The Many Ways That Kids Are Smart

Itís no accident that U.S. snowboarder Kelly Clark was able to win a gold medal in the 2002 Olympics while many of us never make it off the bunny hill. Or that Yo Yo Mah plays the cello flawlessly while others struggle for years to get a few notes right. Training and hard work alone is not what makes these people great at what they do -- itís a unique blend of strengths of intelligence at work together. Children, and all people, are smart in a wide variety of ways.

That we all have multiple intelligences, or many ways that we are smart, is a relatively new idea discovered by Howard Gardner. Intelligence cannot be identified by a single test, according to his theory. Instead, being smart means having the potential to solve problems in real life, identify new problems to solve, and make a contribution to our society. We all can do these things, but we do them in different ways.

Everyone has eight intelligences (more may be discovered) or ways in which they are smart. These eight work together to create our own unique set of strengths.

The eight intelligences:

    • Linguistic -- the mastery of language and communication

    • Logical-mathematical -- the capacity to discover patterns, reason, and think logically

    • Musical -- the ability to recognize and create meaning out of pitches, tones, and rhythms

    • Spatial -- the capacity to perceive and use mental images to solve problems

    • Bodily-kinesthetic -- the ability to coordinate, control, and balance body and movements skillfully

    • Interpersonal -- the ability to understand and interact with others, and to have relationships

    • Intrapersonal -- the ability to comprehend who we are and how we feel, and to reflect on why

    • Naturalist -- the ability to comprehend, identify, and classify patterns in the natural world.

How do we help young children reach full potential or develop strengths of intelligence? By exposing them from birth and all throughout childhood to a wide range of experiences and opportunities that nurture all eight areas. These experiences can be as simple as banging out the rhythm of a song with a spoon on a pot, looking at a book, matching socks together, or pointing out the names of the birds in your yard, but they will have a profound impact on a developing child.

Here are some examples:

Feeling Face Matching

From magazines, advertisements, or old books, find three to four pairs of faces that show the same feeling. Cut out the pairs and glue onto cardboard or index cards. Hold up one "feeling" to start, and see if the child can find the match. Then, try laying them all out on the floor and seeing if he or she can match them all. Try taking turns to see who can match the fastest. This simple game has the potential to nurture the areas of linguistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and spatial intelligences, as well as just providing fun.

The Mask Dance

Collect dinner-plate-sized paper plates and cut holes for the eyes and a mouth. Attach ribbon or elastic to the plates that can be tied around a childís head to create a mask. Then, allow the kids to turn the plates into masks by decorating them with markers, bits of ribbon, yarn, construction paper, or whatever supplies you have around to draw, glue, or stick on the masks. Kids may want to make scary, funny, or beautiful masks with themes like clown, ghoul, or angel. Next, put on some dancing music and ask kids to dance as though they were the character on their mask. Besides musical intelligence, making masks and dancing provides opportunities to explore bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences.

Read, Read, Read

Reading books to children is important for every variety of being smart in addition to providing great joy to the reader and the listener. The very act of reading to a child nurtures linguistic and interpersonal intelligences. Hello Toes, Hello Feet by Ann Whitford Paul inspires kids to get moving and explore their bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Alpha Bugs by David Carter and other lift-the-flap, pop-up, or touch-and-feel books fosters spatial intelligence, as well. Pick nearly any childrenís book and it read to a child, and you will be providing a valuable experience.

If you are important in the life of a child, take time to talk, sing, read, and play every day. Every positive interaction with children helps them grow and develop into all that they can be. You will get the joy and satisfaction of knowing you have made a difference in helping a child reach their full potential. Everyone wins.