But what makes children — from babies up through the teen years — smarter?
Here are 10 things science says can help:
1) Music Lessons
Plain and simple: research show music lessons make kids smarter:
Compared with children in the control groups, children in the music groups exhibited greater increases in full-scale IQ. The effect was relatively small, but it generalized across IQ subtests, index scores, and a standardized measure of academic achievement.
In fact musical training helps everyone, young and old:
A growing body of research finds musical training gives students learning advantages in the classroom. Now a Northwestern University study finds musical training can benefit Grandma, too, by offsetting some of the deleterious effects of aging.
(More on what the music you love says about you here.)
2) The Dumb Jock Is A Myth
Dumb jocks are dumb because they spend more time on the field than in the library. But what if you make sure your child devotes time to both?
Being in good shape increases your ability to learn. After exercise people pick up new vocabulary words 20% faster.
Indeed, in a 2007 study of humans, German researchers found that people learn vocabulary words 20 percent faster following exercise than they did before exercise, and that the rate of learning correlated directly with levels of BDNF.
A 3 month exercise regimen increased bloodflow to the part of the brain focused on memory and learning by 30%.
In his study, Small put a group of volunteers on a three-month exercise regimen and then took pictures of their brains… What he saw was that the capillary volume in the memory area of the hippocampus increased by 30 percent, a truly remarkable change.
(More on how exercise can make you and your kids smarter and happier here.)
3) Don’t Read To Your Kids, Read With Them
Got a little one who is learning to read? Don’t let them just stare at the pictures in a book while you do all the reading.
Call attention to the words. Read with them, not to them. Research shows it helps build their reading skills:
…when shared book reading is enriched with explicit attention to the development of children’s reading skills and strategies, then shared book reading is an effective vehicle for promoting the early literacy ability even of disadvantaged children.
(More on things most parents do wrong here.)
4) Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid
Missing an hour of sleep turns a sixth grader’s brain into that of a fourth grader.
“A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development,” Sadeh explained.
There is a correlation between grades and average amount of sleep.
Teens who received A’s averaged about fifteen more minutes sleep than the B students, who in turn averaged fifteen more minutes than the C’s, and so on. Wahlstrom’s data was an almost perfect replication of results from an earlier study of over 3,000 Rhode Island high schoolers by Brown’s Carskadon. Certainly, these are averages, but the consistency of the two studies stands out. Every fifteen minutes counts.
(More on how to sleep better here.)
5) IQ Isn’t Worth Much Without Self-Discipline
Self-discipline beats IQ at predicting who will be successful in life.
From Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:
Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success… Students who exerted high levels of willpower were more likely to earn higher grades in their classes and gain admission into more selective schools. They had fewer absences and spent less time watching television and more hours on homework. “Highly self-disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive peers on every academic-performance variable,” the researchers wrote. “Self-discipline predicted academic performance more robustly than did IQ. Self-discipline also predicted which students would improve their grades over the course of the school year, whereas IQ did not.… Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent.”
Grades have more to do with conscientiousness than raw smarts.
…conscientiousness was the trait that best predicted workplace success. What intrigues Roberts about conscientiousness is that it predicts so many outcomes that go far beyond the workplace. People high in conscientiousness get better grades in school and college; they commit fewer crimes; and they stay married longer. They live longer – and not just because they smoke and drink less. They have fewer strokes, lower blood pressure, and a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.