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All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ask Amanda

I am so sorry I have been neglecting my blog lately. It has been a very busy time getting Dave is Brave ready for print. But it is at the publishers now so I should have a little more time to write this week.

As I usually do at the end of every month I try to answer some of the questions asked by parents and teachers reading my blog. In this post I want to address the question directed at me from a parent. The question was….

Do you have suggestions how to improve working memory and executive function?

Here are a few things to think about…

Helping address working memory

… by linking new information to what the child already knows or using routine

If you are trying to teach a child a new skill in a way that will help it stick, make sure you tie it into something that the child is interested in or knows about. Keep referring back to this. Repetition may also help it stick.

Of if you want them to remember things like the equipment they need to pack in their bag for school, establishing a routine could be helpful.

For example, every day before school have your child do the same sequence of things – get up, have breakfast, get dressed, check the day’s timetable (if in secondary school), pack required equipment, watch cartoons if there is any time left.

The same principles can be applied to learning. Establish a classroom routine. When teaching new concepts, give examples that the child can relate to. Use their interests, like their favourite sport, art or music, to help establish the new concept in their minds.

…. By using songs, rhythm and rhyme

In addition to routines and repetition, use rhymes and mnemonics.

We (especially of the older generation) are likely to remember key spelling rules through rhymes like “i before e except after c”. Or the mnemonic “every, good, boy, deserves, fruit” to help us remember musical notation.

These can be useful and fun tools both at home and in the classroom to help children remember concepts and tasks.

… by using visual or written reminders

Most children with working memory issues will also benefit from visual or written reminders as well.

To help children learn maths, spelling and reading, hang words, numbers, formulae and poems or short stories around your house or classroom. Read these regularly. Label everything, and get children to read the label every time they want to use that object. Keep the same words hanging in one spot until the child can un-erringly read it for three or four days in a row. But make sure it remains fun, even if you have to use incentives.

For example, you might have a lucky dip box. Have a word or phrase or number on that box. Every time the child reads the word, they get to open it and take a reward. But make sure you reward their attempts at reading the word as well as their successes.

Using repetition, and the child’s learning style – whether it be visual (pictures), hands-on (learning by doing) or auditory (singing, speaking) – will increase the chances that they will remember what they have been taught or told.

Other aspects of helping address executive function


Acting impulsively can be a great difficulty for children with executive function impairments. One of the tools that can be adapted for children, and adults, is the “stop, think, do” process.

This is a program originally introduced by Lindy Petersen, a child, clinical and family psychologist.

Basically it is about using visual and physical cues to help children stop and think about the consequences of their actions before they “do”. For children who act impulsively, this is the function that they fail to go through.

An example of how it may work:
You have a picture of traffic lights hung on the wall. You talk about what each colour means.

Red = stop = stop what you are doing, take a breath and relax.

Orange = think = ask, “What am I going to do? What will happen if I do it? Is there a better choice?”

Green = go = only go when you have thought about what will happen and made a good choice.

You then establish a signal. For example, you may hand out a red card like a penalty card in football (soccer). Or you may use a “stop” hand signal. The child then understands that they need to work through the process.

For a while you may need to get them to talk through their options with you, but the aim is to eventually get them to work through the process quickly and without your help.

You can read more about the process at:

There are also articles on the site about how the process can be used to help children with ADHD, Autism and anxiety disorders.


Some simple things to help with the problem of disorganisation and forgetfulness:
1..Checklists of equipment hung on the wall, or on your child’s timetable. These can be visual (such as a photo) or written, depending on the child’s learning style.
2..Timetables, visual or written, hung on the wall preferably so they cannot be misplaced. These will help you establish your routines and help your child get into good habits – both at home and at school.
3..Set storage spaces. Have routine and even labelled spaces for important equipment that may be continually going missing.
4..Diaries may be useful, but only if the child doesn’t lose them. Try using email, watch alarms, or programs like Outlook to ensure your child is less likely to lose the tools meant to help them remember things like homework etc.

I hope that is helpful.

Picture from Dave is Brave,


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