Boosting Your Child's Brain Health

We all want to see our kids study hard and do well in school. But we’re all also probably familiar with the nightly struggle to get them to sit down and do all the reading, homework and studying required for good grades.

Thankfully, hitting the books isn’t the only way to boost brain health and development in kids and teens.

In fact, some of their favorite activities offer big brain benefits that can last them a lifetime.

4 Activities That Improve a Child's Brain Development

Arts and Crafts

Whether it’s crayons, paint or popsicle sticks, to indulge in your child’s creative side is to help foster healthy brain development.

Even in early childhood, when your little one is smooshing finger paint all over construction paper, artistic and creative activities are helping promote and develop her brain capacity. As she continues to grow, art helps to support her cognitive, social, emotional and multi-sensory development, too.

According to research published by Americans for the Arts, art education also improves a child’s problem solving skills and helps kids develop the ability to think more critically about the world around them. They also report that children who regularly paint, color, draw or otherwise participate in art are less likely to drop out of school, and four times more likely to be recognized or awarded for academics than kids who don’t.

The data doesn’t stop there. Research from colleges around the country, including the University of Michigan and University of Kansas, found that arts and crafts help teach children to think outside the box, have stronger critical-thinking skills and display a stronger sense of social tolerance.

Sports

Getting kids out of the house for physical activity is tougher today than it used to be, thanks to the video games, computers and tablets that vie for their attention. But sports and other forms of physical play are good for more than helping children burn off some of that never-ending energy.

Studies, including one published in the journal Pediatrics, have shown that children are able to think better and more clearly if they’re physically active. Physical activity also boosts a child’s memory, her ability to concentrate and her ability to process information. Children who participate in physical activities and sports have also been shown to perform better on tests, and get better marks in school overall.

One thing to keep in mind, too: the inverse of this data has also been shown to be true. Children that don’t get enough exercise are more susceptible to distractions, have a tougher time recalling information and tend to be more prone to behavioral problems.

Related: Tips to Get Kids Playing

Music

You may have to invest in some over-the-counter headache relief, but it’s worth it to let your children listen and learn to play music.

As your soon-to-be rock star begins learning notes and cords, rhythm and timbre, her brain is developing the ability to hear and process sounds that she couldn’t before. Studies out of Northwestern University back this up—they found that older kids and teens that played musical instruments were better able to cognitively process information. 

More good news? A five-year study conducted by researchers at USC found that children who play instruments experience faster brain development, especially in the areas of speech, reading and language, than kids who don’t.

Even babies benefit from being exposed to a good beat. Playing and listening to music with your baby can help boost her language learning skills and strengthen neural pathways in the brain.

Sleep

Good news for teenagers (and parents of young kids) everywhere: sleep helps boost brain power.

In babies and younger children, sleep helps boost the brain’s ability to learn, aids in the brain’s ability to make neural connections, increases attention span and helps mitigate behavior issues like hyperactivity and aggression.

Sleep also helps teens. A good night’s rest can help your teenager better concentrate, absorb and retain information, solve problems and manage stress. Quality sleep also helps regulate mood, and has been linked with getting better grades in school.

So how much sleep does your child actually need? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  • Infants  4 – 12 months: 12 to 16 hours per day (including naps)
  • Children 1 – 2 years:  11 to 14 hours per day (including naps)
  • Children 3 – 5 years: 10 to 13 hours per day (including naps)
  • Children 6 – 12 years: 9 to 12 hours per day
  • Teens 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours per day

While this definitely won’t help in your efforts to get your kids out of bed for school in the mornings, or down for that afternoon nap, you can take comfort in knowing that long, healthy snoozes are doing their growing bodies a world of good.

Related: 7 Tips to Help Your Kids Sleep Better
Related: The Importance of Sleep for Your Child

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.