From Mozart to Mensa

    Playgroups, music lessons, art classes, dance lessons and celebrity tutors are big business in Hong Kong, and it’s no wonder. Standardised examinations that determine whether or not a child can further his or her studies drive many Hong Kong parents in a desperate hunt for a shortcut to a higher IQ.

    Cue the stacks of music CDs that promise to create instant geniuses. The producers of Baby Mozart in particular claim that passively listening to music will improve your child’s intelligence. It sounds too good to be true. So, is it?

    In 1993, Gordon Shaw, a physics professor at the University of California, Irvine, conducted a study on the effect of listening to Mozart’s music prior to taking a test. With university students as the subjects, the researchers discovered that students had indeed improved scores on spatial-temporal tests after listening to Mozart. However, the effect lasted just ten to 15 minutes.

    The results of “The Mozart Effect” have been difficult to replicate in subsequent experiments. Even Shaw said in an interview with Forbes Magazine that the hype has nothing to do with reality.

    Kathryn Eagle, founder of Sensational Baby, which specialises in classes that help parents learn how to stimulate their baby’s sensory development, says, “In my opinion, exposing babies and children to a wide range of different stimuli, including a varied selection of music, can only be beneficial to them. However, the claims made by some that simply listening to classical music will make your baby smarter seem rather sweeping to me. The brain develops through experience and repetition of those experiences to build neural connections, so I believe it is important to expose your baby to a whole variety of sensory experiences.”

    If listening to music alone is not enough, then what would be?

    Another study at the University of Toronto suggests that it is not passive listening that increases a child’s IQ, but rigorous learning. Study author E Glenn Schellenberg says, “We don’t have any evidence that music is unique in this regard … but, on the other hand, it’s certainly not bad for you. Our studies suggest that extracurricular activities are indeed enriching to development.”

    Kathryn adds, “In its first year, a baby’s brain doubles in size thanks to the amount of neurons created through life experience. Babies exposed to visual, auditory, tactile, taste and spatial and movement activities are ready to explore the world and are more active and creative.”

    Providing babies with different stimuli early has its benefits. Kathryn explains, “A strong sensory base helps babies process the information they need to thrive. Classes like Sensational Baby give parents opportunities to embrace and capitalise on each of their baby’s new developmental stages.”

    In Hong Kong, where many children spend a large amount of time with their helper, parents might also consider training courses and baby groups, such as those run by maternity professionals like Annerley, where the helper is guided in stimulating activities for babies. Like most things in life, there are no shortcuts when it comes to learning.


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