I continually train my son’s working memory, and I urge parents of other young children to do likewise.  While I have succeeded in at least temporarily improving his working memory, I accept that this change might not be permanent and could end a few months after he stops training.  But I also believe that while his working memory is boosted so too is his learning capacity.


I have a horrible working memory that greatly hindered my academic achievement.  I was so bad at spelling that they stopped counting it against me in school.  In technical classes I had trouble remembering what variables stood for.  My son, in contrast, has a fantastic memory and even twice won his school’s spelling bee.


My son and I had been learning different programming languages through Codecademy.  While I struggle to remember the required syntax of different languages, he quickly gets this and can focus on higher level understanding.  When we do math learning together his strong working memory lets him concentrate on higher order issues rather than having to worry about remembering the details of the problems and the various relevant formulas.


You can easily train a child’s working memory.  It requires just a few minutes a day, can be done low tech or on a computer, can be optimized for your child to get him in flow, and easily lends itself to a reward system.  Here are some of the training techniques I have used:  


I write down a sequence and have him repeat it.  I say a sequence and have him repeat it. He repeats a sequence backwards.  He repeats the sequence with slight changes such as adding one to each number and “subtracting” one from each letter (e.g. C becomes B).  He repeats a sequence while doing some task like touching his head every time he says an even number and his knee every time he says an odd one.  Before repeating a memorized sequence, he must play repeat after me where I say a random string.  I draw a picture and have him redraw it.  He plays N-back games. He does mental math requiring keeping track of numbers (e.g. 42 times 37). I assign numerical values to letters and ask him math operation questions (e.g. A*B+C).  I write down words, numbers, and phrases on index cards, place the index cards in different places in a room, have him memorize what's on each card, turn over the cards, then ask him questions about what's on a card, or ask him to identify the location of a certain card.  


The key is to keep changing how you train your kid so you have more hope of improving general working memory rather than the very specific task you are training.  So, for example, if you say a sequence and have your kid repeat it back to you vary the speed at which you talk on different days and don’t just use one class of symbols in your exercises.  I learned this after my son insisted that I repeat sequences at the same speed.



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Isn't there a long history of such training failing to transfer, even to transfer to other tasks labeled "working memory"?

Yes, but I think the literature looks at the benefit of training working memory through one task such as duel-N back. The advantage of my approach is that you can measure your child's progress across many different tasks.

I also believe that while his working memory is boosted so too is his learning capacity.

I have a horrible working memory that greatly hindered my academic achievement.

how sure are you about these? Are you sure about the causality?

You know I also do a lot of bed time math with my sons and I also see a lot good, e.g. them being good at math in school, I'm you uncertain about the causes because it might be simple genetics. Or it might be transient i.e. only as long as I push it. How can I be certain?

To be clear: I don't want to discourage you from spending time with your son. I enjoy this time with my sons and I try to make it so they enjoy it too (or at least find it interesting or nice to have time with me). But how would you feel it your effort wouldn't show long term effects?

I know that having a bad working memory harmed me by causing me to get lost in classes when I couldn't remember what variables represented.

"But how would you feel it your effort wouldn't show long term effects?" Disappointed.

I did something a bit more targeted, useful for carrying and mental arithmetic - "Remember this number. Okay, now add these two other numbers. What was the answer? What was the number you had to remember?" This also had the benefit of turning a wheels-spinning slow answer on the arithmetic problem into an actual wrong answer on the remembering problem, instead of just a slower-acquired right answer on the arithmetic problem, which is a lot less visible.

Thank you for these exercise samples. I didn't realize that I was running through a less powerful flavour of these exercises until this post. Do you by chance have any examples of exercises that you've both worked on to increase your child's verbal and linguistic capabilities?

Sorry, just the normal things of reading to him (when he was younger) and using words he doesn't understand to get him to ask what the words mean.

Since you have a child, have you heard of Elimination Communication and what is your opinion?

Haven't heard of it.