’m glad that I can be educated about this to help my children learn in a healthier way.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for you and your children, Amber.

Jess

says:

We homeschool now and it all makes a lot of sense as my son has trouble focusing on anything. If I can incorporate the above strategies it makes a huge difference to his ability to learn. No wonder he didn’t cope in a classroom.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jess,
Yes, classroom learning can be difficult for some students. I’m pleased to hear these strategies are helping your son succeed with homeschooling.

Robin

says:

My kids love matching games and I can’t wait to incorporate them more

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sounds great, Robin! Matching games are a lot of fun.

Kathleen M Thomas

says:

Great information. I’m going to try games to improve my child’s working memory.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Games are wonderful tools for learning, Kathleen!

Laurie

says:

I worry about my girls’ working memory, so I think we’ll be playing some more matching games.

Elizabeth H

says:

Great info!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Elizabeth!

Bonnie

says:

Great!

Judith Martinez

says:

I need this for me! My working memory sometimes doesn’t function well!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I think we all have difficulties with our working memories at times, Judith. I think a large part of it is the “eliminate distractions” point. Distractions are so constant nowadays!

Allison

says:

Great information! Excited to get started!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Allison!

Kate

says:

Thank you for the article! It’s so encouraging to be reminded that even simple things like playing games and consistently reading aloud can make such a big difference for my kids.

Lauren Waggoner

says:

I never thought about using Hedbanz for a memory activity! Great suggestion!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Lauren!

Charity B

says:

Love these tips. My kid has working memory problems

Sydney Jones

says:

Love this!!

Shellee

says:

Thanks! I hadn’t thought about some of these signs.

Alecia Simpson

says:

Great tips!! Thank you!

C

says:

This is great advice, #5 and #6 we try to live by with a hands on approach to help the memory!

Melanie Lustgarten

says:

This is something I had never considered, and will probably help my 5 year old a LOT! Thank you for the book!

Ofelia

says:

Thank you

Danyl W

says:

Great information

Shannon Weinman

says:

This is such an awesome article. At what age do these signs apply? I can easily see preschoolers doing many of these things and it’s simply because they are young and not quite mature enough to do long tasks yet, not necessarily because they officially struggle with working memory.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

That’s a good question, Shannon.

Yes, we need to take developmental needs into consideration, but the signs can still be there from a young age. It is generally developmentally appropriate to expect a preschooler can follow instructions that have three steps or so. For example, we would expect a 4-year-old to be able to follow through on being told, “Go put on your red shoes, grab your water bottle from the counter, and meet me outside.”

If a child consistently has difficulties with doing these sorts of things, then it would be important to assess why. It could be poor working memory, but it also could be caused by other issues like hearing issues.

Callie Briley

says:

We love this program!

Melonnie Winters

says:

My boys do lots of Lego builds following the direction packet. I feel this has been a great tool to work on working memory.

Sara

says:

Thank you for including the idea of playing games. We do a lot of “game-schooling,” which means we use games to teach many things. Most of the time, like the memory games you suggested, the games don’t teach facts and such but rather skills that will help my children to learn the facts that they need.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sara,
Yes, there is so much that can be learned from games! They are a great tool for so many skill areas.

Viviana

says:

Great information :)

Rochelle

says:

We absolutely love All about reading! My son has made amazing progress with his reading since we started!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s wonderful to hear that All About Reading is helping your son make amazing progress, Rochelle!

Rochelle

says:

We absolutely love All about reading, it has helped my son make amazing progress with his reading!

Adrienne

says:

We love read aloud time and try to incorporate board games throughout our week.

Kristin

says:

I need to get better at doing this

Kassi

says:

This is great information for a parent of child that struggles with working memory! Reading aloud together is our favorite strategy.