“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change” – Albert Einstein
Are children born with established IQs? Or are they “blank slates” that can gain intelligence? The age-old question of nature vs. nurture is at the heart of this debate. Are you born with certain intellectual prowess, or do your experiences mold your intellect as you grow?
Actually, research has proven that both sides of the debate are slightly correct. Children are born with a certain amount of innate brainpower, but depending on the amount of stimulation and instruction they receive, their intelligence can grow or even shrink.
To that end, I often have parents ask me, “Is there something I can do to make my kids smarter?” Some parents are surprised to hear my answer, “Yes, yes, and yes!” There are tons of ways in which parents can help their children utilize their natural intelligence in order to strengthen and build their aptitude. Below, are some suggestions:
Talk away: Studies have shown that infants’ brains are stimulated when a familiar voice speaks to them, regardless of the content. Therefore, even when it is just you and your baby at home, share your thoughts, talk about the recipe you are following, or your plans for the day.
Make eye contact: Infants instantly recognize faces, so take advantage of the time when your infant’s eyes are open and make eye contact. This will help build your child’s memory from day one.
Clue them in: When you are going to turn off the light, say, “It’s going to get dark.” Continually explaining what effects your actions will allow your child to identify the concept of cause and effect.
Sing: Music fires up both the emotional and cognitive parts of the brain. Additionally, some research suggests that learning the rhythm of music is linked to learning math.
Read, read, read: Even when children cannot lift their head up, they can appreciate a book. Reading not only exposes children to the concepts in the stories, it also teaches them about sequences and lengthens their attention spans.
Make music: It might seem early, but music lessons can be a fun way to engage in right-brain learning. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that organized music lessons appear to benefit children’s IQ and academic performance. They also found that the more years the student takes lessons, the greater the effect on their intellect.
Check your food cabinets: Changing your children’s diets won’t only benefit their bodies, it will also benefit their minds. Cutting out trans-fats and other junk foods and replacing them with nutrient rich foods can do wonders for early childhood motor and mental development. For example, kids need iron for healthy brain tissue development. For example, kids need iron for healthy brain tissue development, as nerve impulses move more slowly when children are iron-deficient. Improving eating habits just might improve your children’s grades.
Get moving: Studies by University of Illinois researchers have shown a strong relationship between fitness scores and academic achievement among young children. Participation in organized sports fosters confidence, teamwork and leadership, according to research by the Oppenheimer Funds. So, consider walking home with your children after school when the weather is nice or sign your child up for little league to get his heart and mind pumping.
Play mind games: Games like checkers, riddles, and puzzles all train the brain to do mental gymnastics (as children get older they can work on trickier games such as chess and sudoku). Through these games, children can have fun while exercising strategic thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making.
Read: And, of course, read! Read to your children and let them see you read your own books. At this stage, children can even “read to you.” Tell them to pick out one of their favorite books and based on the pictures to tell you the story. This activity will make them feel “grown-up” and will exercise their memories. Also, it’s never too early for a library card – children love having their very own card that allows them to take out books.
Be a pattern “spy”: One sign of intelligence is to the ability to recognize patterns and to make connections between two separate items. While out on the street, ask your children to find patterns in the colors of the parked cars or count the number of houses with wood doors. On a rainy Sunday, you can even create a scavenger hunt, complete with chores (i.e. put all the dirty laundry in the hamper and then get the next clue). These analytical abilities provide children with the skills to compare and contrast, evaluate, and make decisions.
Cultivate an interest: Think about something your child is already very interested in and try to help him expand that interest. For instance, if your child loves creating art, provide him with a shoebox for collecting stray buttons and magazines for future art project. Anything your child that fascinates your child could become a hobby – bottle caps, cards, dolls, or growing a vegetable garden. Your child will learn responsibility by caring for his “treasured possessions” and will also gain insight into empathy.
Praise mistakes: Nobody is perfect and it is important for children to understand that trying and not succeeding does not mean that they failed. Read about all the inventions that were discovered by accident in Charlotte Foltz Jones’s book, Mistakes That Worked, from rubber to Silly Putty and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Try something that you know is hard for everyone in the family and laugh about your inability to complete the task.
See the science in the everyday: There are so many ways to explore science all around you and your children.
Animals: Observe a spider in its web or a bird building its nest. During the summer, seek out caterpillars or cocoons and watch to see them transform into butterflies. You can follow up this understanding of nature through books such as Meghan McCarthy’s City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Plants: Plant seeds and watch them grow. You can do this in your home or in your garden. Choose a seasonal vegetable or flower and have your child record its progress as it grows.
Weather: Look at the weather report in the newspaper and use maps to plot out the course of the weather across the country. Place a thermometer both in and out of your house and have your children record the difference in temperature. This will help your children become active participants in the world they live in.
Read: Yes, reading makes the list again! Instilling a love of reading will continue to help your children expand their horizons and lengthen their attention spans. At this age, you can pick a chapter book to read with your children every night before they go to sleep. Reading can become part of their bedtime routine, both a way to relax and to bulk up their brainpower.
These above tips for all ages help children develop their brains and exercise their critical thinking skills. Of course, all of this active stimulation is great for kids, but it is also important for children to simply have free time to play. Encouraging the use of imagination during play gives children the opportunity to build their memory, practice new vocabulary, and simulate real-life experiences.
If you find yourself constantly searching for activities for your children, take a step back, and remind yourself of the great experiences you had when you simply played “house” or “doctor” with your siblings or friends. Then, grab some old hats, plunk them on your children’s heads and let them decide who the garbage man, fireman, or police officer is. Then, quietly exit the room. While you stay in the other room reading your book or preparing dinner, picture their brain cells multiplying.