Improve Working Memory

Notepad...Working memory is the ability to keep things in mind while performing an activity. It helps in remembering while you are in the process of learning. It involves the maintenance of information in mind so that an individual can use it for planning, learning, reasoning, and producing a result. Working memory helps to hold a thought or long-term memory in mind so you can act more efficiently in the present moment. For example, working memory might involve shutting off a television and remembering to gather one’s coat and backpack before leaving a friend’s house. Improve working memory by following our recommendations below. 

Home and School Situations Requiring Working Memory

  • Taking notes in class
  • Recalling plans made or an assignment due date
  • Remembering the rules to a game or sport while playing
  • Following multi-step directions at both school and at home
  • Doing math computations in one’s head
  • Recalling answers to reading comprehension questions
  • Remembering a list of chores, items, or tasks

Hints and Strategies to Improve Working Memory

1. Simplify directions as much as possible. Your child will be more likely to recall short, simple, and direct instructions. For example, saying, “When you finish those two math worksheets, you can watch one episode of ‘Adventure Time’,” is much more direct than saying “When you finish your homework you can watch some TV.”

2. Encourage your child to seek assistance from others. Emphasize to your child that it is acceptable to ask the teacher to repeat instructions or to ask a classmate to borrow their notes. Role-play these scenarios at home so that your child will feel comfortable when the situation arises.

3. Find a mode of technology that is helpful to your child. For example, use a tape recorder to record notes or directions, or a cell-phone to program in reminders and scheduling changes. Digital picture frames can show a sequence of activities that are easily forgotten, such as eating breakfast, putting dishes away, and washing up.

4. Practice verbal memory like rehearsal, chunking, or mnemonic devices. Help your child to rehearse by whispering directions or lists to him/herself. Also, practice chunking devices that can help your child to whittle down two-step instructions to one, such as brushing her teeth and washing her face together. Mnemonic devices can be especially helpful, such as how ROY G BIV is often used to recall the colors of the rainbow in order.

5. Practice reading comprehension. Read the same material as your child and then have a brief discussion about it. This may help to increase your child’s focus and stretch their memory as an active component of working memory skills.

6. Showcase your own working memory difficulties by dramatizing your strategies to compensate for them. Many adults report difficulties with working memory in simple tasks such as remembering what they meant to do when they went into the kitchen or leaving the house and forgetting something important. Use compensatory strategies such as making notes, using Post-its, asking someone else to give a reminder, or doing something immediately when it comes to mind. Exaggerating and dramatizing your strategies for compensating your own working memory difficulties may be helpful for a child who has similar difficulties.

7. Select video games for your child that require the use of working memory skills. Brain training games, such as “Mind Quiz” and “Brain Age 2,” require the use of working memory skills and visual memory tasks. Other longer narrative games, such as “The Legend of Zelda” series, require the player to keep in mind incidents and objects from earlier in the game in order to be successful in strategies on later levels. Most importantly, try and get your child to recognize how memory skills can help in games and encourage your child to try out different strategies. These strategies can include the following: visualizing what (s)he needs to remember, over-learning math facts so that they become automatic, and repeating things out loud. These strategies may help your child in a number of memory tasks.

Games and Activities That Can Practice Working Memory

Playing board games – Most board games require players to use working memory to recall rules, remember whose turn it is, and relate the spin or roll to the appropriate move. Asking your child to help you remember what happens next in the game will even further improve this working memory activity.

Grocery shopping trip – Ask your child to help you keep track of the next three or four items you have to find. Have your child count them as you find each one.

“Memory” – This card game challenges players to match pairs of cards by turning them over two at a time while they are face down, allowing your child to practice his working memory skills.

“I packed my suitcase” Game – Players in this game have to picture and remember an increasing list of items. One child starts by saying, “I packed my suitcase and in it I put a toothbrush.” The next player repeats that phrase and then adds another item. This game can continue for as long as the players enjoy adding more items, and remember what came before what they’re about to say next.

“Big Brain Academy” – This game requires your child to keep facts in mind in order to successfully play the game.

Websites and Articles on Working Memory

LearningWorks For Kids: The premier resource for executive function information, offering a detailed explanation of working memory, tips for parents, and activities to improve this skill.

U.S. News and World Report: This article discusses the inconsistency of working memory in children with ADHD.

ADDitude: This site offers 15 expert tips for boosting memory and improving academic performance in students with ADHD or learning disabilities.

Parents: This nice, easy-to-read article provides parents with information on how to improve their child’s memory skills, mentioning certain games, as well as strategies.

Books on Working Memory

Cooper-Kahn, Joyce, Ph.D. and Laurie C. Dietzel. (2008). Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House. [Chapter 14]

Cox, Adam J., Ph.D. (2007). No Mind Left Behind: Understanding and Fostering Executive Control–The Eight Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs to Thrive. New York, NY: Penguin Books. [Chapter 7]

Dawson, Peg, Ed.D. and Richard Guare, Ph.D. (2009). Smart but Scattered. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. [Chapter 12]

Kulman, Randy, Ph.D. (2012). Train Your Brain for Success: A Teenager’s Guide to Executive Functions. Plantation, FL: Specialty Press, Inc. [Chapter 9]

Richard, Gail J. and Jill K. Fahy. (2005). The Source for Development of Executive Functions. East Moline, IL: Lingua Systems.