10 ways to make your kid smarter

Boost your child's brainpower with these proven strategies.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

Is intelligence an inherited gift or can it be nurtured and enhanced by the right environment? While intelligence clearly has a genetic component, scientific research is beginning to show that certain approaches boost learning and mental development in young minds.

--By Korey Capozza for MSN Healthy Living

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Brain games

Chess, crosswords, cryptograms, riddles—they all train the brain to perform mental gymnastics. Games like Sudoku can be fun while promoting strategic thinking, problem-solving and complex decision-making. Keep brainteasers around the house and challenge your children to help you solve the trickier problems.

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Make music

Listening to your child play the trombone isn't always a pleasurable experience, but music lessons can be a fun way to engage in right-brain learning. According to a study by University of Toronto researchers, organized music lessons appear to benefit children's IQ and academic performance—and the more years the student takes lessons, the greater the effect. The study found that taking music lessons in childhood was a clear predictor of better grades in high school and a higher IQ in adulthood. 
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Mother's milk is elemental brain food. Research consistently has shown that breast-feeding has multiple benefits for growing infants. It prevents dangerous infections and provides essential nourishment. Danish researchers have discovered that breast-feeding can make babies both healthier and smarter. The bottom line: If breast-feeding works for you, make an early investment in your child's health. Breast-feeding your infant can deliver long-term dividends.

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Foster fitness

Studies by University of Illinois researchers have shown a strong relationship between fitness scores and academic achievement among primary school children. Participation in organized sports fosters confidence, teamwork and leadership, according to research by the Oppenheimer Funds. This study also found that 81 percent of women business executives played team sports as girls. So instead of retiring to the TV after dinner, consider throwing a ball around or going for a walk. Even better: Encourage your child to get involved in an organized physical activity or school sport.

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Play video games

Video games get a bad rap. Yes, many are violent, solitary and mindless, but stick to the ones that develop children's strategic thinking and planning skills and the ones that promote teamwork or creativity. Educational toy companies like Leapfrog are now creating motor-skill and memory enhancing games for small children—even toddlers. A recent study conducted at the University of Rochester found that participants who played video games recognized and learned visual cues much faster than their non-video-game-playing counterparts.

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Junk the junk food

Cutting out sugar, trans fats and other junk food from your child's diet and replacing them with high-nutrient alternatives can do wonders for early childhood mental and motor development—especially in the first two years of life. For example, kids need iron for healthy brain tissue development, as nerve impulses move more slowly when children are iron-deficient.  And studies show that poorly nourished children have trouble fighting infections, which causes them to miss school and fall behind their peers. Pay attention to what your kids are eating, and good grades may follow.

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Nurture curiosity

Experts say parents who show curiosity and encourage their children to explore new ideas teach them a valuable lesson: Seeking knowledge is important. Support your kids’ hobbies and interests by asking them questions, teaching them new skills and taking them on educational outings to develop intellectual curiosity.

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This tried-and-true method sometimes gets overlooked in the rush to adopt the latest IQ-boosting technology, but reading is a sure-fire, low-tech way to improve learning and cognitive developing in children of all ages. Read to your children from an early age, sign your child up for a library card and keep the house stocked with books.

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Teach confidence

Especially in adolescence, children can fall prey to negative thinking that limits their potential. Child psychologists encourage parents to positively reinforce their kids with encouragement and optimistic assurances. Participation in team sports and other social activities also helps build confidence during the awkward "tween" years when children's peers are least supportive.

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