From Mozart in the womb to Chinese lessons in preschool, there are many parents eager to give their kids a jump-start on the sort of smarts our modern-day lifestyle equates with success. Sure, we talk about too much pressure, overscheduling, test stress, why can't kids just be kids anymore, dang it. But few of us are immune to the competitiveness that seems to have gripped every playground and preschool birthday party in America. Foreign languages are the new ABC's, kindergarten is the new second grade, 90 is the new 80. “I remember sitting in a play area with another mom when my son was a toddler. The other mom was crowing: ‘My child knows the whole alphabet. She can count to twenty,’” recalls Kimberly Brenneman, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Rutgers University's National Institute for Early Education Research and education adviser on PBS's Sid the Science Kid—clearly no academic slouch herself. “I knew my boy would learn all that eventually. But there was still that part of me that said ‘Crap! Why can't I say that about my child?’”
Somehow, in spite of this genius-mania, U.S. students are struggling to keep up with their international peers. Our children's performance lags behind as we watch countries like Finland, Singapore, and South Korea churn out the next generation of math and science whizzes, the very skills our new digitally driven landscape requires. Where have we miscalculated when it comes to smartening up our kids? And when we say that a child is smart, what do we mean?
Sometimes it's simply that she started talking early, or that she wrote her name when others her age could barely wield a crayon. But other times…it's that je ne sais quoi. The kid has it: a curious, intuitive, natural maturity that makes her stand out.
Last fall, when Steve Jobs, the renowned head of Apple and the brains behind the most prized of digital tools, passed away, pundits around the world sought to define exactly what made him so brilliant. The answers they often came up with seemed grayer than the computer boxes Jobs so magically transformed. However you perceive intelligence, the assumption about those who possess it is that they will ace not only tests but life.
But can it be measured? And what can you do to help your child get it? Read on to find out how you can develop the genius in your child, from her performance in school to how a trip to the store can be a chance to build vocabulary, math skills, and money smarts.