The Real Way To Make Your Baby Smarter

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What can parents do in the first five years of life to raise a child’s intelligence? A paper by NYU researchers John Protzko, Joshua Aronson and Clancy Blair reviews dozens of studies on this topic, combing the research literature to identify studies of children’s intelligence that met their strict criteria for inclusion. Tania Lombrozo reports on the surprising results:

“When it comes to nutrition, there’s not much evidence that multivitamins do any good, but having pregnant and lactating moms and young kids take omega-3 fatty acid supplements (particularly DHA) likely does. Just having books in the home might not help, but interactive reading with children under 4 could boost IQ by around 6 points.

As for music, the one study that met the criteria for inclusion didn’t find a relationship between systematic exposure to music and IQ. However, other research suggests advantages to early music training when it comes to some cognitive skills, such as spatio-temporal reasoning, and correlational studies with older children do find an association between music lessons and IQ. So the jury is still out, but any music-lover will attest that developing a love of music is its own reward.

The authors found that certain interventions are only effective for children from low-income homes, presumably because they provide some source of environmental support or stimulation that children in wealthier homes are already getting. In particular, attending preschool and early educational interventions that teach parents how to scaffold cognitive and linguistic development can boost the IQ of children from low-income homes by as much as 7 points.

The take-home lessons for parents are relatively modest: consider some omega-3 supplements and sit down with your toddler and a good book for some interactive reading.

But the implications for voters and policy-makers are profound. Teaching parents to engage in interactive reading and elaborative conversations with their little ones and improving access to high-quality preschool could go a long way towards eliminating economic disparities in intelligence test results in early childhood.” (Read more here.)

I’m glad these researchers have applied stringent standards to a field that is full of weak and unreplicated findings. Now if only they could evaluate the commercial sphere, full of make-your-baby-smarter products . . .

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3 Responses to “The Real Way To Make Your Baby Smarter”

  1. When I first heard that there was a specific style of reading that would lead to better outcomes for young kids, I was at first annoyed. (It is called dialogic reading.) I thought, does even reading to your baby need to be regimented? But, really, once you realize that all you need to do is read to your baby or toddler, stop and ask him questions, and give him feedback on what he says back to you, it’s actually sort of liberating. It’s so easy. And it can be taught to parents pretty easily. As an educator and researcher who’s studied early childhood programs (and those working with parents to develop literacy skills), the message is simple: give parents good books to read to their kids and interact with them while you’re doing it. Not exactly Baby Einstein.

  2. janine says:

    I think the parents have to really be into whatever it is. If you hate reading but you’re doing it just for your kids, they’ll sense it’s phony. If you like rock but play Mozart just for the baby, there’s also a sense of disconnect. Be yourself, because you can’t be someone else for very long.

  3. Spending time with our little ones and including them in our regular life activities is stimulation enough… in fact, the stimulation that Nature intended them to get. They are made portable for a reason! Our faces are their best toys.

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