Working Memory

Working memory, also known as short-term memory, is all about the thoughts or information we hold temporarily in our memory, so that they are available when we need them to complete a task.

Young children have limited working memory skills, being able to hold only one or two items in their memory. It continues to develop until they’re about 15 years old, but everyone develops it at a different capacity, so some of us can remember more or less information than others in the short term.

Working memory is used all the time, in all kinds of situations as it helps us stay focused and engaged in what we are doing. Just to mention some examples in which we use it: reading, writing, having a conversation, organizing something, following multi-steps, or planning something. For our children it is essential in school as it is known that a stronger working memory helps them in standardized tests, reading comprehension and math (especially word problems and multi-step questions).

Did you know that exercise is shown to improve working memory? Aerobic based exercises, such as treadmill walking, can actually improve working memory. There are also strategies that help us compensate for a limited working memory capacity. These include:

Routines: Establish a daily routine.

Checklists: Use checklist to guarantee we don’t forget things that we need to complete.

Reminders: Set reminders on our phone. We can set reminders for phone calls we need to make, important events or daily routines.

Trying different ways to remember things, through rhymes, visualization or making a narrative with what we are trying to keep in our mind.

Avoid multi-tasking: Sometimes doing more than one thing at a time can be confusing and makes it hard to follow through on either of the tasks. If this is the case, finish one task before moving on to the next.

Breaking long instructions into parts: When we have a hard time remembering all the steps to a task, we should break it down into sections that are manageable.

Practice: Working memory can increase with practice. Work on it. Find out what works for you. Are you a visual learner? If you write down the instructions will you remember it better? Are you an auditory learner? If you say the instructions out loud do you remember it better? What about associating it to something that means something to you? Find out what works for you and gradually increase your working memory.