Young girl at school sat at her desk writing in a notebook

How to keep your kids smart

03 Feb 2023

Give them a helping hand with these top-of-the-class tips

The Department of Health recommends all children aged six months to five years are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.

Handpicked article: The vitamins children need

But what else can you do to make sure their brains are in the best of health?

Keep on moving

Being in good shape physically, boosts your ability to learn.

Studies show that after exercise, people pick up new vocabulary 20 times more quickly than before. A Swedish study of over a million 18-year-olds showed that fitness does relate to a person's IQ, and further studies show that for nine and 10-year-olds, 20 minutes of exercise before a test significantly improves scores.

Your brain also needs the rest of you to get moving as it pumps the oxygen-rich blood it needs through every capillary.

Handpicked article: Fitness your kids will actually do with you

Make time for bed

There’s a huge performance gap caused by an hour’s difference in sleep in children. A study showed that a slightly sleepy Year 7 pupil will perform in class similar to a Year 5 pupil.

Teenagers achieving A grades were found to be averaging 15 minutes more sleep than B students, who in turn averaged 15 more minutes than the Cs, and so on, so every 15 minutes counts.

Set up a regular bedtime routine of at least a half-an-hour wind down – think of the 4 Bs: bath, brushing teeth, books, and bed, at around the same time each evening.

Limit after-school activities so bedtime doesn’t end up being pushed back too late. Ban screen time an hour before bed as that pesky blue light disrupts sleep rhythms.

Handpicked article: How to get a better night’s sleep

Serve brain food on a plate

Yes, it would be amazing if children were ALWAYS eating healthy, as research shows diet makes a big difference in the grades children get.

They’ll need a balanced diet, of plenty of fresh fruit and veggies and a steady supply of energy, from complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, pasta, porridge and pulses, which take time for your body to break down, so release their glucose slowly and steadily.

Brains also need to be primed with oxygen, so make sure there’s a good supply of iron in their diet., Find it in green leafy vegetables, especially spinach, dried fruit, fortified cereals, and pulses such as baked beans. Keep them well hydrated too as this affects their attention span.

Don’t skip breakfast!

Children who eat breakfast have longer attention spans and better memory than those who don’t.

Pick wholegrain cereals and oatmeal, rather than anything packed with sugar.

And while we all know to make sure they have a good breakfast the day of an exam, what you eat the week before a test matters, too. Students who were fed a five-day high-fat, low-carb diet heavy on meat, eggs, cheese and cream performed worse in tests than on their normal diet before.

A well-timed treat

Even though they are a regular diet no-no, caffeine and glucose can have a positive effect on cognitive performance. They’ve been shown to help sustain attention and working memory processes.

So if your kids are occasionally allowed to enjoy sweets and fizzy drinks, treat them while they’re studying rather than just mooching about, as it can help with focus.

The power of belief

Simply believing that your child is smarter than others can make a difference.  Studies showed when teachers were told certain children were more intelligent, those students did better — even though they had been randomly selected. By the end of the school year, 30 per cent of those singled out as ‘spurters’ had gained an average of 22 IQ points, and almost all of them had gained at least 10 IQ points.

Shop Children's Health Sources

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain 1st Edition, Kindle Edition by John J. Ratey Eric Hagerman
NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children Paperback – 5 Jan 2011 by Po Bronson
The Heart of Social Psychology: A Backstage View of a Passionate Science 2nd Edition by Arthur Aron, Elaine Aron (

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