Helping your forgetful student

To teach is to learn twice

PEACEDALE – We all forget things, now and again. However, if your elementary or middle school student always seems to forget his or her homework or loses it between school and home, he or she might not be doing it on purpose. If that same child seems incapable of following more than one direction at a time, he may have some difficulty with his or her working memory.

Working memory is the capacity to hold information in mind as you are acting on it or doing something else. Think about walking to the refrigerator to get something and then staring blankly while you try to remember why you are standing there. For typical adults, working memory tends to deteriorate after age 35. For many children with attention difficulties or executive-functioning problems, working memory problems can be an ongoing struggle, which contribute to difficulty in learning, focus and organization.

Students who struggle with working memory may have problems with reading comprehension and math word problems, as well as difficulty sustaining attention to tasks.  The importance of working memory skills cannot be overstated – they have been identified as even more important than intelligence in predicting school performance.

Fortunately, parents can use several strategies to improve their child’s working memory. Cogmed Working Memory Training and Jungle Memory, which work directly on changing the brain’s structure, use video game-like technologies to practice and stretch working-memory skills. Educational technology websites, including my company’s website,, offer additional assistance. Parents may choose from a variety of video games and apps to practice working-memory skills.

Other approaches both practice and support less-than-stellar working-memory skills. A few of the best strategies for elementary and middle school children include:

• Encourage your child to connect an emotion to something he or she wants to remember.

For example, if your child is trying to remember information for a history test, ask him or her to consider how he or she might have felt in that historical setting and connect that emotion to what he or she is trying to remember.

• Treat your brain like a garden. A 2 percent decrease in hydration can lead to a 20 percent loss in energy and in the capacity to memorize and think correctly.  This means your child needs to drink water, juice or another healthy beverage to remain hydrated and to help with memory. Provide nutrition for the brain through memory-boosting vitamins such as Vitamin B12 or folic acid and power brain foods like salmon and fruit.

• Improve working memory by having your child teach others. Teaching requires individuals to process their learning in a way that consolidates for more long-term memory. It forces the teacher to think about what students are learning and memorizing in a different way so that they can present it to others. This illustrates the common axiom, “To teach is to learn twice.”

Randy Kulman, Ph.D. ( or 515-2006) is president of LearningWorks for Kids and clinical director, South County Child and Family Consultants.

This is one of a series of occasional stories about local businesses, some of which advertise with The Jewish Voice.