Tips on how to improve your child’s memory
One lazy afternoon, I settled myself in front of the telly to enjoy Prehistoric Park, a National Geography programme on dinosaurs with my three-year-old son, thinking I’d have to help him with some of the difficult to pronounce names.
When he started rattling off about Tyrannosaurus rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Diplodocus, and Terradactyl – the names of the dinosaur species, and their distinctive features, my jaws dropped. How does a three-year-old remember such complex names? I wondered, brimming with motherly pride.
Two days later, I came home to find my son watching the telly again. I asked him what he was watching and he gave me a blank look. He honestly could not remember what he had watched in the past one hour.
That got me worried. How is he going to handle the pressurising workload of school if he has ‘selective’ memory? What is memory? How can I help my young son remember facts and figures? Is interest the only contributing factor to him remembering the names of the dinosaurs? What can I do to build his memory power?
How Memory Works in a Child
I immediately Googled my way to Memory and here’s what I found. Memory is our ability to store, retain and recall information. We create neuron pathways to store the information. Hence, the more specific the neuron pathway, the stronger is the memory.
According to Judy Nolte, Editor-in-Chief of American Baby (Aug29, 2008, CBS), most adults do not remember any specific events before the age of three. Scientists call this period, childhood amnesia. Memory is very short and specific before the age of three. Such short-term memory may explain why I need to remind my son to pull the flush and wash his hands after going to the toilet each time!
The good news is that a child’s memory grows with time, and with proper reinforcement, you can strengthen his or her memory. Some of the reinforcements such as associations, repetition, constant reviews, and games like “peek-a-boo” are already old friends to us.
How to increase the memory power of a child?
First, let’s get the basics out of the way. You can improve memory by “feeding” your brain, have sufficient rest and be physically fit. Drink plenty of water, at least 6 to 8 glasses a day, and eat foods rich in Omega 3 such as trout, mackerel, avocado, seeds, nuts and extra virgin oil.
Folate, vitamin B and vitamin B12 are thought to be beneficial to improve memory. Folate rich foods include orange juice, strawberries, avocado, beans, peas and vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, asparagus and Brussels sprouts. B vitamins are found in dairy products, vegetables and whole grains and are crucial in manufacturing red blood cells that transport oxygen to brain cells.
Oxygen is a crucial element in improving memory as it helps the blood circulation and enables the brain to regenerate. So, provide plenty of opportunities for your child to practise cardio exercises outdoors.
Help your child develop good sleep practices. According to Richard Ferber, Director for the center for paediatric sleep disorders, Children’s Hospital Boston, children less than four years old need at least 11 to 12 hours sleep a day.
Skills to Master Memory
Now, we all know that a baby’s first memories are formed by association of his senses – the sound of his mother’s voice, the taste of his milk, the softness of his fluffy bunny etc. But did you know that of all the five senses, smell is the strongest trigger to generate a memory? Baby powder scents always remind me of babies, while the smell of strawberry milk brings back great memories of primary school.
As a child grows older, he is able to engage other forms of association such as linking words with objects, actions or behaviour. The next time you’re reading or talking to your child, try this question: “What does that make you think of?” My son associates every red sports car with Ferrari and all yellow ones with Lamborghini.
His other passion is playing silly word association games with his father. This is a fantastic game to play, especially on car journeys, and it is an immense vocabulary builder.
I recently introduced him to mind mapping, a technique to organize and process information. Start with simple themes like holiday, pet, family, friends or house. My son enjoyed the visual aspect of his mind map with coloured branches, small icons and free associations. Mind mapping allows the parent to bond with the child and to covertly uncover what’s on his mind. It is also a great studying skill when the child starts primary school.
Music is known to be very relaxing and stimulating, especially to developing minds. Rhythm, repetition, melody, and rhyme can all aid memory. Children love repetition. This accounts for their repeated requests in cartoons, songs, food, etc.
I must have sung “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” a thousand times before my son made it his singing debut at 15-months. By 20-months, he could recite his ABCs without a hitch. Nowadays, he’s into reciting lyrics from Sean Kingston’s hit song, Me Love and Shah Rukh Khan’s Om-Shanti-Om.
Bedtime and mealtime routines are also repetitions which children thrive in. They provide excellent opportunities for bonding and reviews. My son loves to watch videos from his past birthday parties or revisit the memories of the early years of his life. We’ve also made a habit of sharing our day with each other before saying goodnight.
Some memories are outstanding and noticeably different. For instance, if a person examines a list with one item highlighted in bright yellow, the highlighted item will be more remembered than any of the others.
The ability to recall these outstanding memories are known as the Von Restorff effect, named after Hedwig von Restorff, a German psychologist in 1933. For a child, the first and last experiences are especially poignant and therefore care should be taken that they be positive.
My son remembers fondly his trip to Hong Kong to see Mickey Mouse and every time we travel in the direction of the airport, he demands a trip to Hong Kong to visit Mickey. This was until we visited Indonesia recently. Now, I have to contend with his commands to return to the beautiful villa in Bali.
To transform information from a short-term memory to long-term memory lies in a 5-step-review process. First, have a review shortly after learning. Next, review the same information a week later, then a month later. Finally, review the same information three to six months later. I am proud to report that using the above method, my son is now intimately acquainted with the 9 planets of the solar system.
Finally, remember that a child learns best when he or she is having FUN. Games such as puzzles, counting games, and board games such as chess and GO create new neuron pathways and provide hours of fun and challenge for the brain.
There are now plenty of websites like www.kidsMemory.com, www.thekidzpage.com and www.playkidsgames.com that provide free memory games for children. So go ahead, let the games begin.
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