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How to raise an intelligent kid, according to science

While you can’t change your child’s genes, you can do a number of things to enhance them. Here are five scientific ways to raise your sweet preschooler into a brilliant adult. Hint: It might be easier than you think.

1. Send them away

To a high-quality preschool, that is. According to a report published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a good preschool education can boost a child’s intelligence anywhere from four to seven points. Children were more likely to see large IQ gains if the preschool included a language development component, as well.

What does this mean for moms? Don’t feel bad about sending your kid to preschool or a great day care environment. It boosts their IQs by exposing them to more language and stimulation than many moms can provide exclusively at home.

2. Run in circles

You know how you feel mentally sharper after going for a walk? The same is true for kids. The National Institutes of Health studied the effect of exercise on the cognition of young kids, and found that children who regularly exercise display different neurological development than their peers who don’t exercise. Kids who run around on the playground and frolic in the front yard have gains in executive function — which means they can select, organize and prioritize their thoughts effectively.

If you have a toddler or preschooler, you know that young kids are naturally active. Activity level can be an issue, however, if the day care or preschool you choose doesn’t have equipment and personnel for regular daytime exercise. Make sure you select a location that affords kids the opportunity to run around as much as they want.

3. Show some love

From a very young age, children (and adults) are hardwired for touch. The nurturing of gentle touch, like foot rubs, back scratches and hair twirling, is linked to all kinds of psychological, physiological and cognitive improvements. A study published in the journal Child Development found that infants and young children who are lovingly touched and held experience boosts in attention and active engagement with peers and adults, which are the building blocks of learning.

You read that right: Those nurturing behaviors that you love to do are actually developing intelligence in your kid.

4. Talk early and often

In a fascinating study, researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley discovered that children from middle- to upper-income homes hear 30 million more words by the time they’re 3 than children who hail from low-income homes. The researchers concluded that different intelligence levels seen in children from different socioeconomic statuses are deeply influenced by this word gap.

The answer? Talk early and often to your children, regardless of your economic status. When children hear a lot of words, when they get to read books and when they’re spoken with, they experience huge leaps in intelligence.

5. Provide stimulation

It’s hugely important to provide young kids with mental stimulation to make the most of the cognitive growth spurts they experience before age 5. A study published in The Lancet found that growth-stunted children with cognitive limitations experienced large gains in intelligence when given stimulation, compared with growth-stunted children who were given nutritional supplementation.

Essentially, the remediation of these growth-stunted kids hinged on learning stimulation, even more than nutrition. Think of stimulation as food for the brain. If you’re not sure where to start, pick up a couple of toys for learning, and make sure to take your kid outside and to the playground. The stimulating environment will translate into boosts in intelligence.

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