How can I develop my child’s working memory?

Working memory is where we can can hold onto things long enough to use them and it’s something that some children struggle with. It’s the part of our memory that is needed when you are going into a room to look for something that you thought about upstairs! Working memory is needed to follow instructions and for concentrating when learning new skills. Without it, your child may be incredibly disorganised and may struggle with learning new skills, particularly the building blocks for early maths and reading. Imagine the teacher is telling the children about a word problem in maths. Children have to listen and take in what is being said but they also have to digest what they hear and find the pieces of information that they will need to work out the problem. Children with a poor working memory may forget the first part of the word problem before the teacher has finished speaking or will not know which information they need to work out the problem. Obviously, this can impact their schooling and they may need extra help.

Children with a weak working memory may have trouble with:

  • Following instructions. They will find it tricky to hold too many instructions in their head and no be able to go back to access what was said at the beginning.
  • Learning to read. We learn to read by learning different letter sounds and building them into words. Children need to be able to hear the sounds and see what the symbols look like. If they have a poor auditory, visual working memory or both, this will be tricky for them.
  • Picking up simple maths skills. Like learning to read, maths skills are like building blocks; if you can’t remember the initial blocks, you can’t build them into the next skill. Some children may have difficulty just recognising the numerals; this may your initial indicator.
  • Concentrating on an age appropriate task. Imagine walking into a room and wondering why you are there (yes, this also happens with age!). This is why some children struggle with concentrating.
It’s so important to get those early building blocks in place.

So how can we help children with a weak working memory?

Like with many things, you can help children with a poor working memory to improve. Any child will benefit from these activities.

Here are my top tips;

1. Play card games such as Fish or pairs. Young children love these games! Finding pairs really helps children remember where the cards are and helping them develop good memory skills.

2. Ask your child to explain how they do things so that they can make a mental picture in their head. For example, how did you know the answer to simple addition problems? Talking things through with you may make it clearer to them in return.

3. Let your child help you set the table asking things such as, ‘how many forks will you need?’ This is making them think about how many people will be there and using this information to work out how many forks they will need etc.

4. Use highlighters and sticky notes with older children so that they can find the really important information and make note of it. This will help them so that they can use this information later on.

5. Chunking information to make it easier to remember. When trying to remember long lists or telephone numbers, ask them to repeat them but in chunks. For example, if they have to remember 234567, chunk 234 together and then 567 together. This can also help with reading. Chunk letter sounds together. For example the word, street, str plus eet.

6. Play games where you child needs to rearrange information. For example, tell them the names of 4 animals and ask them to arrange these animals into size order. Obviously, you can change this into whatever they are into.

7. Try to offer a multi-sensory approach. Children learn in different ways so children may need to try things in various ways to make the connections they need. For example, handling wooden letters whilst saying their sound may help children to make the connection ready for blending. In maths, I truly believe that children need to be able to ‘feel’ numbers and experience what each number actually means. For example, get out lots of buttons whilst working on simple addition problems so that your child can physically count something.


I hope you have have found these tips useful. If you have any comments or questions, I would love to hear from you.


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