9 Ways to Maximize Your Child’s Working Memory #16

Is your child super forgetful and can't seem to follow instructions? They may have a poor working memory. Working memory is extremely important for learning and this post goes through some ways we can help our kids improve their working memories and function more successfully both at home and at school.

You can listen to this episode above, listen to it on iTunes or Stitcher, or read the transcript below.

Firstly, I want to apologise if you’ve been waiting, this episode is a couple of weeks late. Unfortunately, my laptop was stolen on a flight from San Francisco just 2 days before some interviews I had lined up. So that put me into a bit of a technological crisis and we weren’t able to do the interviews.

I did run out and buy a new laptop, however, and since the interviews had to be postponed I decided to look further into working memory. Steven, who is an early childhood teacher in Queensland, Australia, reached out through Facebook to ask me to talk about working memory. So that’s what I’m doing today!
Executive Function
Working memory is one part of a larger system called executive function. Think about what an executive does. They have a problem, they think through the alternative choices and make a decision on what needs to happen, then they give orders or take action to deal with the problem, and then finally evaluate how well it all worked, or didn’t work. That is how executive function works for us – it’s how we go about solving problems, making decisions and carrying them out.

It’s a complex process that mostly uses our frontal lobes, which continue to develop right through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.
Interlinked processes
Working memory is one part of executive function. Some other aspects are impulse and emotional control, flexible thinking, planning and prioritizing and organisation. All these areas don’t work in isolation, they’re interlinked, so children with poor working memory may struggle with these other areas of executive function as well, which makes things even more difficult for the child.

Also what we might call ‘cool’ decision making, such as when we’re just sorting cards by shape and colour for example accesses a different part of the frontal cortex to ‘hot’ or emotional decision making. When there’s something at stake. So it’s good to be aware that emotional content can change the way a child is able to reason things out.
Improves throughout childhood
Infants pretty much just respond to the stimuli around them. Preschoolers, on the other hand, are able to think about the past and the present and decide between options. But this doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be able to stick to their decision or option, because their ability to consciously control their thoughts, actions and emotions is still severely limited.
What is working memory?
Just as it sounds, our working memory is our ability to hold information in our head in the short term that we’ll need in order to complete whatever task we’re working on. For example, if I ask a child to write, ‘my dog is running to the pond,’ they need to keep that whole sentence in their working memory while they’re writing. Now they might need to concentrate to sound out the word ‘dog,’ and by the time they’ve finished writing the word the sentence might have disappeared from their mind. They can no longer recall it.

There are 2 parts to working memory: auditory memory and visual-spatial memory. One part focuses on what we hear, and the other on what we see. I’m not going into that today because it’s not really necessary in the context of this discussion. Working memory is NOT the same as short-term memory, but again, I’m kind of using them interchangeably here because I like to simplify things as much as possible as long as it doesn’t change the essential message.
Consequences
When a child has poor working memory,

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