Written by: Kari Kling, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Every year, millions of children go to school only to feel that they are not very ‘smart.’ Far too many times, I’ve heard children and young adults make statements such as: “I’m just not good in school,” “School doesn’t seem to be for me,” or “I’m just not very smart when it comes to school.” Why does this happen and what does it really mean to ‘be smart?’ All of us know people who may not have done well academically in school or scored well on a formal IQ test, but have gone on to create successful careers and lives for themselves. Why is this scenario so common?
If we look at the way most schools address how we teach and test children to see what they know, there is a more than likely chance that it’s on a paper/pencil type of test, asking the child to figure out each test item using either words or numbers. This format automatically presents a bias against children who may process information and problem solve in other ways.
Most children are smarter than they perceive and I believe it’s our job as parents to show them ‘how they are smart’ instead of ‘how smart they are.’
If you aren’t already aware of the ground-breaking work of Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor of neuroscience from Harvard University, I’d like to take the time to introduce you to him here. In 1983, Gardner first outlined his research in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, where he suggested that all people have different kinds of ‘intelligences.’ Gardner describes intelligence as “the ability to find and solve problems and create products of value in one's own culture.”
Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, shows us that there are at least eight ways of thinking, or intelligences, that people use to process information, problem solve, and think about life. He identified eight criteria within the brain to be able to ascertain these findings.
Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences or ‘8 Smarts’ include:
Verbal-Linguistic or ‘Word Smart’
People who have strengths in this intelligence enjoy and use language to communicate and process information by reading, speaking or writing. These individuals usually ‘think in words,’ enjoy word games, learning other languages, reading or writing for pleasure, and may be great spellers or great public speakers. Careers that may be associated with having a strength in the Verbal-Linguistic intelligence include: writers, lawyers, teachers, translators, politicians, advertisers and reporters.
Logical-Mathematical or ‘Number or Logic Smart’
Individuals who are strong in this intelligence are good with numbers, figuring out patterns, logic and reasoning, while appreciating abstract mathematical problems. This intelligence is strongly correlated with the traditional definition of IQ from a formal type of testing. Careers for people who process information easily in this intelligence include: mathematicians, scientists, programmers, accountants, pilots and engineers.
Musical or ‘Music Smart’
People who posess strengths in being Music Smart usually enjoy various types of music, playing musical instruments and have a keen sense of sound, tone, music, rhythm and sound patterns. Being well-developed in this intelligence allows people to create, communicate, and understand meanings made out of sound. Musicians, singers, composers, conductors and music teachers are examples of careers for people who process information via this intelligence.
Visual-Spatial or ‘Picture Smart’
Individuals who have a strong sense in this intelligence think in terms of images or pictures, are able to look at a given space and see it as something else, are effective map readers and easily sees ‘the big picture’ in situations. Having a powerful Spatial intelligence makes it possible for people to perceive visual or spatial information and to recreate visual images from memory.
Sometimes people who appear to be ‘daydreaming’ are actually problem solving or creating new ideas by making pictures in their minds via their Picture Smart intelligence. Artists, designers, photographers, architects and physicists are examples of people who are strong in this intelligence.
Bodily-Kinesthetic or ‘Body Smart’
Having strengths in the Body Smart intelligence means that one is able to use their body to learn new skills/information and to express themselves. Using dance, exercise or movement to express oneself is typical of a Body Smart learner. Engaging in projects where one builds or sculpts a model of something, role playing, or manipulating items to gain a better understanding of the situation at hand are examples of how a person processes information or expresses themselves using their Body Smart intelligence. Think about it as ‘thinking with your body.’
Occupations that are associated with people who have strength in the Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence include: dancers, ice skaters, athletes, carpenters, actors, dancers, builders or physical therapists.
Naturalist or ‘Nature Smart’
A person with a strong sense in this intelligence is usually very observant about the world around them and are able to identify, classify, and use features of the environment to process the world. They enjoy being in nature and usually enjoy activities such as: hiking, camping, gardening, and exploring.
Career choices associated with the Naturalist intelligence include: gardeners, farmers, veterinarians, landscapers, geologists, biologists, astronomers, or animal trainers.
Interpersonal or “People Smart’
People who are strong in the ‘People Smart’ intelligence are ‘people people!’ They have the ability to easily understand social situations and the behavior of others. People Smart people want to talk about new information they’ve learned with others to help them process it. Being smart in this intelligence enables individuals to recognize and make distinctions among other people’s feelings and intentions.
Occupations that are associated with having a well-developed Interpersonal intelligence include: counselors, psychologists, sales people, politicians, social workers, mediators, managers, and careers in public relations.
Intrapersonal or ‘Self Smart’
Individuals who are able to distinguish among their own feelings and to know their own needs/wants at a deep level are usually high in this intelligence. People who have a well-developed Intrapersonal intelligence are very self-aware, introspective and usually desire time for reflection to process information. They usually prefer to work alone as opposed to in large groups. Attributes that may come more easily include: a higher confidence level and being able to be more disciplined in terms of a routine.
Career choices for people strong in the Self Smart intelligence may include: theologians, philosophers, writers, entrepreneurs, psychologists, or researchers.
Parents and Children Need to Have a Deeper Understanding of the 8 Smarts To Better Their Lives
As a person who is a mom and has worked with families as an educator and counselor for 40 years, it is my strong belief that most parents are still not aware of Dr. Gardner’s work in ways where they can truly use it to help their children. It’s critical that parents everywhere have a working knowledge of this information in efforts to best support and guide their children to have a deeper understanding of how they best learn.
This knowledge is central not only to success in school, but in life. Over the years, so many children have felt stupid about a particular subject because it was only presented to them via one ‘intelligence,’ that perhaps wasn’t one of their strengths.
In thinking about how our children are ‘smart,’ the goal should be to develop strengths in several of our Multiple Intelligences, not to simply focus on the ‘intelligence(s)’ that is already strong. Accessing one’s area(s) of strength to support other ‘intelligences’ that are not as developed will create deeper opportunities for learning new information in other ways.
Real Life Examples
Let me give you two real life examples: Denise was a 7th grader who was naturally very strong in the musical intelligence. She could listen to a song and figure it out on the piano by ear. Denise loved to sit at her piano and write songs about her life and dreams. Being Music Smart was definitely Denise’s strength.
Denise also enjoyed reading, but loathed the writing process. One day, Denise was assigned to complete a book report from her teacher. She had read the book, but her mother described it as ‘pulling teeth’ to get Denise to write anything down to even begin the report.
After learning about the Multiple Intelligences, Denise’s mom approached her and suggested, “Hey, how about writing a song about your book?” Denise loved the idea and quickly took her place at the piano. Remarkably, within about 10 minutes, Denise had created a little song about the book she had just read. Then, Denise’s mom encouraged her to write her song down on paper. Denise did so and it became the basis for her book report! Denise used her area of strength, Music Smart, to help develop an intelligence that wasn’t as strong, her writing aspect of being Word Smart.
Here’s another example: Richie was a 3rd grader who was a natural artist. He loved to draw anything he saw and would do this for hours. Yes, Richie’s strength was being Picture Smart. Richie was also a very good reader and writer, but Richie’s downfall in school was most anything that had to do with math, especially story problems.
After hiring various math tutors and purchasing several math educational games to help the situation, Richie’s mom became very frustrated as Richie was feeling worse and worse about his math abilities. He didn’t even want to try it figure it out any longer and it always became a battle.
After learning about the Multiple Intelligences, Richie’s mom had a fabulous idea! She encouraged Richie to read the math story problem and then to draw a picture of what the story problem was about. Richie was excited to do this and this made figuring out the story problem so much easier! Richie used his strength, Picture Smart, to help develop his Number Smart intelligence!
The younger the child, the fewer life experiences he/she will have had, which may result in fewer ‘smarts’ that have had a chance to develop. As a child grows up and engages in more varied experiences, the greater the opportunities will be for them to develop additional strengths in their Multiple Intelligences.
There is also a cultural aspect to all of this. From a global perspective, what is valued and experienced in one culture may not be valued as much in another. I once read that young children who begin school at age of five in some parts of Africa, know hundreds of songs and dances before they ever begin school. This would naturally develop their Music and Body Smarts more than children of the same age who grew up in another part of the world where this was not as embraced. Does this mean that one group of children are ‘smarter’ than the other? Of course not. The ‘intelligences’ may simply be a reflection of what a given culture deems valued.
Lastly… let’s talk about testing for gifted programs in schools. Many school districts still use assessments that honor children who are strong in the Word or Number Smart intelligences. But what if a child is ‘gifted’ in another area not measured to assess their giftedness? Does it mean they’re not gifted? I don’t think so. I believe a better way to look at a child’s intelligence is to think of all children as being gifted and know that it’s up to us to help them learn to find their gifts.
Perhaps Dr. Howard Gardner himself said it best, “It’s not how smart you are that matters, what really counts is how you are smart.”
For more information about the Multiple Intelligences, please send me an email. I will be teaching an online class on this topic in January 2023 and would be happy to send you all of the information so that you may join us! Thank you.
Kari Kling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Kari Kling, M.Ed., Parent Coach
Kari’s 40 years of experience as an internationally recognized educator, counselor, parent coach, and author/speaker has given her the expertise to guide thousands of parents to reach their parenting goals. Kari’s solid understanding of how we behave and learn is grounded in neuroscience.
Kari is a sought-after keynote and featured speaker for national and international conferences. She loves to meet and work with parents and their families in her home state of Arizona, nationally, and globally.
Kari states that her most powerful learning experience about parenting has been being the mom to her 20-year-old twin boys, as they have been her greatest teachers.
You can email Kari to learn more about her parent coaching services at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or check out her website and social media.