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Working Memory: A Critical Skill for Successful Learning

Working Memory: A Critical Skill for Successful Learning

For those whom learning comes easily, you may not give a second thought to your working memory and the important role it plays in your ability to absorb and synthesize information. However, an inadequate working memory can make it nearly impossible to focus and learn. Children who have poor working memory face common challenges and present common struggles. They are also much more likely to struggle academically. However, with proper intervention, working memory can be strengthened and facilitate the ability to learn.

Common symptoms of working memory challenges

Your working memory is like your brain’s Post-It Note system. When you take in information, your brain records the information (memory) in order to do something with it (working). For a child struggling with poor working memory, they may only remember parts of what they hear.

For example, if your child struggles with poor working memory and you ask them to complete a series of tasks such as, “Get dressed, brush your teeth, brush your hair and come down for breakfast,” they may come downstairs for breakfast with bedhead and in their pajamas. It’s not uncommon for children with working memory challenges to remember the most recent items in a list but forget the earlier items.

When a child struggles with poor working memory, you may notice the following:

  • The need to reread a text
  • Difficulty following multi-step directions
  • Difficulty staying engaged in the classroom
  • Test anxiety, especially with multiple-choice tests
  • The need for more time and repletion in order to retain information
  • A lack of focus and sustained attention


Working Memory deficits are common in individuals with ADHD and dyslexia

If your child battles ADHD or dyslexia, they may also have weak working memory skills. How can this manifest?

ADHD: Children will be more likely to struggle with visual-spatial working memory and will find it challenging to synthesize information and channel it into tasks and goals.

Dyslexia: Children with dyslexia usually have a difficult time remembering information when it’s presented orally. This makes it challenging to remember tasks, names and new vocabulary words and even more challenging to repeat them.

The impact of poor working memory on reading

When it comes to reading, poor working memory can manifest itself in several ways:

  • It can prevent the development of phonological awareness and decoding skills
  • It can lead to decreased reading efficiency for comprehension
  • It can make it difficult to retain text
  • It can cause a decrease in a child’s ability to link information to long-term memory in order to provide meaning and pronunciation of words.
  • It can make it difficult for a child to integrate previous information with new information.

The impact of poor working memory on math

Just like with reading, there are several ways poor working memory can affect a child’s math abilities:

  • They may make more mistakes when translating math problems from verbal to written form.
  • They may have difficulty retrieving number facts and combinations from their long-term memory, making it difficult to solve complex math problems.

Ways to help strengthen working memory

If your child is struggling with weak working memory skills, there are some fun and easy ways to help strengthen those skills...and making learning fun is an excellent way to promote retention! Games such as Battleship, Rook, and Set as well as puzzles of any kind are fun and engaging ways to sharpen those skills. The internet also has a wealth of resources to help develop working memory skills. Simon Says, Twenty Questions and Concentration are just a few ideas on this resourceful site!

When athletes want to strengthen muscles and improve their athletic performance, they work with a personal trainer. In much the same way, when your child works with a memory trainer, they purposefully grow their working memory skills through a variety of fun activities. Not only does this “personal training” lend itself to accountability but when your child works with a memory trainer, they learn through lots of repetition and encouragement.

Are you interested in learning more about how LearningRx can partner with your child to help them improve their working memory skills? Fill out this form to have someone from our office give you a call.

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