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10 Amazing Child Prodigies Across Time (Famous and Not)

Updated on October 30, 2012

A child prodigy is defined as someone under the age of 13 who is capable of excelling in at least one area of skill at a level that is considered to be an adult level in that field. There are child prodigies in all different skills areas including music, math, chess, the arts and even humanities. As long as the child shows demonstrable adult-level skill in one of these areas prior to that age 13 mark, he or she is considered a prodigy in that area. The most famous child prodigies include Mozart for music and Picasso for art. Let’s take a closer look at those two prodigies as well as eight other amazing child prodigies in different skills areas at different times throughout history.

1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mozart is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest child prodigies in music because of the amazing musical feats that he mastered at an early age. It is unclear whether he had an eidetic memory or simply was trained so extensively that he was able to become so skilled at music so early on but whatever the case may be, he certainly excelled in this area. Born in 1756, Mozart began playing the harpsichord at age 3 and could read and play music by age 5. He debuted onto the classical music scene one year later and went on to be one of the most prolific composers of all time.

2. Pablo Picasso.

You know this Spanish artist because he is a famous artist but did you know that he was also a child prodigy in the arts. One of his most well-known pieces of artwork, The Picador, was created in the late nineteenth century when he was only eight years old. He began exhibiting his art by the age of 15. Picasso went on to not only create great works of art but to get deeply involved in the science and math of art, inventing numerous creations that did and did not come to fruition.

3. Sergey Karjakin.

This Ukranian boy achieved the title of Grandmaster in Chess at the tender age of 12, a record-breaking feat that happened in 2002. Chess is considered one of the few games in which child prodigies can truly exist and actually compete with adults on an equal playing field. As the youngest person to hold the title of Grandmaster, Karjakin is considered to be among the top chess prodigies of all times.

4. Cho Hunhyun.

Another game that sometimes finds itself played by child prodigies but which doesn’t get nearly as much attention as chess is the Chinese game of Go. This is a tough game to learn but there are people out there like this kid who managed to become a professional Go player in 1962 when he was only nine years old. This child prodigy is considered by many to be the best Go player of all time.

5. William James Sidis.

You know those people that you hear about primarily in fiction (or TV shows like Numb3rs) who are so smart that they go to college when they are still kids? That’s the real life story of this boy who was born at the turn of the twentieth century and who was such a prodigy in both math and linguistics that he was accepted to attend Harvard University when he was only eleven years old. Interestingly, he strayed away from math entirely in his later years but is still considered to be one of the most intelligent people ever born.

6. March Tian Boedihardjo.

 If you thought that the age of eleven was young for starting to attend college then you’ll be even more surprised by this child who got into a Hong Kong University at the age of 9, the youngest student ever accepted to college in Hong Kong. It will be interesting to see what this child prodigy opts to do with his life now that he’s getting closer to college graduation as well as to his teenage years!

7.Sufiah Yusof.

Ten years before March Tian Boedihardjo was acceted to that Hong Kong University, Sufiah Yusof was accepted to Oxford University to study mathematics there. She was only twelve years old. This particular child prodigy interests me because it is rare to see female child prodigies and it is still rare to see women in advanced math careers so her experience as a modern-day child prodigy female in math was truly unique. But there’s more to this story. The pressure of the life was too much for her and it is rumored that she has spent the past ten years bouncing from waitressing jobs to prostitution to back to school. Imagine that! Being smart isn’t always easy at all.

8. Lucretia Maria Davidson.

Here is a more positive example of a female child prodigy although one that does have a somewhat sad ending. This woman born in the early nineteenth century was a child prodigy of words who made her mark as an astounding poet of her time before the age of 11. Sadly, her work as a poet lasted only five years because her life was cut short due to death by tuberculosis but she did manage to make her mark on history as a child prodigy in the art of poetry.

9. William Cullen Bryant.

This man is another poet who gained adult-level praise for his work before the age of 13 and so is considered a child prodigy of poetry. Also born in the early nineteenth century, Bryant published his first book at the age of ten. By the age of 13, he had completed a book of satire poems that were widely recognized for their advanced quality. 

10. Jean-François Champollion.

I am totally fascinated by the life of this man who was born at the end of the eighteenth century. His work was in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics which just sounds so interesting but he was considered a child prodigy before that due to the fact that he could speak several dead languages before the age of ten. By 16, he could speak more than one dozen languages in spite of the fact that his only teacher was a brother who himself was largely self-taught. Wow!


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