Language Play: Memory, Language and Learning

Language and Memory

We think about memory as we and our relatives age. It seems like it gets harder and harder to remember people’s names or the places we did things or what was said. We know that a lot of this is the normal aging process or too much on our plate at once. Unfortunately, people are much less aware of childhood memory problems. We expect our children to never experience memory gaps because they are young with fresh absorbent brains, but it turns out that many children struggle to remember things…  

Memory effects every aspect of our learning. It is a global cognitive problem impacting our ability to learn and it also limits our ability to reason and make decisions. You need to remember your options to make decisions. It can make speaking and expressing a difficult proposition.  I see children everyday who are intelligent with some really deep thoughts, but they may struggle to learn new vocabulary, concepts, activities, complex grammar. They may have trouble remembering how to say multisyllable words or to pronounce words correctly (now where does that tongue go?). They may struggle to learn the sound to symbol correspondence necessary to sound out words or they have trouble remembering common sight words to read, write, and spell.

In one seminar I attended, I was told that memory impacts oral naming, categorizing, identifying parts of speech, reading, grammar, praxis (remembering how to move sequentially), and speech sound identification. Some children with memory problems can’t do things automatically. They need to think about every step to achieve something. Overall, each child may look different, but they have one thing in common: people find themselves scratching their heads trying to figure them out. That’s usually because their performance is inconsistent. Some days they are right on; other days not so much.

As most people know there are many types of memory. Here is a clear explanation.  A school psychologist can test various types of memory in children. As a speech language pathologist, I glean impressions from language testing about the need for further memory testing.

When working with children with memory difficulties, I tend to think about two aspects of long term memory: the information going in and getting stored, and the process of finding it and retrieving it so it can be used. Some things that help storage and recall include:

  1. Ensure good attention for listening. I teach whole body listening by Kristen Wilson and Elizabeth Sautter.
  2. Speak clearly and slowly (hearing). Use illustrations (visual) and hands-on (kinesthetic) learning when possible. This approach is called multi-modal teaching. It engages more of the sensory and sensory association areas of the brain, so there is redundancy or more places in the brain where you can find the information. For instance, the smell of bread may bring up a lot more baking  vocabulary.
  3. Teach many, many times. These kids will not learn by hearing something once. Drill and repetition are necessary AND a routine. They can slide backwards if the routine is side tracked. So being consistent as a parent is more important for these kids. Flashcards for older kids fit right in with this. IPad and iPhone apps are a SLP’s dream. I love letting kids play with educational apps over and over. The repetition is just what they need to do and they can do it independently.
  4. Before teaching a new skill, concept or vocabulary word, organize the clearest way to present it. I always suggest linking old knowledge or personal experiences to new ones. Some children need to know why they are learning it. But always keep the information simple and very clear. Make lists, use pictures, make schedules, model the steps and make functional practice sessions, go to a Hilltown Families suggested event that relates to the skill!
  5. Help organize things into categories. Get creative with names! For example, Cleaning a room: Trash and Treasure.
  6. Use music and songs and favorite books to teach. Again it’s fun, it’s clear, it’s easier to remember, it’s multi-modal, it’s repetitive!
  7. Give clues, ask questions, summaries, drawings. In research, it has been proven that children remember the retention prompts along with the information which enriches the ability to recall when they compared children receiving none. By the way, giving an answer to a child is NOT cheating. Those answers need to be stored!

So go out and make those multi-modal personal memories with your children at a Hilltown Families suggested event this week.


Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at


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