Photos taken in collaboration with Kerry Cheah

 “We just learnt this yesterday!”

“How many times do I have to remind you?”

If you find that instructions or things you’ve taught your children quickly fly out of their minds, or if you are tired of continually nagging them to remember things, you are not alone.

Many children find it hard to pay attention and keep track of to-dos responsibly. Well, even some adults face this issue.

Kids use working memory all the time to learn. It’s needed for things like following multi-step directions or solving a math problem in your head.

Having a good memory is useful to your children’s development as it can help them do better in school and perform tasks well.

However, not everyone is gifted with a sharp memory.

A survey by Durham University on 3,000 children concluded that children underachieving at school might possess poor working memory rather than low intelligence. They found that 10% of school children across all age ranges suffer from poor working memory, which seriously affects their ability to learn.

Parents and caregivers play an important role in helping children enhance their working memory, which is how we hold onto and work with information that the short-term memory stores.

You can use some simple strategies built into everyday life to help your children develop stronger memory during the first two years.


1. Chit-chat time

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In the beginning, your baby may only remember a few specific details of these experiences, but these memories will eventually become "real" to them and a part of their life story once they grow older and develop self-awareness.

2. Consistency is key

Provide consistent routines so that your baby will learn to anticipate what happens next.

Such routines are important for memory development because repetition helps children recall and process information better by developing the part of the brain for planning and predictions.

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3. Keep things fresh

Provide new objects such as toys or everyday items that your baby can explore, as well as rearrange things such as pictures in their environment to provide them with new sights.

Babies tend to prefer familiar things at first, but as their processing ability grows, they will look for novel items that stimulate the brain, which boosts memory and processing.

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4. Play hide-and-seek

Play peek-a-boo or hiding games with your toddler outside or around the house. Vary the hiding places and clues you give them.

When your little one looks for the missing objects or persons, it helps them exercise their working memory and ability to process information.

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For children under two, hiding things and finding them reinforces the concept of "object permanence". This refers to the understanding that objects continue to exist even if they are unseen.

When playing games that involve hiding toys for others or themselves to find, children exercise their working memory and processing speed.

Such games also develop visual-spatial abilities as they need to look and make comparisons to assess if something can be fully hidden, and categorise things in which items can and cannot be hidden.

All these skills lay the foundation for building the cognitive abilities of young children.

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5. Put devices away

Reduce screen time. Research has confirmed the negative relationship between the amount of screen viewing in infancy and cognition in childhood.

There are associations between screen time and cognitive development outcomes, such as short-term memory skills, academic achievement in reading and math, and language development in very young children.1

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More time spent looking at screens means less time for your child to spend interacting with you and other caregivers around them. Since face-to-face interaction is crucial for children below three to develop their social-emotional, cognitive and language skills, it is suggested that children should not be allowed too much screen time.

Although digital media can be helpful for children aged 18-24 months, experts recommend that day only watch a maximum of one hour of high quality educational programmes a day.

6. Get enough sleep

Make sure your children get enough sleep, including naps. Studies have shown that adequate quality sleep improves the memory of children.

Children who have more physical activities and quality sleep perform better in tests that measure language abilities, memory, executive function, attention span, and processing speed.2

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