How to Improve Working Memory in Children
Every time you sit down to read a book, your brain recalls and uses a great deal of information to understand the text.
This is because reading requires us to draw on relevant information stored in our memory in order to gain meaning.
A good working memory is essential for reading and learning, as well as other important processes, such as concentrating and following instructions.
What is working memory?
Working memory refers to how we manipulate information stored in our short-term memory. Children use this all the time to learn, read and follow everyday instructions.
Improving your child’s working memory is a powerful way to improve their reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
Here are five activities that will improve your child’s working memory:
1. Practise putting words and ideas into categories
When new concepts and words are put into categories, they become much easier to remember. Several studies have shown that when category cues are applied, children are twice more likely to remember associated words than if left to recall them on their own.
Practise playing category games after reading a book. Focus on helping your child recall new words and ideas. If the book features animals, ask your child to name as many animals as they can think of, including any new ones they may have learned from the book. You can look at grouping them in different ways, such as by where they live or their number of legs. If the book is about Egyptian history, ask them to list words under categories such as diet, buildings, rituals or fashion. This type of associative learning is a great way to improve reading comprehension and vocabulary.
2. Connect feelings to information
Children remember things best by processing information in as many ways as possible, especially if they have processed it emotionally. If your child is reading a book about bird migration, ask them to imagine what it would be like to fly thousands of miles to find food and a warmer climate. Finding ways to connect what your child is trying to remember with things they are already familiar with is a powerful way to help them learn new information.
3. Talk about what you have read
Soon after you’ve read a book, ask your child to give you a summary of the events that took place. They can draw pictures, write a summary or simply tell you what happened in chronological order. You can also ask questions to reinforce key information in the book. Encourage a post-reading discussion by asking things like, “Where did the dog find his family?”, “Why do you think the boy felt sad about moving houses?”, or “What would have happened if the day was rainy instead of sunny?”
4. Help your child become a more active reader
To enhance working memory while reading, young children can get into the habit of becoming active readers. Encourage your child to underline, highlight or jot down key notes in the margin while reading lengthy books. They might also use sticky notes on pages to write down and group together their ideas about the text. Another great strategy to help your child understand and recall what they have read is by reading the text out loud. By reading aloud together, you can take “mental notes” by pausing and placing an emphasis on key words and ideas, or discussing the meaning of a particular word or event in the text.
Before your child sits down to read a book, help them prepare by priming their memory. Give your child an idea of what they can expect and what to look out for in a book by discussing the vocabulary and overall topic beforehand. By preparing your child before reading a lengthy text, you are making it easier for them to put the information into context.
Working memory is a skill that can be strengthened over time, and activities like these can be easily built into your child’s daily life. Do you have any tips for boosting your child’s working memory with reading?