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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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Raymond Makgato

says:

Thank you so much, this will help me with my assignment

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Raymond.

Lamusah zakari

says:

Great program, I love it and will give try

Brenda

says:

Our son is 18 and has reading comprehension issues. He was temporarily disqualified from enlisting in the Army until he can fix this. What do you suggest for someone his age?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Brenda,
I think I would try to pinpoint what the struggle is with comprehension. Have you had him read aloud to you? That’s usually the best way to learn where a student struggles with reading and how to help. For example, if he is having trouble comprehending because he is guessing at words, you will be able to hear that in his reading aloud. Another issue could be reading without expression. That isn’t just a stylistic issue; it can be tough to understand what is being read when it is read in a dull monotone without regard to punctuation.

Here are a couple of possibilities for products that may help:
MORE Reading Comprehension in Varied Subject Matter
Reading Detective from Critical Thinking Press.

Some students struggle with reading multi-syllable words and have some issues with word attack skills that can affect comprehension. Rewards Secondary by Sopris addresses fluency, comprehension, and academic vocabulary. If you need more of an all-around approach, I would try that.

I hope this gives you some things to check into, but if you have concerns or insights after listening to him reading aloud a few times, let me know.

Erica

says:

I’d really love to try this program, looks great!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Erica. Do you have any questions about the program?

Chris

says:

Interesting!

Sarah

says:

A great reminder, and helpful suggestions.

Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Sarah! I’m glad you found it helpful.

Jacinda

says:

Such a great post, this is much needed. I look forward to implementing these ideas. Thanks 😊

Lauren

says:

Going to try these tips & hope they help my kids & me!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lauren,
Let us know how it goes, especially if you need additional help.

B Long

says:

Thankful for this great list of recommendations!

Laura a

says:

This was very informative thank you!

Sarah

says:

This is really helpful! My favorite is to read aloud 20 minutes a day.

Tamara

says:

Great tips!

Anne

says:

Thank you so much for the great ideas and information. I cannot wait to dive in! I know my kids will have so much fun, especially with the suggested games and snacks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Anne!

Lisa

says:

I am so grateful to have found this system. I am looking forward to implementing this with my 9yo.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Lisa! Let me know if you have any questions or need help with placement or anything else.

Kelly

says:

these are great tips- I go back and forth between playing classical music for stimulation and then keeping things quiet to help them focus! not sure which one is best.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Both could be best in different situations, Kelly. You may need to do some trial and error and see which works best for your students for various activities and subjects. With my own students, I find that classical music in the background can be beneficial for math but causes more distractions for writing.

Amanda

says:

This is something we struggle with in our homeschool. Thank you for the tips!

Gale

says:

This is really interesting: “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.

My son tends to notice pains, get headaches, and things like that when he’s working (like he won’t notice anything wrong UNTIL we start doing homeschool. I’ve never thought he was lying about it…and wondered if it was a physical reaction to mental strain (I’ve heard about that with dyslexia and ADHD). But maybe it’s possible that he just doesn’t notice those things until they start making it hard to remember things when he’s working.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Excellent point, Gale.

Think about the last time you worked really hard on something difficult for you to grasp, maybe learning to do a craft (sewing instructions can sometimes seem like a foreign language!), taking college classes, or learning a musical instrument. When you try to focus on something difficult, it can seem as if every little thing that didn’t matter before is suddenly a huge distraction!

We stress short lessons each day because this allows learners to give their all to the material before they tire out, become frustrated, or succumb to distractions.

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!