Finding ways to distract a lively two-year-old on a long-haul flight to avoid tantrums and the glares of fellow passengers who want a snooze is no easy task.
But when two-year-old Rakshitha Kumar’s parents taught her the capitals of India, Britain and a few other major capitals on an 11-hour flight from New Delhi to the UK they started a process which led to their daughter being able to recite the capital cities of every country in the world in under five minutes, impressing child development experts.
Rakshita, from Edinburgh, has now progressed to the extent that she can recall the 196 capitals in alphabetical order, continent by continent, including some of the world’s most obscure and far-flung countries – such as Astana being the capital of Kazakhstan in central Asia and Tashkent being the capital of neighbouring Uzbekistan.
Ramesh Kumar, 33, and his wife Kavitha, 30, were astonished when Rakshita was able to memorise the first batch of capitals on the plane journey . They then decided to buy a colourful children’s book listing 30 of the world’s better-known capital cities.
Mr Kumar, a project manager with Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “From a very young age she has been interested in books and her memory retention has been excellent.
“I don’t think I’d even be able to do it if I tried to say them back right now and it was great to see how enthusiastic she was for learning and memorising details.
“She did so well learning the 30 countries from the book, we thought, ‘Well let’s just show her all of them and see what she remembers’ and in the space of two or three months she’d learned them all.
“My wife’s done it with her, working through each continent at a time. She has a capital cities app on her phone and that’s the way the countries come up on the app – in alphabetical order by each continent.”
Mr Kumar added: “Even when I sing her a lullaby and I think she’s sleeping, the next day she’ll be up and about singing it back to me.”
Dr Jan Kuipers, a psychology and child language development expert at the University of Stirling, said Rakshitha was showing excellent memory skills in a subject area which has captured her imagination.
“This is a really good achievement,” he said. “Young kids do show remarkable ability for learning and it is not abnormal for them to remember many facts. They can have a remarkable memory. The question now is whether Rakshita will retain the knowledge for longer”
Commenting on the fact that Rakshitha’s mother had moved on from a book to use a phone app to teach Rakshita, Dr Kuipers said: “The interface is more interesting than a book and children like them, they get noises and moving pictures so they automatically attract their attention, although this depends on what app is used.
“Other young children would probably be able to do this with similar training. But I suggest that by the time she’s at the end of primary one she’ll have forgotten all of it if the learning is not maintained as she will be concentrating on learning to read and write.”