Toddlers join Mensa

Gifted tots as young as two joining; number of high-IQ kids aged 12 and below has tripled

Mr Alan Woo and Ms Patricia Koh with their boys, Valerian, three, and Victor, seven, who have both been Mensa members since they were about two. Ms Koh said she enrolled her sons in the organisation as she wanted them to have an environment where the
Mr Alan Woo and Ms Patricia Koh with their boys, Valerian, three, and Victor, seven, who have both been Mensa members since they were about two. Ms Koh said she enrolled her sons in the organisation as she wanted them to have an environment where they can discover their potential. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Author Patricia Koh, 38, sends not one, but two of her young children to a tribe for bright minds.

Her boys Valerian and Victor, aged three and seven respectively, are among a growing pool of children who have made the cut to enter Mensa Singapore, a society for people with high IQ. Both have been members since they were about two.

"Gifted kids need an environment to discover their potential," said Ms Koh. "We want to help them to flourish."

More parents are enrolling their children - some are tots as young as two - into the organisation, which has an active membership of about 1,300 people, a quarter of whom are 12 or younger.

Notably, the number of high-powered minds aged 12 and under has tripled from about 100 three years ago. These kids have IQ scores that place them in the top 2 per cent of the population.

This is not because more kids today have high IQs, but because more are sitting for intelligence tests at a younger age, said observers.

Mensa Singapore president Priscilla Lee, who is a registered psychologist, said: "Many parents realise their children's giftedness early on, and some of them are looking for more resources to better support and stimulate their children."

She added that gifted kids might be reading a lot earlier than their peers or have niche interest areas.

While it may mean bragging rights for some parents, many just want to know how best to bring up their children as some of them have problems finding friends who share their interests.

Said Ms Koh: "The kids may be perceived as arrogant... because they may be bored and the activity is not engaging them." She noted that Mensa is like a "support group" for parents and children to share their experiences.

Mensa offers activities every two months and during the school holidays for junior members to stimulate their intellect and build their social skills. While it does not run formal education classes, it organises excursions to places like Kidzania, and events such as music appreciation classes and coding workshops.

Membership is open to people who have attained a score within the upper 2 per cent of the population on an intelligence test. Children pay a subsidised fee of $48 for one year or $128 for three years.

Some parents enrol their young ones hoping that they can meet other children with the same IQ level. Among them is assistant banker Melissa Lee, whose daughter Caitlyn, seven, has been in Mensa for the past two years.

But the 38-year-old, who also has a three-year-old son, has never told her daughter that she is gifted, "as we do not want her to become complacent". "We frequently emphasise the importance of hard work and tenacity," she said. "We also want her to have fun and enjoy the process of growing up without feeling she is different from other kids."

Ms Lee had Caitlyn undergo an IQ test after noticing that the girl was precocious. "We wanted a confirmation so that we can be in a better position to decide how best to channel her talents and energy."

Yet, many parents had no idea that their kids would attain high IQ scores.

They merely discovered their "gifts" early, after putting them through psychological tests for reasons such as behavioural issues.

Researcher Celine Lee, 40, sent her eldest daughter Isabelle for such tests when she was three, after noticing that she was hyperactive. Tests found that Isabelle, now five, did not have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Mrs Lee submitted the girl's IQ report to Mensa and she got accepted.

Mrs Lee, who is also a Mensa member, said Isabelle has gained new experiences and widened her social circle since then. "I believe that these activities are wholesome and good for her development."

Observers, however, warned that IQ can be overrated. Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education's academic division, urged parents to consider giving their children a holistic childhood with diverse experiences, where they can pick up in-demand skills such as perseverance.

"IQ scores have limited use today. And that number can hardly predict life outcomes," he added. "It is more important for kids to grow up with the experience of interacting with peers with different backgrounds, abilities and personalities."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline Toddlers join Mensa. Subscribe