Working memory is the ability to hold information in mind and mentally work with it. It’s crucial for learning, problem-solving, and following instructions. Poor working memory makes it hard for children to focus, recall details, and manage tasks. Luckily, research shows we can boost working memory at any age through lifestyle changes and brain training. This article outlines evidence-based tips to strengthen your child’s working memory.
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What Is Working Memory And Why Is It Important?
Working memory is like a mental workspace that allows us to store and manipulate information for short periods. It has limited capacity but plays a vital role in:
- Focusing attention – Working memory lets us stay focused on pertinent information and ignore distractions.
- Learning – It allows us to hold facts in mind, relate them to each other, and create new knowledge. Strong working memory helps children follow classroom lessons, read with comprehension, and solve math problems.
- Reasoning – Working memory enables complex thought by juggling multiple pieces of information to draw conclusions, make inferences, and see relationships.
- Following instructions – Holding directions in mind while carrying them out relies heavily on working memory. Kids with poor working memory often lose track of multi-step instructions.
- Planning – Juggling steps of a plan in working memory helps children set goals, organize their time and materials, and complete tasks.
Given these crucial learning and thinking skills dependent on working memory, improving it should be a top priority for parents and teachers.
Signs Of Working Memory Problems In Children
Watch for these red flags that your child may have working memory difficulties:
- Forgetfulness and absent-mindedness
- Losing track of instructions easily
- Trouble staying focused in class
- Poor reading comprehension
- Difficulty summarizing or explaining what they just learned
- Frequently losing materials needed for tasks
- Disorganized; messy desk/backpack
- Daydreaming and mental drifting
- Trouble with mental math
- Giving up easily on challenging work
If you notice several of these issues, it’s worth screening for working memory deficits and strengthening skills. Early intervention prevents cascading academic issues.
Working Memory And Executive Function
Working memory is one component of overall executive function – the set of mental skills that underlie planning, focus, organization and self-control. Other key executive functions that work closely with working memory include:
- Inhibitory control – Resisting distractions and impulses
- Cognitive flexibility – Adapting to changing demands
- Task initiation – Getting started on work
Boosting working memory equips kids to manage these related executive function challenges. Integrating some tips below with a broader executive function training program maximizes benefits.
9 Tips For How To Improve Working Memory In Child
If your child struggles with working memory, don’t worry – it can be improved with practice and utilizing some effective strategies. Here are 9 tips to help boost your child’s working memory:
1. Play memory games
Playing simple memory games helps train your child’s brain to improve their working memory capacity. Try classic games like Simon Says, Memory Match cards, and Concentration. You can also find fun memory apps and websites with interactive games.
Some great options include:
- Simon: Repeat increasingly longer patterns of colors and sounds
- Memory match cards: Flip over pairs of cards to find matches
- Concentration: Remember the locations of matching pairs of cards
Aim for 10-15 minutes of memory games 2-3 times per week. Challenge your child to increase the difficulty as their skills improve.
2. Use mnemonic devices
Mnemonic devices like acronyms, acrostics and rhymes give the brain cues to better remember information. Try teaching your child some popular ones, or have them create their own for things they need to memorize.
- Acronyms: Roy G. Biv for the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet)
- Acrostics: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge for the musical notes on the lines of the treble clef (EGBDF)
- Rhymes: “Thirty days hath September, April, June and November…” for remembering the number of days in each month
Use mnemonics to memorize math facts, vocabulary words, historical dates and more. Come up with fun, silly ones to peak their interest!
3. Use visual images
Creating vivid visual images and pictures is another effective memorization strategy. Encourage your child to mentally picture what they’re trying to remember.
- Picture a math problem (like 4 x 6) as groups of objects (imagine 4 groups of 6 apples)
- Visualize vocabulary words by their meanings (picture a “gigantic” animal to remember the definition)
- Associate names and faces by imagining a prominent facial feature (a boy named Harry with hairy eyebrows)
Turn abstract information into meaningful images. The sillier and more vivid the mental picture, the better!
4. Repeat back information
Giving the brain multiple opportunities to process information improves retention. Have your child repeat back things they need to memorize out loud.
- Repeating instructions back before following them
- Paraphrasing what they just read in their own words
- Doing “memory dumps” where they recall facts or details they memorized
Make this a habit for information like directions, classroom rules, definitions and more. The act of verbalizing reinforces the information.
5. Memorize in chunks
Breaking long strings of information into smaller “chunks” makes them less taxing on working memory. Encourage your child to remember pieces of information at a time.
- Memorize a 10 digit phone number as three groups of numbers instead of individually
- Learn the spelling of a long word by syllables or word parts
- Memorize historical dates in short chronological segments
Chunking information reduces the load on your child’s working memory. Help them break down large amounts of information into bitesize pieces.
6. Teach organization strategies
Keep working memory free for processing by organizing information effectively. Help your child use tools like:
- Checklists: To remember step-by-step procedures
- Note-taking: To record key ideas and details
- Planners/reminders: To track assignments and tasks
- Color-coding: To categorize notes and materials
Leverage lists, notes and planning tools to offload information from your child’s brain. Teach them how to use organization systems consistently.
7. Prioritize focus
Work on one or two memory tasks at a time. Multi-tasking divides attention, making it harder to remember. Help your child zero in on memorizing one set of information before moving onto something else.
- Avoid distractions and background noise like TV or loud siblings
- Don’t try to memorize while reading or writing something else
- Take brain breaks between memorization tasks to refresh
Minimize distractions and allow focused attention on one target at a time. Support your child in being present and singularly focused during memory work.
8. Exercise the brain
Physical exercise improves memory, but mental exercise is also important. Have your child flex their working memory muscles every day.
Try activities like:
- Memory exercises: Practice memorizing decks of cards, random words or numbers, etc.
- Mindfulness activities: Focus the mind fully on the present without distraction
- Brain teasers: Play matching games, word searches, spot the difference puzzles, etc.
Regular brain training strengthens memory over time. Aim for 10-15 minutes of brain exercises 4-5 times per week.
9. Manage stress
Chronic stress impairs the brain’s ability to retain and access information. Work on relaxation techniques like deep breathing, visualization, and muscle relaxation to support your child’s working memory.
- Establish a calming routine before memory-intensive tasks
- Take movement breaks to get blood pumping and oxygen flowing
- Ensure good sleep habits so the brain can restore itself
- Discuss worries to ease emotional burdens on the mind
Keep stress levels low to allow working memory to function at its best. Teach healthy stress management tools.
Following these tips can significantly boost your child’s working memory over time. Be patient – the brain needs repeated practice to rewire itself stronger. Make activities fun and engaging to keep your child motivated!
Now you’re equipped with strategies to help improve your child’s ability to remember and utilize information in their mind. Strong working memory paves the way for academic success and life achievement.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. At what age can we start improving working memory?
Targeted working memory practice with games and strategies can strengthen skills as early as age 4. But creating a brain-healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, physical activity, sleep and lower stress pays off at any age. The brain remains malleable into adulthood.
2. Should we get a formal working memory assessment?
It’s often helpful to have your child tested by an occupational therapist, psychologist or speech pathologist to pinpoint deficit areas, like visual vs verbal memory. Standardized working memory tests also quantify capacity to target baseline scores. But formal testing isn’t mandatory to start memory training.
3. How much practice time is needed to improve working memory?
Aim for 10-15 minutes daily of targeted working memory games and tasks. Be consistent – just like building muscle, you need regular training. Difficult tasks that push the limits of capacity yield the greatest gains. But keep practice fun, not frustrating.
4. What academic gains can I expect from better working memory?
Strengthening working memory directly supports skills like reading comprehension, mental math, focus and problem solving. But to maximize this potential, also have kids apply new memory strategies directly to tough academic tasks. The goal is transferring gains to real-world learning.
5. Is working memory related to IQ?
Working memory capacity and IQ are strongly correlated in kids and adults. Those with higher IQs are able to hold and manipulate more information in mind. Enhancing working memory with training doesn’t necessarily raise IQ, but it allows fuller expression and use of existing intellectual potential.
Strong working memory doesn’t have to be an inborn trait. Using lifestyle tweaks, memory strategies and brain training games, we can significantly improve this crucial ability. Raising working memory capacity helps kids reach their academic potential while building life-long learning and organization skills. Developing this “mental muscle” should be part of every child’s success toolkit.