I saw an amazing TV programme called "The Mentalists" about the World Memory Championships 2007 held in Bahrain with two main competitors - Ben Pridmore from the UK and Dr Gunther Karsten from Germany, the latter winning.
Ben won the World Memory Champion in 2004 in a ten-discipline competition. He also holds the official world record for memorizing the order of a randomly shuffled 52-card deck in 26.28 seconds. He beat the previous record by 5 seconds.
Ben's world records to date:
- 795 binary digits in 5 minutes
- 3915 binary digits in 30 minutes
- 99 historical dates in 5 minutes
- 312 playing cards in 10 minutes
- 1404 playing cards in an hour
Ben Pridmore on Wikipedia
Ben Pridmore's blog "Zoomy"
The World Memory Championships have been running since 1991, the brainchild (sorry for the pun) of Tony Buzan. Apparently memory training is a skill open to anyone of average intelligence although such extreme levels are achieved only by blinkered determination and daily practice. For us ordinary mortals, plenty of books have been written and there is even software.
Tony Buzan is the inventor of Mind Maps®, the most powerful 'thinking tool' of our times. The Chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates recognised its importance in his article entitled 'The Road Ahead – How Mind-Mappers are taking our information democracy to the next stage': ..."a new generation of 'mind-mapping' software can also be used as a digital 'blank slate' to help connect and synthesize ideas and data – and ultimately create new knowledge"... (Newsweek Issues, 2006).
Tony Buzan suggests using the following foundation structures for Mind Mapping:
1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.
2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your Mind Map.
3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
4. Each word/image must be alone and sitting on its own line.
5. The lines must be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and flowing, becoming thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image.
7. Use colors – your own code – throughout the Mind Map.
8. Develop your own personal style of Mind Mapping.
9. Use emphasis and show associations in your Mind Map.
10. Keep the Mind Map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches. 
I find this a fascinating subject. Tony Buzan has written lots of books including Mind Map, Speed Reading, Brilliant Memory and Brain Child so there are books to help children develop their mind. Find Tony Buzan Mind Mappinghere.
Mind Mapping on Wikipedia
The Speed Reading Secret
World Memory Championship official site
How to win the World Memory Championship
©Antonia Stuart-James 2008 at http://antoniastuart-james.blogspot.com/