Developing Your Child's Auditory Memory

In a fascinating article written by Cyndi Ringoen, a neurodevelopmentalist, she pointed out that until a child has developed his auditory short-term memory, the ability to recall a sequence of numbers, phonics training would be unsuccessful. What that means is that to utilize phonics beyond memorizing individual sounds, a child must have an auditory short-term memory. This is perfectly logical, but what do you do if your child’s auditory memory needs work? The following e-mail conversation with Danielle is shared with her permission:

My daughter is 4 (5 in April) and is almost done with the K kit. She is very smart and is on track to finish K in April and I plan on diving right into 1st grade once she’s finished. She rarely struggles with any of the subjects/concepts and usually gets everything correct the first time. I suspect she is mildly Autistic- Aspergers specifically. All that to say- she consistently struggles with the auditory/memory portions of Developing the Early Learner. She rarely gets more than 1 or 2 right in a list of 4+ and if the list is more than 4 things she will only get 1 right. I’m not sure if this is due to her age/development or something else. Do you have any suggestions to help her with this area?

– Danielle

…The rule of thumb is that it is typical for a child to be able to recall 1 item in a list for every year of age up to about age 7. So a 3-year-old can usually remember 3 steps, letters, etc. and a 6-year-old can, on average, recall 6.

The fact that you’re noticing a deficit now is fantastic. You can truly help her train her brain now and it will help her for the rest of her life.

There are two different approaches to consider. The easiest, but most expensive, is a program called Brain Builder which we sold years ago. We no longer offer it ourselves, but it is still available. When we last sold it, it was the best of its kind. (It’s also the program my Grandpa used to rebuild his memory after a stroke.) All the advantages and disadvantages of a computer program apply, from automated sophisticated level tracking to the somewhat artificial nature of computer screen memory games.

The other approach (and the two are by no means mutually exclusive), is to make memory drills a part of your everyday life. Here’s a smattering of ideas to get you started:

  • You could start with 2 identical opaque cups, hide a small treat under one and assign them random letters or numbers (we found it easiest to use words, phone numbers, zip-codes, just so we didn’t mix them up). Call them out: “O” “N” then tell her that her treat is under “O.” That first level may prove to be too easy for her; when it is, add a third cup. To know where to claim her treat she has to recall the names of both cups.
  • Another version of this we used was small bowls filled with tiny treats such as nuts or M&Ms – they don’t all have to be the same. Line them up in front of her, and name them off: “D” “O” “G” then tell her she may pick one from “O.” Again, she’s having to maintain the entire list in her head until she knows which one is going to be called.
  • A third variation of the same activity is to use a Scrabble set or Bananagrams to physically have the letters. After setting up and naming off the cups or bowls, she flips her letter over to see which one she can pick from this time.
  • Letters also lend themselves to finding activities. “Can you find me 2 As and 1 N?” “Line up a C, an O, and a W.”
  • If she’s an active child, she may find Simon Says type of activities to be more motivating. “Simon says, ‘Touch your nose, then your toes!'”
  • Treasure hunts are another fun one but will require some work on your part. Make it a rule that only Mom can read the clue, and make each clue one that requires two steps (In the living room, behind the curtain). You’ll also want to have a rule that if she guesses wrong you go back to where the last clue was found and read it again. For instance, if the next clue was “In the bedroom, under something red,” but she looked under something blue in the bedroom, you’d return to the living room and re-read the clue.
  • Another variation on that is a scavenger hunt. “Find something black and heavy.” “Take a picture of something big without feet.” There are a ton of treasure hunt/scavenger hunt ideas online that could be tweaked to suit you both.

We suggest trying to work in some form of a memory drill multiple times a day. It doesn’t need to be elaborate every time, but just the repetition will help it begin to click for her. Record a game or make a note of how she’s doing every few weeks and I think you’ll be thrilled with how her skills incrementally expand more and more!