Updated May 21, 2019

23 Scientific Ways to Help Kids Learn

Read more about Kids and Money

How do kids learn best? Here are 23 scientifically proven techniques and approaches to help children learn and better absorb new information.

© halfrain (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

All children learn differently; how they interact with their surroundings and the people they encounter play a big part in shaping their knowledge. Some kids are able to pick up on things just by listening, while others need to see images or get hands-on before they're able to master a particular skill or concept.

Understanding how children learn and what makes them better able to absorb new information is a topic that researchers have spent thousands of hours studying.

1. Invest in music lessons

Teaching children to play the piano or another musical instrument may be a wise investment of your time and money. In a study published by researchers at the University of Toronto, six-year-olds who participated in music lessons during the school year had an IQ that was three points higher than their non-musical classmates.

2. Choose a school with a dedicated music program

If you can't afford to pay for music lessons out-of-pocket, sending your kids to a school with a solid music program can still boost their learning abilities. A 2007 study from Kansas University found that kids who attended schools where musicality was strongly encouraged scored 22% higher in English and 20% higher in math on standardized tests.

3. Try memory work

When your child is struggling to grasp basic concepts, attempting to boost their memory can trigger learning. A team of researchers at Stanford University found that around age 8 is when students begin to rely on memorization to process math problems, and regular review can help them nail down certain facts.

4. Acknowledge challenges

Learning comes more naturally to some children than others, and the pressure to succeed can hinder academic progress. In a study of French sixth graders, students who were told that learning is difficult and failure is common went on to perform substantially better on tests than their peers who were only asked how they tried to solve problems.

5. Watch educational programming

If you think watching TV is a waste of time for kids, it really depends on what they're viewing. Research from the Ready to Learn initiative shows that kids who watched educational shows like PBS's Super Why were 20% more likely to be able to recognize letters compared to kids who didn't watch.

6. Don't discount video games

It may not seem like video games offer much in the way of brain development, but research shows that it can help younger kids to jumpstart their math skills. According to Ready to Learn, kids between the ages of 3 and 7 who played a word building video game for a period of two weeks increased their vocabulary by as much as 31%.

7. But avoid going overboard with screen time

Too much TV or video games can have the opposite effect on kids' learning efforts, so it's important to establish boundaries. Once kids reach the 45-minute mark, media use begins to affect their sleep habits and performance in school. Among middle-school aged children who have four hours or more of screen time a day, only 1% earn A's in math and language arts.

8. Introduce brain-building foods

For kids who have trouble concentrating, a simple change in diet may be the solution. Australian researchers found that increasing the amount of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids for kids who suffered from attention disorders resulted in an increased ability to concentrate and an improvement in literacy.

9. Encourage physical activity

Getting your kids moving every day may help them to do better in school. One study looked at the effectiveness of instituting an after-school exercise program on academic performance. At the end of the school year, the kids who participated were in better physical condition and they showed improved cognitive development.

10. Make time to talk

Talking to children increases their verbal skills, and it's especially important for younger kids. Researchers at UCLA determined that engaging in conversation with children versus just talking at them is six times more effective in encouraging language development.

11. Link words with concepts

Just saying words to your kids isn't enough; you also have to make sure they understand what you're talking about. Using number words and then associating them with blocks or other objects can help young learners to pick up more quickly on basic math skills.

12. Get involved

School can be tough for kids at any age, but having a supportive parent can make learning easier. A joint study of more than 10,000 students revealed that kids whose parents were involved with checking homework and attending school events were more likely to do better academically.

13. Help them adopt the right mindset

One of the best things parents can do to encourage learning is to help kids approach it with the right attitude. A study of seventh-graders revealed that those who put more value on learning than on making good grades were able to push through academic challenges more easily than those who had fixed ideas about how smart they were.

14. Reconsider your parenting style

Finding the right balance when it comes to discipline can have an impact on how well kids are able to learn. Parents who praise kids based on effort rather than actual outcomes and who avoid using punishment as a method for encouraging better grades are more likely to see positive results, according to The Learning Habit study.

15. Spend time together

Doing simple things as a family can create an environment where kids are more likely to learn. In households where parents and kids get together to eat dinner or do things like play board games, the results show up as better grades and fewer emotional problems.

16. Eliminate distractions

Although multitasking may seem like the way to get more done, it can actually be harmful to kids who are trying to learn. An experiment involving middle and high school students found that the students who checked Facebook or texted while they were trying to study had lower GPAs and were less able to focus on their work.

17. Have them review before bedtime

Taking the time to look over study notes or glance at a textbook before going to sleep at night can improve kids' ability to absorb information. In a Notre Dame study, test subjects were better able to remember word pairs in the morning if they reviewed them just prior to going to bed.

18. Schedule a regular reading time

Reading to and with children can have a profound effect on how much they learn. According to the Scholastic Reading Report, children who have parents that read to them regularly are more likely to enjoy reading on their own and have stronger literary skills.

19. Let them make messes

Letting kids get a little messy may seem counterintuitive, but one study shows that it creates an environment that's conducive to learning. Researchers from the University of Iowa found that toddlers who were allowed to play with their food in their high chairs were better at differentiating shapes, sizes and words.

Tip: When it comes to sensory experiences that enhance fine motor skills including pincer grips that help with controlling writing instruments once they enter school, nothing comes close to a water table for kids or water play. Kids happily pour, scrub, squirt, and stir while learning how to enjoy greater control over large and small muscle groups alike.

20. Embrace a new language

Being bilingual is a valuable skill in the workforce but for younger kids, it can open the door to a better understanding of basic concepts. A study of children in Scotland and Sardinia showed that kids who mastered English and another language were better problem solvers and creative thinkers.

21. Sign them up for a team sport

Playing organized sports can boost confidence and encourage a team attitude, and the benefits can carry over to the classroom. At the high school level, participating in a team sport has been linked to higher grades and an increased likelihood of going on to college.

22. Choose open-ended toys

Walk into a toy store and you'll be greeted by a sea of different choices. But it's the simplest things that kids can learn the most from. Blocks, Lego bricks, dress-up clothes and household items like a wooden spoon and a pot allow kids to let their imaginations roam and increase their learning in the process.

23. Let kids take the lead

While teachers play an important part in what kids learn, allowing children to explore the world around them may have an even bigger impact. A study of preschoolers determined that younger children who are allowed to discover new things on their own are more likely to demonstrate curiosity and a desire to learn than those who receive specific instruction on how something works.


What works for one child won't always work for another when it comes to learning. Parents and teachers alike have to be willing to think outside the box. Encouraging creativity and curiosity from an early age can turn a reluctant student into a lifelong learner.

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com

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