Helping A Struggling Reader

10 Strategies and Activities to Improve Working memory: ADHD and memory Challenges

Everyone can have a difficult time remembering things sometimes. However, if you see this happening with your children frequently, it could be a sign of low working memory which could be another sign of ADHD (though not necessarily). I recently learned (from a therapist and reading specialist), that there is a big correlation between ADHD and memory. This was utterly fascinating as my husband and his family (all of whom have ADHD) are some of the most knowledgeable, fact retaining people I know.

As it turns out, it’s all about the type of memory involved. Working memory, which is often called short term memory, is part of the skills known as executive function. While short-term memory is about the storage of information, working memory describes the use or manipulation of the stored information. It refers to the ability to hold information in the mind while simultaneously performing some tasks.

Children use working memory to larn, at home and at school. Does your child find it difficult to keep some information in mind or follow directions while performing some task?

If so, your child may be having working memory challenges. Working memory helps in problem-solving or carrying out multi-step directions. There are some simple strategies that can help to improve working memory for kids.

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Strategies and Activities to Improve Children’s Working Memory

1. Rhyme it, sing it, acronym it

It is easier to remember new things when they are associated with rhyming words, music, or other patterned tones. Examples you may be familiar with are “I before E, except after C and when sounding as “A” in neighbor and weigh,” the alphabet song, and “My Dear Aunt Sally – MDAS.” Get a notebook and use it to write down some of the mnemonic devices your children use. Be sure to revisit and review this book often.

2. Draw it

The ability to visualize things is important in many areas, especially when it comes to math and problem solving. Encourage your children to visualize a concept and then ask them to draw what they see. For example, if you wanted one of the children to set the dinner table for 5 family members, ask them to draw a picture of what that would look like.

3. Teach it

One of the best ways to remember something is to teach it to someone else. Depending on your children’s ages, you may want to encourage them to teach you, a younger sibling, or even teach it to a doll or stuffed animal.

4. Feel it

When your children can associate a feeling with something new, they are more likely to remember it. For example, the children are learning about how electricity was discovered. Ask, “How would you have felt if you had been zapped by lightning, like Benjamin Franklin?”

5. Connect it

In order to make something memorable, children must be able to hook the new information to prior knowledge. For example, if the new information is about adding fractions, the children may be able to relate the fraction concept with the measuring they did when they baked cookies.

6. Color it

Color is one of the bits of information that sneaks into our brains even when other information is filtered out. Our brains “notice” color and remember it first. This means that if things have color or are color coded, the children will be more likely to remember it. So, the goal is to add color to the important things children need to remember or notice first. This can be done in a variety of ways. For example, use colored file folders and notebooks to organize subjects, write with colored pens (blue rather than black), write important words or phrases using a red pen or pencil, use colored stick-on dots, etc. Be sure to create a color key to make things even easier to remember.

7. Number it

If you’ve ever asked someone to get 4 things from the store and they only came back with 2 or 3, you’ll love this one! When your children need to remember multiple things, include the number in your request. For example, “I need you to get these 4 things….” and then list them by name on a numbered shopping list.

8. Sense it

When children are introduced to a new concept, it helps to incorporate a wide variety of activities using as many senses or learning modalities as possible. The more senses that a concept can be hooked to, the easier it will be to remember. While this may be a little difficult in a public school setting, as a parent, you should be able to provide some additional experiences and activities in the home setting. This is a wonderful opportunity to do some hands-on learning and relate it to local places and experiences.

9. Relax it

Stress, frustration, and feeling overwhelmed all tend to inhibit children’s ability to remember things because the reactive brain takes over and prevents a smooth flow of information. You may recognize this as the fight or flight reaction. The solution to this hindrance to memory retention and recall is to help children relax. As adults, we do this all the time. When we’ve tried repeatedly to remember a name but it still doesn’t come, we just stop thinking about it and often find that it just pops into our heads. This happens because we relaxed. Children can get really worked up over not being able to remember something, especially if it’s an ongoing problem. Teach the children to relax by doing something fun or listening to music. Giving children this kind of down time before beginning homework opens up the memory pathways and sets the course for success.

10. Use it or Lose it

Children’s short-term memory is just that – short. If they need to remember how to do something in the future, it needs to be reviewed or practiced often. The more it’s practiced or used, the longer it will stay in the children’s memory. Our brains regularly archive information to make room for new concepts. To make sure that information is used or practiced, consider turning the information into a game. For example, you could make up your own version of trivial pursuit or make a board game that requires answering questions to progress on the board.

Working Memory, ADHD and memory Conclusion

Working memory is a function of executive functioning and people with ADHD are typically 30% behind their chronilogical age when it comes to executive functioning skills. This means a 7 year old is capable of organizing, planning, dealing with emotions etc. more in line with what’s typically expected of a 5 year old.

In helping a child improve their working memory, remember, repetition is key. And, because the ADHD brain (in general) wants to avoid the monotonous “basic” tasks, helping an ADHD child requires a lot of flexibility and creativity.

Do you have a learner with low working memory? Do YOU have low working memory? What have been your biggest struggles? What successes have you experienced?


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