Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, who studies child development, says memorization is not a sign of genius."Children come wired to make these associations to learn," Dweck said.
Dweck, the author of "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," agrees that the kinds of memory skills demonstrated by these kids are impressive and unusual.
Dweck cautioned though that "it's not what you would call a prodigy. A prodigy is someone who has a deep precocious understanding of something — of numbers, words, music. They think in new ways, invent things."
A true prodigy is someone like Picasso or Mozart who was composing by age 5, or Tiger Woods who shot a 48 on a nine-hole course by the age of 2.
Don't worry, though, if your 2-year-old isn't showing signs of being a prodigy, says Dweck. And parents certainly don't need to tap into the $3.5 billion educational toy industry to make their youngsters smarter.
"We don't know who the future geniuses are," said Dweck. "Edison was not a genius as a boy. His passion made him a genius. Even Einstein wasn't a genius as a child. It's true — he was rather slow. People worried about him. But he had this passion for learning. He made himself into a genius."
It's funny to imagine that Einstein as a child may not have been able to successfully master all the Baby Einstein games named after him!
And what about telling your kids they're smart? Virtually all parents — 85 percent, according to a Columbia University poll — say it's important to tell kids they're smart. But even that can be harmful, according to most studies, sort of like telling a little girl how pretty she is. Experts say it's important for children to learn that it's not looks or brains that really matter. It's what you do with your talent that's important.
So, whether your child is a future Einstein, or just like the rest of us, here are some things parents can do to spark their children's inner genius.
Teach children that setbacks and mistakes are our friends. Work through them and learn from them.
Tell children that their brains are like muscles. The more you use it, the stronger it grows.
Praise them for their effort and improvement, not just their final results.
So for example, when Lilly learns a new country, we shouldn't applaud her, even though that's what Lilly clearly enjoys. Instead, say the experts, we should tell her, "Great job — you found it because you worked hard."
Finally, it's not enough just to memorize. Context and meaning is what marks real intelligence, say Dweck and others. For example, if you're learning the presidents, try also learning about each president. That's what Abby's done.
"There are some things that are really funny," she said. "Like Thomas Jefferson — he was trying to impress a girl so he jumped over a fence, but he tripped and damaged his right hand permanently, trying to impress a girl!"
Abby and Adrian and Lilly are, in many ways, just normal kids. Their parents say that is by design. But prodigies or not, we love to see them in action.