Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Sarai. Sarai Wonders, “Why are some people musical prodigies?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Sarai!
Do you enjoy looking back at old photographs and videos from when you were a young child? Most kids growing up today have lived their whole lives in the age of social media. That means there are probably many pictures and videos of the important moments in their lives.
Is there a video of you taking your first steps? How about learning to ride a bicycle? Even if it seems embarrassing today, you'll probably be glad one day that there's footage of your kindergarten class performance of Three Little Pigs.
You probably don't look back, though, and see pictures of your first performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra…or videos of your starring role in a Steven Spielberg movie…or an article about your first Nobel Prize…unless, of course, you happen to be a child prodigy.
Many kids are quite intelligent. You may be at the top of your class or part of a special gifted and talented program at your school. You could have advanced athletic abilities. You might even be able to play a few songs on the piano or guitar.
True child prodigies, however, are quite rare. Although there's no strict definition, many experts believe a child prodigy is someone who has developed professional abilities prior to the age of 10. That only happens in about one out of every 5-10 million people.
Child prodigies usually exhibit advanced abilities in fields such as mathematics, art, and music. Some researchers believe prodigies are born with special abilities, while others believe their abilities develop as a result of intense study and practice when encouraged by supportive parents.
More than likely, child prodigies result from a mixture of the two influences. Researchers have identified a few things that most prodigies tend to have in common: exceptional working memory, nearly-autistic attention to detail, and above-average intelligence.
Child prodigies also tend to have another defining characteristic known as the "rage to master." It's a dedicated, nearly-obsessive commitment to whatever field they happen to excel in. For example, this trait might reveal itself in the area of music in a desire to practice an instrument for hours on end every day.
A famous child prodigy you've probably heard of is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was born into a wealthy, musical family and was encouraged at an early age to explore music. He began playing the harpsichord at age three and composed his first piece of published music at age five. By the time he was a teen, he had already composed multiple concertos, sonatas, symphonies, and operas.
Pablo Picasso was another famous child prodigy. As the son of a painter, he had access to art supplies early in life. It is said he could draw before he could talk. He completed his first oil painting when he was just nine years old.
In the area of mathematics, you may have heard of a child prodigy named Blaise Pascal. As a child, he independently discovered almost all of Euclid's geometric proofs. He went on to design and build a mechanical calculator, as well as to experiment with fluid mechanics, perpetual motion, and atmospheric pressure.