I’ve been doing some research on long-term memory, lately. Just reading some articles and asking people about things, really. Not becoming an expert or anything, but it’s really interesting. I became intrigued when I read an article that said that children don’t retain memories until they are about 3 or 4 years old. It made it sound as though preschoolers’ brains are too busy soaking up all the stimuli around them that memories don’t form and “solidify” until later. This is why adults don’t remember things like learning to walk or talk or their first birthday party or anything.
But then I was thinking about my experiences with preschoolers at the library and they definitely have long-term memories. Whether or not they will remember the things they know now years from now? I don’t know. But they certainly retain memories for several months at a time. I know this because of the kids who come to my music & movement program and, if they happen to miss a week or two, they ALWAYS ask to do things that we did several weeks before like wanting to do the parachute songs/activities, or making sure that bubbles are on the agenda this week, etc. They remember a lot of things, really. They’re still learning and soaking up information, but they remember their friend’s name, they remember books and stories they particularly enjoy, they remember songs, etc. So, I was skeptical about this theory that kids are unable to retain long-term memories from a very young age.
So, I started asking people (adults) what their earliest memories and that was really fascinating. Most people I talked to don’t remember anything before about age 3. Their earliest memory tends to be something rather ordinary, too. Not a party or Christmas morning or a big event, but things more mundane. Going out to eat, the way the living room looked in the house they lived in at that time, picking out pumpkins. People also seem to have a tendency to remember colors more than anything else. The earliest memories that I heard were filled with descriptive colors about the environment around them and what they’re wearing. That’s interesting, to me. It makes sense to me that preschoolers pick up on the colors around them. Most are beginning to learn colors, so those are things they know at that age.
Upon further digging, I found an article that compared cultures to try to discover what impact, if any, a person’s culture has on their ability to retain memories. This was really interesting because the study compared children in Canada to children in China and found that Canadian children tended to have memories from about age 3 or 4 (like American kids), but Chinese children didn’t tend to remember anything earlier than age 5 or 6. The researchers chalked this up to the emphasis on the individual in Canada/USA culture and the emphasis on the community, rather than the individual in China.
Anyway, it has all been pretty interesting and has made me think more about the experiences I’m trying to create for the kids I serve. Reading to children from an early age is so important in many ways and I have several families who have brought their kids to my programs practically from birth, but I better understand that perhaps these kids won’t remember me or the library or storytime when they get older, but I hope that they will have a happy feeling about the library as they grow up. Whether or not they understand where that feeling comes from is not important, so long as they feel it! I have always had a good feeling about books, but I don’t remember my parents reading to me (although I know that they did). I know that they instilled a love of reading and it’s just a part of who I am. I hope that the families I serve have similar experiences with reading. It’s just a part of who they are and it’s a part of their lives because the two can’t be separated, although maybe they can’t explain why it is other than to say:…”I’ve just always loved books.”