Can you make your kids smarter?

A child’s brain grows vastly from before birth to age 4; your child’s brain reaches 90% of its adult size before kindergarten. This opens the door for tremendous learning opportunities. While genetics (40-80% of individual intelligence can be attributed to genes), nutrition, playtime and exercise, and multiple experiences all play important roles, there are several things parents can do to build their child’s intelligence.

When a child in little, close affectionate relationships are important. Brain neurons get connected through social connection and language; learning is motivated by close relationships. Relationships are critical to emotional and social development, attachment to parents and caregivers helps build intelligence. It is crucial for parents to be in tune with their child’s “inner mental life,” helping your child’s developing brain become integrated. Being in tune also provides a safety net for your child’s brain.

Experience also helps form the brain, and the best learning happens when the child is actively engaged. The brain is a muscle; it gets stronger with use. “The brain is the only organ in the body that sculpts itself through experience,” (Pat Wolfe, Ed). Engage your child in a wide variety of learning experiences in the real world (measuring things in the context of a recipe; weighing things in the grocery store; counting change at McDonald’s; sorting screws when building a flower box, etc.). Vocabulary is also a huge factor in the development of intelligence. Take any or all of the above experiences, as well as words kids may see on billboard, TV, etc, and start a word-a-day journal (example: there is a billboard on I-94 that talks about Life Striders; a therapeutic riding camp. Have kids write the word ‘therapeutic’ in their journal, find out what it means, how could it relate to riding horses, what other activities could be considered therapeutic, etc.). When kids feel supported in their environment, and see connections, they will explore more; more experiences lead to greater intelligence

Carol Dweck (professor of psychology at Stanford University) feels that another key to building intelligence in a child is their mindsets.  A child’s mindset affects their motivation to learn and their performance in school. Kids with a fixed mindset only want to do what they know how to do well. If they fail at this, the alternative is to not try again, or in some cases cheat, to protect themselves. Instill a “growth mindset” in your kids. When kids fail at something, ask them how they would do the task differently; what other choices could you have made, etc. Playing games with your child is a great way to do this. Board games, chess, crossword puzzles, etc. can help your child learn to analyze situations, and discover different solutions to problems.

When kids see that their parents value learning, progress, effort, etc., they pick up on this. You don’t need fancy expensive brain toys to teach this skills; you just need you!

Sources: WedMD; e-how; brainykid