What Kind of Smart is my Child: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Compiled by Hanlie Wentzel on 2 Aug 2018.

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The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are:

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)

  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)

  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)

  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)

  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)

  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)

  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)

  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD (attention deficit disorder,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.

The theory of multiple intelligences proposes a major transformation in the way our schools are run. It suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more (see Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 4th ed.).

How to Teach or Learn Anything 8 Different Ways

One of the most remarkable features of the theory of multiple intelligences is how it provides eight different potential pathways to learning. If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning. Whether you are a kindergarten teacher, a graduate school instructor, or an adult learner seeking better ways of pursuing self-study on any subject of interest, the same basic guidelines apply. Whatever you are teaching or learning, see how you might connect it with

  • words (linguistic intelligence)
  • numbers or logic (logical-mathematical intelligence)
  • pictures (spatial intelligence)
  • music (musical intelligence)
  • self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence)
  • a physical experience (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence)
  • a social experience (interpersonal intelligence), and/or
  • an experience in the natural world. (naturalist intelligence)

You don’t have to teach or learn something in all eight ways, just see what the possibilities are, and then decide which particular pathways interest you the most, or seem to be the most effective teaching or learning tools. The theory of multiple intelligences is so intriguing because it expands our horizon of available teaching/learning tools beyond the conventional linguistic and logical methods used in most schools (e.g. lecture, textbooks, writing assignments, formulas, etc.).

The Natural Genius of Children

Every child is a genius. That doesn’t mean that every child can paint like Picasso, compose like Mozart, or score 150 on an I.Q. test. But every child is a genius according to the original meanings of the word “genius,” which are: “to give birth” (related to the word genesis) and “to be zestful or joyous,” (related to the word genial). Essentially, the real meaning of genius is to “give birth to the joy” that is within each child.

Every child is born with that capacity. Each child comes into life with wonder, curiosity, awe, spontaneity, vitality, flexibility, and many other characteristics of a joyous being. An infant has twice as many brain connections as an adult. The young child masters a complex symbol system (their own native language) without any formal instructions. Young children have vivid imaginations, creative minds, and sensitive personalities.  It is imperative that we, as educators and parents, help preserve these genius characteristics of children as they mature into adulthood, so those capacities can be made available to the broader culture at a time of incredible change.

Unfortunately, there are strong forces working at home, in the schools, and within the broader culture, to stifle these genius qualities in children. Many children grow up in homes which put an active damper on the qualities of genius. Factors in the home like poverty, depression and anxiety, pressure on kids to grow up too soon, and rigid ideologies based on hate and fear, actively subdue the qualities of genius in childhood such as playfulness, creativity, and wonder. Schools also put a damper on childhood genius through testing (creativity can’t thrive in an atmosphere of judgment), labeling of kids as learning disabled or ADD, boring teachers, and regimented curriculum. Finally, the broader culture, especially mass media, represses the genius in our children through its constant onslaught of violence, mediocrity, and repugnant role models.

The good news is that there is much that a teacher or parent can do to help children reawaken their natural genius. First, and most importantly, adults need to reawaken their own natural genius—find within themselves the source-waters of their own creativity, vitality, playfulness, and wonder. For when children are surrounded by curious and creative adults, they have their own inner genius sparked into action.

Second, adults need to provide simple activities to activate the genius of children. Something as simple as a story, a toy (Einstein said that a simple magnetic compass awakened his love of learning at the age of four), a visit to a special place, or a question, can unlock the gates to a child’s love of learning. Third, create a “genial” atmosphere at home or school, where kids can learn in a climate free from criticism, comparison, and pressure to succeed.

Treat each child as a unique gift from God capable of doing wonderful things in the world . Finally, understand that each child will be a genius in a totally different way from another child. Forget the standard I.Q. meaning of genius, and use models like the theory of multiple intelligences to help kids succeed on their own terms. By following these simple guidelines for awakening each child’s natural genius, you will be contributing immeasurably to the welfare of your children and to the world they will inherit someday.

Resources

(Sourced from: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/the-natural-genius-of-children/ and  http://www.institute4learning.com/ on 2.08.2018)

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