Can you remember something that happened when you were two years old? It’s probably a safe bet that most adults would have to say no. There’s always the few that can recall almost every day of their lives, but most of us can barely remember what happened yesterday much less something that occurred when we were toddlers.
An interesting new study takes a look at the early childhood memories of a selected group of 10 to 12 years olds to see if they could remember a specific event that happened before they were 5 years old.
"We are interested in looking at young children's memory because of what it can tell us about memory in general," study researcher Fiona Jack, of the University of Otago, in New Zealand, told MSNBC’s LiveScience. "Most of us can’t recall anything about infancy, it's only at about 3- or 4-years of age we can start to remember."
Natural memory is sometimes supplemented by the telling of stories that may have happened when a child was little. After awhile the event feels like a memory instead of a story.
"There will be some people who claim to remember things from 8- or 12-months old," Jack said. "It's really difficult to know for any given person if that is a genuine memory, or is it partly due to reconstruction through the stories your parents have told and pictures of the event."
The study revolves around the “Magic Shrinking Box.”
Researchers devised a "magical" contraption to catch the attention of children in their study, called the Magic Shrinking Box. The kids put a toy in the top, cranked a lever and a mini version of the toy popped out at the bottom, with an accompaniment of sounds and lights. The researchers trained 46 of their 27-to-51-month-old participants for two days in a row, showing them how to use the machine.
On the third day of the study, the kids were asked if they remembered how to use the box, and to describe the box. The same questions were asked 6 years later. Before using the words “ The Magical Shrinking Box,” the kids were shown a medal they received for being part of the early participation in the study. They were asked if they remembered why they got it. The parents were also interviewed at that time.
About a fifth of the children were able to recall the box six years after playing with it. Even two of the youngest – who were under 3 years of age when they participated – were able to remember. Half of the adults remembered the game and how it worked.
The researchers also checked to see if there were certain characteristics that may have helped the children remember, like language skills and general memory abilities. They didn’t find indications that any particular personality trait affected the results.
One thing they did notice from the parent’s interviews was that kids who talked about playing with the box for several days and weeks after the event were the ones who remembered it. The researchers believe that continuing to talk about the “Magical Shrinking Box” shortly after it occurred may have helped preserve the memory.
“We did find that on average, children who remembered the events six years later talked about it more when it happened," Jack told LiveScience. "Actively engaging in conversation could have helped memory development in general and about this particular event."
Memory can impact children in lots of ways. Language skills can improve when a child remembers something well enough to express it clearly. Tasks can be improved as a child remembers how to complete each step. Children can learn how to comprehend reading material better when they remember how each character intertwines with the other.
Parents.com offers these tips for helping your little one develop or improve their memory.
1. Establish routines. Young children thrive on them, and they make perfect fodder for enhancing your child's memory. If your 1-year-old knows that he snuggles with his bear each night after his bath, he'll start to get the bear himself. As he grows older, you can enhance the language-memory link by asking "What happens after you take your bath?"
2. Play memory games. Ask questions when you're out and about. For example, if you're passing a friend's house, ask, "Who lives there?" Games like this give children experience in recalling information.
3. Demonstrate how to perform tasks. Babies model their parents' actions. If you want your child to learn how to do something, such as stack one block on another, show him how and then give him a turn. Doing, rather than simply observing, helps your baby store information more solidly. Be sure to repeat the action on different occasions, too. While babies can learn from a single example, they remember best when you repeat the action periodically over several days.
4. Talk with your child about her experiences. Focus on events that resonated strongly with her, such as a trip to the zoo. As she gets a little older, help her make stories out of her recollections. Your child's memories will be richer, and she'll learn how to relay them in a clear form. Soon enough, she'll be reminding you of all the good times you've had together.