Mindfulness and “working memory” improve learning

We adults hear how important it is to be present in the moment. Mindful. Focused on the now. As it turns out, mindfulness can also help build kids’ working memory skills that help with learning.

Any child can develop deficits in working memory, but the distractability associated with ADD/ADHD tends to worsen the problems. The ADDitude magazine website, which offers strategies and support for ADHD and other learning disabilities, defines working memory as “the ability to hold information in mind while performing complex tasks. A young child is able to execute simple tasks—sharpen his pencil when asked—while one in middle school can remember the expectations of multiple teachers.”

The magazine suggests a number of repetitive routines and procedures, both at home and at school, that can help improve working memory. One at-home tip? “Brainstorm with your child about ways he can remember important things. Can he write it on the back of his hand, program his smartphone to remind him, ask friends with better memories to prompt him?”

Developing strong working memory abilities at an early age appears to have implications for later academic success. Science Daily just released the results of a collaborative study between researchers at the Université of Sainte-Anne and University of Montreal suggesting that “Preschoolers who score lower on a working memory task are likely to score higher on a dropout risk scale at the age of 13. According to the article, “The study was conducted with 1,824 children whose development has been followed over a number of years through the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development.”

Simple play activities are valuable. Linda Pagani, co-senior author of the study, offered that that the time-honored tradition of “pretend” is actually a good way to sharpen working memory. She said, “Preshoolers can engage in pretend play with other children to help them practice their working memory since this activity involves remembering their own roles and the roles of others. Encouraging mindfulness in children by helping them focus on their moment-to-moment experiences also has a positive effect on cognitive control and working memory.” Along those lines, Pagani also noted that “breathing exercises and guided meditation can be practiced with preschool and elementary school children.”

Amanda Morin wrote “5 Ways Kids Use Working Memory to Learn” for the Understood website for learning attention issues. The article notes that “weak working memory skills can affect learning in many different subject areas including reading and math.” When learning to read, Morin writes, “Auditory working memory helps kids hold on to the sounds letters make long enough to sound out new words. Visual working memory helps kids remember what those words look like so they can recognize them throughout the rest of the sentence. She adds that “In math class, they may know how to do different kinds of calculations. However, they run into trouble with word problems. It’s difficult to listen for clue words that indicate which operation to use, while at the same time remembering the numbers that need to be plugged into the equation.”

Morin suggests that playing cards and numbering directions (sequencing) are two ways to boost working memory. Not only do these types of activities help kids focus, but they “feed” multiple inputs for kids to process.

For just that kind of learning fun try Memory Match I Try Skill Cards for toddlers. The 30 large picture cards (15 pairs) with rounded corners are easy for little hands to grasp and they offer multiple play strategies. For a basic Memory Match game, turn all the cards face up for a good look. Then turn them back down, and begin flipping them over one by one to find matches. Mom or dad can play, an older sibling can guide a younger one, or with a basic introduction, two little ones can compete with each other for the most matches.

Go Fish Alphabet Game Cards is another card-play strategy or get even more options with a 4-pack that includes Go Fish Alphabet Game Cards, Three-Letter Words Puzzle Cards, Alphabet Flash Cards, and Alphabet Match Flash Cards. Go Fish & Old Maid Flash Action Software Windows Download delivers two electronic games in one.

Memory Match Jr. App in both iOS and Android, for ages 6-8, and the Memory Match App for ages 7-up, with three levels of play, also in iOS and Android, are other great memory-builders. Touch any square to “turn it over” and see the picture, and touch another square to find a match. Kids can compete with a friend in two-player mode or play against a built-in opponent.

Working on building working memory works wonders for learning!