Cracking Multiple Intelligences

Is a child with a knack for math really any smarter than a child with a talent for drawing? How about the girl who dances like a summer dream or the boy who springs to life in the company of friends? Which child is the most “intelligent?” As you position your brood to reap the richest harvest possible from another year of school, you may catch teachers talking about “multiple intelligences” – literally, the ways that people are smart. While the theory of multiple intelligences is viewed critically in scientific circles, the practice of identifying and supporting a wide variety of aptitudes helps educators draw out the best in their young students.

The idea of multiple intelligences took hold in the early 80s when Harvard Professor Howard Gardner originally identified seven “intelligences” or paths to approach and process information. These descriptions (from Multiple Intelligences Research and Consulting) may help you pinpoint familiar territory in your own children.

Linguistic intelligence – “Word smart” or sensitive to the meaning and order of words.

  • Expressive sensitivity: Skillfully commands words for expressive and practical purposes
  • Rhetorical skill: Employs language effectively for interpersonal negotiation and persuasion
  • Written-academic skill: Uses words well in writing reports, letters, stories, verbal memory, reading and writing

Logical-mathematical intelligence – “Number/reasoning smart” or being adept in mathematics and other complex logical systems.

  • School math skills: Performs well in math at school
  • Everyday math skills: Uses math effectively in everyday life
  • Everyday problem-solving: Applies logical reasoning to solve everyday problems; curious
  • Strategic thinker: Excels at games of skill and strategy

Musical intelligence – “Music smart” or understanding and creating music; often musicians, composers and dancers show a heightened musical intelligence.

  • Vocal ability: Possesses a good voice for singing in tune and in harmony
  • Instrumental skill: Demonstrates skill and experience in playing a musical instrument
  • Desire to compose: Makes up songs or poetry and has tunes on the brain
  • Keen music appreciation: Actively enjoys listening to music of some kind

Spatial intelligence – “Picture smart” or perceiving the visual world accurately and recreating (or altering) it in the mind or on paper; highly developed in artists, architects, designers and sculptors.

  • Space awareness: Solves problems of spatial orientation and moving objects through space, such as driving a car
  • Works with objects: Makes, builds, fixes or assembles
  • Artistic bent: Creates artistic designs, drawings, paintings

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence – “Body smart” or moving one’s body in a skilled way as self-expression or toward a goal; displayed in mimes, dancers, basketball players and actors.

  • Athletic: Skilled at physical activities such as balancing, coordination and sports
  • Dexterous: Uses hands with dexterity and skill for detailed activities and expressive moment

Interpersonal intelligence – “People smart” or intuitively understanding individuals and their moods, desires and motivations; highly developed among political and religious leaders, skilled parents, teachers and therapists.

  • Social sensitivity: Sensitive to and empathetic to other people’s moods, feelings and point of view
  • Social persuasion: Shows an ability to influence other people
  • Interpersonal work: Demonstrates interest and skill for jobs involving working with people

Intrapersonal intelligence – “Self smart” or being in tune with one’s emotions; strong among novelists and counselors, who use their experiences to guide others.

  • Personal knowledge/efficacy: Self-awareness of ideas, abilities; able to achieve personal goals
  • Effectiveness: Relates well to others and successfully manages personal relationships
  • Calculating: Adept at meta-cognition; aptitude for “thinking about thinking” involving numerical operations
  • Spatial problem solving: Self-awareness for problem-solving while moving self or objects through space

Naturalist intelligence – “Nature smart” or recognizing and understanding things about the natural world; added to Gardner’s original list of seven intelligences in the mid-90s.

  • Animals Expert at deciphering animal behavior, needs, characteristics
  • Plants Aptitude for working with plants, i.e., gardening, farming and horticulture

Existential intelligence – Currently being considered for inclusion as a ninth type of intelligence; focusing on a philosophical approach to existence.

Many scientists scoff at the theory of multiple intelligences, claiming that Gardner’s intelligences are merely another name for talents or personality types. Despite these criticisms, Laurie Youngblood, adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and a reading specialist with a local school district, says she has observed the theory’s success both professionally and as a parent.

“My own daughter is very artistic,” she observes. “If she can learn things through being able to draw about it, she seems to retain the information better. I’m not sure that she learns it easier, but I think she retains the information better if it’s learned through a way that she can understand and that she can demonstrate.”

Parents can use multiple intelligence types to help channel and guide their children’s energies and interests. “Look at the list and the definition of each one and what that indicates about the child,” Youngblood explains. Give kids the chance to offer feedback on how they want to tackle learning tasks.

Finally, and most importantly, Youngblood stresses, share your insights into your child’s learning style with his teacher. Your input provides crucial perspectives that let teachers guide your young student’s explorations.