8 Proven Ways to Make Kids Smarter

Expand your kid's mind and help her succeed with these real IQ boostersBy Margot Gilman

As a parent, you want to give your child every advantage in life, so it's a no-brainer that you'd want to try boosting her intellect. While parking a tot in front of a Baby Einstein video didn't turn out to be such a smart idea (a University of Washington study found that such video viewing delays small children's language skill building), the following approaches actually up IQ scores. Photo by Thinkstock

1. Nurse your newborn.

Breastfeeding bestows many benefits, including immunity defense and disease protection. But until recently, we didn't know whether breastfeeding influences intelligence, or if breastfed kids tested better because of other factors. A study from McGill University in Montreal has shown a clear causal connection. Looking at 14,000 children, those whose moms participated in a program that encouraged exclusive and prolonged breastfeeding scored 7.5 points higher on verbal IQ tests at age six-and-a-half than those whose mothers didn't take part. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.

2. Get physical.
Any elementary-school teacher will tell you that children concentrate and behave better after gym class or recess. But those aren't the only benefits of physical activity. After reviewing 14 studies (12 of them from the US), Dutch researchers found that kids' cognitive test scores and grades are higher if they have outlets, like gym class or recess, to blow off steam. While they didn't examine how much activity is necessary to up smarts, some is clearly better than none. So encourage your child to play sports and make sure her teachers give daily play breaks.

Related: Try our 10 best fitness DVDs.


3. Junk to junk food.
Another strike against high-sugar, high-fat diets: It leads to lower IQs in kids, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiological Community Health. Researchers tracked the eating habits of 4,000 children from age three and tested their intelligence at age eight-and-a-half. The kids who ate the most processed foods, with a lot of convenience food, fat and sugar, had IQ scores 1.67 points lower than kids whose diets included more fruits, vegetables, fish and pasta, controlling for measures like mothers' education and social class. The obvious takeaway which bears repeating: Feed your children a healthy diet of whole foods and cut out the junk!

Related: Discover healthy afternoon snacks that keep you full longer.

4. Strike up a tune.
This will be music to most parents' ears. A University of Toronto study found that music lessons boost brain power among six to eleven year olds. The researchers gave kids either music or drama lessons, or no lessons at all, and measured their IQ before and after the sessions. Children in the music group had the biggest IQ jump, possibly because music lessons expose kids to experiences that can help them in many different areas, explain the researchers. (The drama lessons raised IQ, too, but not by as much.) Any kind of music lessons is good, so if your kid won't touch her trumpet, there's always chorus.

5. Don't forget the fish oil
The reported benefits of DHA omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and other seafood) keep rolling in. A recent New York University study, which evaluated many existing studies on what really raises people's intelligence, concluded that a diet high in this fatty acid was the only sure bet. The research suggests that when pregnant women and nursing mothers get over 1,000 mg of DHA a day, infant IQ can swell by more than 3.5 points. Plus, babies who received DHA for three months tested 6.5 IQ points higher as toddlers than children who didn't get the supplement. Ask your doctor if your little one could use a DHA boost.

6. Crack the books.
That same NYU study also looked at how interactive reading-encouraging kids to read in addition to using books to teach them how to ask questions-improves kids' intelligence. Researchers found that when a child under four is an active participant in reading with her caregivers, her IQ can go up by more than six points. Instead of merely slogging through Green Eggs and Ham again, urge your child to wonder aloud about the plausibility of eggs ever being that color or having a goat as a dining companion.

7. Consider enrolling your child in preschool.
Now that President Obama has said he wants universal preschool education, there's going to be a lot of debate about whether it's worth the money it'll cost. Here's some proof it may be: An analysis of 16 recent studies found that sending a disadvantaged child to preschool that focuses on language development can raise her IQ by as much as seven points. Since other researchers think that preschool education benefits all children in many ways, take advantage of preschool if it's available in your community.

Related: Learn how to raise a confident woman.

8. Bring on breakfast.
More reason to make morning meals a must: Children who start their days with a healthy breakfast are more focused, better prepared for the day's challenges and ultimately get higher grades and test scores. A pilot program in Maryland conducted by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital offered breakfast, with 25% of the nutrients kids need in a day, to all children in participating elementary schools, regardless of income. Scores on state assessment tests improved significantly, and tardiness and suspensions fell. At home, providing such a meal can be as simple as serving whole-grain cereal and a glass of juice.

You Might Also Like:
50 Surprising Foods Under 100 Calories
15 Clever Uses for Household Items
8 Secrets of Sexually Satisfied Couples