Teach a Child to Remember Their Phone Number

Teaching a child to remember their phone number - tips from an Occupational Therapist

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

  1. 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.
  2. Each group of numbers was written in a different colour.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Teaching a child to remember their phone number - tips from an Occupational Therapist

The Lesson

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!

Teaching a child to remember their phone number - tips from an Occupational Therapist

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.

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  • Reply
    April 27, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    This is so timely! I have been wondering how to teach my 5 year old boy my phone number, especially when he announced the other day that he “cant wait to get lost” when we go out! I think the thought of a policeman driving him home (he knows our address) was enticing 😐

    • Reply
      April 27, 2015 at 8:20 pm

      That’s great Emma! I love his sense of adventure – ha! If you do try this with your son, please let me know how you get on.

    • Reply
      Kelly - Be A Fun Mum
      April 27, 2015 at 8:29 pm

      Hahaha. I know I should laugh Emma but that was funny. Glad you found it helpful.

  • Reply
    April 27, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    I taught my three year old with a song to the tune of the ABC song. The Rhymes helped I feel.. ended In ‘..834 is my number to call. ‘

  • Reply
    Sharon Dorricott
    September 9, 2015 at 1:05 am

    My son has short term memory im finding teaching him basic living and care skills difficult as in brushing his teeth etc has anyone got any ideas pn how to accomplish this task for its becoming repetitive thks

    • Reply
      September 10, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      Hi Sharon. Visual schedules are great for this. Here’s a free printable for teeth brushing -http://www.adelaideautismadventures.org/uploads/8/7/5/4/8754257/routine_-_brushing_teeth.pdf

  • Reply
    August 11, 2019 at 8:02 am

    I Taught my son my mobile phone number when he was 4, I started with teaching him the first 5 numbers and repeated them regularly (about 3 or 4 times a day) over about a week / 10 days, when I was happy he had learnt the first 5 numbers, I taught him the other 6 numbers, but not mentioned the first 5 as the last 6 numbers I taught independently.
    When he had grasped and learnt the last 6 numbers which took about 1 week I then got him to join the 2 parts of the phone number together, at this point I told him what the numbers were for and that it’s Daddies phone number and to pass the number to a policeman, shopkeeper, bus driver etc if he got lost.
    He is now 5 1/2 and still remembers it although I do check from time to time.

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