Foundation Skills

Boost Your Child's Memory With These Simple
Games at Home

As the field of neuroscience continues to make huge advances, new research tools have provided us with many new insights into how children’s brains develop starting at birth. We have learned that actions as simple as comforting a crying newborn, playing games such as peek-a-boo, and singing and talking to babies as you engage with them in their daily routines, activates their brain cells and forms memories.

We now know that the nature (genes) vs. nature (environment) argument about growth and development is no longer valid. Research has shown that “human development hinges on the interplay between nature and nurture.* Positive environmental experiences, as opposed to negative ones, play a large role in promoting one’s ability to function at his/her highest capabilities.

*Rethinking the Brain – New Insights in Early Development by Rima Shore

There are many games and toys you can buy that will boost children’s memory skills, and they will be fun to do together. But there are things that you can do with young children, even before they learn to speak, that have little or no cost involved.

The activities are written as non-verbal interactions, but children with verbal skills can increase their vocabularies by repeating the words you say as you name the people, characters or objects.

Easy Games for Young Children

You can create games that have your child:

  • Match the family’s socks when you are doing laundry;
  • Point to familiar objects, such as a cup, spoon, or plate as you name them;
  • Point to individuals they know in family photos as you name them;
  • Point to characters or objects in children’s picture books that you may have;
  • Point to objects in nature such as trees and flowers, or to familiar objects such as a car, truck, bicycle, etc., as you name them on a walk outdoors;
  • Point to grocery items on a shelf or in your cart as you name them when you go shopping together.

As children become more capable at identifying and naming things on a daily basis, you can create and play more sophisticated memory boosting games that also have little or no cost involved.

Games You Can Buy

Looking for a ready-to-play game? There are many games and toys you can buy that will boost children’s memory skills, and that will be fun to do together.

Some excellent choices are:

A durable and beautiful first matching game set with engaging themes and colors.

This matching game can also be used as a floor puzzle and animal-teaching tool. 

The classic game of memory, matching, and color.

Learning the first 6 shapes and colors.

Advanced Activities for Practice

Game 1: Memorizing objects

  1. Place 2 or 3 familiar items on a tray or cardboard box lid. Have your child look at them and name them aloud.
  2. Then cover them with a towel and ask your child how many s/he can remember.
  3. As your child becomes proficient at the game you can add more items for him/her to memorize. Item ideas: toothbrush, toy car, plastic toy animal, crayon or marker, spoon, tissue

Game 2: Matching memory game

Cut blank paper into squares or use 3 x 5 cards to create a matching game.

  1. Write the number 1 on two of the squares and draw 1 circle; then the number 2 on two of them and draw 2 circles; the number 3 on two of them and draw 3 circles; the number 4 on two of them and 4 circles; and the number 5 on two of them and draw 5 circles..
  2. Next show the cards to your child and explain that s/he will be looking for numbers that are the same, and that have the same number of circles.
  3. Mix up the cards and turn them face down so the numbers do not show.
  4. Take turns with your child turning them over to find ones that have numerals and numbers of circles that match. Counting the circles with your child and pointing to the numeral will build an awareness that the numeral represents the number of objects being counted

You can also increase the number of cards you make as your child becomes more proficient and comfortable with finding the numbers that match.

In addition to promoting memory, these types of games provide children with opportunities to increase their emotional and social development by practicing patience, turn-taking, and persistence while playing with others. Games that include naming things also build language skills, and ones that have counting and numeral recognition help to build math skills.

Memory-Building Books

Children’s literature books are also useful in building memory skills. Some examples:

Characters appear in a specific order – children can memorize and repeat which animal comes next.

Features foods that the caterpillar eats in a specific order that children can also memorize and recite back.

It’s a story where animals of different sizes try to fit into a boy’s white mitten when he loses it in the snow. This also has characters appearing in a specific order.

Repetition is a key part of developing memory, and most children love to hear their favorite books read to them over and over again.

Children also enjoy hearing non-stressful family stories multiple times, which helps them remember family history when they are adults.

Enhancing Your Child's Memory

Barbara Solomon wrote an article in Parents Magazine titled “4 Easy Ways to Enhance Your Child’s Memory that includes games as well as other recommendations to “build your child’s memory bank”. These are:

  1. Establish routines
  2. Play memory games
  3. Demonstrate how to perform tasks
  4. Talk with your child about his/her experiences.

Read her full article here.

Neurologist Judy Willis wrote an article for Psychology Today magazine titled: Top 10 List to Improve Your Child’s Memory. She discusses how the use of neuroimaging and brain-mapping studies influenced her experience as a classroom teacher to make connections between the research and strategies she describes.

I found this article to be really informative about memory from a neurological perspective and very specific about how to include intentional teaching activities that promote children’s memory development.

Karen is an Early Childhood Specialist with more than 40 years of experience in teaching, consulting, and curriculum development for young children.

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