A recent article on the Science Daily website reports the findings of a study of the cognitive skills of Portuguese-speaking children in Brazil, and the outcomes were similar to studies done with English-speaking children. Researchers tested the children’s IQs and executive functions—“a set of cognitive processes that we use to control our thoughts and actions, including how we remember information, control our emotions, pay attention and shift between thoughts.” The research shows that no matter what a child’s IQ is, his working memory skills “predicted success in all aspects of learning.”

Working memory skills are the ability to hold and work with information in mind. Most students identified by their teachers as “poor readers” were found to have poor working memory skills; teachers rarely identify poor working memory in their students. With early screening and intervention, working memory problems can be solved, and students can learn better.

Writing for The National Center for Learning Disabilities website, Annie Stuart offers suggestions for how parents can help their children can strengthen their working memories:

  • Know Your Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses – If a child has strong visual-spatial skills, consider using visual aids to support his or her learning.
  • Help Compensate for Weaknesses – Teach your child to break up or chunk information and to ask for this kind of “information management” at school. Use audiotapes or write things down. Create a checklist with pictographs and put it on the outside of the book bag for easy reference. Routines are helpful—putting things like keys and cell phones in the same place each day is a good idea.
  • Reinforce What Works – acknowledge successes right away and then question her or him about why her or his efforts were successful in this situation (e.g., “Did you think of a song or an image? Did you repeat it to yourself? Or, did you use a rhyme to help you with your multiplication tables?”) Then, suggest that your child do that again.
  • Use Working Memory as a Floodlight to Plan Action – Teach your child to do as psychology professor Dr. Tracy Packman Alloway suggests: “Do one activity and stop and shift to the next and maybe come back to the first, and so on. Do this instead of trying to do many things at once.”  Teaching mindfulness techniques can help with this.
  • Train Working Memory – Exercise your child’s working memory with home-based methods like CogMed.
  • Other Strategies
    • Make Technology an Aid – Use your child’s cell phone’s electronic calendar to help her or him stay on task.
    • Reconsider Video Games – While several hours of playing video games is never advisable, Alloway explains that having to navigate through different scenes can benefit visual-spatial working memory. Spy games are helpful for improving working memory since “…you have to execute an action without guidance and remember the consequences of the action.”
    • Play Other Games, Too – Low-tech games can help working memory. Quick scanning of all the A’s or a certain word in 30 second by circling them in an article is an example. On a road trip, have your child say the kinds of cars they see. Then have them recall the names in reverse order.
    • Encourage Exercise – High-intensity exercise like running or biking may improve working memory.
    • Provide Better “Fuel” for Better Work – Certain nutrients assist in helping your child’s brain work better (e.g., DHEA-enriched eggs or fish with Omega-3, blueberries, etc.)

See this video by Chryl Peterson, Ph. D. with suggestions for parents to use to help improve their children’s memory: