Last Updated: April 11, 2021

Have you been introduced to a new person before only to realize you forget their name a few moments later? How about entering the bedroom to fetch an item and somehow forgetting what it was? If this sounds familiar, probably then, your working memory is at fault.

Working memory is a mental skill that helps us to work with information over short durations. It facilitates the retention of usable information during ‘an ongoing’ cognitive activity such as a conversation or reading.

Think of working memory as a display board in the brain where you post sticky notes containing important words and sketches. These keep reminding you of the task you are performing such as responding to a question and not forgetting what was asked.

Just to illustrate,

One relies on working memory to retain the partial results while solving an arithmetic problem without paper, … or to bake a cake without making the unfortunate mistake of adding the same ingredient twice.

NCBI

There is another reason why working memory is important. It is argued this skill is actually the foundation of reasoning and intelligence – even more effective than IQ and test scores.

Those who can hold many items in their mind may be well equipped to consider different angles of a complex problem simultaneously.

APA

This memory works just like Random Access Memory in the computer which retains information in open documents the user is editing or printing. The information is lost when the computer is turned off or can be saved permanently as short and long-term memory on the computer disk drive.

Active working memory is sometimes used interchangeably with short memory but the two are not exactly the same. While short memory strictly refers to short-term information storage, working memory refers to information storage as well as real-time cognitive processes taking place in the brain.


Working memory and other mental skills

Working memory is one of the three mental skills collectively known as executive functioning skills. The other two are self-control and flexible thinking.

The three are important higher-level mental skills necessary for managing, recalling, and controlling tasks, actions, behavior, and emotions.

Children are not born with these skills, rather they learn them during childhood and continue to do so as they age.

The experiences they go through in the environment and what they learn from parents, educators, and others in the community are helpful in shaping the development of executive functions.


DIY tips to boost working memory in children

If your child has problems retaining information, the following DIY tips may just solve your nightmares:

help children to master working memory
(Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay) 

1. Teach focus and attention

The ability in children to focus and mentally attend to what is being said allows them to use memory more efficiently.

Begin by telling your child the meaning of focus and attention, to make him learn how to filter out distractions and other shortcomings that affect memory.

While interruptions and distractions are necessary burdens in life, ensure they are not the main reasons your child fails to retain information. If so, find a way to help him to master how to juggle multiple tasks at the same time.

Interruptions such as a phone ringing or disruptions such as psycho-social stress can interfere with a child’s ability to recall and interpret real-time information.

In the beginning, you can eliminate noise in the background when homework has to be done and ensure that stress and other health complications are diagnosed and treated accordingly.

Besides talking, involve your child in house chores to help him learn how to multitask. The more tasks a child does at different times of the day, the more he learns to switch focus and pay attention.

Complications such as headache, stomach pains, and poor appetite, may point to anxiety, fear, and bullying at school or at home.

2. Make learning simple

While the atmosphere and environment at home and school should always be friendly, the tasks assigned to children should always be simple to understand and implement.

For example, your child’s working memory should not be taxed to the extent that comprehension is hard.

In the following sentence, comprehension can be a problem both for children and adults:

It is said that, if your work is not overwhelming, your car is in good repair, and the leaves have changed color, it is a good time for a fall vacation.

NCBI

Yet the sentence can make better sense if said differently:

It is said that a good time for a fall vacation is when your work is not overwhelming, your car is in good repair, and the leaves have changed color.

NCBI

Elsewhere, always break down information and tasks into smaller chunks. Instead of sending your kid to collect 5 items in a sequence, let them collect two or one at a time.

Information overload should be avoided most of the time except where your child is getting better with memory retention.

3. Besides verbal communication, let your child visualize

Teach your child to always create a picture in his mind of the tasks at hand. For example, place a stuffed animal in a bag and let your child feel the animal by putting the hand in the bag.

Next, let the child use his imagination to draw an image of what the fingers felt in the bag.

You can also have your child draw the map of the world after showing him and withdrawing a picture of the globe. Drawing can be done on paper and the computer.

Poetry is another interesting area that can help enhance active memory, as illustrated by This Reading Mama.

4. Encourage memory hacks

Talking about past memories is a sure way to test the long-term memory and allow children to reflect and rethink those memories in the present.

Children can tell stories of their favorite trips to the park, tour of a new town, or a safari back in the country where grandies live.

You can even have them visualize these memories and either write or draw them on paper or the computer.

5. Encourage outdoors exploration

Make a habit to explore the outdoors with your child to stimulate his working memory in the brain.

While walking outdoors make it a point to ask questions related to the environment. Ask your child to identify flowers, trees, animals, and let him know how to interact with them. Discuss what plants and animals are safe and which ones are not, and repeat these instructions every once in a while.

Discuss the discoveries of the day when you get back home to find out how much information your child remembers. You can have him write down or draw images of the day’s findings.

The prospect of venturing outdoors is also known to stimulate the 4 happy chemicals and sharpens the desire to go out and learn.

6. Let your child play games

Board and other indoor games charge up memory retention simply because the brain is always at work figuring new strategies and winning tweaks.

Children are challenged to memories the rules of the game, and put in mind what tools and cards they have in relationship to what the opponents have.

One way involves playing number and letter games where your child reads number plates and other short details backward. You can also have the child recall the 2nd or other letter in text sequences. You can also challenge him to memorize and then read telephone numbers in reverse.

Intensive games also help children to master focus and attention.

7. Teach reading and writing

By reading wide, children can learn to absorb a lot of information and remember the story told in the books they read. Reading can be done at the family level, at school and alone.

When you read aloud, children are subconsciously trained to follow the story and recall the different plots being told.

Besides contributing to long-term memory, reading challenges children to ask EVEN more questions and discuss what they are reading.

By writing, children are challenged to keep long-term memory and working memory alive in order to transfer what is in the brain to paper.

Writing should not be limited to paper alone. Children can write using word processing applications on the computer.

8. Make lessons friendly and interactive

Monotony affects how children approach ‘new’ learning experiences. The more they do the same thing every day the less they develop interest and motivation to continue.

At school, creative teachers can eliminate this boredom by using enjoyable and flexible teaching experiences.

They can use audio-visual teaching materials, pictures, flashcards, and outdoor learning.

By varying teaching methodologies, children are always expectant of the next lesson, and therefore excite the working memory in the brain.

9. Connect the dots

By connecting the dots, you allow your child to listen, ask, give suggestions, and fully participate in the tasks given. Let your child understand the tasks at hand and participate fully instead of walking blindly through learning experiences.

Connecting the dots of the activities your child is doing gives meaning to continuity and the reasons to try new tasks. In any case, the brain uses lessons learned in the past to understand new experiences.

Better still, the brain makes better use of short-term memory and transfers learned lessons to long-term memory.

10. Follow up

Following up on the progress children make at home and in the classroom can give a picture of what needs to be done the next day and in the next lesson. This is possible through planned homework or simple tests at the end of the lesson.

Make sure children complete the tasks they receive and where they fail, talk to them and find out the reasons why.

Elswhere,

  • talk face to face with your child
  • look for any signs of memory overload
  • try out different tasks in different environments
  • encourage your child to be open minded

Working memory disorders

It is not always a smooth road when teaching working memory to kids. External factors such as ADHD, autism, poor sleep, anxiety, depression, and other health challenges can maim the ability in children to embrace the benefits of working memory.

When dealing with children affected by attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and other failings, it is important to break down instructions and tasks into smaller chunks.

Elsewhere, talk with your doctor or other relevant medical professionals to lay down better learning strategies for your child.