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Encouraging memory

Published October 02. 2010 09:00AM

When I drove my car into the garage, I saw the note scotch-taped to my hand. It said "Bank." I had taped the note on my hand as I left the library, in an unsuccessful bid to jog my memory about stopping at the bank on the way home. As I pulled the car back out of the garage and headed for the bank, I felt foolish - and frustrated. What happened to my memory?

As we get older, our memory goes the way of everything else in our body - it degenerates. Someone will ask a question and - knowing that I know the answer - I will begin to respond. For some reason, the answer gets lodged between my long-term memory and my vocal cords. It sits there, unable to come out. Perhaps, four hours later, like a bolt out of the blue, the answer will pop into my head. Aha! It's not that I lost my memory, it's just tardy.

There are many ways to improve our memory. All you need to do is read an article by an "expert" to discover neat tricks and methods to remember names and important facts. Personally, at my age I can't be bothered by those tricks and methods. It takes too much of my available brainpower to learn them. However, for children and young adults, there are certain activities that can promote and encourage memory.

First and foremost, children should be made to memorize. Whether they learn short poems, songs, or sayings, it's critical that a child be asked to memorize at least one item per week. If the school doesn't do it, then the parent should. Have a "Family Recitation Night" by turning off the TV and have each member of the family recite a poem or joke or saying of some sort.

When I was in first grade, my teacher required us to memorize a short poem for each Friday. Everyone in the class would stand beside his or her desk and clearly recite the chosen poem. If you were the first student to recite, you weren't as lucky as the last - who got to sit and listen to the poem 25 times. Luckily, the teacher rotated which student went first each week.

I can recall very clearly the Friday I stood up first and recited "The Purple Cow" by Emily Dickinson.

"I never saw a purple cow.

I never hope to see one.

But I can tell you, anyhow -

I'd rather see than be one."

Thanks to the terror I felt at going first in the class, I have never forgotten that poem. To this day, I can also recite "Flanders Field" and "The Gettysburg Address." I was asked to recite each of those at a Memorial Day service when I was a teen-ager. The fear I had of making a mistake in front of my friends caused me to burn those words indelibly into my brain.

Did you know that the longest poem (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) written in the English language is titled "Poly-Olbion" by Michael Drayton? It is over 100,000 lines long in 30 books. Heaven forbid if any teacher assigns that poem as a Friday recitation.

A game that helps children develop their memory is so simple to create - place ten or twelve items on a tray (toothpick, fork, rubber band, pencil, can opener, etc.). Ask the child to stare at the items for two minutes. Then take the tray away. After another two minutes of waiting, ask the child to tell you what was on the tray. Repeating this game once or twice a week with different items on the tray will assist the child to develop attention to detail.

Another game that is easy to play is any form of "Concentration." Actually, there is a card game on the market called "Memory." The game consists of a series of paired cards. These cards are shuffled and placed on a tabletop face down. Then, the players must turn two cards over at a time, looking for pairs that match. When a pair is found, that player keeps them. The game is over when all pairs have been found. This game requires the player to remember where the cards are located on the table. By the way, if you don't want to buy "Memory," a regular set of cards works fine - just pair the red suit together and the black suit likewise.

One of the first things a child should memorize is his or her address, phone number, and parent's work phone. However, it's more fun to memorize silly poems. If you would like some neat, short poems for your child to memorize, get a copy of any of Shel Silverstein's poetry books. His works are funny and interesting. Kids love them. So do I.

Whenever I watch a TV program or video with my grandchildren, I ask them questions about it when it is over. Not only does that check their comprehension, but it also jogs their memory. Children don't have as much "stuff" clogging up their brains, so memorization should be easier for them. I'd be willing to bet that they don't need to tape a note to their hand to remember anything.


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