The role of working memory in your child’s growth

Working memory is particularly crucial for children as it affects how they learn. Everything from math to comprehension to problem solving makes use of working memory.

By Rahil Shah

What’s 32+74? Can you pronounce the word ‘imperceptible?’ Can you remember all the items on your grocery list?

Doing any tasks like the ones above make use of what is known as working memory. But what exactly is working memory?

Simply put, working memory is the ability to hold onto some information for a short burst of time, as little as 2-3 seconds, in order to use that information for further processing. Working memory is what we tap into when we’re doing things without needing to actively focus on the actual thing we’re doing.

Working memory and children

Working memory is particularly crucial for children as it affects how they learn. Everything from math to comprehension to problem solving makes use of working memory. Children use their working memory skills when they have to follow multi-step directions, do mental arithmetic and most crucially of all, it enables them to stay focused in the face of distractions (of which there are certainly no shortages!)

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When it comes to children, there’s two parts one can focus on:

  • Improving the existing working memory of the child.

  • Expanding the working memory capacity of the child.

How do we improve working memory?

Improving working memory focuses on creating an environment and using strategies that manage the working memory load.

Keep it simple

Break down tasks into smaller, simpler steps (and ensure the child goes step by step) and use simple, clear, easy-to-understand language when giving out instructions. Doing so enables children to process multiple information more effectively in the long run.

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Repeat, repeat, repeat

When giving an instruction to a child, get them to repeat it back to you so that the child knows what is expected of him/her. Repeat activities till the child has mastered the task. This will help in effectively using working memory by the time the child has gotten familiar with the tasks.

Slow it down

If a child is given a challenging activity, slow down the pace to allow them to process and complete the activity in their time instead of rushing them through it.

Use a multisensory approach

Bringing the other senses in makes it easier for a child to process information. Take the alphabet song. It’s probably the most universal example of using this approach to make information ‘stick.’

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Reduce the noise

Cut out the distractions to help the child focus on the task at hand. Put away the devices and limit screen time to get them to utilise their working memory more effectively.

And how do we expand their working memory capacity? Young children naturally have smaller working memory capacities than adults. In a visual display of multiple objects, adults remembered  about 3-4 objects while children, on average, recalled only half as many.

  • Games: One of the most effective (and definitely the funnest) way to work on working memory. Matching games, Card games and Word games all help children in working memory expansion. Games like memory, UNO, ‘Today at the beach I saw….’ Get kids to process and filter information and recall it from time to time.

  • Simon Says: Any multi-instructional, multi-step game is a great way to enhance one’s working memory. Bellowing out an order of objects to get in Simon Says or giving a set of 5 ordered tasks for an obstacle course all are a great tool to get that working memory going!

As with everything else, don’t rush into it. Stay patient and just stay the course.

(The writer is Co-founder, Elemeno Kids)

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