While many children seem to have memories like steel traps when it comes to learning song lyrics or favorite stories, they often cannot seem to remember to put their toys away, and even remembering to brush their teeth each day seems impossible. If this sounds like your child, try the following guidelines to help develop and improve his memory, whatever his age.
What is Memory?
Memory is a process of retaining, storing, and recalling experiences. The main key to memory retention is moving information from the short-term memory into the long-term memory. In her book Super Baby, Dr. Sarah Brewer says that the short-term memory stores facts for around five minutes, while the long-term memory can store facts for as long as your child's lifetime. Long-term memory comprises habit memory such as learned skills (riding a bicycle) and recognition memory which includes the storage of general knowledge and personal experiences.
The following are everyday ways you can help improve your child’s memory.
- Reading Retention: More than just quality time together, reading familiar books with your child can actually help memory development. As you read aloud, your child learns the story and, through repetition, will remember the story and then be able to retell it.
- Memory Games: Matching games are excellent tools to improve memory. One such game I played recently with my five-year-old godson, Daniel, is our version of Snap. A deck of printed cards has paired pictures and the cards are then laid face down in rows. Taking turns, each player turns over two cards at a time. The player gets to keep each pair of correctly matched cards, and the person with the most cards wins the game. Daniel is excellent at this game and usually wins!
Another way in which Daniel’s mother helps to maintain his memories of events and people is to ask questions. If they drive past a friend’s house she asks, “Who lives there?” or if they are going grocery shopping she asks Daniel to direct her to the milk or bread. Because Daniel and I live far from each other, I ask if he knows who is speaking each time I phone him. He always does and has even started volunteering the information as soon as I say hello!
- Establish Routines: Children thrive on routine, and routines are perfect tools in developing memory skills. My niece knows that as soon as her mother says, “Rub a dub dub, who’s in the tub?” it is bath-time and she squeals with excitement. She also knows that once she has had her bath it is time for bed, and often starts yawning when she is being put into her pajamas.
Quality sleep is essential to your child’s health and well-being, and enables the brain to retrieve and assimilate facts learned during the day.
Research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) show that at least 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders and, even more alarming, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of Health reports that closer to 70 million Americans, many of them children, do not get enough sleep each night.
How much sleep is enough? NSF offers the following guidelines for young children:
- Although newborns have no defined sleep patterns, they sleep between 10.5 to 18 hours a day, with the average being 14.5 hours per day.
- Infants (two to twelve months) sleep longer at night with more distinct daytime naps. At two months, their total average sleep will be around 14.5 hours, with nine and a half hours night sleep and five hours nap sleep.
- A six-month-old child will sleep for the same average time, but her sleep will be broken into 11 hours night sleep with three and a half hours nap-time sleep.
- At 12 months, the average sleep will be down to 14 hours, with 11.5 hours at night and two and a half hours nap-time sleep.
- By age three, a child’s average sleep will be 13 hours, with 11.5 of those hours at night and the remaining one and a half hours taken during daytime naps.
For more on establishing the good sleeping habits so important for brain function, see BabyZone's Sleep Section.