Health Team

Research supports these 5 ways to make your kids smarter

Posted May 18
Updated June 12

Every parent wants to make sure their child makes good grades and prepare for success, but is there a proven recipe to make it happen?


Research supports at least five key ways parents can help make their kids smarter:

Physical fitness

Dr. Brenda Armstrong, a pediatric cardiologist and assistant dean of admissions for Duke University Medical School, says being physically fit fosters success in the classroom and into adulthood.

A Columbia University study showed a three-month exercise regimen increased blood flow by 40 percent to the part of the brain focused on memory and learning.

Armstrong says fitness and nutrition go hand in hand. She's the founder and fitness coach for Durham Striders track club.

"We can't do any of this on fast foods. We need greens, and we need baked food, not fried food," Armstrong said.

Other things to avoid, Armstrong says, are sugary drinks. Kids should be drinking water, and getting at least 64 ounces each day.


Research shows that insufficient sleep challenges the brain's ability to absorb and process information.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that preschool-aged children get 11 to 14 hours of sleep each night. For school-aged children, aim for 9 to 11 hours. Teenagers should aim for 8 to 10 hours.

Armstrong says parents in the Durham Striders program are required to get kids in bed by 9 p.m., and kids in the program are required to maintain an A/B average to participate.

Self discipline

Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at age 9, Justin Lawrence says training for track helps him focus in his classes.

"It helps me with my school work, because when I run, I have to get focused," Lawrence said of the Durham Striders program.

The training helps him with scheduling and prioirities.


Developing a love for reading is the fourth key to helping build smarter kids.

Wake County BookMobile librarian Ryth Van Der Grinten says it's important to raise kids who want to read.

"Children learn through singing, reading, playing, writing, and talking," she said. "All of those skills are needed for the eventual success of reading."

Music lessons

Another way to sharpen kids' brains is through music.

Music helps 17-year-old Lynelle Cunningham work harder in school. It's part of a deal she has with her parents, who pay for her lessons.

"So, if I didn't have good grades, I would not be able to have music lessons," she said.

Music teacher Kathy Wiessner says learning to play an instrument challenges young brains.

"They have to start thinking with both sides of their brain," she said.

Wiesner says her best students strive to improve because they often have recitals to show off their skills.

A study in psychological science found that children who took music lessons exhibited great increases in their full IQ score.

Research also indicates that self-discipline trumps IQ for those kids willing to outwork others.

"Without discipline, you can't focus, and focus is the key to all of this," Armstrong said.

Another key ingredient for successful learning is maintaining a positive, happy environment in the home.

Children need to know they are loved and that their parents believe in them.


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  • Henry Cooper May 19, 12:52 p.m.
    user avatar

    First thing you have to know to make any sense of this is the criteria that was used for a "Smart Kid".

    Having said that I agree that spending time outdoors is beneficial, it just adds to a well rounded child in knowing about their environment (it leads to understanding and embracing conservation also).

    They seem to have ignored anything about exposure to math and science (isn't that where are students fall short against the rest of the world?).

    We need to teach our kids to do what they love while also being able to be responsible for sustaining themselves within that. We can't teach them to follow thier dreams in spite self responsibility.

  • Scooter Barrette May 19, 12:02 p.m.
    user avatar

    Stacie, are you suggesting that spending time outdoors makes you smarter?

  • Stacie Hagwood May 18, 9:26 p.m.
    user avatar

    What? No spending time outdoors? Who did this research, anyway?