school age
Multiple Intelligences
How is Your Child Smart?

Growing up, I’m sure you remember being told that you were special in your own way. Now that we’re adults we find ourselves sharing that wisdom with our own children, students, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. Traditionally, our society has defined intelligence in terms of academic prowess in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics. Students who perform well in these content areas are generally perceived as smart. However, every individual has different strengths and talents. Students who do not excel in mathematics may thrive in music or art class. They too are smart, but in another context. Hence, a new definition of intelligence has emerged. Dr. Howard Gardner, an educational psychologist at Harvard University, has redefined intelligence as the ability to produce a product that is valued in a culture or society. His definition is more inclusive than more traditional definitions because he recognizes the idea that everyone has a talent and can produce something of value.

How is your child smart? There are eight ways of being smart. Everyone possesses all eight intelligences, but some intelligences are more dominant than others. If given the appropriate encouragement, enrichment, and instruction, everyone has the capacity to develop all eight intelligences and to perform in them at a reasonably high level.

If a child is linguistic, he is gifted in the language areas of reading, writing, listening and talking. A child who is logical-mathematical has an unusual ability for problem-solving and mathematical concepts. A spatial child has an ability to see mental images or pictures. A child who is primarily bodily-kinesthetic has a keen sense of body movement and activity. A musical child is gifted at processing rhythmically. A child who is intrapersonal has an extraordinary sense of his own affect. If the child’s most dominant intelligence is interpersonal, then she has the ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations, and feelings of other people. Finally, a child who is a naturalist enjoys being outdoors, understands nature and is capable of identifying flora and fauna.

How do you assess your child’s multiple intelligences? The single best tool is simple observation. How does your child spend his free time? What does he do when no one is telling him what to do? Highly linguistic children gravitate toward books, spatial students toward drawing, bodily-kinesthetic children toward hands-on building activities, social children toward group games. Observing your child in a self-initiated activity can tell volumes about how he learns most effectively. Remember most children have strengths in several areas, so it is wise to avoid pigeonholing a child in one intelligence.

Is there a correlation between multiple intelligences and discipline? It is wise practice to match different discipline approaches to different kinds of learners. Therefore, the style of discipline you use with your eldest child may not prove effective with your youngest child. Described below are possible discipline methods matched to the eight intelligences.

Linguistic: Talk with the child and tell the child stories that focus on the discipline issue (e.g. "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" for a persistent fibber).

Logical-Mathematical: Have the child quantify and chart the occurrence of negative and/or positive behaviors.

Spatial: Provide the child with a metaphor to use in working with the difficulty (e.g. "If you were an animal, which one would you be?") or have the child draw and/or visualize appropriate behaviors.

Bodily-Kinesthetic: Teach the child to use physical cues to deal with stressful situations (e.g. taking a deep breath, tightening and relaxing muscles).

Musical: Teach the child to "play" her favorite music in her mind when she feels out of control.

Interpersonal: Have the child teach or look after a younger child.

Intrapersonal: Provide self-esteem activities and teach the child to voluntarily go to a "time-out" area to gain control.

Naturalist: Teach the child to take a walk outdoors, listen to the sounds of nature and be at one with the environment when he needs a fresh outlook.

What factors influence intelligence? In multiple intelligence theory, three factors influence intelligence: biological genetics, personal life history and geography or culture. Intelligence is seen as a set of capacities that can and do change throughout the course of one’s life. Perhaps that is why it is essential for teachers and parents to create situations where children enjoy learning. They will see how learning is relevant to their lives and will be more likely to retain and apply that information. The success of our children is our greatest concern. Once the children realize they can learn through their intelligences, they feel they can achieve success. If they can succeed in school, then they can do so in life!

Resources on Multiple Intelligences:

  • In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Personal Learning Style by Thomas Armstrong (1987)
  • Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner (1983)
  • Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice by Howard Gardner (1993)
  • Seven Pathways of Learning: Teaching Students and Parents about Multiple Intelligences by Lazear, David. (1993).
Sharon Greco is a fifth-grade teacher at Dwight School in Fairfield. She resides in Orange with her husband Mark.


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