The brain is the most demanding organ that your circulatory system has to feed.
Children need exercise. Parents often worry that making time for athletics or even for just playing on the Jungle Jim is going to take away from their kids’ academic achievement. But actually, the opposite is true. There have been analyses of huge numbers of studies that all show that kids who are fit are better in school, get better grades, and have higher intelligence scores than kids who are sedentary. And that is probably because across the lifespan, even into old age, there’s a strong correlation between a healthy heart and a healthy brain.
When you tell a child "You’re so smart," you’re unwittingly encouraging a fixed mindset.
One of the most interesting things that’s happened in psychology in recent years has been the realization that the way we typically praise children in this country is not only ineffective, but in many cases it's actually counterproductive. And the basic idea is that there are two mindsets. You can think of your characteristics as fixed or you can think of them as capable of growth. And when you tell a child "You’re so smart," what you’re unwittingly doing there is encouraging a fixed mindset. This is a characteristic of the child, the smartness.
Bilingual children show better ability to follow abstract rules, to reverse rules that they’ve learned already.
Learning a second language has fantastic benefits for kids. If you put aside the most obvious reason for learning a second language that allows you to communicate with a lot of people that you couldn’t communicate with before, it also really helps brain development.
Starting as early as one year of age, bilingual children show better ability to follow abstract rules, to reverse rules that they’ve learned already: "You were doing this, now do the opposite," which is something that’s pretty hard for little kids. And they continue to show better self-control and better ability to be flexible according to circumstances all the way through into old age, assuming that they keep speaking both languages actively. You can lose these advantages if you start speaking a language and then you let it drop.
Especially in old age, people who have actively spoken more than one language their entire life have an onset of dementia, if they get dementia, about four years later than people who only know one language. So that alone is a significant advantage.
Children’s dreams are a really interesting window into their developing minds.
Children’s dreams are a really interesting window into their developing minds. There’s a group of researchers who have done dream research in children which is about as low-tech as it sounds. You put the kids to sleep, and then you come in at various times in the night and you wake them up, and you ask them what they were dreaming.
For a really small child, you ask "What was happening?" because a really little child doesn’t even know what a dream is. And what they find pretty consistently is before the age of six or so there’s almost no action in dreams. So we think of dreams as this big complicated, ridiculous story where you’re doing this and you’re doing that.
Little kids have dreams like "I was watching the cat." "I was in the bathtub." There are a lot of animals in little children’s dreams, but they’re all very passive. And a really interesting thing is that the kids who have more active dreams and more complicated dreams are the ones who have better spatial reasoning for their age. So it looks like the dreams are in some way reflecting the basic brain development, the increase and the capacity of what the brain can do, and that gets reflected in the dreams.
Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., is a freelance science writer. From May 2003 to April 2008, she was the editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, the leading scientific journal in the field of brain research. Before becoming an editor, she did her graduate work at the University of Rochester and was a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at Yale University. She lives in northern California with her husband, a professor of neuroscience.