Memory magic during lockdown


Memory abilities vary in people but the sequence of memory work the same in everyone. Depending on how long you want to remember something, your brain stores information in three different ways or stages.

The first stage is called the ‘sensory register’. Usually you see or hear something and the brain holds onto that sensory input for only a fraction of a second before its replaced by another sensation.

Sensory memory fades quickly unless its transferred to the next stage, called ‘short-term memory’ (STM).  When you get home and drop your car keys on the table, you see what you are doing but don’t think about it.  This is why you have to search for those keys tomorrow morning!  The image of the keys on the table never made it into your memory.  STM is an active memory, the part of your mind that holds the contents of your attention. What you choose to keep in STM is a matter of personal interest.  It usually fades within 15-20 seconds unless you consciously attend to it.

The third stage is called ‘long-term memory’ (LTM), which is practically limitless.  The brain can hold gazillions of separate bits of information.  The longer you think about something, the longer it stays in STM and the greater its chances of moving to LTM.

Here are some ways to test and strengthen your child’s memory abilities:

  • Do this with your child – you can help! Try to draw from memory as many details as possible of what is on each side of a R5 coin (or any other common coin).  Most people can only recall a few of the coin’s features, even though we handle coins nearly every day.  Their details are not significant enough for us to commit them to memory.
  • Fill a tray with ten to twenty small, common, related items – for example, kitchen utensils, assorted pieces of stationery or hardware. Show the tray to your child for one minute, then put it out of sight. Ask your child how many items she can recall. Most people don’t do very well with this activity but with practice and a few tricks (encourage the child to find her own ways of remembering the items), memory can be improved.
  • Teach your child the ‘Method of Loci’, a way to commit a list of unrelated items to memory. Give your child a list of items to remember, e.g. glass, broom, book, etc. Basically, you link the items you want to remember with familiar locations, following a predetermined order (such as clockwise).  For example: Imagine each items on a list as being in a particular spot within a room. The glass is on the shelf as you enter the room, the broom stands next to the shelf, the book is on the tv, and so on. Mentally take a trip around the room to visit each item.  Once you’ve explained the Method of Loci, give your child different lists of unrelated household items to commit to memory each day.
  • Teach your child how to make associations. For example, when you meet a new person and want to remember his or her name, think up something funny or bizarre to associate with it.  Say your son wants to remember the name of his new soccer coach, Mr Ruder. He might make the association with the phrase, “He’s ruder than the old coach.”  Practice by introducing yourself to your child using different names.
  • Practice making use of mnemonics (from the Greek ‘mneme’, meaning to remember). This technique helps you to remember things better usually by forming a strong association. It could be anything from a rhyme (e.g. ‘Thirty days hath September ….’) to a strong visual image to putting a rubber band on your wrist.
  • Tell your child about ‘déjà vu’. This is the feeling we all get sometimes that we’ve been in a particular place or situation before, even though we know that’s impossible. Scientists don’t know for sure thy this is such a common experience, but several theories have been suggested. Perhaps a situation feels familiar because it triggers memories of an experience that evoked similar feelings. Or maybe it has something to do with a slight lag time between the processing mechanisms of two parts of the brain.  Has your child every experienced ‘déjà vu’?

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