GETTING TO KNOW… Singapore’s genius kids

Talented in maths or music, these superstar kids and their mums tell us what it’s like to shine…

Musical maven

Madeline

Once she started crawling, Madeline Goh, now 7, would make a grab for her older sister’s violin. Today, this mini-maestro holds her own as a violinist — receiving the platinum award at the Singapore Music Teachers Association’s 5th Singapore Performers' Festival.

Madeline may smile sheepishly for the camera during the photo shoot, but she is clearly in her element when she’s cradling her violin. Her parents, Leow Pey Yun, 44, a stay-at-home mum, and Gregory Goh, 46, a scientist, noticed that their rhythmic toddler daughter would sway and dance to music.

At age 3, they enrolled her in Wolfgang Violin Studio’s Baby Beats pre-violin class, where her teachers put her in the trailblazer class after spotting her abilities. Today, the soft-spoken Primary 1 pupil at Methodist Girls’ School is mentored by Min Lee, Wolfgang’s programme director, and a child music prodigy herself.

Pey Yun, who had played the piano in her salad days — “It was one of those things where my parents made me learn and I just had to complete my grade 8, then stop totally” — was pleasantly surprised when her daughter took quickly to the string instrument.

She says, “I’ve always wanted them to learn music — to enjoy it, appreciate it and relax to it. But I gave them the choice of instrument — they didn’t necessarily have to learn the piano, like I did.”

As to why she wanted to play the violin, Madeline admitted to wanting to follow in the footsteps of her older sis, Mathea, 14, who completed her music diploma two years ago.

These days, the “M&M sisters” often play together, and a YouTube video of the pair playing Getting to Know You, followed by a medley of songs from Disney’s Aladdin, has garnered more than 500 hits. Madeline also plays during celebrations, such as for her grandmother’s 80th birthday and her kindergarten graduation ceremony.

This pint-sized performer loves entertaining others so much, she has even busked at farmer’s markets while holidaying in the UK and Australia. Pey Yun chuckles, “She just loves performing!”

Like most 7-year-olds, Madeline can’t quite decide what she’d like to be when she grows up — “There are so many things I like doing!” — since she is also into rhythmic gymnastics, swimming, singing and ballet.

Though she has weekly violin lessons — two to three times during the competition period — “I don’t think I practise three hours a day as my teacher asks me to,” she giggles.

On her part, Pey Yun tries to maintain a balance between letting her gifted girl go as far as she can, while teaching her that she’ll need to work hard if she wants to be good at anything.

“I don’t pressure her, but try to instil the discipline to practise and work hard. She should continue as long as she enjoys it,” she beams.

Fast worker

andrew

At 11 months, Andrew Lee was able to walk unaided; at 18 months, he could read two syllable words; by age 4, he was pedalling around on a two-wheel bike when most of his peers were still tooling around on trikes. Now 8, he lists chemistry and computer coding as his current interests.

When Jenn Lee, 42, a full-time blogger shares her young son’s achievements with others, she takes pains to be extra-careful. This is because she does not want little Andrew to be placed in a “special group of people”, just because his abilities far surpass that of his peers.

In fact, the Lees signed Andrew up for Mensa, so that he can talk to people who “speak the same lingo”. By the way, his polytechnic lecturer father, Andy Lee, 46, is a Mensa member, too.

When daddy brought home a science book recently, Andrew picked it up and devoured its contents. “It was so interesting — the periodic table and how everything, all the elements, make up everything in the universe,” he exclaims. Naturally inquisitive, the Primary 2 Kong Hwa School (a Special Assistance Plan institution) pupil tends to ask questions that even mummy finds hard to answer.

“Some people think we hot-house him and some label us as kiasu.”

“I have to look up the answers on the Internet,” Jenn laughs. He’s also musically inclined, has perfect pitch and is currently taking his grade 8 piano exams, having skipped grades 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7.

Jenn notes that it isn’t always a breeze raising such a bright child. “Some people think we hot-house him and some label us as kiasu,” she laments. “Some teachers even expect role-model behaviour from him, just because he can do his work well. It’s hard to manage because we can only tell him what social etiquette to adhere to,” she chuckles.

To support their son’s intellectual journey, the Lees have signed Andrew up for an online accelerated academic programme run by Stanford University, which offers virtual classrooms, as well as correspondence with lecturers via Skype. Their main concern is helping him learn more about the subjects he is interested in, Jenn says.

She adds, “We don’t want to pressurise him but we also don’t want to be too relaxed with him, in case he slips into complacency and is unwilling to take on new challenges in life.”

Meet a young boy who could recite the alphabet by age 1… next!

Mensa member

aiden

Before turning 1, Aidan Na was already able to recite the entire alphabet. By the time he was 20 months old, he could count to 100. Now 4, Aidan’s academic abilities continue to surprise his mum, Vivian Yeo, 37, a senior clinical-research manager, and dad, Allen Na, 38, a regional market development manager.

When both Aidan’s paediatrician and teacher at Julia Gabriel Education Centre suggested that he take an IQ assessment test, Vivian and Allen let him do so out of curiosity. After all, their bright little guy had started speaking before he turned 1 and could read simple words at 18 months of age.

Their older child, Charlotte, 6 (they have a third child, Michaela, 3 months), had certainly not displayed similar abilities, Vivian says, nor had anyone else in the family ever been tested for high IQ.

“We let Aidan get tested as we wanted to recognise if he’s special and requires special attention. We’d then be able to provide the resources for his needs,” she says. While his peers are just discovering basic colours and learning about shapes, Aidan is already learning all about complex polygons and 3D shapes.

He’s skipped a grade and now attends the K1 class at Pat’s Schoolhouse. The most difficult part of school? “When the teacher reads slowly and I want to learn things quickly,” he quips.

The bundle of energy says that besides drawing and painting, he also loves playing iPad games, especially those related to colours and numbers.

“He also navigates YouTube channels without guidance and watches videos related to the alphabet, shapes and numbers,” Vivian says.

“We try not to stress him out as we don’t want him to switch off”

While boys his age tinker with toy trains and cars, Aidan is more interested in numbers and puzzles. He’s can recite the pi constant although he’s only seen the number once. He also seems to grasp the Fibonacci sequence (a series of numbers where a number is found by adding up the two numbers before it).

“He’s keen on maths, an interest he shares with daddy, who exposes him to Primary school maths. But we try not to stress him out as we don’t want him to switch off,” Vivian notes.

The couple have also enrolled their son in Mensa as they believe the community will be able to offer him with a network of support, as well as intellectual resources.

Vivian notes that they are careful about handling Aidan’s emotional development as she’s read that children of higher intelligence tend to suffer from anxiety, unless they are around others who understand them. “He can be rather impatient and does not like to waste time — these are some things we’re trying to manage.

“Ultimately, we hope he finds that perfect career path and uses the gifts he has to contribute to society.”

Talent for art

gelyn

Besides raising a large sum of money for charity, Gelyn Ong, 10, has also written a children’s book about saving the rainforest which features her vibrant art. The Primary 4 Nanyang Primary School pupil has two younger sisters, Gelise, 3, and Giselle, 4.

It was clear to Genii Koh, who’s in her early 40s and a vice president in a watch company, that her eldest daughter loved art from the time she was 3 years old. At restaurants, she’d always be doodling in her little sketchbook while waiting for her food to arrive.

Today, Gelyn has already held three solo art exhibitions. At the same time, she has raised more than $600,000 for various charities (including the Make A Wish Foundation and All Saints Home) over the past three years.

This spirit of giving started when Genii started displaying several of Gelyn’s artworks at home and visiting friends would ask how much they cost.

“So, we talked to our friends and said, if you guys are keen, why not buy them and we’ll donate the money to charity?” Genii recalls. “We took it as a lesson for her to learn about compassion.”

The big-hearted girl, who has been a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) ambassador since 2012, has also written and illustrated a picture book to discourage the irresponsible cutting down of trees. All proceeds from the book sale went to WWF.

These days, Gelyn, who has private art lessons every Saturday, paints to relax — “If I have a lot of school work, I’d paint to take a break.” Her most recent “masterpiece” — a panda illustration, is being printed on bags that will be sold to raise funds for a Cambodian orphanage that her school will be visiting at the end of the year.

“I would love to continue doing art when I grow up, so that I can help the less fortunate with my paintings,” she states. “Otherwise, I’d also like to be a doctor as I want to save lives. The smiles on people’s faces make me happy.”

And she’s got the full support of mummy and daddy, David Ong, in his 40s and a director in an accounting firm. Genii notes, “I myself loved to paint and draw when I was younger, but my dad said I couldn’t make a proper living as an artist, so I didn’t pursue it further.”

She reckons that times have changed as Singapore is seeing an increasing emphasis on the arts. While she’s all for letting her daughter explore her ability — “Now that Gelyn is interested, I’m giving her the opportunity” — she isn’t about to go all Tiger Mum on her either.

“I’m happy that she’s doing what she likes. We don’t know if she’ll grow tired of it or what might happen in future. We’ll let nature take its course and leave it entirely to her,” she smiles.

The next kid scored A*s for two “O” level maths papers — at age 9. Read on!

Maths whiz

anthony

The Yips must certainly have found the right formula for producing bright sparks. Their elder children — Michelle, 19, and Bryan, 21 — both entered medical school ahead of their time. The youngest, Anthony, now 11, aced two “O” Level maths papers at age 9.

Even for a 16-year-old, scoring A*s for two “O” level maths papers is no mean feat, but Anthony did just that when he was only 9 and a Primary 4 pupil at Henry Park Primary School. He’d just had three months’ worth of twice-a-week private lessons before acing these exams.

As his parents, Dr Kevin Yip, 52, an orthopaedic surgeon, and Dr Joanna Lin, 50, an oncologist, had wanted to see if Anthony was a prodigy like his siblings, they signed him up at the British Council to take these papers as a private candidate.

Bryan is now a third-year medical student in Melbourne, while Michelle is a second-year medical student at Cambridge.

Noting that Anthony had also seemed bright from a young age. Joanna notes, “He was reading the junior encyclopaedia when he was 5 and start talking to us about mathematics problems he had picked up from the Internet.”

“Sometimes, it’s just a question of giving them opportunities to excel. There’s no harm in trying something that gives them that little self-confidence.”

So, what’s her parenting philosophy on raising smart kids? “I think our kids are bright innately, but they’re also very hardworking,” she says.

While all kids are born with a certain level of intelligence, what’s more important is their work ethic, she adds, “Sometimes, it’s just a question of giving them opportunities to excel. There’s no harm in trying something that gives them that little self-confidence. When they get the confidence, they’re actually motivated to do more.”

In his free time, the Primary 6 pupil, who has just taken his PSLE, enjoys reading history, adventure, as well as science fiction and fantasy books. He’s also interested in astronomy, swims, plays tennis and takes part in triathlons — an interest he shares with mummy and his siblings.

Joanna says she has no plans to put Anthony on an accelerated track at present. “He's got a place at Raffles Institution via the Direct School Admissions exercise and he’s happy to do that for now!”

This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of Mother & Baby Singapore.

You may also like…

DAD SAYS My P1 son is finally adapting

Study-smart guide to PSLE success — Maths

8 surprising skills your tot learns in preschool