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Making the Most of Memory Strategies

Just like there are many types of memories, there are many types of memory strategies. Most of the strategies applicable to children involve improving storage and recall i.e. making the information to be memorized more “sticky” so that it stays longer in our minds!  Many of such strategies use a technique called mnemonics, which help students form patterns for easier recall.

Three common mnemonics suitable for children are:

  1. Acronym – An acronym is an invented combination of letters, with each letter acting as a cue to an item you need to remember. An example would be using the acronym ROY G. BIV to remember the colours of the rainbow – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet
  1. Creating a Song – For me, a winning technique for teaching my 3-year-old the colours of the rainbow involves creating a song with a familiar tune. I sing this using the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down” and it is now almost permanently etched in my daughter’s mind:
  • Rainbow colours I love you
  • Red and Orange
  • Yellow, Green, Blue
  • Rainbow colours I love you
  • Indigo and Violet

I do the same to help her memorise the days of the week in the correct order and it worked nicely too. I highly recommend creating fun songs using familiar tunes to help preschoolers remember information.

  1. Imagery – Using visualization to create interesting mental images for easier recall. For example, if you need to remember a shopping list of bread, eggs, sugar, milk and toothpaste, you can picture cracking an egg on a slice of bread, then pouring milk over the egg, followed by squeezing toothpaste and sprinkling sugar over the milk. The more bizarre the image, the easier the recall. Furthermore, engaging more senses when creating the imagery, (e.g. “hearing” the sizzling sound of an egg being cooked and imaging the sweetness of the sugar) will enhance the memory.

Here are my 5 tips on memory strategies for parents:

  1. Humor is valuable when using strategies because our brains are good at remembering unusual or silly things.
  1. Understand that different strategies appeal to different children. For example, children who are strong in their visual processing may find the use of imagery to be more useful while students who are stronger linguistically may prefer using acronyms. It is useful to expose our children to different strategies to see what may appeal most to them.
  1. Many right brain training programmes teach memory strategies to very young children and preschoolers through creating silly stories using memory linkage cards. While creating silly stories is a great technique for older children, for young preschoolers whose brains are learning about proper language use, it may be a confusing exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the occasional silly word play with my children too (most notable among my kids is the highly enjoyable Dr Suess’ “There’s a Wocket in my Pocket” book, which uses nonsensical words to emphasize rhyming sounds to children). My concern lies in a constant exposure to “silly” when the preschool years are a critical time to lay “proper” language foundations.
  1. The best time to teach children memory techniques and strategies is probably from middle Primary level This is because the ability to master a learning technique effectively requires a child to be aware of how his or her mind works during the learning process (called “metacognition”). Typically, children only develop maturity in metacognition during the primary school years so it is probably a better investment of time and effort to teach when a child’s brain is ready to apply the skills effectively.
  1. Help children see strategies as life-long skills. As learning a strategy slows down the learning process initially, for strategies to be truly effective, they need to become automatic processes or mind “habits”. Constant practice is the best way to build useful habits for the mind.