Strategies to Build Your Child’s Working Memory

By Dr. Raymond Huntington

Throughout the course of any given day, children are asked to do a lot of different things, from getting ready to engaging in the classroom, from doing chores to doing homework. In school, your child’s job is to learn, but learning is actually quite complex. It requires paying attention, comprehension, active listening, reasoning, critical thinking, making comparisons and organizing thoughts—for multiple subjects.

When all of those activities come easy for children, school usually comes easy too. But if you notice that your child struggles in school and has difficulty remembering important information and focusing on homework, you might wonder what’s going on. There could be several contributors, but it is possible that your child has a weak working memory.

Working memory is defined as “memory that involves storing, focusing attention on, and manipulating information for a short period of time” (Merriam-Webster). Years ago, researchers first defined working memory as memory used to plan and carry out behavior (Miller GA, Galanter E, Pribram KH. Plans and the structure of behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc; 1960.)

Put simply, working memory is what helps children remember homework directions long enough to complete the work. It allows them to problem solve when they encounter tricky math homework or a word they do not understand when reading. It helps children recognize when a draft of a writing assignment needs correcting. Children who lack working memory, on the other hand, likely have a range of issues in school, including:

  • Poor memorization skills
  • Difficulty paying attention in class
  • Difficulty staying organized
  • Struggles with completing math calculations in their heads
  • Lots of mistakes in writing (difficulty retaining and remembering grammar rules)
  • Difficulty working independently/easily distracted
  • Often unable to answer questions correctly or thoughtfully when called on in class
  • Often unable to follow multi-step directions

Here’s the good news: you can help your child improve his or her working memory with brain-boosting exercises and other memory improvement strategies. Here are some easy ways to do so:

Make sure your child gets sufficient sleep. Children might roll their eyes at the “get more sleep” suggestion, but the research doesn’t lie: sleep accelerates the improvement in working memory performance. A good night of sleep will help your child improve the memory and increase focus—among many other important benefits.

Play memory games. Certain games help children improve working memory because they require them to keep track of moves of their opponents and recall information quickly. Think card games, which require players to remember their cards and keep information in their heads long enough to decide their next move, and games like Simon, which has players memorize and repeat a color pattern that gets increasingly complex.

Break down bigger tasks. Have your child break down complex, detailed assignments into smaller steps. He or she should write them down and keep that to-do list visible. To strengthen working memory, encourage your child to use tools like graphic organizers, visual maps and checklists when doing homework.

Working memory is one of the most essential functions students need—and integral for the cognitive abilities that fuel school success. It is what allows children to manipulate, process and retain information.

If you suspect your child has poor working memory, call Huntington. We’ll evaluate your child to determine his or her strengths and weaknesses and develop a targeted plan of action that focuses on memory improvement, building confidence and improving academic performance.

About Huntington

Huntington is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams.  Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards.  Founded in 1977, Huntington’s mission is to give every student the best education possible.  Learn how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit  



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