How playground can strengthen your children memory

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To remember things, you need to give them your full attention.

American neuroscientist and bestselling author of Still Alice, Lisa Genova’s key findings on preventing Alzheimer’s disease show how to enhance memory to retain information. This research can be adapted to children.

Children can be supported to exercise their mind muscles. They can learn the best ways to get information efficiently into their heads and access it effectively when they need to.

In her book Remember: the science of memory and the art of forgetting Genova points out to enhance memory we don’t need to play “computer brain games” or “read books on recall strategies”, what we simply need to do is improve our skills of noticing.

She writes that “noticing requires two things: perception (seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling) and attention”.

You can use a trip to the playground to help your children strengthen memory muscles and become better learners.

This can be done by paying attention, slowing down, mind mapping, rehearsing, enhancing the senses and mixing things up up.

A playground is a great place for kids to exercise their bodies. But it's also important to give kids opportunities to exercise their mind. Here's how to do that.

Getting there

Fill your child’s backpack with snacks and drinks, and small figurines such as fairies, lions, tigers, koalas, dinosaurs or favourite small cars and trucks for storytelling and mud play.

Kid’s binoculars and magnifying glasses are great for noticing and spying on birds and bugs.

Pack watercolour paints, brushes and recycled paper for painting, and chalk and brown baking paper for tracing bark, leaves, rocks, hands and play equipment. Play dough is great for natural sculptures.

Then you’re on your way.

Creating a mind map

Like all animals humans use mind mapping to create maps of our immediate environment to navigate our surroundings. Our brain is wired to recall where things are located in space.

For wild animals this is critical for survival and for children, it helps them to feel safe. You can’t do mind mapping in a car – it requires walking.

Walking to the playground, run your hands across fence palings and smell rosemary twigs. Encourage your children to do this too.

Collect eucalypt leaves, gum nuts, acorns and other natural loose objects and pop them in the bag to be used later in potions or paintings at the park.

You could make chalk drawings of rivers and fish on the pavement as a way of finding your path back home.

This pace may seem slow but to really notice, you need to slow down. A lot of neural work is happening as children construct a mind map. The more time adds detail to the memory.

Exercising the mind

Once at the park, decrease distractions by not multitasking (turning off devices). This allows space for noticing.

Let your children explore playground equipment until they are out of breath and their bodies are tired.

Now it is time to exercise their minds. Take a pause to consider the layers of the playgrounds, the earth, grasses, tree roots, ants and bugs, plants and trees, leaves, birds and the sky.

You can lie on your back with your children and all close your eyes. Quietening the mind, through mindfulness, allows children to be dreamy. Relaxing in a meditative state can lower anxiety and tension. Research on children in nature reveals it alleviates hyperactivity and depression. The mind can be “trained to become less reactive, to put the brakes on the runaway stress response”.

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