Building The Working Memory

Most reading and math problems that occur in learners can be traced to one thing, the underdevelopment of a working memory. A working memory is the ability to hold information in ones head long enough to use that information. For example. If someone gives you their phone number and you don't have a pen and paper, you have many tricks up your sleeve to keep that information in your brain until you can write it down. You are using your working memory! It is a mental sticky note, if you will. Kids, and adults alike need that ability to sticky note information for periods of times in order for the brain to learn and make connections.

One academic skill that demonstrates the need for a strong working memory is story problems. Think about all of the information a child needs to hold in their head to solve the problem. Beside the numbers necessary to the intended equation, they must hold on to word clues that will help them distinguish the correct operation that must be used to successfully find the answer.

The alphabet is the same way. A strong memory is needed to distinguish between those sticks and curves. Take some silverware out of your drawer and then made 26 unique shapes out of them and give each a name. Next push all into a pile, can you make and name all of those shapes again. When you think about learning the alphabet in this manner, it is quite remarkable that anyone learns to read! It is obvious from this activity that the brain needs a working memory to make those connections that will make sense of that pile of silverware.


There are many ways you can help children develop and exercise working memories, here are a few suggestions.

1. Play the sounds game. Take a recorder and record  a group of two sounds in succession such as flush a toilet and a dog barking. Leave a few seconds between the group of sounds, allowing time for student responses. Make about 10 groups in all. Play the sounds for the children and then have them name the two sounds they heard. Repeat the game until students can easily retain two sounds and repeat them. Next build difficulty by making the group of sounds larger.

2. Play match my sound. Use rhythm sticks or spoons to make a pattern of sounds for the student to repeat. You and the student(s) will each need a pair of sticks. Start with one sound (like crossing the sticks and give one click), have students repeat. Build students ability to repeat the patterns by expanding to larger patterns. The game simon is a great purchased tool that works in this same manner.

3. Play memory matching games. Use any deck of cards that has matching pairs. Turn the cards facedown on the table and build matches. With students that are struggling, begin with only 6 cards, 3 possible matches and keep the rubric fixed and simple. The purpose is to help students to remember and build strategies as to where cards are so they can make matches. Slowly add to the difficulty by adding more sets. 

4. Practice two-step directions such as pick up a pencil and write your name. Stand up and hop on one foot. Next move to three-step directions and more. After children perform the task, have them repeat the task back to you. These back and forth type activities help students develop the memory necessary to following teacher directions, on top of the ability to perform the task the teacher has asked. If, for example, a teacher asks a student to take out their journal, find the next page and then write a sentence about a food they like to eat, the student with a poor working memory has a hard time juggling this information. 

4. Working memory also demonstrates itself in the ability to concentrate. If the working memory is weak, children often get discouraged and misbehave. It is important to break tasks into simple steps for those children. 

5. Build metacognition skills! Help children learn to make pictures in their minds and then draw the picture (this skill is great when reading stories without pictures). Next move to making a mental picture in their mind and then describing the visualization. In these modern times of technology and instant screens, this is a very important skill to develop. As related to learning the alphabet, a child must be able to visually see an Aa in their mind before they can fluently name an Aa.

6. Play card games. The most simple card games of childhood are actually the most effective in developing memory; that is why Crazy Eights, Uno, Fish, and War, are still popular today. Besides being fun, players must remember a myriad of things to play such as the rules of the game, the cards, the colors, etc. Play these simple games often with children of all ages, especially with those who are struggling academically.

7. Sing songs. Teaching songs, fingerplays, and poetry is a great way to develop language and memory. 


The most important thing for all teachers and parents to know is that the working memory can be increased with intent and practice; allow children the opportunity to develop it. If you have a child that is having a difficult time learning any academic skill, first consider the underdevelopment of the working memory and start exercising it and the practice effect will carry over into academics.


Are your Kids Writing?

Are your Kids Writing?

I have taught Kindergartners now for 2 1/2 decades and I have tried many writing programs. By far, the best writing program is simply to get your kids writing! I love to use the guided writing method that I have fine-tuned over the years that are based on the visualizing theories of Vygotsky. All of my writing secrets are wrapped up in this one program that is available for only $4.00 here or at Teachers Pay Teachers.

January Thematic Units

January is my favorite teaching month for many reasons. First and foremost, after a steady diet of holiday-themed teaching, it is fun to settle into some content-based thematic units. Next, my winter-themed thematic units are among my most favorite; I love everything about snow, arctic animals, mittens, and winter sports.

And last, but certainly not least, January is a month of amazing academic growth! Kids come back from the holiday break ready to learn.

Happy New Year Thematic Unit: Featuring Telling Time to the Hour

Happy New Year Thematic Unit: Featuring Telling Time to the Hour

Although learning to tell time is not a math skill, and is not included as a Common Core Standard in kindergarten, the teaching of clocks as a tool for mathematical thinking is crucial. 

A clock is made of the numbers 1-12 laid out in numerical order. This alone makes the clock a handy aid when teaching counting and cardinality. Giving a student opportunity to work with clocks help develop number recognition, sequencing, and numerical order.

I think I have introduced clocks the first day back from winter break for the entire 25 years of my career (thank you Ruth Hepworth). Waiting for Monday morning, right at my carpet/calendar area, I have my little student size Judy Clocks ready to go and my copy of Hap Palmer’s, Paper Clocks ready for the play button to be pushed. After we have manipulated the clocks to the song a couple of times, I love to have the students construct their own clocks to take home and show off their new skill of telling time to the hour. 

Thematic Unit: The Polar Express

Thematic Unit: The Polar Express

There is nothing like wearing pajamas to school and drinking a hot cup of cocoa! Who doesn't love Polar Express Day at school? It has always been a day that I have looked forward to sharing with my students.

I now have scaled back from the days of my old school where we borrowed the trolley from the State Fair, decorated it with lights, and sang Christmas Carols around the town. My now-a-days Polar Express day, however, is just as fun! 

I always ask my students to wear their pajamas on this special day. I love to begin the morning with this great musical video that summarizes the story of The Polar Express in a beautiful way.

Thematic Unit: The North Pole

Is there anything more magical than the North Pole? I love to bring a little of the North Pole magic into my classroom using this great thematic unit featuring Santa and his Reindeers!

Kids love having Reindeer Day, Elf Day, Jingle Bell Day, Santa Day, and of course North Pole Day (Polar Express Day).

Everything you need to bring in the magic is included in our North Pole Thematic Unit. (Enhanced by it's companion Polar Express Unit). And even better, with all of our thematic units the academic learning is not put on hold for the holidays, rather academics are enhanced with holiday fun!

Christmas World Tour: Part One

Christmas World Tour: Part One

At Christmas time, I love to take my students on a journey around the world to celebrate all the wonderful and diverse ways people celebrate the holidays. It's a great way to introduce them to important social studies concepts in a playful and celebratory way! We love to read books about the different celebrations around the world as we set out on our adventures.

Looking For The Perfect Christmas Program?

Looking For The Perfect Christmas Program?

For 16 years, my colleague, Kathleen Law, and I, put on he Bears Great Adventure: A Christmas Play (32 productions because of 1/2 day kindergarten), and it was never the same twice! We never knew who was going to have a meltdown caused by severe stage fright, who is going to scream the words at the top of his/her voice, who will find the world is his/her stage, or who will cry endlessly because they cannot see mama (even thought she is on the front row). However, it always turned out to be a great success after a lot of hard work by eager 5 and 6 year olds.

Educating Children of Migrant Families

Educating Children of Migrant Families

A while back, I had the opportunity to watch the PBS documentary, Class of '27. It is a beautiful documentary that details early educators working with children in unique circumstances and highlighting the importance of education in the lives of these children. I highly recommend watching the documentary, and I've linked to the video below. After watching the documentary I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Maria Mottaghian and Aimee Brown from the Oregon Child Development Coalition who were featured in the segment of the documentary called Fields of Promise. They generously shared their expertise in working with migrant families and children. I had some trouble with the audio, so I wrote out a full transcription of the interview--what they had to say was just that good! 

The Virtue of Gratitude and Young Children

The Virtue of Gratitude and Young Children

Teaching young children the art of gratitude can be difficult, especially when children are naturally egocentric, but nurturing this character trait will certainly pay off.

According to Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, genuine gratitude is the key to living a happy and fulfilling life. Dr. Emmons has found through his studies that practicing gratitude can increase happiness level by around 25%. He also mentions that gratitude increases creativity and productivity.

Developing Fine Motor Skills Through Play

Developing Fine Motor Skills Through Play

The hand is our most important tool. We use our hands in almost every activity we engage in throughout the day, therefore, hand muscle development, or fine motor development, is crucial to the school success of young children. 

Fine motor skills are developed as children use their hands to interact with the environment. In the past, children were strengthening hand, wrist, and arm muscles as part of the family chores that were necessary to survival, during hours of endless play in the outdoors, or by playing with tangible building toys. But in today’s technological world,  the development of those important muscles can be missed.