A Mumbai couple is making a case for accelerated learning for toddlers in a bid to tap into their genius before it's too late
The Instagram account of Raising Superstars, run by Mumbai couple Shraddha and Raghav Himatsingka, is scattered with short, snappy videos of infants scooping up uncooked rice grains, plucking leaves off stems and getting their hands dirty with edible goop. While it might appear to be simple, messy baby play, there's more, says the couple. The cache of activities has been designed to encourage learning and help toddlers use all their senses to explore ideas that might be too abstract without tactile assistance.
The Himatsingkas are the founders of The Prodigy Baby, an online programme of engaging exercises that they claim help "unlock a baby's hidden genius". Designed for children between the age of three and 24 months, it includes a three-month plan that covers athleticism, math, reading, knowledge, memory, language development, logic, creativity, music, personality and character development. Here, the parent is expected to invest 30-45 minutes of time once a week to watch the videos, along with spending 10 minutes daily with their baby for the activities. No device or screen time is part of the plan, making this an idea they say is being attempted for the first time, globally. The couple has applied for a provisional patent for the venture.
After incorporating their research in practice, the Himatsingkas say their son Prabal started showing results week on week. He began crawling at three months instead of the usual eight, walking at eight months instead of 12, reading at 24 months
Raghav explains that a baby's brain is biologically different from that of an adult. "When we [adults] think, our thoughts flow in some language—whether it's English, Hindi, or any other—and in sequence, one after another. But, babies don't know a language at birth. Their thought process, therefore, is abstract. They are able to process thousands of thoughts at the same time. It's because of this ability that a baby's brain is exponentially superior." Raghav, who studied Industrial Engineering at Georgia Tech, and later got a Masters degree in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University, returned to India to join his family business in 2009.
The idea of launching an entrepreneurial venture occurred organically after the birth of his son Prabal, two-and-a-half-years ago. "While we knew about the concept of accelerated learning and early development, we decided to start with our own research only then," he says. The duo spent over 1,500 hours researching the subject, referencing books, videos and films to examine learning acceleration techniques. They were determined to unlock the child's potential before it could get systemically lost due to "synaptic pruning". When a baby turns two, the brain becomes 75 per cent as heavy as an adult brain—a fascinating development when considered in proportion to the size of its small physical self. Which explains why children are able to pick up a foreign language in record time as compared to adults. "The brain thus seeks to become efficient, and starts a process called synaptic pruning whereby it rapidly starts pruning neural connections in the brain that it deems unnecessary. This is essentially like the brain shedding the abilities it was born with. This equals the baby losing its genius abilities," says Raghav. According to reports, for long, neuroscientists believed that neural pruning ended shortly after birth. "But in 1979, the late Peter Huttenlocher, a neurologist at the University of Chicago, demonstrated that this excess production and pruning strategy actually continues for synapses long after birth," writes Irwin Feinberg, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of California, Davis, in online journal, scientificamerican.com. Raghav says babies who undergo such learnings in their early years bear superior abilities for life. "I'm sure you remember that one person in school who was always good in sports, or a classmate who would ace elocution and debates year on year. It's not because of their genes. It's because these kids, knowingly or unknowingly, developed their skills before 'synaptic pruning' in the brain destroyed their abilities forever."
Manavi Mehta, life coach and mother to Ivaan, 6 months
That said, the trimming down process is natural and essential as the brain decides which connections are important to keep, and which can go, he adds. "What's deemed superfluous, is eliminated." Shraddha says parents are given a detailed lowdown about the programme at the outset; that it's not about turning your child into a Lionel Messi or Beethoven, but helping them leapfrog into a superior learning curve far above the average child. "Every child is unique. While we cover a range of skills, some babies show a natural inclination towards a certain activity, whether music or athleticism. It's the child's prerogative to pick what he or she enjoys. There's no coercion. Another factor is the parents' involvement and enthusiasm, because babies tend to mimic their behaviour. So, if the parents are showing more interest in music, they tend to pick on the cues."
Ivaan Mehta seen here finger painting, but it’s flash cards say his parents, that have caught his fancy
Entrepreneur Sahil Mehta, who is setting up a pharmaceutical manufacturing unit at Odisha, with wife Manavi, a life coach, signed up for the Raising Superstars programme in July. According to them, their six-month-old son Ivaan has already taken a fancy to booster cards. "We show him booster cards and read out the words or tell him what animals, fruits and vegetables are depicted on the flash cards. It's his favourite activity and he never wants it to stop. Every time we put the flash cards away, he throws a fit," laughs Manavi. The couple is also ensuring that Ivaan is exposed to everyday sounds such as doorbells, car ignition and horn, the call of animals, and to music by Mozart. He also hears a new French song every week. "We find that he's able to communicate his likes [and dislikes], needs and wants more clearly. He is also able to pick up words quite quickly. We are definitely seeing an eagerness to learn in him."
Dipika Panjabi and her son, Ayaan
While the founders were involved in offline sessions for two years, the online programme has helped make it accessible. Mauritius-based Dipika Panjabi, the head of a public relations agency, says she started tummy time—placing a baby on the stomach while awake and supervised— when her son was two and a half months old. She says she should have started it earlier. "But through simple exercises, I could see that he has started pulling himself up and moving faster. It is not only helping develop his muscles, but is also promoting motor skills."
Five-month-old Ayaan during a bubble wrap play session. The activity is aimed at having the child experience different textures, and helping with dexterity and pincer grip
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