Remember When . . . ?

It can be easy to underestimate young children’s ability to utilise memory, perhaps because as adults we find it so hard to remember the early days of our own lives. However research, and recent developments in neuroscience, show us that young children are laying down memories all the time.

Well when you stop and think about it, that’s no real surprise, they have to be, otherwise how would they be learning? And learning really is their thing!

When I started working in education I remember suddenly being struck by the question, “What is it that defines learning as opposed to mere recall…is there a difference?”

I’m not so sure I’m in any better a position to offer up a succinct answer to this question now than I was then. I think we instinctively feel there is a difference, but when push comes to shove, it’s hard to define.
You might say that with learning there is some internal shift or change, but then when you access a particularly fond memory, for instance, you can also feel an alteration in your state of being. Perhaps it is that learning impacts on future behaviour? But again, if you have a bad experience, the chances are you are going to try to remember not to repeat in the future, whatever it was that brought that experience about.

If you have this definition absolutely nailed, I’d love to hear from you.
At any rate it’s inarguable that a keen memory is a very useful tool, and developing that tool is going to help children throughout their lives. So what can we do to help?

Harking back to my earlier piece about trusting your children (Maybe Believe, March 4th), if there is a difference between your memory of an event and theirs, at least pause for a minute to entertain the idea that their version may be the correct one, we can all get things wrong after all.
Encourage them to have recall-based conversations with you, “Do you remember when …?” Not only does this help them to exercise that part of their brains, but if, for example, they have had what they consider to be a failure, remind them of a time when they were truly successful.

Memories help all of us make meaning of our lives. Without thinking about it really, we are constantly referring back through our past experiences to inform how we move forward into the future. Using recall with your children helps them to build confidence in this process and in themselves.

You may also be surprised to learn what has stuck with them, what they consider to have been things worth remembering and how they feel about them. Those deeper conversations with your children can offer up all manner of the unexpected - but more of that next week . .