The Importance of Working Memory
The brain is a very complex part of our bodies. A child’s brain makes millions of connections daily as she/he learns and discovers new knowledge and experiences. However, if these new discoveries are not repeated and developed upon, they can become obsolete.
Working memory is defined as the thinking skill that focuses on memory-in-action. This is the ability to remember and use relevant information while in the middle of an activity. An example of this is a child using his/her working memory to recall the steps to complete a puzzle. This leads to children being able to decode words to read and recall the processes involved in Numeracy.
A great way that parents can encourage this skill to develop is playing simple memory games, such as Lotto or Bingo at home. Complete puzzles, challenge children with obstacle courses, give them multiple step instructions and ask them to repeat and follow through with simple routines, such as brushing teeth and putting on their clothes in the morning.
Recalling all the steps in these processes and games helps children to strengthen their brain and leads to a greater working-memory capacity.
Working memory involves holding and manipulating information and is essential in developing long-term memory and learning. To understand a sequence of instructions, children need to retain the first idea while listening to the additional instructions given.
This also relates to reading. The first word or letter needs to be retained to remember the whole sentence. Repetition helps transfer this learning to long-term memory, where children can sort through information, assign meaning and associate previously stored knowledge to process and make decisions which guide their future learning.
Rote learning or memorising a sequence of letters, shapes or numbers is an important part of learning. However, if children are unable to make the necessary links and transitions through working memory, this information may not be of use.
Thousands of words are spoken each day, and this can be overwhelming to children, especially when trying to process information and assign meaning to what is being said. Using fewer words to prompt familiar routines sparks children’s brains to search for the information needed to complete the task and activates their working memory.
This may mean a task takes longer, because children need additional time to process their thinking. But it will assist them in the long term, when trying to recall the steps necessary for their learning.
In the ELC, children develop their working memory in various ways—through games, routines, singing songs, finger plays, Art projects and physical activities where they recall various steps to complete a task. For example, hopping and jumping are both necessary actions that children rehearse to reach the end of the mat when playing hopscotch.
These foundational experiences are needed to help develop and wire children’s brains to allow more information to be stored and re-used. Providing multiple opportunities to practise and rehearse these skills, and apply their learning in different contexts, is something we do extremely well in our ELC learning environment.