Language Development

How Memory Impacts Learning

July 4, 2017

I’m Brooke
I'm a speech therapist specializing in early language, but more importantly, I'm a mom of a toddler who has been on her own journey with physical and occupational therapy
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My wedding day took place October 22, 2016 and I can tell you that although it was nearly a year ago, I remember everything about that day. Of course, I remember the facts (day, place, etc.), but my memory goes beyond that. I can literally see that day in my head, like a movie. I can see the wind blowing my hair like crazy, the people I love all around me, and my toes in the North Carolina sand. This is because of my autobiographical memory.


Autobiographical memory is different than semantic, or factual memory. It’s the memory we have that can take us right back to a place. The reason is because of the emotions associated with it. The stronger the emotion tied to it, the more we remember the experience.


How can we use this to enhance learning in early childhood? By making their learning experiences meaningful and memorable! This means that instead of simply reading a story with children, we want to think about how we can engage all their senses. Can we help children act out the story with fun props? Can we help them engage in extension activities to further their understanding of concepts from the story?


Autobiographical memory also helps with self-regulation. When children have memories associated with an experience, they are more likely approach new experiences with less anxiety.  Since they know what is going to happen, they don’t have to waste their cognitive resources on worrying about the unknown.


Make sure to “reminisce” about experiences with children afterwards. Dr. Carol Westby’s work focuses heavily on the power of reminiscing. According to Dr. Westby, the language we use after an experience to reminisce can be just as powerful, or more so, than the experience itself. Since children don’t need to put their energy towards experiencing something new, they can use their resources to learn more about the experience through language.


Autobiographical memory is very powerful. A good autobiographical helps us to experience events through pictures in our head. This is a critical skill for comprehending stories and understanding another’s point of view. These skills are necessary for later academic success. Additionally, autobiographical memory helps with self-regulation and learning. We can help strengthen a child’s autobiographical memory by making activities meaningful and engaging. Think outside the box to engage all your child’s senses. Finally, make time to reminisce with your child. Help them activate their memories by supporting their language and helping them find meaningful connections in their experiences.


Brooke Andrews, Speech Therapist at The Speech Dynamic

Brooke is the owner of The Speech Dynamic PLLC, where she provides speech & language therapy and social skills training to children in Houston. She is the co-creator of “Wiggle time,” an interdisciplinary curriculum for pediatric therapy.  She has presented at The North Carolina Exceptional Children’s Conference and has  shared her expertise on a panel for The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Brooke has a passion for helping families understand the importance of play for speech & language development.

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