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  • Here's Why Your Child Finds It Hard to Remember School Lessons

    Find out the signs of a child who has problems with his working memory
    by Lei Dimarucut-Sison .
Here's Why Your Child Finds It Hard to Remember School Lessons
PHOTO BY @anurakpong/iStock
  • Michelle, a friend of mine and a fellow mom, could never be bothered when it’s her preschooler’s exams week. A dutiful parent, she knows she must help her child study and review lessons, no matter how easy they may seem (to an adult, of course).

    However, their review sessions always end up in a fight as my friend gets frustrated with her child, who can’t seem to remember what they studied. “But she knows the lyrics to every Katy Perry song,” she retorts. She wonders if she should start singing their lessons to the tune of “California Gurls.”

    How the mind works

    When your child forgets, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t paying attention or that something is wrong with her. Think of memory as a storage system in the brain that has three categories: the short-term memory, long-term memory, and working memory.

    Short-term memory is, as its name suggests, something you store for a short time which you don’t process, like when remembering someone’s address and writing it down. 

    Long-term memory is something that lingers, such as memories from when you were a child, or the plot of a favorite novel. Usually, it is something we associate with a feeling, or something important to us (episodic memory), or stock knowledge and trivia (semantic memory).

    Working memory, on the other hand, is similar to short-term memory, that uses another process where data processing or manipulation is involved. For example, instead of just remembering the phone number in the example above, you also write it down and add notes to it. That’s how you use your working memory. However, it is not the same for everyone. Younger kids, for example, have a lower working memory capacity, and a barrage of information may cause overload, resulting in failure to remember.


    Moreover, struggling with her working memory may reflect badly on your child’s school performance and in his day-to-day behavior at home (such as problems with packing her school bag, or not being able to follow routines). Note, however, that working memory is not the same as intelligence. It is merely a component of how kids learn.

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    Symptoms of problems with working memory

    A child with a working memory difficulty may exhibit one or several of these:

    • Easily distractible, especially if there is a low interest on the subject matter (which may explain Michelle’s problem above)
    • Has poor organizational skills
    • May make writing or counting mistakes in the classroom
    • Shows difficulty doing work independently
    • Shows slow progress even when she is working really hard

    How to improve your child’s working memory

    The good news is, there are things you can do to sharpen and improve your child’s working memory.

    1. Give information using all the senses.

    Rather than saying out loud the instruction, also do the following: write it down, draw it, look for pictures that illustrate it, demonstrate it, and do an activity (such as throwing a ball) while you talk to him. It may seem confusing to you, but being able to process the information in different ways may help him remember it better.

    2. Use mnemonics.

    Mnemonics are memory aid to make it easier for you to remember. ROY G. BIV represent the colors of the rainbow. PEMDAS (or Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally) will help you remember the order of operations in a complex math problem (Parenthesis, Exponent, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction) to get the right answer. You can try coming up with your own mnemonics, too!

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    3. Ask your child to teach you.

    Whether it’s a sport, a new game, or a skill, your child needs to process the information thoroughly so he could explain it to you. This will help file it in their memory. 

    4. Teach active reading.

    Instead of the usual way of reading her textbook to review her lesson, ask your child to use tools that will help draw his attention deeper into what he is reading. This could be through the use of highlighters, by underlining certain words, or asking herself questions about what she just read aloud.

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