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Understanding Executive Function: The Importance of Working Memory

Working memory

In our daily lives, we rely on cognitive skills known as executive function to set goals, make decisions, and stay focused. 

Acting as a “management system” for our brains, executive function coordinates various tasks such as motivation, emotion, and attention. While different experts may categorize executive function differently, there is a consensus that working memory plays a crucial role in this cognitive process. 

What is Working Memory?

Working memory is the ability to hold and manipulate information in the mind for a short period of time. Working memory serves as a mental workspace, aiding in learning, reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving. 

We use working memory when we repeat a phone number to remember it or when we mentally organize a series of tasks. It allows us to temporarily hold information while performing other cognitive tasks, such as problem-solving, decision-making, or exercising self-control. source

This skill is important in many areas of life, from remembering to bring essentials such as phone, wallet, and keys. It is also vital in school for tasks such as:

  • taking notes during a lecture
  • following instructions,
  • performing mental math

Development of Working Memory Skills

Children’s working memory skills develop as they grow. Younger children may struggle with following multi-step instructions or recognizing letter shapes and sounds. 

On the other hand, older children who have mastered these skills face more complex challenges in reading comprehension and self-directed learning. A strong working memory is evident when children refer to past experiences to guide them in new situations or when they shift activities within a specific task. 

Working memory enables individuals to reorganize thoughts or materials and control their attention, making it a valuable skill throughout life. Thankfully, various strategies can strengthen working memory for children and adults.

Addressing Working Memory Challenges

working memory

If your child struggles to remember instructions, loses track of details, or finds math particularly difficult, they may be experiencing difficulties with working memory. Deficits in working memory can lead to forgetfulness and challenges with completing tasks, impacting academic performance and future careers. 

Strategies to Strengthen Working Memory:

  1. Scaffolding: Start by gradually adding small pieces of information to tasks, building upon existing comfort levels. This approach, known as scaffolding, helps students strengthen their working memory skills step by step.
  2. Low-tech habits: Utilize tools such as sticky notes, paper calendars, planners, and to-do lists to reinforce working memory skills. Reviewing schedules with your child regularly can aid in processing and retaining information.
  3. Repetition and reminders: Regular repetition and reminders can be helpful in reinforcing working memory. Creating structured routines and incorporating repetition into daily activities helps students retain information effectively.
  4. High-tech tools: High-tech tools can provide valuable support for students with poor working memory skills. However, mastering the use of software, apps, and tools may require some time and effort. Training and using these technologies regularly are critical to their successful implementation.

Working memory, a crucial executive function, plays a fundamental role in our ability to learn, reason, and solve problems. Working memory is essential for success, from basic daily tasks to complex academic endeavours. 

Want to Learn More About Executive Function?  

We are here to help. Tutoring programs can help your child develop study and learning skills that will help set up your child for success for their entire life. 

Contact a location near you to learn more.

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