What is Working Memory and How does it Matter in Children?

What is Working Memory and How does it Matter in Children?

Working memory is how we hold on to the stored information in our short-term memory and work with it—the term working memory had been interchangeably used with short-term memory in the past. Working memory is part of skills that are called executive functions. 

Children sometimes experience having a hard time keeping one information in mind while doing something else. For example- when your child is engaged in helping you clean their toy room but gets up to check something on TV and doesn't return to help you with the cleaning. 

Working memory is essential for adding information that we are learning with our current knowledge base, which becomes long-term memory later. When we get new information, we depend on our working memory to keep the information active. This helps us focus, organize and solve problems. Easy retention of information helps our skills and knowledge be instantaneous, and it minimizes the need to give active thought to each step of a task.

As working memory is a part of executive functioning; it is crucial for academic performance. Planning a task, initiating it, organizing, and executing it requires working memory. At school, these areas of learning are significantly affected by working memory- reading comprehension, mathematics, complex problem solving, and test-taking.

Let us look at some activities that can improve working memory-

Practicing visualization-

You can ask your child to take a mental picture of what they have just read or heard. You can ask them to picture what they need to do to carry out a specific task (e.g., if they are going to make a simple sandwich, they can start by imagining all the things required to make a sandwich and mentally get everything ready on the table. And you can ask them to draw that picture. As they get better at visualizing, get them to describe what they can see in their head without drawing it.

Get your child to teach you-

Always encourage them to explain things to you. Let them teach you something they know. Let them describe and explain. You can ask them "how" and "why" questions so that they realize that an explanation is needed.

Encourage them to describe and teach you how to do a new skill that they are learning. They can make sense of what they have learned and file it away in their memory by explaining it to you.

Give them the information in a multi-sensory way-

Suppose they have the opportunity to understand a piece of new information in many different ways; in that case, it will help with their working memory and transfer further information into long-term memory.

Here are a few ways how you can do it-

  • Write tasks down
  • Say it aloud
  • Throw a ball back and forth while discussing what to do
  • Draw the task
  • Use pictures to support verbal information
  • Demonstrate the task

Support your child to do the active reading-

  • Teach them to use highlighters and sticky notes.
  • Teach them the skill of note-taking
  • Underline texts to help them keep the information they have read actively for long enough to respond to questions.

Asking questions like what they are reading and talking aloud can also help them actively read and develop suitable strategies for all reading.

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