Looking for tips and advice on how to raise smart kids?
Parents working from home with kids during the coronavirus pandemic have had to take on the roles of early childhood educators. That means ensuring their kids have access to learning opportunities and stimulating interactions that promote healthy development.
Educating kids at home has led many of the engaged parents in our Procare community to ask the question that has become the topic of this blog post: “What can I do to raise a smarter child?”
As many might expect, parents have the capacity to make an enormous difference in the cognitive development of their children. By providing the right environment, activities and guidance in a child’s early years, parents can significantly increase that child’s likelihood of greater academic attainment and improved quality of life.
To help you parent like a provider, we’ve put together this list of six action items for how to raise smart kids.
How to Raise Smart Kids: Six Action Items for Parents
Get an Early Start
The first five years of a child’s life are crucial to their long-term development, success and wellbeing. During this period, kids benefit from a stable environment that meets their nutritional and health needs, protects them from threats, and provides both learning opportunities and stimulating interactions. Children who grow up in such environments see huge benefits later in life: they learn new skills and concepts more easily, achieve more in school and in their careers, and enjoy a greater quality of life.
A study published by The Brookings Institution found that kids who go through intense academic programs at the ages of three and four see limited long-term benefits and don’t necessarily end up ahead of their peers. However, researchers at Harvard have identified five directives that parents can follow to enhance early learning in child aged zero to three years:
- Maximize love and minimize stress with responsive parenting. Responsive parents pay attention to their children, respond to cues and communication, and react quickly and effectively to meet their needs. Sensitivity, warmth, and responsiveness from parents has been shown to promote positive developmental outcomes in children. Children with warm, responsive parents exhibit faster cognitive growth and social development than their peers.
- Talk to your kids, even when they’re too young to respond. Sing songs and gesture a lot. Speaking to your child with a wide vocabulary helps them develop stronger language skills earlier in life.
- Play rhythm and number games to prepare your child for math and music later in life.
- Create opportunities for your child to practice motor skills and develop physical movement abilities, including crawling, walking and object exploration.
- Teach your child to love learning by reading, exploring and interacting with them.
For parents in 2020, it can be challenging to spend quality time with kids between having a full-time job, managing a household, and other responsibilities that come with adulting. Here are three extra tips for parents who find themselves pressed for time:
- Create a low-stress environment with plenty of stimuli and objects for your child to explore. As your child begins to play independently, they can learn by exploring and discovering their environment.
- Children can learn valuable skills just by watching how their parents act. Modeling healthy behaviors, routines, self-care and life skills for your child helps them develop socially and emotionally.
- Reading aloud to your child is the single most important activity that you should strive to make time for each day. Just 15 minutes helps increase their ability to empathize, exposes them to new words, teaches them to listen and concentrate, and enhances the bond between parent and child.
Focus on the Five Areas of Early Child Development
Parents should be familiar with the five areas of early child development and create opportunities for their kids to develop positively and meaningfully in each area. Children need age-appropriate learning opportunities across all five areas to maximize their wellbeing later in life.
- Physical – As kids get older, their bodies change and grow. They develop gross motor skills (the ability to coordinate large muscle groups like arms and legs) and fine motor skills (the ability to coordinate small muscles like hands and fingers), then use those skills to interact with their environments.
- Personal/Social – Through personal and social development, kids learn how to care for themselves (routines, practicing hygiene) and how to interact with others (making friends, sharing, conflict resolution, etc.)
- Language – Young children must develop the ability to understand and use their first language(s) to communicate with others. Language skills include listening, speaking, reading and writing.
- Cognitive – Cognitive development is related to problem-solving, abstract thinking, learning and exploration. It includes the acquisition of knowledge and cultivation of skills for thinking about and understanding the world.
- Emotional – Kids develop emotional coping and emotional intelligence skills, including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and empathy for others.
Teach a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset is something you can teach your child that will make a lasting impact on their life and the way they perceive the world.
A growth mindset is characterized by the belief that one’s intelligence is not a fixed attribute, but something that can be developed over time with hard work and diligence. Individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can achieve anything they wish by putting forth their best effort.
In contrast, a fixed mindset is characterized by the belief that one’s intelligence or qualities are fixed – that they cannot be changed, and that any failure represents the limits of their capabilities.
Kids with a fixed mindset avoid situations where they might fail, sacrificing learning opportunities to avoid being wrong about something and looking silly. Comments like “I’m just bad at math,” or “I’ll never be any good at baseball,” are evidence of a fixed mindset in your child.
To cultivate a growth mindset, it’s important to praise kids the right way. When your child does well on an art assignment, how do you praise them?
- “Well done! You’re so smart!”
- “I’m proud of you for working so hard on this.”
- “It looks like you have a talent for art!”
If you answered a) or c), you could be promoting a fixed mindset in your child without even realizing it. Calling your child smart or talented can send the messages that they succeeded because of their natural characteristics, not because of the choices they made or the effort they put forward.
These labels can also put pressure on young kids to live up to the same standards in the future, which can lead to failure avoidance and stifle learning. Teach a growth mindset by avoiding labels and praising or congratulating your child for their choices and effort instead.
Read to Them (The Right Way)
Reading to your child when they’re young is one of the best activities you can do to help speed along the development of their language skills and cognitive ability. With that said, there are many different techniques you can use to maximize the impact of story time on your child’s growth.
Start by finding a position where you and your child can both sit comfortably and see the pictures. Before you start reading, show your child the cover of the book. Introduce the author and talk to your child about the setting and characters. This makes the reading experience more engaging and builds anticipation for the story itself.
While reading, be sure to make the experience fun and engaging for your child. Get into character by using different voices, gesturing and varying your tone to bring the story to life. Point to the words on the page as you read to help kids follow along and develop their reading skills. Ask your child questions about the book and answer any questions they might have for you. Ask them to explain the story to you in their own words.
After reading together, encourage your child to reflect on the story in different ways. Ask them about their favorite part of the story or their favorite picture. Ask how they think a certain character felt or what they thought at an important moment in the story. Have them connect the character’s thoughts and feelings to their own.
As children get older, they can start to play a more active role in the routine of reading. They can choose books based on their own interests, start learning the sounds of letters and words, and eventually start reading on their own.
Get Them Involved in Music
Researchers have found significant evidence that getting kids involved in music lessons at a young age has a significant positive impact on their development.
One study looked at 147 primary school students and arranged them into four groups: a control group, a group that received visual art lessons and two groups that received music lessons. After 2.5 years, the artists performed better on visual and spatial awareness tasks compared to the other two groups, but the kids that received music lessons tested much more strongly on inhibition, planning skills and verbal intelligence than those who did not.
Another study conducted by psychologists at the University of Toronto divided 144 children into four groups: one taking keyboard lessons, one taking singing lessons, one taking acting classes and a control group with no extra training.
Researchers measured intelligence quotient (IQ) before the study began and again after a year of classes. While the IQ of children in the musical groups rose by an average of 7 points, children in the acting and control groups saw average increases of just 4.3 points.
Kids can get involved in music by listening to music at home, singing along with parents, learning to dance or play an instrument, recording music for fun or attending live performances with their parents.
Get Them Involved in Sports
Children need to learn from an early age that physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Getting your child involved in sports is one of the best ways to support their development, especially since most public schools in America no longer provide daily physical education.
Here’s how to help your child develop a positive relationship with physical exercise through sports:
- Model health through physical activity – Social learning theory is a set of models indicating that children learn things by watching and copying adults. Kids are more likely to internalize the importance of physical exercise if they see their parents exercising regularly.
- Play together – Most children get started in sports by playing with their parents or other caregivers. Teaching your kid to ride a bike, throw a baseball or shoot a basket creates valuable bonding times and helps transmit the value of physical activity.
- Focus on fun – Up to 70 percent of kids drop out of team sports by the time they reach age 13. At this point, young teens usually say they’re opting to focus on academic goals, but the truth is that they aren’t having fun with sports because they’ve never learned how. Kids must learn to enjoy physical activity and develop passion before they’re ready to fine-tune their technical skills, so don’t start coaching too early. Instead, focus on having fun and creating a love for exercise that will persist throughout your child’s entire life.
- Emphasize effort, not outcome – Putting pressure on your children to perform academically can increase their anxiety and kill their enthusiasm and passion. It can also make them feel worse about losing and more likely to quit when they feel like a failure or a disappointment. Praising kids for their effort and determination, rather than the outcome, sends the right message that you’re proud of them for participating and having fun.
- Teach practice – One of the most important lessons that kids can learn from their involvement in sports is the value of practice. As your child develops in sports, ask them to reflect on their skill progression and remind them that they can apply the methods of practice to increase their abilities in any domain they choose.
Learn to Parent Like a Provider with Procare
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Through our Parent Like a Provider series, Procare is committed to supporting parents who are acting as their own child care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time of reduced access to child care services.
Visit our resource center to learn more about the activities and techniques you can use to parent like a provider.