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The Power of Memory

06 February 2017
Learning and memory are closely related concepts. Learning is the acquisition of skill or knowledge, while memory is the expression of what you’ve acquired. As I was training parents the other day in reading skills, I found myself talking about the importance of memory and the need to develop this in very young children. Indeed, much of what we learn as we move through life relies on the power of our memory. Certainly within the Pre-Prep, we find that children with stronger memory skills greatly enhance their learning potential. A lot of this relates back to their very early development and the how much this skill was valued both in their upbringing at home and activities at school. The more I thought about it the more I realised that this is an area that we all too often overlook, simply expecting it to develop without giving it specific support. If you think about your own child(ren), is it any wonder they are so tired at the end of the day? For example, from the moment they wake up until the time they climb into bed at night, 6- to 8-year-olds are expected to remember everything from daily routines to the facts they are learning in class. They need to know letters and numbers automatically so they can begin to read, spell, and solve math problems, and they must be able to record their own experiences in writing. Rather than just listening to stories, they need to answer questions about specific details. With these increasing academic demands, some children begin to feel unsure of their ability to recall everything they need to know, and they may even start saying, "I feel stupid." It's important, however, to reassure your child that remembering is a skill that he or she can learn like any other. Memory is a complex process, and 6- to 8- year-olds are developing a range of strategies to help them recall information. Remembering requires the ability to store information for a few seconds (short-term memory), then for several minutes while manipulating information (active working memory), and finally for an extended period of time (long-term memory). For example, when copying spelling words from the blackboard, children must first remember the sequence of letters, and then they need to write the words down without spending a lot of time looking back at the board. Many whisper the words under their breath or repeat the letters out loud to help themselves. Later, they'll have to memorize the words for a spelling test. The more opportunities your child gets to exercise their memory muscle, the easier it will be for them to handle the load of information in school. Such opportunities can begin in the early years as they are closely linked to that identity we value so highly at Wellington – independence. Children who have their every moment and choice anticipated for them are unlikely to develop strong memory skills. One of the most useful and fun games to play with young children is something I know as Kim’s game. It is a simple memory game which children thoroughly enjoy and find challenging. All you need is a tray, a selection of objects and fabric to cover it all. Work though the objects with the child(ren) – this can be great for expanding their vocabulary too! Then cover and secretly remove one object. Reveal and ask which object is missing. For the youngest children you can start with 3 or 4 objects, for older children you can challenge them with 10! Here are some further tips for children across the Pre-Prep age range: Play memory games – Such a Kim’s game or ‘I'm going on a picnic, and I'm taking . . . ," in which everyone has a turn adding an item and repeating the ones said previously. Divide and conquer - If your child has to memorise a short poem or some lines in a class play, have them break the task down into parts and work on the toughest sections first. This can be the same with events or preparation for the school day. Encourage your child to connect an emotion to something they want to remember - Studies suggest that if you can make a meaningful connection emotionally to something, or attach a strongly held opinion to what you are trying to remember, you are more likely to commit that information to memory. Sometimes it might be useful to generate an emotional response, such as finding a reason to be angry about a historical event or to think of something that is scary about a scientific fact. Treat your brain like a garden - A 2% decrease in hydration can lead to a 20% loss in energy and in the capacity to memorise and think correctly. This means your child needs to drink water, juices or something healthy to remain hydrated and to remember optimally. Provide nutrition (or fertilizer) for the brain through memory-boosting vitamins, such as Vitamin B12, Folic Acid, and food such as salmon and fruits. Also, give that brain some rest. Gardens that do best are not always planted with the same things and have a chance to recover before growing a crop again. Improve Working Memory by teaching others - Before teachers relay information, they process what they have learned in a way that prepares it for departure, consolidating information, archiving it, and making way for more long-term memory. Teaching others requires individuals to think about what they have learned and memorize it in a different way, so that they can present it to others. This illustrates the common axiom, “To teach is to learn twice.” So if your child is learning their sight words, get them to teach you! Emma Button Head of Pre-Prep