Working memory is essentially our brain’s capacity to keep track of short term, immediate thoughts. Whether it be reading a paragraph, engaging in a discussion, or even as I’m writing this paragraph, working memory plays an essential role.
As adults, it is already easy enough to get distracted and even forget how we were going to finish our sentence. For children (whose brains are not fully developed yet), concentrating to complete a task is even more difficult. Although researchers have not found an academic method to boost working memory capacity, there are many ways parents can help mitigate factors that impede their child’s working memory capacity.
All of our sensations compete for working memory resources. We are constantly absorbing and sifting through new information through our internal sensations and environmental distractions. We should think about working memory holistically. It’s not only about how many bits of information we can juggle at once, but also how efficiently we can filter out distractions and irrelevancies. In experiments done on adults, they found that little things like a foreign smell, walking into a new room, or even momentary eye contact was enough to decrease working memory capacity. Children are even more sensitive to distractions than adults are, which is why parents should make sure that there are minimal distractions and take note of their child’s mental state.
Break down complicated tasks
Although complex tasks utilize your child’s working memory, they might not be able to carry them out without help. Sometimes children try their best to follow your instructions but get lost. Parents should break down complicated tasks into smaller steps, remind their child what is next, and encourage them to ask questions.
Children learn best when they are energetic, well-rested, and motivated. Give your child frequent breaks during complicated tasks to process information. Studies also show that regular exercise improves attention span and ability to filter out information and concentrate– fitter children allocate more cognitive resources to attention and working memory during academic tasks.
When children don’t get a good night of sleep they’re not only cranky, but also have temporarily impaired working memory. When we are tired we tend to have momentary lapses of consciousness (similar to your mind dozing off) called microsleeps. As mentioned earlier, if children need to focus hard to keep themselves awake and on task, this takes away from their working memory capabilities.
When you are trying to remember a new phone number before you can write it down, what do you find yourself doing? You’re probably repeating it to yourself- either in your head or out loud. Verbal rehearsal is a powerful tool in working memory retention. Researchers found that when 5 – 6 year old children used verbal repetition, they could keep information active in their working memory for longer and had better problem solving skills.