How to help your child learn better in 3 easy steps

If you have a child between 8 and 11 years old and want to maximize his or her learning, there are three things you can do:

  • Make sure they are physically active at least 1 hour per day;
  • Limit their recreational screen time to less than 2 hours per day; and
  • Help them get between 9-11 hours of sleep per night.

Children need to be physically active to engage with the world. School age children, up until adolescence, are in a particular cognitive stage called concrete thinking. This means that they learn by experiencing things through their body’s senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Using the information from their experience, they better understand what is happening around them. Adding physical activity each day, for at least 1 hour, helps kids understand space, movement, energy and force. Additionally, it helps them learn about themselves, their abilities, limits, strength, stamina, and weaknesses. Furthermore, physical activity gives them time and space to release energy, manage frustration, and disconnect from academic pursuits. Finally, being physically active on a daily basis will help them form strong muscles and bones as well as help maintain healthy weight.

Limiting recreational screen time is also very important to support learning. Recreational screen time is defined as interacting with screens outside of school-related tasks like looking up information on the Internet to write a paper. Examples of recreational screen time include playing video games, watching YouTube videos, posting and reading social media, or engaging with apps. Children who used screen time for more than 2 hours per day have poorer cognitive development. The reason isn’t yet completely clear but may be related to whether the screen based activity is educational or not, if it requires focus or not, or if it includes multitasking or not. Non-educational, passive activities that require no effort from the child seem to be more detrimental than activities that have a creative, dynamic purpose, such as creating music or editing videos.

Finally, sleep is critical to learning and growth. Over the last few decades, children have been getting less and less sleep. This has been attributed to modern life and the busyness of children with activities. However, the main factor that influences how much sleep a child gets is if parents enforce bedtime. Calculating how much sleep a child needs and making sure they go to bed at the appropriate time is the only way to assure that they get enough. Additionally, removing all screens from bedrooms and ending screen time at least 1.5 hours before bedtime is best. The blue light emitted from screens is stimulating to the brain and can interfere with children falling asleep. Moreover, if kids are being entertained by the content they are watching, it can make it difficult to turn the device off and relax enough to sleep. Therefore, changing to non-screen, quiet activities before bed can help change gears and prepare children to go to bed at the correct hour.

Together, these activities are 3 easy, inexpensive, and family friendly ways to help your child fully participate in each day to maximize their abilities and learn. More importantly, you will be teaching healthy lifestyle habits. Never be afraid to guide your child towards routines that are positive.  They don’t know what is good for them, but you do. So take the lead and show them!


Pyper, E., Harrington, D., & Manson, H. (2017). Do parents’ support behaviors predict whether or not their children get sufficient sleep? A cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health 17. doi: 10.1186s/12889-017-4334-4.

Walsh, J., Barnes, J., Cameron, J., Goldfield, G., Chaput, J., Gunnell, K., Ledoux, A., Zemek, R. & Tremblay, M. (2018). Associations between 24 hour movement behaviours and global cognition in US children: A cross-sectional observational study. Lancet Child & Adolescent Health 2(11). pp. 783-791.

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