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 +

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The beginnings of scientific curiosity.

Children are a distillation of human curiosity. On their tongues may be heard questions that adults would never think to ask, partly because many adults have stopped actively thinking about the world around them: they just take it for granted. Therefore, the most interesting of questions, can often come from the youngest of interrogators.

Recently, Fintan, 9, has displayed a notable increase in the number of scientific questions, he asks. This is not an entirely expected development since his early interests were elsewhere than science.

A couple of weeks ago, at bedtime, Fintan spoke into the darkness, his voice most thoughtful.

“Daddy: can you shoot bullets in space?”

What a wonderful question, I thought, before answering.

“Yes, in fact the bullet in space would go faster and further than in the atmosphere, because there would be no air to slow it down. What I mean is that if you shoot a bullet in the air, it is at its maximum speed as it leaves the gun. Then it begins to slow down owing to friction with the air. In space, it just wouldn’t slow down.”

The silence was ruminative as he listened to me.

“However,” I continued, “that assumes that you are using an explosive for the bullet that doesn’t need oxygen to work. As long as that is so, you can shoot bullets in space.”

I thought this a very interesting moment, for it called to mind the periods of questioning that Ainan went through and Tiarnan is going through – and the flavour of the question is much the same, too. Perhaps, an interest in science might prove to be universal in my children – which makes me wonder whether it is potentially universal in all children. Do parents snuff out an interest in science, by not answering a child’s questions and engaging with them properly? Why is science seemingly a minority interest, when the questions of children can be so scientific, at their core?

I like the style of question that Fintan comes out with. Typically he identifies, in his question, a problem that is not immediately explicable, or sometimes seems contradictory or impossible, at first glance. His mind is attracted by the exceptional and the bizarre, as well as the mysterious in everyday life. This is a valuable kind of thinking since it is often in an interest in such phenomenon that new things will be noticed – if not new to the world, at least new to the child – and in such thinking such thoughts, does a mind grow and does a child’s conception of the world, deepen.

I am left with one thought, though. What would it be like for my children asking so many scientific questions – as they all do or have done – were I a typically scientifically illiterate parent? Were such a circumstance so, I would be unable to answer their questions, their curiosity would go unfed and it is quite possible that their questioning tongues, would eventually fall silent as they learnt, by disappointing experience that it was pointless to ask, or think of such matters, since no enlightenment would ever be forthcoming. In an uneducated household, the scientifically curious child may find their minds stifled. We are fortunate, therefore, that I lived a childhood of scientific curiosity myself – for that experience has better prepared me for the challenge of raising scientifically curious children. Of course, I am not unaware that one circumstance may cause the other: that being disposed to science, may be reflected in one’s genes, and so, too, reflected in the children. Not only that, but one’s interest (an environmental factor), may spark the interest of the children. I think, however, it is more genetic than environmental, since I have never pushed my interests on to my children, but have always waited for them to take the initiative by asking relevant questions: I have let their characters emerge naturally. Thus it is, I see some genetic influences at work, in how their minds are formed and in the ways in which their thoughts are guided to certain kinds of curiosity.

In all, the situation is very rewarding. For I get to have the chance to nurture minds akin to my own, in some way, just as once I attempted to nurture my own mind, largely unaided (since the nature of my interests created an enforced self-reliance on the matter). It is pleasing that, at least, I can be there for my children, when their curiosity strikes.

Carry on questioning, Fintan...and all my boys!

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:52 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your boys are so lucky to have parents who are able and willing to answer those sort of questions, Valentine.

While I think my family tried to answer questions up to a point, at school, I definitely recall being disappointed and rebuffed again and again in my various quests for knowledge and answers. I didn't know whether it was because the teachers didn't know, or whether it was done out of some misguided sense of "you're too young to understand things like that".

9:58 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, I do feel fortunate to have come prepared, as it were, for such questions.

You are right to note that some adults think youngsters "too young" to be answered or engaged with. This is never so. If a child is old enough to ask a question (and thus consider the concept for themselves) they are old enough, generally, to receive the answer.

I hope you are keeping well. Thanks for your comment.

11:20 PM  

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