What you (not school) should teach your children (episode 5.)

Children Morning habits for a great day

Last month I wrote about the importance of sleep and evening routines that promote good rest. This time, I’d like to share a bunch of science facts and tips on how to get a jump on the day. These morning routines will greatly serve both kids and adults; I strongly encourage you to make them a part of your family’s daily practice. As with all other practices and lessons I share in this series of articles, please remember, dear Parent, that the most effective teaching method is leading by example. 

The power of morning workouts

Just woke up? Put your sweatpants on and move! Short, intense cardio workouts as first thing in the morning are one of the most powerful habits to implement. If you already have a ‘no time’ excuse in your head, please know that 4 minutes of cardio exercises are proved to be enough to activate positive neurobiology and neurochemistry in your brain. A few minutes of jumping jacks or rope skipping not only wake us up fully but also improve focus & energy level. Morning workouts help feel phenomenal throughout the day, a this is thanks to some crucial biochemical processes that are direct results of sweating first thing in the morning.

Firstly, the cortisol level lowers. Cortisol is a fear and stress hormone that our body produces early in the morning to wake us up. It’s crucial to have a boost of this hormone to wake up, yet it’s detrimental for our health and mental performance if it stays high throughout the day. People with higher cortisol performed worse on tests of memory, organization, visual perception, and attention; it’s also linked with degrading memory and poor thinking skills – these are the last things we would want for our young students (and for ourselves). Just a few minutes of morning fitness can solve these issues and change the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.

There’s one more link between physical fitness and cognitive abilities, and it’s called BDNF (which stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF is also released when we sweat; it repairs brain cells damaged by stress and promotes neurogenesis which is the process of building new brain cells and new neural connections in your brain – so we can think better and process information faster. Additionally, dopamine is released, which is a drive and motivation neurotransmitter that makes us feel inspired and empowered. 

Go outside

After finish the workouts, time to send your kid to walk a dog, or to grab bread to the shop down the road. In the summertime, serve breakfast in the backyard. Sitting next to the window is not enough – the idea is to get outside to have maximum light exposure. Being exposed to natural light is fundamental for humans as our daily rhythm is set by light. Getting outside also allows receptors in the eye to pick up the light that signals the brain to produce serotonin – a day-time neurotransmitter. This chemical not only gets us up and going but also makes us feel happy and energized – everything we need for a great start to our day.  

No devices first hour of the day 

Since even elementary school kids have their own electronic devices nowadays, it is particularly important to build a habit of not checking out the phone first thing in the morning.  Countless studies have shown severe effects of this practice on our mental health and wellbeing: notifications and scrolling social media feed while still in bed makes us more stressed out, often overwhelmed with other people’s achievements, and this leaves us with a feeling of being behind. Before we even started the day, we already feel lame, even losers (this is one of the factors that contribute greatly to mental health issues among kids).

Instead of checking out the phone, help your kids install the opposite habit: to start a day with a clear intention of how they’d like to feel this day, and what they’d like to accomplish today. This reorientation of focus not only trains the brain in becoming more resilient and mindful about our own decisions but also conditions the brain for high achievements in the future. All high-achievers and authentically successful people are very cautious about what they focus on the first hour of a day as this sets up the trajectory of the day.


Written by: Dr Anna Kaminska


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