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What Makes Kids Intelligent?

Raising Smart Kids
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Build Mental Muscle continued...

However, the "Mozart effect," in which listening to classical music supposedly improves certain IQ scores, is probably overrated, says Kenneth M. Steele, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

"Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who grow up in homes where talking, listening, and reading are common tend to have higher IQs and greater success in school," Frances P. Glascoe, PhD, an adjunct professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in East Berlin, Pa., tells WebMD.

Thomas Darvill, PhD, chairman of psychology at Oswego State University in New York, recommends a variety of safe toys that are colorful, noisy, and interesting in shape or texture. Spending more time with your child in their first year can yield big dividends later, both in terms of parent-child bonding and enhanced mental growth.

"Kids left alone to sit and watch TV or play video games on their own won't do as well," Shawn K. Acheson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., tells WebMD. "Encourage active learning and the exchange of ideas."

As they grow, children need time and freedom to play and explore, Darvill says. "If your preschooler is playing in the mud or role playing with you or a peer, he is learning what he needs to learn."

Sports, music, and other activities demanding focused attention and discipline and stimulate mental development -- but don't force children to adopt your own interests. "Just because Dad enjoyed hockey as a child doesn't guarantee that his own children will," Darvill says.

Each child's interests and learning strategies are unique, Gottfredson agrees. To develop intelligence, we must not neglect ambition, courage, and conscientiousness, which are equally important for success. We mustn't forget to teach children how to learn.

"Few people work to their potential, or even realize what it is," she says. "Encourage children to develop the attitudes and tools for making the best use of their minds."

Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, is director of the PACE Center and IBM professor of psychology and education at Yale University. "If we take into account how children think, we can improve their achievement," Sternberg tells WebMD. "If we teach in a way that is relevant to children's abilities, we get much better results."

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