Not Yet 2, Toddler Knows 61 Country Capitals
Meet the 18-month-old whose mastery of geography will blow your mind.
He’s just 18 months old but little Aanav Jayakar could probably best most adults in a geography bee. The Cleveland toddler knows the capitals of 61 countries and can point out nearly 30 countries on a map.
But don’t take our word for it — Jayakar’s parents have shared videos of their son demonstrating his amazing talents with their local newspaper.
His mother, Dr. Bijal Jayakar, says her tot finds real joy in geography.
“This morning, he came to me and said, ‘Mama, show me Turkey,’” and then pointed to Turkey on a map himself, Jayakar recently told BabyZone. “He was so excited.”
Jayakar said the family stumbled upon Aanav’s precocious interest when he was 15 months old. They were on a road trip and to entertain him, she asked if he knew the capital of India and then told him the answer, Delhi.
To Jayakar’s surprise, Jayakar echoed “Delhi.”
“I was fascinated that a 15-month-old kid just picking up the ABCs could say Delhi so well,” she said.
So she tried another capital — Bejiing, China. Jayakar quickly got the hang of saying Bejiing too. But soon, he wasn’t just repeating his mother’s answers — he was answering country capital questions on his own.
“Every day, I would teach him one to three new ones,” Jayakar said.”I would just tell him two to three times and it was engraved in his memory.”
Eventually, Jayakar said, she decided to buy him a map “so I can show him what we’re talking about.”
Aanav’s abilities have impressed child psychologists.
“The neurological wiring of 18-month-old Aanav’s brain is highly atypical,” said Dr. Fran Walfish, a child psychologist based in Beverly Hill, Calif. who learned of Aanav through BabyZone. “I have never ever seen anything like this!”
But Aanav is not the only geography whiz tot around. In 2009, two-year-old Aiden Silva appeared on the TV talk show “Regis and Kelly” to identify countries and capitals around the world.
Dr. Ingrid Crowther, a child development expert, said that one of the reasons kids like Aanav may enjoy learning country capitals — besides, that is, getting praise from their parents — is the sensation of actually saying new words aloud.
“There is a theory that children taste words,” she said. It’s “not so far-fetched when you think about tongue placement and the feeling of the tongue moving as words are formed.”
But when it comes encouraging language development, Crowther said there are better words to learn than country capitals.
“I would tend to want to let him use large words that can be applied,” said Crowther, who is also a mother. She gave an example from her own life: When she was out shopping with her then two-year-old son, she instructed him not to touch the clothes on sale at a store. He replied, “‘OK my mommy. Will the sales person get annoyed with me?’
The large words he used, Crowther said, were “meaningful and lasting.”
Chacha Tumbokon, a mother of five and the founder of Raisesmartkid.com, has advice on the geography front. Reading books about different countries and their people is a good idea, as is attending “various festivals sponsored by immigrants from around the globe.”
Children “can meet (a country’s) people, hear their music, watch their dance, maybe even taste their food, and experience a bit of their culture,” she said.
Jayakar, a rheumatologist and her husband Abheer, a dentist, say they do provide various learning opportunities for their young son. They point out foods in grocery store advertisements, identify letters on signs and, of course, read and talk with him a lot, Jayakar said. In addition to country capitals, Aanav knows how to recite the alphabet, the numbers one through 20 and can identify certain letters and numbers in print.
Walfish, the Beverly Hills psychologist, noted that sometimes the ability to memorize large chunks of information is associated with autism, but Jayakar said her son has no signs of the disorder.
She says she hopes to enroll Aanav in MENSA someday.
“We spoke to a child psychologist who deals with gifted children,” she said. “He said to come back after age 2.”
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