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Thursday, August 8, 2013

How to develop focus and working memory of preschoolers


When it comes to a job well done, we all focus on one’s ability to focus. Pun aside, in this fast paced world we live today, one’s ability to focus is highly coveted. Not just us adults but kids need to focus a lot just to get through their day. With all the learning in the early age and their brains still developing, it can sometimes be a daunting task for these little people.

The good news is, there are many fun ways to help kids develop their working memory which is necessary to focus and eventually master more advanced brain functions like executive functions. I will elaborate on executive functions in another blog post. For now, let’s talk about working memory. Ever tried explaining the rules of the games like duck- duck- goose to toddlers? They can even repeat the rules after you but once they start playing, the rules seem to just slip away from them. Four year olds might be able to follow the rules better than three year olds initially, but after some time it gets harder for them too. The reason? They simply can’t hold the rules in their working memory for too long.
‘The napping house’ by Audrey Wood is a fun book to read to preschoolers while they also work their brain muscles to improve their working memory. It tells a story of a house where everyone is sleeping. Every time the author introduces a new character, she repeats the previous ones with an interesting adjective associated to it. For example, she reminds you about a “cozy bed with a snoring granny and a dreaming child” and so on before she introduces the dozing dog.
After I read this book to my three year old a couple of times, he was trying to say the words with me. He really had to be engaged and focused to remember what came before the next one in the right backward order. After remembering a couple, he was struggling. The specific adjectives like snoring granny or dozing dog was helping him as a memory marker. So with some difficulty he could remember one or two more. But with a limited working memory at this development stage, he couldn’t remember them all. Thanks to the wonderful and suggestive illustrations in the book he had a handy reminder of what came next. This helped him not to get frustrated and continue on. What a gem of a book! It not only helps him exercise his working memory but is interesting enough to keep him engaged. It also provided ways to practice self-control and persevere while facing a daunting challenge.
You can do the same by singing the Old McDonald song while repeating all the animals previously mentioned. This will require them to focus rather than just recite it from memory. This will work well around the age of three. As they get older and get better at it, keep introducing new animals in different order every time you sing. That ways they really have to stretch their working memory and learn to make it better.
Know any other songs or stories that help in promoting working memory?