Childhood is all about learning, and learning is a lot easier if you have a strong memory. Not only does the ability to capture and recall knowledge make it more likely that a child will excel at school, but having rich, vivid memories of everyday experiences also help children make sense of the world and their place in it, enriching their experiences and building essential life skills.
Given how important memory is to kids' development, it's good to know that our skill at remembering isn't fixed. What's true for adults is true for children - there are a ton of tricks and strategies young people can use to sharpen their memory. And as a parent you're well placed to help them. Here are a few research-backed suggestions.
1. Take the stress out of learning.
"Stress causes the brain intake systems to send information into the Reactive brain (automatic-fight, flight, freeze) and prevents information flow through to the Reflective higher thinking, conscious brain (prefrontal cortex) where long-term memory is constructed," explains neurologist Judy Willis on Psychology Today.
That means that creating high-pressure study situations will probably harm your kid's memory. Instead, "establish enjoyable rituals (favorite songs, card games, ball toss) or surprises (a fun picture downloaded and printed from the internet) before study time to destress the study experience and open up the brain networks that lead to memory storage," suggests Willis.
2. Play memory games.
Memory skills are like a muscle that grows with use, so make sure you provide lots of opportunities for your kids (especially younger ones) to remember what they've learned about the world. "Ask questions when you're out and about. For example, if you're passing a friend's house, ask, "Who lives there?" Games like this give children experience in recalling information," writes Barbara Solomon for Parents.
3. Encourage reading and talk about books.
It's no shock that reading with kids is good for their intellectual development, but if you want them to get more out of books, blog Dumb Little Man suggests actively engaging your kids about what their reading.
"When a child takes part in active reading strategies they are likelier to have an easier time forming long-term memories. Active reading strategies include not only taking notes and highlighting like most students do, but also speaking aloud and answering questions about the material that they are reading," explains the post. So make sure to ask your little one about what you're reading together and her reactions to the story.
4. Ask them to visualize stories.
Dumb Little Man also suggests another technique related to reading: "When the child is reading something, have them pause and ask them to imagine the scene in their head and describe it to you."
5. Talk about favorite memories.
Similarly, kids' memories also benefit when parents encourage their children to recall and visualize favorite memories, according to Solomon. "Focus on events that resonated strongly with her, such as a trip to the zoo. As she gets a little older, help her make stories out of her recollections. Your child's memories will be richer, and she'll learn how to relay them in a clear form," she writes.
6. Help them make connections.
When new memories fail to "stick" it's often because they have no prior knowledge to attach to. Therefore, helping your child to create connections among the things they're learning can strengthen their memory, according to Understood, a nonprofit organization that supports parents of kids with learning disabilities.
"Help your child form associations that connect the different details he's trying to remember. Grab your child's interest with fun mnemonics like Roy G. Biv. (Thinking about this name can help kids remember the order of the colors in the rainbow)," suggests Understood. "Finding ways to connect information helps with forming and retrieving long-term memory. It also helps with working memory, which is what we use to hold and compare new and old memories."
"The brain is a pattern-seeking organ. When your children recognize relationships between new and prior knowledge their brains can link the new information with a category of existing knowledge for long-term storage. Charts, mnemonics, listing similarities/differences, and making analogies build long-term memory patterns," agrees Willis.
7. Play cards.
This is a fun way to boost memory that both you and your kid will enjoy. "Simple card games like Crazy Eights, Uno, Go Fish and War can improve working memory in two ways. Your child has to keep the rules of the game in mind. But he also has to remember what cards he has and which ones other people have played," notes Understood.
Do you have any other memory-boosting strategies to share?