Back-to-School Brain Boosters

Summertime for children usually means more time outdoors playing, eating fresh, in-season foods, sleeping more and, this summer, connecting—in a COVID-safe way—with family and friends.

With the transition back to school coming in a few weeks, some parents are wondering if they should put aside these summertime activities in order to support learning. In fact, there is no need to stop these activities which actually boost a child’s readiness to learn and promote a healthy brain and body.

If we think about our bodies as these incredible machines (which they are!), the body, like any machine, works best when given the right tools. What tools are needed for a growing body and a learning brain you ask? Movement, good food, sleep, social connection and stimulation (new learning).

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1. Movement.

Active children are better learners! For better brain health and mental health, children need regular physical activity. Aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

• Wear a Helmet. Check the fit and parents wear one too, whether biking, skating, rolling or skiing.

• Unscheduled Play. Let children use their creativity and move their bodies in many different ways that feel good.

• Family Activity Time. Take a ball to the local park, break out the Frisbee or other favorite family activity.

• Active Travel. Walk or wheel where you need to go, to school and activities.

2. Eat good food.

The brain needs nutrients to grow and be healthy. Just as a child’s body needs good food to grow on, so does their brain! Eating a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit is what bodies of all ages need. Healthy eating supports a child’s brain growth and development. Look to Canada’s Food Guide for further guidance and tools.

• Cultural and Family Meals. Connect over good food and pass down all the food knowledge and traditions held by generations within your culture.

• Parent decides what, when and where food is offered; children decides how much to eat from which food is offered.

• Grow and Learn Together. Whether you are growing a garden, shopping for food, harvesting food or preparing food in the kitchen, involve children every step of the way.

• Healthy Plate or Healthy Bowl. Eating a plate of food with half filled with fruit and vegetables, one quarter filled with whole grain foods, and the remaining quarter filled with protein foods will give the brain and body the variety of nutrients needed.

3. Sleep.

Children who get enough sleep have better memory, concentration and are overall better learners.

• Sleep. Children age 5-13 years of age need 9-11 hours of sleep per night.

• Bedtime Routine. Try reading, playing calm music, a bath or snuggle time to calm the mind and body to get the body ready for sleep.

• Healthy Sleep Habits. Important for learning and to support mental health and well-being.

• Screen Time. No more than 2 hours of recreational screen time per day and shut off the screens well before bedtime (1-2 hours).

4. Be social.

When you spend time with the people you care about, you are taking care of your brain. Being with family and friends can make you feel good, too!

• Family. Playing, cooking, doing arts and crafts, reading, playing or listening to music together are all fun ways to connect as a family.

• Phone, chat, text, video. However you connect with others can support brain health.

• Volunteer in your community. This is a great way to meet new people in your neighbourhood while helping others.

• Friends. Friends can make you laugh and bring joy to your life.

5. Challenge the brain.

The brain needs new activities to grow new brain cells and connections.

• Learn something new. Cook, dance, sing, read, play a musical instrument, hobby.

• Learn a new language—there are many free programs, apps or through your local library

• Change routines. Try a new route to school, to the park or a friends house.

• Try a new game or sport. Look online for at-home ideas or through your local recreation centre or sports association.

So remember, you don’t have to say goodbye to those fun summer activities; boost your brain power with active, outdoor play, a variety of fresh foods, sleep and time to be with family and friends.

For more information:

ParticipACTION’s Expert Statement on Physical Activity and Brain Health in Children and Youth

Canada’s Food Guide

24-Hour Movement Guidelines

Everyday Anxiety Strategies for Educators (parent resources)