Multiple Intelligences

We all know that some kids are highly coordinated and great at sports and also seem to have a broad range of social and academic skills, while others have more strength and interest in a particular area, sport, the visual arts or in building something. Jason is highly coordinated, and loves all things physical, while David loves to read and Jill loves to talk and play with groups of people, whether friends or adults. There does appear to be some genetic basis for the capabilities and strengths in each of us, although they’re not totally understood.

Howard Gardner was perhaps the first psychologist to propose a theory of multiple intelligences; and he names eight of them, musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Other experts have added to this another dimension, that of existential-moral intelligence. These are not stand-alone skills. Each of us has a unique blend of each of them, and not everyone will exhibit strong indicators of any specific ‘intelligence’.

Here are brief descriptions of each type of intelligence:

Musical-Rhythmic: Appreciation/orientation to rhythm and pitch. When hearing music, a child may pause and listen longer and with more concentration than others their own age.

Visual-Spatial: Able to think in images and pictures, and to visualize abstractly. May show up as responding to colors, and perhaps beginning to draw at an early age.

Verbal-Linguistic: Sensitivity to sounds, meaning and rhythm of language. May show well-developed verbal skills, picks up other languages easily and quickly.

Logical-Mathematical: Able to think conceptually and abstractly. May easily understand numerical patterns, logical explanations, and problem analysis. This is more readily observable around 3 years of age.

Bodily-Kinesthetic: Well coordinated, has excellent control of body movements, and easily manipulates objects. Demonstrates both small and large-motor coordination skills.

Interpersonal: Outgoing and gregarious; sensitive to moods and desires of others, and responds appropriately. Works well in groups.

Intrapersonal: Introverted and reserved, appears to be shy and a loner. In tune with their own feelings, beliefs, and thinking processes and seemingly less interested in others. 

Naturalistic: Predisposition to nature, plants, animals, other natural objects.

Existential-Moral: Focused on deep questions of human existence and meaning of life. Moral awareness appears to begin developing around 2 years of age.

We all have different preferences and capabilities in these areas, and they’re not always easily observable. But some children will show certain preferences early on, whether it’s an overt response to music, being very physically active, or having a reserved personality that is seemingly focused on internal thoughts.

Many musicians and artists begin demonstrating extraordinary skill as children, as do some athletes. These abilities are only tendencies. They don’t mean that some children are smarter than others just because they learn how to read or to multiply earlier than other children. The trick for parents is observing and supporting these preferences, but also encouraging their children to expand skills in other areas.

Skills of Adaptability. The more we expand our individual intelligences, the more adaptable we become in dealing with the diversity of our lives. How well a child adapts, or not, in any particular situation may depend not only upon the strength of his/her preferences; but also on what other skills they’ve learned that don’t come quite as naturally. All of us want our kids to be versatile and resourceful in managing their lives.

For example, a child may be very self-focused and introspective; but it’s essential that even shy, reserved children develop basic interpersonal skills so they can get along with other people in groups, and in work situations. And while some of us may prefer to focus on music or drama, we still have to be logical and analytical in other areas of our lives.

The value of understanding our intellectual capabilities in these ways is to fully appreciate the depth and breadth of what we call ‘intelligence’ and to know that each of us has unique skills that we need to value on an equal basis.

Musical talents and interpersonal skills are not measured by IQ tests which only measure verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical domains but IQ is routinely thought of as a statement of overall intelligence. Too many children, and adults, have learned to focus too much on their IQ score at 2nd grade as defining their level of intelligence.

Another advantage in knowing about multiple intelligences is understanding that every child is different, and will learn different skills at different rates. In fact, an introspective child may have a better understanding (or comprehension) of words than a child who simply sight reads, or spouts off multiplication tables by rote memory.

This should help all parents to relax a little when Jason doesn’t read by age 3 (like Jill); but when he does learn to read, he may develop a higher level of reading comprehension more quickly.  

Versatile Problem-Solvers. Adaptable people are versatile and resourceful, even adventurous; and are creative and imaginative in problem-solving. There is more than one way to move that rock. They pay attention to their surroundings, and develop a healthy competitiveness in dealing with it. They are ambitious self-starters, goal-oriented and enterprising. Experiencing different ways of doing things also enhances adaptability to unfamiliar situations.

A recent winner of a national high school science award felt he wasn’t any smarter than anyone else; but, throughout most of his school years, he had spent many hours in the basement experimenting with all kinds of projects, ‘failing through’ to success. Part of adaptability is also knowing that one failure is only one failure, that there are often many different ways to accomplish the same task; and being open to new ways of doing things. Businesses that expect to survive must also be adaptable to changing conditions and situations, both in terms of creativity and industry intelligence.

The opposite of adaptability is rigidity; ‘my way or the highway’ and resistance to new or different ideas and ways of doing things. Some children develop a hyper-competitive attitude, one where they tend to put others down to build themselves up; and they may engage in unreasonable risk-taking or dangerous behavior. Helping them focus on the problem at hand, rather than judging themselves and others as being ‘smart’ or ‘not smart’ will help.

Respect for Others. Kids that are adaptable have a respect for others, their ideas and opinions and they have learned this by being respected themselves. They’ve learned to take turns, listen to another’s ideas, and do what the group is doing even though it’s not their favorite activity. They also learn that the ideas generated by two or more people in a group are sometimes more creative and better than just their idea; and they learn to collaborate, adjust and go with the flow.

David may prefer a very ordered, routine and repetitive environment because it makes him feel safer; but not all situations are controlled, so being exposed to a free-flow creative activity, while it makes him uncomfortable, is a critical skill for continued success. And Jason, with his mercurial personality, still needs to know when to stand in line and follow the rules so he can make similar judgment calls later in life.

Goal-Oriented. Helping kids focus on the end goal, or purpose, is critical; which means that adults need to make learning relevant to their interests and capabilities. Learning a skill in isolation is not only non-productive, but also non-motivating; so making the connection between math problems and everyday situations is essential, making change, figuring out how much allowance needs to be saved to purchase a toy truck, or measuring a patio to decide where to place a new outdoor rug.

Story problems in the classroom help; but children need you to reinforce those skills in everyday, hands-on activities so they can understand how to transfer information from one place to another to make them real, otherwise story problems remain just stories.

The answers for you and your children, as for everyone else’s, are with you as the most significant influence during the first five years of life. Parents create the setting for emotional maturity, love and self-esteem, while teachers are trained to specifically work with social and intellectual needs.

Your children David, Jill and Jason, are all very different, even with the same parents, the same routines, the same school and community. And no one influences the architecture of their brains more than you as parent. By the time they reach school, many of the most productive years of their brain development are gone, either used well, or frittered away because ‘kids are just kids’.

Learning how to be ADAPTABLE can be accomplished by:

Model flexibility. If you are flexible rather than frustrated at an unexpected event, then children learn to be flexible and tolerant as well.

Encourage their curiosity about the world, even if it puts them ‘off task’ for a while. You never know when going off on a tangent will result in a sudden leap of understanding.  

Establish basic boundaries that allow for flexibility, such as always having dinner at the same time, but flexing when you’re going to a movie or the library.

Teach them to respect differences, different ideas, different cultures, different talents, which will expand their world of ideas.

Maintain a focus on the end goal, with the idea that there may be several ways to reach that goal. Don’t simply let them, or yourself, off the hook.

Resolve tensions by taking unexpected happenings in stride, rather than being angry and placing blame.

Push them to try things they’re not comfortable with as long as it’s safe and appropriate. And if they fail, to try again in a different way. 

Praise them for making the effort, and having the courage to try.