The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Singapore Zoo: a day out.

Yesterday we went to Singapore zoo with Tiarnan, sixteen months and Fintan, three.

Now, Tiarnan had never been to a zoo before and his reactions were most interesting. When he was taken to the White Tiger enclosure, he looked inside at its green expanse and seemed puzzled: he didn't know what he was supposed to see. It was about a minute of looking around, until, one sudden moment of perception, he saw the two big cats basking in the Sun. His face split wide in his enthusiastic grin, the one he saves for when he is very happy, and he pointed at the White Tigers. They were, indeed, beautiful - and it is somewhat saddening to read, elsewhere, that there are as few as 7,000 tigers (of all kinds) left in the world today. 100 years ago, that total was over 100,000. Someone has been doing a lot of hunting.

There were several instances of Tiarnan's behaviour that are worth remarking on. Throughout he was very intense, with a slight frown as he looked at the animals, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing: these strange looking animals were actually alive and moving.

On one occasion, Tiarnan excitedly pointed at a metal bin and said, very clearly: "Zebra!". We looked at the bin. It was black and white striped, like a Zebra. It was a funny moment - and an enlightening one, too. Tiarnan has never seen a Zebra in the flesh - but he recognized its coat pattern when suggested in paint. That speaks well of his visual perception - and ability to associate.

Later he saw actual Zebras and he was reduced to pointing and going "OOOH!", so excited was he.

At one time, he pointed and said: "Crocodile!" and looking where he had pointed, we saw a TV monitor, with a crocodile showing. I find it interesting that he is already able to name and identify animals of all kinds - and yet he had never seen any in the flesh, until yesterday.

I will save Fintan's zoo behaviour for another post.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:48 AM  0 comments

Friday, May 25, 2007

Understanding the gifted child

Do adults understand gifted children? I have reason to doubt that they do so. Many adults interpret gifted children as they would an adult - but this leads to a failure to understand the dimension of a child's gifts, even if the child compares well to an adult.

Why do I say this? Well, because from what I have gathered on the net, there are adults who are dismissive of the achievements of gifted young children because they expect an educated adult to be able to do the same thing! The thinking that informs such a viewpoint constitutes a special class of mindlessness, for it shows no imaginative understanding of the child's perspective at all.

Let me give you an example. Say you have a baby. This baby has perhaps recently learned to walk and is less than a year old. You note that this baby has a strange habit of touching objects and saying a particular sound to itself, as it touches the first object, a different sound as it touches the second object and so on. It does this strange procedure with many different kinds of objects, but the sequence of sounds is always the same. After a while, you come to understand that the baby is counting and has, in fact, invented its own number system. Yet, you are further puzzled, because the baby is so young that it never occurred to you to try to teach it about numbers and it has never heard counting. So, this baby has invented counting for itself. To those who understand gifted children, this would indicate a truly astonishing degree of native mathematical gift and could foretell a great mathematical mind to come. Yet, to those class of people who like to attack and diminish gifted children (and they do exist - though they are characteristically ungifted adults, themselves - and so come from a position of not understanding what gifted children are, never having been one): this is dismissed by such words as: "Sure anyone can count."

Yes, this is true. Anyone can count - but how many people could have INVENTED COUNTING?
For that is what our baby example has done: it has invented counting. The dimension of this achievement is truly huge. Yet, many adults would fail to understand this, because they impose their understandings of an adult on the child. That is not how to understand a gifted child. One must look at the world from their perspective and see what they know and what they are proceeding to think, based on their known knowledge base. If a child is demonstrating the capacity to imagine areas of thought which are new to them - even if known to adults - then that child is showing great gift. Such children may have the capacity to think of entirely new ideas, in the course of their lives - and make a creative contribution to the world. For it is the same way of thinking that leads to new ideas, that led them to discover known ones, from the much lesser knowledge that they possess (which does not include the proposition they have come up with).

So, to understand a gifted child, imagine the world from their perspective - for then you will be able to truly see the dimension of their giftedness. It is only a foolish adult who fails to do this. Such an adult will never see gifted children for what they are: gifted.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and six months, and his gifted brothers Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, sixteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:34 AM  0 comments

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tiarnan in the playground

Today, Tiarnan, sixteen months, was in the playground. It was early evening and, while playing, he noted something which drew his attention.

Across the playground, some ten metres or so, away, there was a newspaper on the ground. Curiously, he stopped playing and ran towards, bending down to pick it up. His mother, who was watching, assumed that he was going to play with it, and worried about him getting dirty, for it was an old paper. But no, Tiarnan had other ideas.

He took the paper and ran across the playground to where a tall, metal bin, stood. Then he stretched up and threw the paper into it.

This rather surprised his mother, for she hardly expected a boy of sixteen months, to start tidying up his environment.

He then surveyed the playground, in the growing gloom, for further detritus to remove, spotted some and set about doing the same thing with this new rubbish. He roved about the playground picking up rubbish and throwing it in the bin (which he could barely reach).

As I write, I am beginning to think that it is rather refreshing, for any parent, to have a toddler who actually TIDIES up a space. As anyone who has ever been a parent will know, they are usually excessively gifted in the "making a mess" department.

Let's hope he makes a habit of it!

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:10 PM  0 comments

Babelfish: page translation for you.

Scientific child prodigy is attracting many readers from non-English speaking countries. In the light of this I have added a translation engine to the page. Although, it will give a general sense of what I am writing, the translation will not be such as to render the meaning, exactly, if my trials are anything to go by. However, it may allow you to come to some understanding of the page, if English is not your strong point.

Please feel free to comment about your experiences with the translation engine. Is it useful? Should I keep the feature? Is the quality high enough to allow you to gather the basic meaning?

I would welcome your thoughts.

Meanwhile, wherever you come from, I hope you enjoy the blog. There is much to read - so happy reading!

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:09 PM  2 comments

Photo of Ainan, aged six.

For my many Spanish speaking visitors, today, who have read the articles in 20 Minutos and La Vanguardia, here is a photo of Ainan, since I note that neither article ran a photo.

He is aged six, here, showing his early work on chemical equations, a year ago. We found him spontaneously drawing on the board, these chemical thoughts and decided to take a photo of him with his work, to capture it for posterity.

I know the photo is small - but I don't have access to any others from here. I will try to upload more later for you all. Thanks.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, now aged seven years and six months old, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, sixteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted and gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:33 AM  0 comments

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ainan invents mathematical theories and formulae

Ainan, seven, has developed a new interest, apart from Chemistry: Mathematics. He is approaching this with the same zest with which he has investigated Chemistry. Some of the early results of his approach are interesting.

Ainan is not one to sit idly by and absorb the thinking of others, without contributing his own. He is now actively experimenting with Maths, as he does with Chemistry - though this time the results are mathematical observations, formulae or theories, of some kind.

He also studies everything scientifically or mathematically, viewing it with his particularly insightful gaze. For instance, here is his take on TV watching:

Yesterday, as we were walking through a park landscape (as we like to do), he turned to me and said: "Daddy, I have come up with a formulae for the probability that only one person is watching a particular TV programme at any one time." He then told me the formulae, describing it in words and slashing motions in the air as he drew it before him.

I continued the rest of the walk in the park, in a ruminative silence, pondering the fact that my son should see the world through such scientific and mathematical eyes, that he cannot even watch TV without coming up with a formula for it.

Sometimes, I think being a father is the most interesting "job" in the world.

By the way, I should point out that Ainan has not been taught probability, but is working this out for himself. I had one comment which I am not publishing which noted that probability is a known phenomenon and therefore not invented. It is not known to Ainan: he thought of it himself. Also, his particular application is unique to him. I wonder sometimes at the lack of insight of some people: they don't look at the world from a child's perspective and realize that if a child works out probability for themselves that is a BIG step. It is very different from an adult applying a formula which somebody taught them at school. The latter situation (to which the commenter was comparing the situation), requires no thought or intelligence at all: a very different situation.

This leads to a general thought. When coming to understand a child, first understand their perspective and the knowledge base that they are proceeding from. Otherwise you really won't get any insight at all.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and five months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three and Tiarnan, sixteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults, in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:48 PM  0 comments

Welcome visitors from Spain.

I have noticed an upsurge in visitors to my blog from Spain. If there has been publication of any article on Ainan, in Spain, please let me know what it is. Thanks.

In the meantime, welcome to my family blog. I write much on giftedness, child prodigy, genius and education - and in particular of my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley and his gifted brothers.

There is much to read so feel free to look around and come again. I would also welcome your comments, though try to write them in English, please!


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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:08 PM  8 comments

Monday, May 21, 2007

Berita Harian, Singapore: front page news, again

Ainan was front page news, again, in Singapore, on the Berita Harian, on Saturday.

The Berita Harian had picked up on Ainan's latest development: the A level Practical Chemistry course at Raffles Junior College/Raffles Institution. For overseas visitors who don't know, Raffles is regularly voted the No.1 school in Singapore.

We were touched to note that Berita Harian, the Malay national daily of Singapore, had placed Ainan at the top of the front page, to the left, in the most prominent position. This kind of support that they are giving us, really helps in opening doors for Ainan and affording him the opportunities for development that he requires. It is much appreciated. Some of my readers have arrived on my blog after specifically searching for a supposed article by the Straits Times or Shin Min on the matter. However, neither The Straits Times (the English language daily) nor Shin Min (the Chinese daily) have picked up, yet, on this development - though they have covered other Ainan stories in the past.

I have decided to post the Berita Harian story here and will try to capture the other stories posted recently too, since I have discovered that newspapers don't keep stories active on their sites for long.

So here it is below. Forgive me that I haven't translated it. Perhaps I could get my wife to do so, sometime.

RI, RJC tawar Ainan lakukan kerja-kerja praktikal di makmal. OlehSoraya Salim

IMPIAN hampir menjadi kenyataan bagi budak tujuh tahun yang pintar dalam bidang kimia, Ainan Celeste Cawley. Hasratnya untuk menduduki peperiksaan subjek kimia GCE peringkat 'A' pada hujung tahun ini bakal tercapai kerana dia ditawarkan peluang melakukan kerja-kerja praktikal di makmal kimia oleh dua institusi terkemuka di sini.

Anak kacukan keturunan Ireland dan Melayu itu kini menerima bimbingan daripada dua guru kimia dari Raffles Institution (RI) dan Maktab Rendah Raffles (RJC).Dalam peperiksaan kimia GCE peringkat 'A', calon perlu menjalani ujian praktikal di makmal selain ujian teori.

Ainan mendapat perhatian ramai Mac lalu apabila berita dia lulus dalam peperiksaan kimia peringkat GCE 'O' disiarkan di akhbar. Meskipun hanya di darjah dua, pelajar sekolah rendah di kawasan Bukit Timah itu memperolehi gred 'C' dalam peperiksaan tersebut, iaitu markah antara 60 dengan 70 peratus.

'Sesi di makmal itu amat seronok sekali! Saya gemar melakukan semua eksperimen yang diajar. Kalau di rumah pun saya melakukan eksperimen tetapi menggunakan barang-barang dapur seperti serbuk penaik (baking powder),' kata Ainan ketika dihubungi.

Sejauh ini Ainan telah menjalani enam sesi praktikal di bawah bimbingan guru RI, Encik Ong Chian Jin, dan guru RJC, Encik Paul Cheong. Bahkan program yang dilaluinya itu telah dicipta khas untuk Ainan sendiri oleh kakitangan RI dan RJC di bawah satu program gabungan praktikal kimia kedua-dua institusi itu.

'Bagi bahagian teorinya pula, Ainan kini sedang belajar sendiri di rumah. Dia tidak menghadiri sebarang kelas di Raffles atau institusi lain.

'Akhirnya, pencarian selama 11 bulan untuk sebuah makmal kimia bagi Ainan sudah berakhir. Ini suatu berita yang amat menggembirakan kerana Ainan boleh melanjutkan pengajiannya dalam bidang kimia di peringkat lebih tinggi,' kata bapa Ainan, Encik Valentine Cawley, dalam satu e-mel kepada Berita Harian. Menurut ketua jabatan Bahasa Inggeris di Sekolah Linguaphone Education itu lagi, ini adalah perkembangan penting kerana ia akan membolehkan Ainan ke universiti dan melangkah setapak ke hadapan dalam mencapai impiannya menjadi seorang penyelidik sains.

Bakat Ainan dalam bidang kimia itu disedari Encik Cawley, 39 tahun, dan isterinya, Cik Syahidah Osman Cawley, 28 tahun, apabila dia berjaya memberi jawapan betul kepada semua soalan dalam buku teks kimia GCE 'O'.

Selain Ainan, pasangan itu mempunyai dua orang anak lagi - Fintan Nadym, tiga setengah tahun, dan Tiarnan Hasyl, satu tahun.

Ketika dihubungi kelmarin guru dari Jabatan Sains RI, Cik Theresa Lai, berkata pihaknya telah dimaklumkan tentang bakat Ainan oleh Cawangan Pendidikan Bijak Kementerian Pendidikan (MOE). 'Setelah bertemu dengannya, saya dapati Ainan memang seorang budak yang bijak. Apa yang saya perhatikan, ketika membuat ujian di makmal, dia dapat mengaitkan teori kimia dengan latihan praktikal yang dilakukannya dengan begitu pantas sekali,' katanya.
Menurut Cik Lai lagi, sebagai institusi yang mengambil 3 peratus pelajar terbaik, RI mempunyai peranan penting dalam mengembangkan bakat. 'Kami dapati setelah melalui sesi praktikal itu, minat Ainan dalam bidang kimia semakin membara!' katanya lagi.

Ainan yang memang gemar melakukan kajian sendiri di rumah itu juga sebelum ini telah diundang Universiti Teknologi Nanyang (NTU) untuk melawat sebuah makmal sains buat kali pertama.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:22 PM  0 comments

Is sweetness of character innate?

In this modern world, in which selfishness is the creed of almost all, few think of others. Fintan, three, however, is an exception.

Today, I took Fintan to the pool, while his brother Ainan was still at school. He played quite contentedly, even though the pool was largely empty. When it came time to go we went to the shop and bought a few things: including a drink for him and some chocolate sweets.

Curiously, as we were about to leave the shop, he said: "Can I hold the sweets?"

Those words struck me as odd: not, "Can I eat the sweets?" but "Can I hold the sweets?"

I thought at first he was being euphemistic, and that he meant to eat them, but, as we walked back home he held them in his hands, making no attempt to open them.

After a few minutes of this, I took them off him and said: "Would you like me to open them?"

He shook his head. "No. Because later my brother cry." He wouldn't, of course, but in Fintan's world that was something to be avoided. I was touched by his words. Here was a three year old who was very fond of his sweets, who wouldn't open a pack of chocolates because his older brother, Ainan, wasn't present to share in them.

"You are a nice boy, Fintan." I remarked, warmly.

He shook his head, at once, rather sharply, actually: "No, not nice: smart!" he corrected me. "Smart or good." he further elucidated.

It seems that he has already learnt to value smartness or goodness above niceness - which is a pity, in a way, since he is, in fact, of a very sweet character - so "nice" is a fair description.

So I walked all the way home with my smart, good and nice three year old son.

Once there, I offered to open the drink for him: "No." He shook his head, "Wait until my brother comes."

I smiled at that. Smartness and goodness he might prize - but he just can't stop being nice - even towards someone who wasn't there and who would never know that Fintan had made a sacrifice in his favour, in his absence - unless I told him so.

What a sweetie.

(If you would like to read more of Fintan, three, or his gifted brothers, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and five months, or Tiarnan, fifteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:03 PM  0 comments

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Child safety: window grilles, a life-saver

When we first bought our apartment on the top floor of an apartment block, it had beautiful uninterrupted views over a leafy area of Singapore, laden with old trees. Wonderful, you might have thought - but we didn't, not after our initial delight had been ambushed by a second thought. What was that second thought? That it was an awfully long way to fall down.

You see, the flat had balconies with windows that opened freely. An ambitious, athletic child could easily climb out of the windows - and fly briefly through the air to the ground below. We had young children to consider, so we went to considerable expense to obstruct our pristine views of a beautiful vista with what might seem like an ugly, black, gridwork of metallic grilles.

For a long time, they seemed to serve no purpose but to prevent us from fully enjoying the vantage of our apartment view - until the other day. Guess what my wife found, when she walked into the children's bedroom? Tiarnan, fifteen months, clinging to the grille, half-way between ceiling and floor, as they covered the open windows. Somehow he had climbed up a sheer perspex balcony covering, with no holds, to over three feet above the ground where the window grilles began. Then he had managed to pull his weight up and climb up to the open windows, covered only by the grilles. Had there been no grille, Tiarnan would have discovered the uglier side of gravity, pretty quickly.

So, if you have young children and a great view in an apartment on the second floor or above - don't hesitate to get grilles fitted. Yes, I know they are expensive - and ugly - but there will come a time when your children are able to climb up to open windows - and if that day comes and you do not have grilles, it could be the last day of your child's life. So get grilles, ugly or not.

Have a safe day - and watch those climbing babies. There is now nothing that Tiarnan won't climb - and no height or vantage he can't seem to reach. So, watch yours, too.

(If you would like to read more of Tiarnan, fifteen months, or his gifted brothers, including Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and five months, and Fintan, three, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 4:50 PM  1 comments

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