Increase Your Child’s Working Memory

I continually train my son’s working memory, and I urge parents of other young children to do likewise. While I have succeeded in at least temporarily improving his working memory, I accept that this change might not be permanent and could end a few months after he stops training. But I also believe that while his working memory is boosted so too is his learning capacity.

I have a horrible working memory that greatly hindered my academic achievement. I was so bad at spelling that they stopped counting it against me in school. In technical classes I had trouble remembering what variables stood for. My son, in contrast, has a fantastic memory and even twice won his school’s spelling bee.

My son and I had been learning different programming languages through Codecademy. While I struggle to remember the required syntax of different languages, he quickly gets this and can focus on higher level understanding. When we do math learning together his strong working memory lets him concentrate on higher order issues rather than having to worry about remembering the details of the problems and the various relevant formulas.

You can easily train a child’s working memory. It requires just a few minutes a day, can be done low tech or on a computer, can be optimized for your child to get him in flow, and easily lends itself to a reward system. Here are some of the training techniques I have used:

I write down a sequence and have him repeat it. I say a sequence and have him repeat it. He repeats a sequence backwards. He repeats the sequence with slight changes such as adding one to each number and “subtracting” one from each letter (e.g. C becomes B). He repeats a sequence while doing some task like touching his head every time he says an even number and his knee every time he says an odd one. Before repeating a memorized sequence, he must play repeat after me where I say a random string. I draw a picture and have him redraw it. He plays N-back games. He does mental math requiring keeping track of numbers (e.g. 42 times 37). I assign numerical values to letters and ask him math operation questions (e.g. A*B+C). I write down words, numbers, and phrases on index cards, place the index cards in different places in a room, have him memorize what’s on each card, turn over the cards, then ask him questions about what’s on a card, or ask him to identify the location of a certain card.

The key is to keep changing how you train your kid so you have more hope of improving general working memory rather than the very specific task you are training. So, for example, if you say a sequence and have your kid repeat it back to you vary the speed at which you talk on different days and don’t just use one class of symbols in your exercises. I learned this after my son insisted that I repeat sequences at the same speed.