Methods that my kids use

To give a bit of background, I have 4 kids. Yesterday, for some ‘fun’ I decided to see if two of them could remember cards. I haven’t taught them any memory techniques so it was them using their own methods.

What makes it slightly more interesting is their backgrounds.

My son aged 11 had a brain tumor a few years ago which has likely had an effect on his brain although the extent is hard to know. He finds a lot of things both physically and mentally very difficult. Especially recall.

My daughter is aged 8 and is highly intelligent and especially gifted.

They are both fully bilingual although not sure if that would make a difference.

I gave them increasing number of cards and told them to see if they could memorise them in order. eg. gave them 6 cards each. They learnt them and came back to me when ready and I tested them. They were allowed as long as they wanted and as many attempts as they needed.

Then I would give them a different 7 cards.

At around 8 cards, I got them to first tell me them forwards and then backwards. If they made a mistake then they had to start again (tough love!).

They both got up to 10 cards forwards and backwards.

I found this very interesting for the following reasons:

  1. The expected short term memory is of around 7 items (between 5 and 9). With cards, you are not only remembering the number, but also the suit. I would expect this to be far harder than just a number.

  2. I suspect that the cards must have entered the next stage of memory. My daughter was singing the cards to a made up tune. My son didn’t seem to be employing any tactic such as this that I could tell.

  3. I wonder whether by my son’s brain having gone through trauma (tumor, radiation, chemotherapy etc.) has adjusted itself to put things straight into medium term memory. Perhaps this compensates in some way for other damage.

  4. Once they could do them forward, they had no difficulty doing them backwards also.

I didn’t press them, but neither of them could explain to me how they did it. However, I wouldn’t be able to do it without using some ‘taught’ memory techniques.

Would be pretty cool if I could actually work them up to 52 cards without using any known memory techniques and THEN teach them the methods.

Am very interested in your thoughts on the above.


Think of a high school student preparing for a test. 5 minutes before time, he reads through the things he has to know and at the test he manages to get a decent grade. The next day, everything is gone from his memory.

But that is not all, the next day he has the same test again, and again he learns 5 minutes before time and he scores one or two points more. This goes on every day, and after a few days he got it. You can mix up the questions, you can mix up the information, but he knows it and will slowly do better.

That is partially practice of course, but also partially priming of memory. Our memory is not a static system that functions in a certain way, it is a system that is build to adapt. Sometimes it adapts in a way that we can explain (techniques, like your daughter), sometimes it just grows better and we dont know why (like your son), and if the situation allows it, it can even grow manipulative and force your hands to manipulate the order of the cards to be easier to remember (like the little me). Cheating? Maybe ,but I know every card you gave me.

Now, can it get to 52 cards. I will not say no, but that does not mean the answer is yes. 52 is a lot, but given the time, anyone can memorize the full order.

As for his brain damage, a kid’s brain is exceptionally awesome. You could take a young child, remove half the brain, lose your medical licence and custody for doing so, and the kid would still grow up fine, because the brain is that awesome at developing.

The doing it backwards is actually a natural thing to happen. Kid memories are different than adult ones. Say you learned a language, like german, and you move on to dutch because of how similar it is to german. The number three is stored in our brains as 3 = three = drei = drie A kid tends to remember it as 3 = Three/Drei/drie. Three possible translations, rather than a chain. The links are shorter.

By recalling the numbers in order, they also reinforce the memory. They turn a memory into a verbal projection, which helps to solidify a memory.

Now, you can move on with more cards, but you can also trigger the memory differently (like the backwards recall) to change the challenge. I dont often see it happen in memory training, but physical training does this a lot. Using kettlebells instead of dumbbells, do a ring pull-up instead of a normal pull-up, it triggers the muscles in a different way, and sometimes even triggers different muscles.

Try having them recall the order after an hour, or maybe after doing something else like a 500 piece puzzle. Change the deck for one with black cards instead of white ones. They will do the same trick, but in different ways, forcing them to use more of the brain.

My oldest daughter does use techniques, but I do those kinds of things with her too :slight_smile: last weekend I gave her a number sheet. No order, but colors. Primes were orange, squares were the same color as their root. 10 loci, 25 numbers. Just number memorization, but with new elements for her to play with.

Once they grasp the art of memory, present them with the art of puzzling


Yeah, but the 7±2 rule applies to bits (or chunks) of information, not digits… this is where chunking comes in. You’d perform better if I gave you 3x3 pieces of information if the first 3 were vegetables, the next 3 were animals, and the last 3 were names of family members.

In France it is normal to express phone numbers in double digit chunks, such that it’s not a 10-digit number anymore but rather becomes a 5 double-digit number: 01 42 76 40 40

  1. singing - is already a memory technique
  2. THEN - out of the category cruel and unusual punishment… they already have their current performance as a benchmark, so just let them see that they’d be faster with memory techniques Even though your daughter is already using a (at least for cards) less effective one.

Would like to know what happens to children when they learn memory techniques at such a young age…
Maybe less mental resistance
They might develop into geniuses…perhaps