How to Improve Working Memory | The OT Toolbox

How to Improve Working Memory

Working memory is a skill we need for everything we do!  From answering the phone to shopping at the grocery store; working memory is happening at every given moment.  Kids who struggle with executive functioning skills often times have working memory challenges.  Children with autism or sensory processing disorders likely have issues with working memory.  Let's talk about what working memory is and how to improve working memory in kids so they can be successful in those everyday tasks.

Use these strategies to help improve working memory in kids with sensory processing struggles or executive functioning difficulties.

What is Working Memory?

Working Memory is the ability to act on past memories and manipulating the information in a new situation.  Processing short term memories and using it allows us to respond in new situations.  Working memory allows us to learn. Using working memory skills we can use past information in reading in order to read sight words.  We can remember math facts, state capitals, mnemonics, phone numbers, addresses, and friends' names.  We can then use that information to answer questions based on what we know and apply that information in new situations.

Executive functions are heavily dependent on attention.  Read about the attention and executive functioning skill connection and the impact of attention on each of the executive functioning skills that children require and use every day.

In order for working memory to be used in daily tasks, we need a few key items.  Our brain might be considered a memory soup and the key ingredients to working memory are attention, focus, auditory memory and visual-spatial memory.

Read more about visual memory and how to incorporate strategies into play.

Use these strategies to improve working memory skills in kids.

Mix all of those ingredients together and you will end up with working memory that can be used to problem solve any given situation.

You can see how children who struggle with the underlying "ingredients" of attention, concentration, auditory processing, and visual processing will be challenged to pull that information into an unrelated event.  The child with sensory processing disorder who is also struggling with social emotional issues might end up in meltdown mode.  The child who can not generalize facts to a new environment might withdrawal.

Read more about attention and how to help kids improve attention with easy strategies for home and school.

All of these situations can potentially lead to difficulty with problem solving. Children are developmentally growing every day in relating past information. Yes, we say thank you EVERY time someone holds the door for us, not just that one time last week.  By going through our day, kids learn these things!

The child who is struggling with any of the key ingredients related to working memory, it can be really hard to generalize.

Many parents, teachers, and therapists of kids with executive functioning skills or sensory processing challenges wonder how to improve working memory. These strategies for working memory skills will help.

How to Improve Working Memory

Try these working memory strategies to help improve this skill:

  • Take notes
  • Daily Journal- The Impulse Control Journal is a great tool for keeping track of day to day events
  • Notebook with times for daily tasks
  • Second set of school books for home
  • White board notes to be used in tasks like cleaning a room
  • Mnemonics
  • Guided imagery
  • Mental rehearsing
  • Imagine a task in pictures (like a cartoon strip of a day's event)
  • Analyzing problem areas
  • Practice through rehearsal
  • Routines
  • Rewards
  • Reminder messages including verbal, picture, or app-based
  • To-do lists
  • Task sequencing lists

Stay tuned, because I have more working memory strategies and activities coming to the site, soon!

These strategies to improve working memory are helpful tools for addressing short term memory in tasks.
Gentry, T. (2015, September). Mobile technologies as vocational supports for workers with cognitive-behavioral challenges. Technology Special Interest Section Quarterly, 25(3), 1–4.