The development of memory in children becomes evident within the first 2 to 3 years of a child’s life as they show considerable advances in declarative memory and increased language. However, recent research on the development of memory has indicated that declarative, or explicit memory, may exist in infants who are even younger than two years old. For example, newborns who are less than 3 days old demonstrate a clear preference for their mother’s own voice.
Memory is like a mental workspace or notepad. The “place” where we manipulate information, perform mental calculations, or form new thoughts. Just as different computers have different amounts of RAM, “Working Memory” (WM) capacity varies from person to person. You can see this if you try giving the same verbal instructions to different children.
“Please give me the red crayon, then pick up the blue ball and put it in the green box.”
Some children find this relatively easy. While others try to carry out the instructions, but lose track of the details along the way and eventually ask for help, complete the task incorrectly or walk away to a new activity. Children with low working memory can begin to have difficulty in the classroom when they get older. Young children with low working memory capacity may look like they aren’t paying attention. They often commit “place-keeping” errors, repeating or skipping words, letters, numbers, or whole steps of an assigned task. Frequently they abandon tasks altogether, not because they are lazy or uncooperative, but because they have lost track of what they were doing.
The problem shows up in many different domains. Math immediately comes to mind, because we all have experience trying to do calculations “in our heads.” Low working memory capacity affects language too. For instance, a child with a low WM capacity may find it hard to write sentences. By the time they finish spelling the first few words, they have forgotten what they intended to say next. Similarly, they have trouble with reading comprehension. While they are working to decode written words, they lose track of the overall “gist” of the story or sentence.
Why do we forget things?
The human brain is constantly bombarded with huge amounts of information each day. The fact is: we simply do not need to retain most of the information we receive each day. We only need to retain some of that information and can safely forget the rest. Once in long-term memory, the information is reasonably permanent. However, if we don’t just that information we are likely to find it difficult to access when we need it, and if the information is not stored very efficiently, it will also be difficult to access.
How can memory be improved?
In order to make an individual’s memory more efficient you need to ensure four key things:
- Create your own examples – When you can generate your own examples, you make it personal and you demonstrate your understanding, also your memory is enhanced.
- Think in pictures, colors & shapes – Concrete images are more memorable than abstract ideas, and that is why pictures are such important instructional aids.
- Repetition – The more times you go over something, the better your memory will be of that information. However, each time you go through something, try to use a different method so that you are not just repeating exactly the same activity. By varying your approach you will create more connections in long-term memory.
Here are some additional ideas for parents to use while at home to help with children’s memory.