04/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Better Grades In 2010 -- Making This Year An Academic Success For Your Kids

Now that the school year is well underway, our kids are back into their regular school routines. For parents, it's time for us to focus on how we can help our little guys do better in school. I've pulled together some new research on ways that might help your kids improve their grades and do better in school in 2010. Think of it as a little homework for you to help your kids do better with theirs!

Get Active
In the December issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, Dr. Stephen Daniels published an article suggesting "physical activity and fitness can be beneficial to school performance" in both boys and girls. Past studies have also shown the same correlation: kids who do the best on fitness tests also tend to be at the top of the class with their grades, as well. While the experts don't agree why being active benefits the brain--it could be from less pent-up energy, more focus, higher self-esteem, increased blood flow or a combination of all these things--they do say it's best to be physically fit.

Those of us who live in the often-frigid northeast know how hard it can be to keep our children active during the winter. Parents everywhere tend to assume their children are more active than they really are. Mother Nature doesn't make it easy, but it's still important to find fun ways to provide the 30-60 minutes of daily activity that'll keep our kids fit. Who knew what's good for the body is good for the brain, too?

Get Sleep
Ben Franklin was on to something when he wrote, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" so many years ago in Poor Richard's Almanac. Last year, Time shared the results of a sleep study run on college freshmen. Researchers found a direct correlation between the students' sleep habits and their grade point average. They divided the students into three categories by their bedtimes: larks (early to bed, early to wake up), owls (those who stayed up late regularly), and robins (in between larks and owls). At the end of their freshman year, larks and robins averaged a 3.14 GPA while owls were at a lower level with a 2.84 average. That's a pretty big swing!

Even though bedtime can be difficult to enforce, it pays off to build good sleep patterns with your children. In my house, we still encourage our 10-year-old to nap regularly--especially if he's had a couple late nights in a row. If our children are well-rested, they'll be able to concentrate more and do better in school. Plus, the habits you build when they're young will stick with them later in life.

Imagine More
I found this article to be so interesting: The Power of Magical Thinking. New theories from child-development experts show that a child's active imagination doesn't necessarily take them away from reality; it actually helps them understand the real world better. "Imagination is necessary for learning about people and events we don't directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world," writes author Shirley Wang in the Wall Street Journal.

The experts Wang interviewed suggested parents should encourage their young children's imaginations, depending on their comfort levels. This doesn't mean you have to introduce a concept like Santa or the Easter Bunny if you don't want to, but it's worthwhile to try age-appropriate activities like playing dress-up, reading storybooks, or getting into arts and crafts.

Start Early
Kids are always learning--that's how they grow and develop. New research shows that children can learn math much earlier than we previously thought. As toddlers, kids understand concepts like division and geometry even if they're not yet able to communicate that understanding verbally. Throughout the country, many school systems are testing out new math programs and trying to give children a head start. You can do the same thing at home by helping your little ones count, match objects, and point out numbers in everyday life to reinforce what they're learning.

I developed a supplemental curriculum for our little guy, Adam, so he can practice math facts, handwriting and other activities after school. He really enjoyed Singapore Math over Kumon's program, but both are beneficial in giving children the practice they need to learn math facts early.

These are just a few of the ways we can help our children reach their potential in the classroom and prepare for life as adults. I hope you'll find these new bits of research and programs interesting and helpful to your own family!

Childhood education is one of my passions. I'm on the board of the Achievement Network, which is a non-profit organization that helps administrators and teachers focus on improving student performance, especially in low-income, urban schools. I'm always looking for new ways to help improve children's education. If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments below.