Precocious children: products of hot housing or flukes of nature?

Among the gifts I received when Amanda was born, was a book by Japanese educator Makoto Shichida entitled, “Every child can be a genius.” Doubtful and sleep-deprived though I was at the time, I read page after page of this guide – in my mind, very extensive promotional material – on how to create a wunderkind out of the progeny of my modest loins.

I noted that there were no pictures of esteemed graduates, certainly no reference to their glorious achievement in adulthood, and most first names of children quoted were abbreviated to a single letter followed by a full stop. Notwithstanding, in the interest of science and my Chinese side making itself felt, by me not wanting to be left out, I studied some of the proposed techniques.

First up, I was to make a series of flashcards. Only a couple hundred of them to stun my newborn with, for a few minutes each time, as many times as possible in a day. Surely I could do that in between breastfeeding since the person who gifted it to me could help her children, one then in preschool, to memorise Chinese classics everyday. I made the first fifty flashcards when Amanda turned two and then abandoned them in favour of virtual ones, which I bought off the net after googling.

Worried that as the book said, my child’s brain was switching from right to left orientation and thus going from unhampered creative genius to humdrum normality that makes up most of everyday life, I read to her for hours daily as my now sore head was propped up on several pillows. Perhaps, without a friendly neighbourhood Shicida centre to go to, where followers of this method can expect to part with several thousands a year, I was living in fear of Amanda missing out on all the supposed benefits; among them photographic memory, sharp imagination, perfect intuition, the ability to speak multiple languages, superior IQ, musical talent, artistic ability and most contentious of all, outstanding personality.

So does this really work? Piggybacking on the Shichida philosophy, my inspired tutelage produced a well-adjusted, if regular child. Even though Amanda knew the alphabet at 2 and had a vocabulary ten times that of her peers, speaking in complete sentences, counting and recalling up to a hundred books word-for-word as they appeared on a page, I am unconvinced that the end result is any different to if I had just taken a more organic approach; bringing her to playgroup and leaving her in a sand pit, which I also did.

As for the well-meaning person who gave me the book, I have to report that although she thinks her second, who benefited the most from this method, is Einstein reincarnate, he is to the casual onlooker but an ordinary kid. I have yet to hear of him skipping grades, or speaking Swahili, or having invented anything worthy of the Nobel Prize. Of course, he’s only eleven. However, if you consider that the IQ of most immediate family members is within 5 to 10 points of each other, and that the average IQ falls in a bell curve between 90 and 110, that is unsurprising. For those among us who are envious of the intellectually gifted, we can take comfort that Mozart outgrew his precocity and though still a musical genius, died almost penniless as interest in his music in adulthood never quite matched the hype and fame of his talent as a child.