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Back-to-school Brain Fuel

The National PTA and Quaker Oatmeal have put together the following tips to help parents enhance learning in children. These tips encompass recommendations from research over the past few decades.

1. Show your child love and affection. Showing your children that you love and appreciate them and creating a caring environment at home triggers better memory recall, thinking, and problem-solving skills. That may seem like obvious common sense, but it’s also supported by research.

2. Feed your child breakfast every day. Children get about one-fourth of their nutrient needs from breakfast, and research shows that skipping breakfast impairs performance in school. Among the effects are decreased attention span and ability to concentrate, restlessness, less energy and enthusiasm, and poor academic achievement. New research by Tufts University and the Quaker Oats Company finds that what children eat for breakfast also affects their ability to learn.

3. Ensure your child receives nine to 10 hours of sleep each night. To absorb skills such as those required for reading, math, and other tasks of memory, children require adequate sleep. A national survey has shown that 60 percent of children under 18 complain of being tired during the day. Children who do not get adequate sleep, unlike adults, can behave as if they have attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders.

4. Schedule regular health check-ups for your child. Regular physicals, immunizations, and hearing and vision screenings are key to monitoring your child’s overall health. Poor health and nutritional deficiencies as well as hunger have adverse effects on children’s mental and physical performance and have been linked to impaired learning ability, attention deficits, hearing and vision problems, and low attendance and participation in school.

5. Take an active role in your child’s education. For many years, research has shown that parents who are involved in their children’s learning enhance their children’s academic success. Some direct benefits from a parent’s involvement include higher grades and test scores, long-term academic success, and positive attitudes toward learning. Reading with your child, talking about school, showing concern for your child’s progress, and giving time to the school through organizations such as the PTA are a few simple ways to show your child you care about learning and their academic success.

6. Dedicate 10 to 60 minutes a day to your child’s homework. Children who regularly spend time on assigned homework do better in school, especially as they move into the upper grades. Most educators agree that children in grades K-2 should spend no more than 20 minutes each school day on homework, while children in grades 3-6 should spend 30-60 minutes on homework each day. To help your children develop and maintain good study habits, make your home conducive to learning. Create a special place in your home for your child to work that is organized, quiet, and free of distractions. Show your child that you think homework is important by staying involved in their assignments.

7. Set high but realistic expectations for your child. Setting unrealistic expectations for your children can actually hinder their drive to perform well and can lead to depression, anxiety, and a lack of self-esteem and confidence. The key to success is to foster a love of learning by keeping children challenged academically and setting realistic goals for their learning level.

8. Engage your child in cultural activities. Participation in extracurricular activities has been linked to academic achievement in children. While it is important not to overwhelm your child with an exhausting schedule, focusing some of your child’s free time on music, foreign language, or another creative activity may help promote academic success. Research shows that children who are exposed to music training improve their spatial reasoning skills, which are important skills needed for math, science, and engineering. And in young children, music training has been shown to improve pre-reading and writing concepts. Other emerging research has linked higher SAT scores, enhanced creativity, and problem-solving skills with study in a foreign language.

9. Ensure your child participates in one hour of physical activity daily. Whether it’s riding a bike, participating in an after-school sport, or regularly attending a school physical education class, devoting an hour daily to physical activity and fitness can provide several lifelong health benefits. Research shows an association between regular participation in sports or physical exercise and improvements in self-esteem, discipline, some cognitive tasks, and classroom behavior.

10. Give your child time for creative play. Creative playtime helps children learn and develop numerous core academic skills important for reading, writing, language development, and problem solving. Encouraging activities such as drawing, playing dress-up, looking at books, painting, and building blocks may help children learn to read, understand spatial relationships, and develop important hand-eye coordination skills.

You can find a complete list of the research used to develop these tips on the Internet at

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