The average person can store up to seven digits (numbers) in their short-term memory. I remembered this fact when my 6-year-old came home from school with a note advising that she was required to learn and recall her personal details, including her phone number. This was all part of a safety unit the class was undertaking. In our house we have several mobile phones, but no landline, so the only phone number available for her to learn was a mobile number. Ten digits!
I quickly put on my OT hat, and set up about teaching my daughter her father’s mobile number. It’s easier to learn numbers that have obvious patterns and repetition, and his was the best number for this reason.
Kids are often very visual learners, and learn best through multisensory experiences – incorporating visual cues (colours and shapes), touch, movement and sound (our voices!). So here’s how I went about it.
The Set Up
- I grabbed a piece of paper and in large print, wrote the numbers in groups – 4 digits, 3 digits, 3 digits as mobile numbers are often written.
- Each group of numbers was written in a different colour.
- I asked Miss 6 to think of a picture or image that would remind her of each number. For young kids, pictures can be more meaningful and be easier to remember than numbers.
- My daughter drew pictures above each number, and we chatted about why those pictures reminded her of the number below. The shape of the number was generally the main source of inspiration.
- Talking about the numbers and images adds to the multi-sensory learning experience. By hearing my voice and her own talk about and describe the numbers in sequence, the numbers have a better chance of being remembered.
Once each number had a corresponding picture, I covered the numbers and asked my daughter to look at the pictures, and say the numbers they represented out loud. She did this easily.
I then covered the pictures and numbers, and asked her to write the numbers from memory. Writing the numbers is a great way to include kinaesthetic learning. Again, Miss Six did this with no trouble.
This whole process was undertaken in less than 10 minutes. This timeframe is important, as young children have limited attention spans. Any longer than 15 minutes and the lesson would have been more challenging.
The bowl of spaghetti
I chose dinnertime for this task, as little sensory seekers, otherwise known as fidgeters (like my daughter) love to keep their bodies busy while they learn. My little person was happy to shove forkfuls of spaghetti into her mouth in between drawing her pictures. I wouldn’t encourage this all the time, but for this quick, one off task, it worked for us. Usually we sit together as a family to eat dinner, while chatting about the day….Well, we try!
The Follow Up
Over the next few hours, I randomly asked my six year-old to recall the phone number. She was able to most times. The trick to good long-term memory of this information is constant practice. We called my husband from my mobile, which gave meaning to the task, was a bit of fun and also provided a sense of accomplishment, which links the number to happy feelings. Over the coming days, we will continue to practice the number. Remembering our multi-sensory strategies, this may include:
- Writing the number with our sidewalk chalk on the driveway
- Writing the number with bath crayons in the bath
- Using our play dough to roll long sausages then forming the numbers on our play dough mats.
- Writing/ tracing the numbers on the ipad app (link to GT Colour Numbers)
- Placing the numbers in order on the fridge using number fridge magnets.
Do you have any other ideas?
If you have any concerns about your child’s ability to remember and recall information, an occupational therapist can help.