The human body is 70% water and when our youngest family members are testing and taxing their brains in the classroom, their water levels need to stay topped up. Without proper hydration, our bodies quickly begin to malfunction, and this is even more true for children who are at higher risk of dehydration than adults and are naturally less likely to remember to keep sipping on their water.
Research has also found water can positively impact cognitive function and even the ability to multitask, so it’s important for children of all ages to drink water throughout the school day.
Water boosting brains and abilities
There has been considerable research into water’s impact on the brain and nervous system. Scientists from Northeaster University and the University of Illinois found drinking water and staying hydrated increased a child’s ability to multitask and enhanced their reaction times. Published in the Journal of Nutrition, their research found children who were more hydrated performed better on tasks focused on multitasking, working memory and mental flexibility.
This research is further supported by research from the University of Westminster, which argued that remembering to drink water in exams could improve the importance of performance. The research involved carrying out a series of memory and attention tests first before drinking water, then after consuming 25ml and 300ml. The scientists found a 31% improvement in attention in children aged 7-9 after just 25ml of water and 12% in the young adult participant group.
How much water do they need?
The amount of water each child needs is dependent on multiple factors including their activity level, the current temperature, their diet, and their health. Children should be regularly reminded to drink, both at home and school. A general guide suggests children aged up to eight should drink a minimum of 4-5 cups of water a day, while those over eight should aim for 6-8 as a minimum.
Dehydration poses a greater threat to children than adults. This is because, in proportion to their size, children have a much larger portion of their skin available to lose heat and can be affected by heat. Children are also less likely to recognise thirst, especially if engrossed in a task. Common signs that they need to up their water intake include:
- Poor concentration
- Dry and cracked lips
- Dark urine
Children are notoriously “too busy” or simply forget to drink water, and even if you can encourage them to drink, they may opt for alternative liquids when water really is the best option out there. Schools are obliged to provide a fresh supply of water for all pupils but getting the kids to drink this isn’t always easy. The availability of sweetened and flavoured alternatives can be tempting but if you only offer water, and encourage drinking regularly, it will soon become a habit. Consider these tips for encouraging children to drink:
- Consider flavourings: natural flavourings are not the end of the world and can be nutritious. Offer a slice of lemon, lime or even cucumber to give plain water a fruity twist.
- Set a standard: being a good role model to kids is key to getting them to get involved. Ditch teas and coffees for your own glass of fresh water as often as possible. The more teachers and parents are seen drinking water, the more it becomes something the children will ask for.
- Make it accessible: water coolers and drinking fountains provide fresh, cold drinking water on demand. Coolers in classrooms and corridors provide children with easy access to top up their water bottle and means there really is no excuse not to keep hydrated.
Keeping kids hydrated throughout the school day is beneficial for their attainment but also ensures the risk of dehydration is minimised. Providing a fresh supply of drinking water for all nursery and school pupils, as well as in colleges and further education institutes, is essential and it can have a positive impact on learning as well as health.