The Making of a Baby Genius

I spent spent some time just watching the boy yesterday.

It was fascinating. I was watching him learn and grow before my eyes.

I watched him as he figured out how to use his sippy-cup. When he picked it up, it was upside down and water was slowly leaking out. He sucked on the bottom, and when he realised he wasn’t drinking, he paused and thought things through.

His face took on a quizzical look as he studied the cup, moved it around then furrowed his brow some more.

Eventually he grabbed the cup’s handles, turned it right way up, put his lips over the sipper and sucked. He was rewarded immediately, and he grinned as he drank.

It wasn’t a difficult task – he hadn’t figured out the theory of relativity or discovered a cure for cancer – but he found a problem and solved it.

Then he figured out a way to wriggle himself into a position where, if he stretched out far enough, he could grab my cellphone.

First, he stuck it in his mouth, which is what he tends to do with pretty much anything these days. Then he stared at it for a bit, and began pressing the buttons. Each button made a noise, so he kept on pressing.

In the end, I had to take the phone from him, just in case he dialed the fire brigade or put in a call to the cops.

Does anybody else get impressed by stuff like that? Or am I becoming soft in my ever-encroaching middle age? Am I the only one who thinks babies can be pretty amazing? Or have I become a nutty Dad?

Because, after half an hour of sitting back and watching, I was proud of my boy. Without my help he’d solved two problems just by thinking them through.

A lot of people think babies are dumb. But that’s just not the case – all you have to do is spend some time with them to realise they’re pretty smart, all things considered.

There seems to be a lot of pressure on parents to make their kids smart. We’re told to buy the latest Baby Einstein DVD, or the latest educational toy. If we don’t, our kids won’t ever be able to count or read.

We’re told to read them Shakespeare before they go to bed, and to sing them complex haiku. And if we don’t do these things, then we’re bad parents and our kids will grow up to be hoodie-wearing, fencepost-tagging juvenile delinquents.

But I read a couple of stories this week that dispel the notion that we have to make our kids smart. Turns out, they make themselves smart, and they don’t need much help from us.

All they need is a bit of support, and the chance to explore and create in whatever way they see fit.

Not that long ago, many experts thought that kids were just poor imitations of grown-ups. There was very little going on upstairs – pooing, peeing, sleeping, eating and not much else.

Turns out, kids – in many ways – are smarter than us. And they’ve attained that superior level not through watching the documentary channel or listening to books on tape. They’ve done it through looking, listening and thinking for themselves.

And they are almost always thinking. They have to be – it’s not like they have a massive knowledge base to fall back on. We see this in the boy on an almost daily basis.

His latest trick is throwing his toys onto the floor, then trying to figure out a way to get them back. At first, he’d try and crawl towards them, but that took him far too long and meant he had to compete with the dog, who moves faster and has bigger teeth.

But he’s now figured out that all he needs to do is throw his toys, scrunch up his face in a certain sort of way, then look at me. And just like that, he’s got his toys back. That’s smart.

The boy has a favourite teddy bear. If you press a button in the bear’s paw, you get to hear me sing a verse of The Wheels on the Bus.

For the longest time, he couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from. Now, after watching the wife and I press that paw over and over again, he’s worked it out. And now, when he wakes up, he reaches for his bear and presses its paw. He thinks it’s hilarious.

It must be a wonderful feeling, having a mind not tainted by bitterness or prejudice or misplaced beliefs. It must be great not being constrained by long-held ideas or thoughts.

It must be great having an open mind to just about everything.

By the time we become adults, we are constrained by our own thinking and have limited our minds to what we already know or what we think we will need to know.

Babies aren’t like that. They are blue-sky thinkers, free to consider all possibilities.

I think that might just make them smarter than us.

When I think about it, I’m a little bit jealous of the boy.

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