Do you ever get frustrated that your child can’t remember a simple task no matter how much he tries? It happens in my family a lot. Last month, I nearly pulled my hair out because my son kept forgetting his red homework folder at school. Even writing a reminder on his hand didn’t work. Needless to say, my son felt awful that he couldn’t remember.
Then I stumbled on a memory trick in Ungifted, a book by Scott Barry Kaufman. According to Kaufman, this technique—called the “method of loci”—helps you memorize anything by creating a memorable and visual story about it. Pulling from other experts’ insights, Kaufman writes:
If you’re trying to remember to buy spaghetti, visualize a life-size spaghetti monster belting out a high note telling you to get your behind to the grocery store and buy some spaghetti. If you’re trying to remember to buy a tie, really visualize that tie tying itself in knots, getting stuck.
Would this work with my son?, I wondered. I rushed to him and said, “Let’s play a game.” We then made up a story where his red homework folder falls down out of the sky and smashes our town. My son, taking the lead, rushes to help the town and magically changes the red folder into a red lollipop that tastes super sweet. (We added the taste part because Kaufman says this method is especially effective when you mix visualization with another sense, such as taste or smell.) We had a lot of fun with this and my son had a big smile and a new strategy for remembering.
But did it work? Yes! My son hasn’t forgotten the red folder since we made up this visual story. Sometimes in the car, he’ll spontaneously joke about his red homework folder smashing our town! Using visualization and stories like this has a lot of potential with children with learning and attention issues because, according to books like The Dyslexic Advantage, these kids often have narrative and visual strengths.
So next time you want your child to remember something, try to visualize it with a story. And here’s another secret—I’ve even used this trick myself, and my wife is amazed that I haven’t forgotten to pick up milk at the grocery store.
Need more help with homework folders? Take a look at noted educator Bob Cunningham’s tips for a messy backpack. You can also check out Kaufman’s book Ungifted, a beautiful book on human intelligence, with the caveat that the book can very technical. Also, take a look at The Dyslexic Advantage, by Brock and Fernette Eide, for more about hidden strengths.
Andrew Lee works as Web Editor for LD.org. He strives to make NCLD’s online content relevant, timely and compelling for all who seek to overcome challenges to learning. Andrew lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children.