3 ways to help your kids learn and remember things for school (that will definitely help you too)

This week I had an investor call with one of our readers, Sam, who had his 3 young daughters around him, just before he attempted to help break a Guinness World Record with the largest online art lesson I participated in - which has drawn me (pardon the pun), this week, to researching a more family friendly newsletter for those miraculously handling kids too!

So many people are homeschooling right now, and to be honest I’m not sure if it would be harder to have little ones - where you have to start from square one; or older kids - who need help studying for potential exams. Either way, hats off to you.

Knowing how to help is tough, as everyone’s situation is so different. But, understanding how to help your kids’ brains engage with topics and retain information is something that felt universally useful.

And, if you don’t have kids - these techniques will definitely help you to learn and remember things too, so you can smash your newfound french skills (when we’re finally allowed to travel), or boss it on your next zoom quiz.

Happy remembering, tribe.

Make it multisensory

Try to instill the use of lots of different senses in learning. Encourage kids to visualise, think about how something feels, or what it sounds like. The more detailed the vision, the more memorable it is - so get creative and throw in extra flavour where you can to make it extra engaging.

Children can then draw and tell you about what they’ve learned. This helps to instill the information into memory by helping them to interact with it in a lot of different ways.

The science behind how it works:

You’ll have heard us banging on about neuroplasticity (here’s what Dr Tara has to say about it), but in short it’s the process of the brain changing, depending on how it's used. Frequently used memory circuits are built and get stronger with practice, where underused networks are trimmed away.

So, in stimulating a region of the brain repeatedly, through practicing and using information - the neuron connections increase in number and become more durable - which, with consistent use, turn into long-term memories.

The more areas of the brain that are used to store information about a topic - the more cross-connections there are. Using different senses to learn about a topic employs different areas of the brain, which results in greater access to the information when you try to remember it - and being able to recall wider details on the topic.

Unexpected = Interesting

Kids have a sense of wonder that I’m always wishing I still had access to. The longer you can preserve it, the longer learning is fun. Boosting curiosity, and making a learning experience novel employs that “wonder sense”, and in turn makes it more memorable.

Try to connect whatever your child is studying with something new or unusual. This could be a certain kind of music, wearing a historical outfit, creating a new “zone” in the house especially for the study of that subject, or even lighting a candle. This helps children be more open to processing and remembering the information.

The science behind how it works:

Information is everywhere - there are billions of bits of it available every second, but the brain only allows in a very small amount of it. Linking a curious or unexpected thing with their studying opens the sensory intake filter. The novelty engages their attention, ‘opening’ their brain - and the information gets to tag along for the ride.

Tell me

Reinforce learning by asking your child to teach it to you, or someone else. This builds stronger connections and makes the information faster and easier to remember.

Here’s a few different ideas:

Tell a story: Turning dry, factual information into a more exciting story requires more time thinking about the information, to transform it into a more relatable, personalised format. A useful tool for this is to think about alternative perspectives - a stowaway rat on the Titanic for example, or a leaf on a plant explaining photosynthesis.

Get dramatic: Using learned information to create a sketch show, charades game or mini-play will help to create lasting memories. You can also do this with vocabulary and languages.

Teach it back: Having your child teach the subject back to you, a sibling, or a pet, will result in better understanding a topic.

The science behind how it works:

Clear thought is needed to be able to relay information back - successfully being able to do this supports long term memory of the concept. Using a narrative, whether written, spoken or acted, instills information into memory because the “beginning/problem/resolution/ending” construct is strong in our brains, so increased recall happens by piggybacking information onto an already familiar form.

Learn about it from a memory grandmaster

In our Work In session, memory grandmaster and founder of Memrise Ed Cooke, talked about a lot of these techniques; creating different zones in his home for different activities, memory palaces, and using stories as a tool to make things more memorable. You can see the whole thing here.

FOR THE NERDY: Proven techniques to improve children’s memory (Psychology Today)

Olive Oil Galette with Spicy Greens

When I found this recipe, I said “oh, HI,” out loud. This is what lockdown is doing to me. Anyway, it looks incredible - and will be a welcome addition to the roster. Thanks @healthy_ish!

Why is it good for my brain?

Oh EVOO, how I love you. It helps with loads of brain-related things, but in particular has been shown to improve reasoning, attention, memory, and language in this study. Swiss chard is a great source of magnesium and antioxidants, and natural yoghurt is high in probiotics - which are good for your gut, and so good for your brain too.

Healthyish

“A savoury galette is great hot, cold, or at the ambient temperature of your kitchen, just as welcome at 8 p.m. as at 10 a.m. This one is full of spicy Swiss chard, so you don’t have to make (or, uh, think about making) a salad, oh, and the dough swaps out butter for olive oil and yogurt. Smart!”

See Full Recipe
Shop Ingredients

Elevation Station

Did you see our Work In with Jay Shetty for Mental Health Awareness Week? (youtube)
Learn more about how memory actually works, from our resident memory specialist, neuroscientist Greg Detre. (Heights)
A meandering, soulful and ultimately optimistic conversation with Russell Brand on the Happy Place podcast about life in lockdown. (spotify)
Get prepped for next week's Work In sesh with Mo Gawdat by following @solve.for.happy

Final Thoughts

Seeing as this newsletter is all about memory and kids - I thought it would be great to encourage you guys to think of a favourite childhood memory.... and encouraging you to try and go as far back as you can, to really stretch those nuerons!

I'll go first.

The earliest warm and fuzzy memory I can really think back to is just being on Primrose Hill, in London with my mum, dad and our Golden Retriever dog, Hero. My dad lost his sight with a degenerative eye condition from his 30s so he couldn't really see by the time I was about 7 or 8 but I have really fond memories of walking in the park with him, still being able to see, kicking a football around with me.

It's interesting having spent so long just now trying to remember what my earliest fond memory is, how simple it is, I expected it would be from a holiday or a really meaningful moment but that's what popped up.

So, your turn. Take a moment this slow Sunday and have a think about your earliest fondest childhood memory, and once you've got it - hit reply and let me know.

And if you think this week's newsletter might be helpful to a parent - share it on!

For those of you joining the work-in this Thursday with the wonderful Mo Gawdat - see you then, for the rest of you - see you Sunday.

Dan x