At the start of the school year, I was so frustrated I nearly pulled my hair out. My son kept forgetting his red homework folder at school. Each time he forgot it, we missed important notes from his teacher and homework assignments.
We of course called his teacher, and she tried to set up a system for our son. But somehow the red folder still managed to get left behind at his desk in the hustle and bustle of the school day.
Nothing seemed to work. Every morning, I reminded my son about the folder, and he dutifully said he’d remember. I even wrote a reminder on his hand. But at the end of the day, I’d open his book bag and there was no folder. Needless to say, our son felt awful about this.
Then I stumbled upon a memory trick in the book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, by Scott Barry Kaufman. According to Kaufman, this technique—called the “method of loci”—helps you memorize or remember something by creating a memorable visual story about it.
Drawing on insights from other experts, 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.”
I wondered, Would this work with my son? So I went to him and said, “Let’s play a game.”
We made up a story in which 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 the method is especially effective when you mix visualization with another sense, like taste or smell.)
We had a lot of fun with this. My son had a big smile and a new strategy for remembering.
But did it work? Yes! Ever since we made up this visual story, my son rarely forgets his red folder. Sometimes in the car, he spontaneously jokes about his red homework folder smashing our town.
That’s why, these days, when I want my kids to remember something important, I have them visualize it with a story. And here’s another secret: I’ve even used this trick on myself. My wife is amazed that I always remember to pick up milk at the grocery store.
Interested in other ways to help your child remember things? Take a look at these working memory boosters.
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About the author
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.