Beyond Games: 6 Easy Ways to Improve Visual Working Memory

It is common for people to easily remember much of what they have seen but have more difficulty recalling what they have read or heard. While the research on learning styles, and visual learners in particular, is not very strong, it is widely known that many children learn visually. Visual memory is often call upon in classrooms, but this is a problem for the kids who struggle with visual-spatial working memory. In this edition of the LearningWorks for Kids Beyond Games series we provide tools and strategies that help practice visuospatial or visual working memory and improve working memory skills in general.

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Use Instagram to test a tech-loving child’s visual working memory

Observe and reflect. When you’re out and about as a family, take the time to look very carefully at something and discuss it in great detail. You could go to an art gallery, a park, or a picturesque neighborhood. Look closely at a piece of art, a tree, a rock, or a house. Later, have her describe as much of it as she can, paying attention to, colors and contrast, shapes and contours, and even small details from its surroundings. You might even encourage your child to start an Instagram account to upload pictures against which visual memories can be tested later. This method will also help her practice articulating visualizations.

Picture this. Take photos that you post up around the house (and even a backpack or a cubby or locker at school) to serve as visual reminders. Polaroid cameras are perfect for this—with the added bonus that they tend to delight kids through their sheer novelty. Or, set up a screen saver on the family or individual child’s computer that pulls photos from a folder full of reminder images. Even visual learners and those who have stronger visual working memory skills can benefit from this powerful memory aid.

Chart a course. Have a child take pictures and create a chart that will help her remember a daily routine. “Getting ready for school” pictures might include making the bed, clothes laid out, eating breakfast, and putting lunch and homework into her backpack. Post the series somewhere that is easily visible during the morning routine. Ask her to identify other areas where she is forgetful and would like to use visual reminders. This method can be adapted to the digital age with a visual scheduling app like First then Visual Schedule or Week Calendar.

Brainstorm Trial and Error. Sit down together for a judgement-free meeting of the minds. Which areas are her weakest and what strategies can she come up with that will help her remember better? Maybe putting her backpack by the door in the evening, designating a drawer in the kitchen for her papers, tacking up lunch money on a bulletin board with other school materials, and using the calendar on her cell phone will help. Compare her levels of success using new strategies as opposed to the older methods and then discuss what did and did not help with visual working memory. Great Decisions 7 is a fun and useful app to weigh the pros and cons of each strategy.

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Endomondo Sports Tracker is an app that promotes physical activity, which is known to improve working memory

Get active. New data strongly indicate that the physical activity that improves cardiovascular functioning also improves working memory. A child could need to be vigorously physically active for an hour (to the point where she is sweating) in order to receive these benefits. You can incentivize this behavior with devices like FitBit or an app like Endomondo Sports Tracker.

Story-build. Provide a start to the story such as, “Once there was an 8-year-old girl who enjoyed being outdoors,” then take turns adding sentences to the story. Ask your child to remember what each of you contributes to the story. Each person needs to retell the story from the beginning at every turn before adding a new line. Try to tell the story by attempting to remember exactly what has been said, but it can be just as effective to use paraphrasing in the repetition. You can make this activity even more engaging to a tech-loving child by using an app like Story Builder to get your prompts.


Featured image: Flickr user Fabian Reus

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