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Multiple Intelligences: Understanding Your Child's Learning Style

Multiple Intelligences: Understanding Your Child

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Updated on Mar 5, 2009

A Fairy Princess. A Race-car Driver. A Mommy. A Firefighter. A Ballerina. An Astronaut. These are just some of the answers you may get when you ask your child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You may think they are sweet to share with your family and friends, but your child’s response could be telling you something important about the way he or she learns and what type of ‘Multiple Intelligences’ he or she has.

So what are Multiple Intelligences anyway? Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983 to help educators, psychologists and parenting experts better understand how children process and learn information.

Not only has the theory become a respected way of looking at learning, it has helped validate other experts’ work. Dr. Joseph Renzulli, professor and director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut, says he started his work with intelligence years before Gardner’s theory. But it was Gardner who brought widespread acceptance to the idea. That helped bring attention to The Renzulli Learning System, which utilizes the Intelligences. A great admirer of Gardner, Dr. Renzulli says, “The most important thing The Multiple Intelligences theory has done is called attention to the ways children express themselves.”

What Intelligences does your child possess? The following are descriptions of Gardner’s nine Multiple Intelligences, along with tips on how you can help your child stretch his or her areas of strength:

Linguistic Intelligence (Word Smart). This child focuses in school, enjoys reading, has an extensive vocabulary, prefers English or Social Studies over math and science, learns a foreign language with ease, is a good speller and writer, likes rhymes and puns, and communicates his thoughts well.

Tip: Encourage him to discuss books he has read with you, play word or board games, prepare speeches or enroll in drama classes. Possible career paths: poet, journalist, teacher, or lawyer

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (Number/Reasoning Smart). This child is curious about how things work, loves numbers and math (especially if he can do it in his head), enjoys strategy games like chess, checkers, brain teasers or logic puzzles, likes experiments, is interested in natural history museums, and likes computers.

Tip: Encourage her to solve various kinds of puzzles, provide her with games like checkers, chess or backgammon, let her figure things out and encourage her to ask questions.  Possible career paths: scientist, engineer, researcher, or accountant.

Spatial Intelligence (Picture Smart). This child easily leans to read and understands charts and maps, daydreams often, is skilled at drawing, doodling and creating 3-D sculptures, enjoys movies, and likes taking things apart and putting them back together.

Tip: Provide opportunities to paint, color, design. Give him puzzles and 3-D activities like solving mazes, challenge his creativity, and encourage him to design buildings or clothing. Possible career paths: sculptor, mechanic, architect, or interior designer.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (Body Smart). This child excels in more than one sport, taps or moves when required to sit still, can mimic other’s body movements/gestures, likes to touch objects, enjoys physical activities and has excellent fine-motor coordination.

Tip: Encourage participation in school and extracurricular sports/teams. Provide blocks. Encourage fine-motor ability (teach her to build paper airplanes, create origami, or try knitting). Enroll her in dance class. Possible career paths: dancer, firefighter, surgeon, actor, or athlete.

Musical Intelligence (Music Smart). This child can tell you when music is off-key and easily remember melodies. He has a pleasant singing voice, shows aptitude with musical instruments, speaks or moves in a rhythmical way, hums or whistles to himself, and may show sensitivity to surrounding noises.

Tip: Encourage him to play an instrument, write songs, join school bands or choirs, or study folk dancing from other countries. Possible career paths: musician, singer, or composer.

Interpersonal Intelligence (People Smart). This child enjoys socializing with friends, is a natural leader, is caring, helps friends solve problems, is street-smart and understands feelings from facial expressions, gestures and voice.

Tip: Encourage collaborative activities with friends inside and outside of school, expose her to multi-cultural books and experiences, encourage dramatic activities and role playing, help her learn to negotiate and share. Possible career paths: counselor, therapist, politician, salesman, or teacher.

Intrapersonal Intelligence (Self-Smart). This child shows a sense of independence, knows his abilities and weaknesses, and does well when left alone to play or study. He has a hobby or interest he doesn’t talk about much, is self-directed, has high self-esteem, and learns from failures and successes.

Tip: Help him set goals and realize the steps to get there, encourage independent projects and journal writing, help him find quiet places for reflection and appreciate his differences. Possible career paths: philosopher, professor, teacher, or researcher.

Naturalist Intelligence (Nature Smart). This child talks about favorite pets or outdoor spots, enjoys nature preserves and the zoo, and has a strong connection to the outside world. She likes to play outdoors, collects bugs, flowers and leaves, and is interested in biology, astronomy, meteorology or zoology.

Tip: Take her to science museums, exhibits and zoos. Encourage her to create observation notebooks, ant farms, bug homes, and leaf collections. Involve her in the care of pets, wildlife, and gardens. Make binoculars and telescopes available to her. Possible career paths: animal activist, biologist, astronomer, or veterinarian.

Existential Intelligence (Philosophically Smart). This child enjoys thinking and questions the way things are. He shows curiosity about life and death and shows a philosophical awareness and interest that seems beyond his years. He asks questions like, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’

Tip: Be patient with his questioning, as he may ask over and over again. Read books together that explore these topics and talk about them at an age-appropriate level.  Possible career paths: philosopher, clergy, scientist, or writer.

Don’t worry if it looks like your child is only strong in 3-4 areas. That’s the way it should be. While children have the potential to be intelligent in all areas, they will most likely show dominance in some and weakness in others. Dr. Renzulli advises, “When we find our child’s preferred learning style, we should capitalize on it and give them many opportunities to express that in their work. But it is equally important to give them exposure to various kinds of styles.” In other words, your child may not realize what his preferred learning style is until he is exposed to it.

Perhaps your child will never attain Princess status, but she may write a novel about the royal life. And maybe your son won’t set foot on Mars, but rather, design the next generation of rockets. Whatever Intelligences your children have, be sure to watch for the cues along the way and encourage them to be whatever they want to be. In the meantime, let your kid have fun dreaming about the Indy 500, even if it gives you a few gray hairs in the process.

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