From the moment of conception, parents try to give their child every conceivable advantage. When it comes to intelligence, parents will often play music for their child in-utero, sit their babies in front of videos that claim to stimulate your child's brain, and spend a fortune on educational toys, tutoring sessions and music lessons.
Is it possible to make your child smarter? How much of human intelligence is heredity, and how much of it is environment and social conditions? Experts are divided on whether nature or nurture is resposible for intelligence. Some studies show that brain matter may be genetically decided, and that the amount of white and grey matter is something you are born with. Other studies suggest that environmental factors, like nutrition, love and stress can affect the development of human intelligence.
"Percentages on this point change depending on what researcher one reads," says Marilee Sprenger, expert on education and the brain and author of "The Developing Brain". "In recent years, I most often hear that intelligence is only about 30% nature and 70% nurture. We do know that experiences are what make the most difference in a child's ability to communicate, understand, and problem-solve."
Of course, even the measurement of intelligence is hotly debated. The reliability of IQ (or Intelligence Quotient) tests are widely criticized. People with anxiety, mental illness and personality distortions are known to be distracted by environmental influences more easily than the general population making their test results inaccurate. Add lifestyle, culture and personal experiences and experts say the testing measures become almost irrelevant. Testing young children is also not reliable. Sprenger says that testing children that are younger than third grade is misleading, as each child's brain develops at its own pace in the early years.
If you are concerned about raising your child's IQ a few points, there has been much ado about the first five years of life. Reports suggest that the most rapid brain growth happens during that time period, and that intelligence could be determined by being stimulated during this time. "The brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties or beyond," says Sprenger. "With that said, there are periods that appear to be critical. Most of these are in the first three years of life. For instance, the ability to learn language is greater in the early years."
So what experiences contribute to brain development? Will sitting your child in front of specialized baby videos make them more intelligent? Studies say those baby videos designed for the first year to stimulate the brain actually may do more harm than good. Researchers at the University of Washington found that the more babies watched those videos, the fewer words they learned.
"Read to them daily, listen to them, answer questions, elaborate on what they say, question, or are interested in," says Sprenger. "Allow them plenty of time to play as much learning occurs through play. Give them the opportunity to sing, draw, and paint. Let them help with cooking, baking, and chores according to age appropriateness. Before the age of two, allow NO screen time (television, computer, ipads, etc.) After the age of two, limit that screen time. Young children rarely learn anything from a screen, they need human interaction."
What has been scientifically proven to boost your child's intelligence?
- Exercise. Aerobic activity boosts the human ability to learn and focus.
- Free Play. Playing promotes better learning, memory, and growth of the cerebral cortex. It also enhances the development of language, spatial intelligence and mathematical skills.
- Secure Attachments. A secure bond between parent and child contributes to a higher IQ
- A Good Night's Sleep. Sleep has been shown to promote retention of what we’ve learned and achievement of new insights.
- Educational toys and video games. There is evidence that action video games improve spatial skills and some of the most important developmental toys are toys that permit kids to exercise their creativity and to explore cause-and-effect relations in the physical world.
"The most valuable thing to give your child is time, conversation, a love of reading, simple math, rhyming games (oral), and other interactive games," says Sprenger. "Take them to the library, museums, and to the park. Learning does not have to cost money. Spatial intelligence often comes from playing with the box that a toy comes in rather than the toy."