Working memory is necessary for even the most basic tasks, like reading and simple math. It helps us remember what we were doing or thinking about and move on to the next step or task. For those who struggle with this thinking skill, it might sometimes seem that complex technologies like smart watches or multi-purpose apps with all the bells and whistles are the only things that will help. But those technologies won’t work if we don’t remember to use them. For most kids, some basic tools and easy-to-use apps are probably best to assist and improve working memory. In this edition of the LearningWorks for Kids Beyond Games series we explain why and how to use simple, low-tech strategies to improve working memory skills.
Look within and reach out. The first step is recognizing that working memory is an issue. Once a child comes to terms with this, asking mom, the best friend, a sibling, a teacher, or another “assistant” to help them remember important things can work wonders. Sometimes just having someone who can help with reminders is all that is needed.
Put the plan into practice. If knowing is half the battle, then the other half is doing. One of the most powerful ways to improve memory problems is to remember and routinely use simple memory strategies, which is why sometimes simpler is better.
Mark it down! Making sure a child who needs to improve working memory skills always has a pen or marker on hand means they always have a way to take notes–even if it’s just a temporary reminder, and even if it is literally on their hands. As rudimentary as this is, practicing it will make note-taking a habit.
Brainstorm. Brainstorming is a judgement-free idea session, and it can help you and your child come up with a list of daily strategies for remembering items and activities. Before starting the process, discuss problem areas like forgetting to take lunch to school, forgetting sports equipment for practice, or leaving completed homework at home. Simple solutions might include putting a backpack by the door in the evening so that it is remembered for school in the morning, designating a drawer in the kitchen for school materials and lunch money, and using a calendar app on his phone.
Step it up. Encourage a child to take on multi-step, age-appropriate tasks. It’s important that a child realize they are capable of and responsible for doing tasks that involve a series of steps. This might include a chore like filling and emptying the dishwasher. Knowing the steps required for task completion makes it easier for a child to take on a task and understand when the task has been completed in an appropriate fashion.
Chunk it up. Sometimes too many steps can complicate things. Combine individual activities into routines. Grouping items into categories–“sports practice,” for instance, might include gathering equipment, uniform, snacks, and water–could be helpful in triggering memories later when they are needed. Help your child determine other tasks that can be chunked so that they require fewer working memory resources and encourage the development of chunking strategies. You can model this behavior by demonstrating your own chunking technique, like repeating, “keys, glasses, phone, wallet,” before going out the door, expressing relief at how great it is not to have to come back for something or go without it altogether.
Hot spot. Designate a working memory spot in your home. Strategically place a magnetic pad on the refrigerator, a cork board next to a computer station, or a blackboard at an exit in your house and post any important daily messages on this board. As the parent, you would be responsible for keeping it up to date. A child should use it for things such as permission slips, notices from school or sports team, or school forms that need to be completed.[cjphs_content_placeholder id=”73534″ random=”no” ]
Relax time limits. Many kids with working memory problems need more time to process and rehearse information due to the fact that they recognize better than they recall. Because working memory capacity is determined, not only by how much information an individual can hold in memory, but also for how long, slower presentation of information can be very helpful. Presenting material at a slower pace, using cues, and repeating material can lead to better retrieval of information.
Conserve energy. Talk to a child about the value of practicing strategies to improve working memory. Emphasize that using a system makes less work for one’s brain when playing games or practicing tasks that require memory-based skills. What are other activities that are complicated by working memory problems? What are other strategies or methods that can help? A little work now can save a lot of work down the road.
Featured image: Flickr user Deb Stgo