Activities to improve working memory in children

Aug 2013
"Working memory plays a key role in supporting children's learning over the school years."

A good memory is crucial to ensuring that children can retain the information they have learnt and apply it to a variety of contexts. Building up children's working memory will also mean they are able to draw on their wealth of knowledge and make cross-curricular links between subjects.

A joint research paper conducted by the University of Durham and the University of York (How does working memory work in the classroom?) highlighted how memory can impact upon a child's education:

'Working memory plays a key role in supporting children's learning over the school years, and beyond this into adulthood.

It is proposed here that working memory is crucially required to store information while other material is being mentally manipulated during the classroom learning activities that form the foundations for the acquisition of complex skills and knowledge. A child with a poor working memory capacity will struggle and often fail in such activities, disrupting and delaying learning.'

The research also made the following conclusion: 'Without early intervention, memory deficits cannot be made up over time and will continue to compromise a child's likelihood of academic success.'

Below are just a few activities that will help to enhance children's memory and recall:

Kim's game
Kim's game is used across a number of subjects, particularly modern foreign languages, to test children's memory. A selection of objects, numbers or words are displayed before the objects are covered up and children are asked which item has been removed. This can continue indefinitely with different combinations of objects.

Reciting times tables, repeating test questions and regularly reviewing vocabulary cards should ensure that children retain information in both their short and long-term memories. Research conducted by Kent State University in the United States found that 'with retrieval practice, everything gets substantially better,' and that includes 'associative memory' (the relationship between things) and 'cue memory' (when something triggers memory).

Number and letter sequences
You could try typing a short number sequence and gradually building this up digit by digit. Give children a minute to review it before removing it all together. The children can then attempt to recall as much of the sequence as they can, before the process is repeated with letters.

Memory games
There are lots of children's games that involve utilising memory to win. Often these games will begin with a location, a situation and items required. For example, the first person could say "I went to the moon for a year and I took with me a star-catcher". The next person would need to repeat the sentence, including the first person's item, and then add their own to start a list.

As the game goes on, each participant needs to recall the full list and add their own, and if they can't they will be out of that round. The theme can vary from space to beeches, school to a fun fair, and the basic task of thinking of relevant items and recalling those already mentioned is a great and simple way to develop your child's memory skills.