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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 her 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

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

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

  • He may have difficulty paying attention to lessons.
  • He may seem uncooperative during learning activities.
  • He may fail to comprehend what he is reading.
  • He can’t follow a string of instructions.
  • He “spaces out” during lessons.
  • He seems forgetful.
  • He often misplaces things.
  • He struggles to complete multistep activities.
  • He often forgets what he was 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. He 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 he 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 he is able to easily decode the word hawk. Because the child has already mastered the sounds of the phonogram AW, his 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 your child strengthen his working memory! With a bit of extra effort, you and your child will 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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Sharon Snell

says:

Grade 6 problem. reading

Jen

says:

We like game schooling, makes learning fun.

Rochelle

says:

very interesting! Lots of great information

Jen

says:

Definitely going to have to try some of these tips with my oldest. She struggles a bit more than her younger siblings and I’m not quite sure how to help her so this is a good place to start!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you find this helpful, Jen. If you have questions or need further help, please ask.

Brittany

says:

These are some wonderful tips! It’s a good reminder that our brain is muscle that needs to be exercised just like the rest of the muscles in our body!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great point, Brittany. Thank you.

Bryanna McManus

says:

Very interesting!

Heather

says:

Is this something easily diagnosed or does an evaluation help?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Heather,
It takes detailed evaluation to diagnose learning disabilities involving working memory. However, often having a detailed diagnosis is helpful in knowing what areas your child is actually struggling with and how to specifically address them.

Carrie

says:

My son struggles with working memory. These are great tips! We just absolutely love this program! My son also struggles to read bc of dyslexia but he is soaring with AAR. I can’t thank you enough for such an amazing program!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Carrie. I love that All About Reading is helping your son soar with reading!

Sarah

says:

These are great tips!

Holly F

says:

Great information! This will really help with my daughter’s memory skills ?

Britney

says:

I love all your free resources! I find these so helpful in helping my daughter learn!

Ellen

says:

Thanks for the tipis. My oldest needs help in this department.

Lindsey

says:

Reading aloud has been such a great tool for us! We used to struggle to fit it in when my kids were in public school, but now it’s part of our schedule and we love it!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Lindsey!

Jenny K Meadows

says:

I personally always hated those memory games, such as “I’m going on a trip and I’m going to bring…” and each person has to go through alphabetically, saying the things the people before him said and add the next alphabetically. Since I never liked them, I never did them with my kids. However, my son’s therapist pointed out that those build memory, and she now has us doing those regularly! I never realized the important purpose they served before!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Such a great point, Jenny! It’s surprising how many childhood games are useful for helping children master necessary skills. Thank you for sharing this.

Anna

says:

Thank you for this helpful article! My youngest struggles with this so I am going to try out the suggestions here.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you find a lot to help your child, Anna. If you have any questions, I’m here to help.

Mary

says:

Thanks for the easy to follow tips. More read aloud time and games sound fun!

Mary

says:

Thanks for the information. More games and read aloud are fun suggestions!

Molly

says:

Love that the suggestion for reading aloud each day is built right into your curriculum!

Lisa

says:

Thank you for the information and tips on developing my child’s working memory. The free e-book is great!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Lisa!

Catherine Roach

says:

Looking forward to implementing strategies shared in the e-book. Both of my boys struggle differently with auditory processing and retention.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you find a lot in the ebook to help you, Catherine, but let me know if you have questions or need anything.

Amanda Kilpatrick

says:

Such an interesting read!
Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer Degani

says:

Thank you for all of your helpful tips! I appreciate reading through all these posts.

Laura Brooks

says:

This may help me with my memory, as well as my kids! ?

Robin

says:

This is helpful. Thank you for a clear explanation and steps to improve working memory. I will implement these with my son.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad this is helpful, Robin!

Melonnie Winters

says:

I have been looking at AAR for my s ison (7) who is a struggling reader. The more I research AAR, the more I am convinced that this curriculum is the tool we need to help him succeed in reading.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melonnie,
All About Reading helps take the struggle out of learning to read! If you have questions or need help with placement, just let me know.

Kristen Tisho

says:

Thank you for the activities and ideas of how to help my son improve his working memory. I’ve seen him struggle with remembering what we’ve read and he seems to regularly forget what he was about to say! He doesn’t like crafts but he does like to help me cook and loves playing games. We will have to start making these activities part of our weekly time together.

Melonnie Winters

says:

I have been looking at AAR for my son (7) who is a struggling reader. The more I research AAR, the more I am convinced that this curriculum is the tool we need to help him succeed in reading.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a great idea to take activities your son enjoys and use them to help build up his working memory, Kristen! Great teaching!

Melissa Peace

says:

This was very helpful. I often need reminders of this for my son as he has learning and processing differences. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and slow down. In the long run you make more progress than trying to continue to to push through the struggles.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful for you, Melissa. It is important to address a child’s working memory and processing differences to achieve the best progress possible.

Carrie

says:

This is very helpful! Thank you!

Robyn Yetts

says:

This is a really helpful post. My son has a processing disorder that greatly impacted learning read, memorizing times tables, etc.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Robyn. Working memory can affect so many aspects of learning. Let me know if you have questions.

Michele Jones

says:

This is one of those topics that most people never even think of working on. We think of reading, math, spelling, vocabulary, science, history, etc. Back when I was in 5th grade (an eon ago – the 70’s) we had to memorize poems. Not short poems, but long ones like “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” Every week we had to recite a new long poem to the class. I never thought about why we had to learn and recite them, but I truly see the value in it now. When we started dictating sentences in AAS, my child couldn’t even remember all the words in one sentence, I realized this was something that took work and training just like math facts. My son is in level 3 and I appreciate AAS adding this to the lessons. Even just remembering one sentence at a time, you’re practicing memorization. Thank you AAS/AAR – you cover more than we even realize!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Such great points, Michele, thank you! Yes, All About Spelling works on stretching children’s working memories so they can hold longer and more complex sentences in their minds over time. This is a transitional thing for writing, as students have to think of what to write and then hold that in their mind while they write it. Many children who haven’t built up this skill will forget what they wanted to say before they finish writing one sentence.

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