Thursday, January 17, 2008

Where Every Child is a Prodigy

This article explores the workings of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. The IAHP has written books for parents so that parents can learn how to do their own programs at home. Our programs are based on many of these teachings.

Where Every Child is a Prodigy
By John Piccone

Our society defines prodigy as a child with exceptional abilities developed at an exceptionally early age. Are prodigies children of rare ability, or have we just dumbed down our expectations for normal children to the point where children who fulfill their full potential as human beings are considered unusual or rare?

Curious Parents visited The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential (The Institutes) where children develop amazing talents and abilities. A six year old child enrolled at The Institutes reads Shogun with understanding. Other 6 year olds read Shakespeare's MacBeth and Hamlet. A 10 year old reads Tom Clancy novels with relish. Every year, the students at the Institutes perform the Mikado, a Gilbert & Sullivan opera about a Japanese prince who flees from an arranged marriage to fall in love with the betrothed daughter of a tailor. These children are not just reading or performing by rote, they are able to understand and articulate the nuances of plot and emotion not in the language of a university professor, but by enthusiastically describing the cool parts and giggling about the mushy parts.

How is all of this possible? Janet Doman, the Director of The Institutes and the daughter of founder Glenn Doman, explains that the human brain grows by use. The Institutes were founded to develop cures for brain injured patients. While mainstream treatments for stroke victims, children with Cerebral Palsy and other brain diseases were focusing on treating the symptoms, Glen Doman and his mentor Temple Fay, the renowned former Chief of Neurosurgery at Temple Hospital had the inspiration to treat the brain, the source of the illness. The pairs studies showed that patients achieved the best results when the brain was stimulated with frequency, duration and intensity. The Institutes continues a very active program of treatment for brain injured children, providing treatment for children at their global centers in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, Japan and Italy.

Doman and Fay's success with brain injured patients prompted the Domans to apply their methods to the development and education of healthy children. They reasoned that if injured brains could be improved and cured with frequency, intensity and duration of use, then why not improve the abilities and intelligence of healthy children through similar principles? Doman studied the neurological development of children and developed a program called How to Multiply your Baby's Intelligence. The program is delivered through either an on campus program for children ages birth through 14 or through a Mothers school where parents receive an intensive week of instruction in Philadelphia, Japan or Italy. The program draws students and families from all over the world and is delivered in four languages (Japanese, Spanish, Italian and English) through a staff of on site translators.

So how do normal children develop exceptional intellectual and athletic abilities at exceptionally early ages? First of all, their parents and other adults around them do not consider these abilities exceptional. All children have potential greater than we think and if the adults around them raise their own expectations of what's possible, the children are free to explore their potential.

Secondly, Children are born with self esteem, declares Janet Doman. A child's innate self esteem is augmented through achievement and success. The only way children lose it is if we take it away from them and you can't give it back to them other than by helping them progressively and consistently achieve and succeed. The staff at The Institutes avoid competition between individuals and focus the children on self improvement, where there is only an upside. Children are never told that an answer is wrong, rather they are asked to explain their reasoning, which is frequently creative and can be adjusted where needed.

Finally, an environment must be created to continually and robustly stimulate the intellectual and athletic development of the children. Most environments created for children are designed to accommodate the needs of adults rather than the potential of children's brains. The environment and activities of the child must be tuned for optimal neurological development rather than the convenience of parents or teachers. This is a full-time job and is not performed well by parents that are splitting their responsibilities between childrearing and other tasks. A tired, distracted parent has difficulty accomplishing all of their own responsibilities, much less designing and creating a stimulating environment for their children. Therefore, The Institutes recommends that one parent in each family be devoted full-time to raising the children the demanding program cannot be performed successfully with any less commitment of effort and attention.

Parents in the program are taught how to raise personal expectations of what their children are capable of, and are taught how to develop a customized, personalized path for the development of their child. The very practical and unconventional approach focuses on understanding what the child is learning and how they are thinking, rather than checking off boxes in a generic curriculum outline. One parent, after his child mastered reading the names of most of the objects in their home and needed a new challenge, re-labeled everything in Spanish so that his young child learned the vocabulary in two languages.

Critics of The Institutes, including many in the medical and educational establishments argue that intensive learning robs children of their childhood and that the children cannot conceivably be learning at the ages claimed by The Institutes. Janet Doman responds by describing the amazing abilities of the children in their programs and stating that children are natural learners and problem solvers. She describes how Children learn best through human biology is designed for children to absorb knowledge, experience and judgment early in their development and they enjoy doing, exploration and problem solving. Children feel rewarded and happy by achieving, learning and interacting.

Children have no predisposed notion that patty-cake is more fun than reading or math, and their opinions of such matters are influenced by their experience and the opinions of their parents. Will a child enjoy reading and mathematics if it is something that is shared through comfortable, secure interaction with a loving adult committed and devoted to them? In fact, children will feel better because they've had an enjoyable experience as well as learned and accomplished something. Janet Doman says that the myth of lost childhood applies more appropriately to children who are raised by a fatigued, stressed, distracted parent, without a plan, who fits the child in between everything else going on in their lives. Children being raised by a full-time parent devoted to designing and creating a developmental experience that maximally stimulates and nurtures the child are most likely to maximize their happiness, potential and self esteem.

The Institutes has an on campus program for healthy children. The early development program enrolls children from birth to 5 years and children from 6 years through 14 years enroll in the regular program. Fourteen year old graduates have a choice to attend either regular high school or proceed directly to community college. Most students elect to attend community college because they are more academically and emotionally mature than the typical high school student and they can complete a college curriculum by the time they reach eighteen years old.

For more information about the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, visit their web site or call them at 215-233-2050.

Thank you to my friend Joe Auteri who introduced me to The Institutes and who studied in their parenting program for his son.

John Piccone is the publisher of Curious Parent Magazine.

"O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger."
Psalm 8:1-2

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