Parenting memory

How To Improve Long-Term Memory

Most of us are well aware of the fact that the brain is divided into left and right hemispheres. We also know that being left-brain dominant means a person tends to err towards logic, whereas right-brain dominance is associated more with creativity. This often leads to us putting ourselves, or our children for that matter, into boxes. But being in a box can be stifling. The truth is that we all use both hemispheres and when we can get them working in harmony, long-term memory magic begins to happen. There are simple tests available on the internet that can give you an idea of which hemisphere you use more (if any).

Memory as a sport

One of the best examples of people who have managed to use this synergy to master memory can be found at the World Memory Championships. Competitors must absorb as much information as possible in a limited time-frame and then use their long-term memory (any information more than a few seconds old is considered ‘long-term’) to recall it.

Can anybody do this?

While the memory feats seen in such competitions may seem superhuman, the truth is that anyone with a ‘normally functioning’ brain is capable of remembering and recalling massive amounts of information. My husband, Daren Denholm, is often referred to as “The Memory Guy” and labelled as gifted because of his success in the world of competitive memory. The truth is, he only embarked on his memory journey to improve his grades as he struggled through university. I can speak from personal experience as well, having competed at the 2011 World Memory Championships while I was 6 months pregnant! That’s a story worth remembering for the next time you hear someone use the phrases ‘pregnancy brain’ or ‘momnesia’. If you’re interested in finding out more about how the brain creates and stores memories, try reading up on the mechanisms behind learning and long-term memory.

Long-term memory and children

Anybody can improve their long-term memory drastically through training the brain and mastering some nifty memory techniques. Of course, as with most things, the earlier you start the easier it will be and the higher your potential ceiling becomes. Helping your children to improve their memories will also allow them to do a whole lot more than compete in memory competitions.

How to improve long-term memory

Eight times winner of the World Memory Championships, Dominic O’Brien, lists these 6 things as the crucial when it comes to improving long-term memory:

Imagination

Human beings are more likely to remember something weird and wonderful than something ordinary and mundane. Using imagination to create memorable images works like a charm. A winged elephant with rainbow patterned skin flying around the Moon is much more memorable than an ordinary grey one. All children are born with a fantastic imagination that simply requires cultivation and sustenance.

Association

Learning to makes links between seemingly unrelated concepts is extremely helpful when it comes to remembering things. We do this naturally when we associate things such as smells or tastes to particular events or places. You can teach your child to use this ability to improve memory and recall.

Location

The ancient Greeks and Romans utilised a technique known as the Locus method to improve long-term memory. Learning to create a memory palace or placing things you wish to remember in a familiar room (that you imagine in your minds eye) are both examples of the using location a memory aide.

Concentration

This one is fairly obvious but extremely difficult to master in our Age of Information. Teaching your child to focus on the task at hand is crucial when it comes to improving memory.

Observation

Another dwindling skill in the 21st century due to information overload and the barrage on the senses. The ancient Greeks believed that sight was the most important sense in relation to memory and this is backed up by what we know today about the power of visual aides for learning.

Revision and Repetition

This is the primary way most of us were taught to remember back in school. It is an important part of the puzzle but will not get your child very far if done in isolation. Practicing all of the above mentioned techniques is key!

Three amazing techniques used by Memory Gurus

  • The Journey Technique: This is an extremely powerful system that is based on the idea of placing things that need to be memorised along a well-known personal journey or everyday route.
  • The Roman Room Technique: This system was pioneered in ancient Rome and is somewhat similar to the Journey Technique. Instead of placing things to be remembered along an a path or route, they are placed around a familiar room.
  • The Key Image Technique: With this system, the information to be remembered is placed around a predetermined or ‘key’ image.

All of these techniques are simple to understand but do take time and practice to master. That is the case with many worthwhile skills and few are worth as much as a better long-term memory. 

About the Author

Kath lives with her husband and 3 young children in a small coastal town in South Africa. She is a speech therapist, who worked in London, Private Practices in Cape Town and KZN. She then finally taught at Livingstone Remedial School in KZN, South Africa for 3 years. During this time, Daren Denholm, her memory guru husband, trained her up to compete with him at the 2011 World Memory Championships in China. All while she was 6 months pregnant with their first child! The Chinese competitors complained that she was cheating because she had 2 brains. She sat next to the youngest competitor, a 9 year old Chinese girl. It was at this point that the Online Little Genius Puppets programme was conceived.

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