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Thanks for the Memory!

By June Oberlander
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #56, 2004.

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June Oberlander


Your preschooler needs to establish good listening skills early so that her or she can comprehend and remember what you're trying so hard to teach. Unfortunately, many preschoolers are only passive listeners, who quickly forget what they just heard.

Poor listening skills can be due to lack of interest, inattentiveness, or laziness. These need to be overcome to create active learners.

You can see the same difference between children who really can read (active readers) and passive "readers" who memorize words and think they are reading. Such children simply read words with no recall or comprehension and promptly forget the very sentence they just finished "reading"! The reading information was not properly transferred to the brain because the memory was not actively storing the data. Therefore, little learning took place.

Rhymes & Tunes Help

Learning is easy as long as it relates to something that makes sense. That's why your brain easily recognizes and remembers patterns. Rhymes - which are patterns in sound - are one example of how patterns help us learn.

The left side of the brain controls basic learning such as reading, math, reasoning, and writing. The right side of the brain controls emotions, creativity, and music. Using both sides of the brain to learn and remember is ideal, but most people use primarily the left side of the brain. Music and rhyming, which involve the right side of the brain, help to balance brain function, and are a great help to your child's memory. That's why it's so easy to remember what we sing!

Start Them Young!

It is important to nurture memory skills very early in life. Young children need to be taught how to remember important facts and experiences so that they will become good learners. It is hard to remember something if it doesn't make sense. Therefore, information and skills presented to young children should be meaningful and interesting to learn.

Learning problems arise when the memory has not been properly trained. The brain must first be trained to receive, associate, and place information in an organized manner in order for it to acquire and store knowledge. The lack of such training is one reason why many children do not enjoy learning.

It is helpful if your training is introduced in a fun manner. A game or fun activity, such as the one above, often grabs a child's attention, quickly involving him actively and emotionally so that he or she is ready for learning. Connecting a concept to be learned (e.g., colors) with something familiar and attractive (colored eggs) makes learning easier.

Memory Deficits Need Extra Training

We've talked about active and passive learning, but memory may also be classified in other ways: visual memory, auditory memory, or memory involving sensory perception. Children can experience deficits in one or more memory areas. Some children even have difficulty distinguishing tastes and smells. Therefore, extra training for the natural senses may be necessary in order for the child's brain to receive information that he can remember and learn.

Many preschool children can easily recite the alphabet and count by rote, yet they have no idea what this means or how to use it. Your child may recognize the letters or numbers, but they are useless until he or she learns to associate and organize them for instant recall.

Small Steps to Start

Short-term memory does not allow us to retain information for very long. Long-term memory enables us to store meaningful information for a longer period of time. Short-term memory skills are a necessary prerequisite to long-term memory. So start with simple steps you ask your child to follow. Make sure your child is interested in the activity. Then you can show him how to associate a new fact or concept with something familiar. He can then try to organize the new information by repeating what he has learned or putting items in order.

For example, a young child may be taught to recognize the color red in the following manner. Show the child something red. Next encourage the child to find something in the room that is red or has red in it. The child has to remember what the color red looks like so that he can find something red. The child can then store this information in his short-term memory. The child may delight in playing the game "I Spy" throughout the day and can be encouraged to "spy" as many things red as he can. Later the child may be encouraged to color something red and also to find and cut out something red from a magazine. Using the concept of red in many ways will enable the child to become confident as he transfers this information from his short-term memory to his long-term memory.

Each color should be introduced individually in the same manner as the color red. I suggest teaching the primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) first before teaching the secondary colors (orange, green, and purple). Later, you can introduce matching and sorting games that will help your child reinforce his knowledge of colors.

Shapes, numbers, letters, phone numbers, words, and other basic concepts can all be taught in this manner. To avoid frustration and learning blocks, I suggest that you introduce only one new concept at a time - such as one color, shape, number, or letter - before proceeding to gradually combine them.

The more connections the brain can make to learn a concept, the more efficient it becomes. Your goal is to maximize your child's brain cells to their fullest potential. How much your child will remember as an adult is determined by how well his brain has been trained to organize, interpret, and recall... because memory is vital to learning.


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