Early childhood professionals have always looked at the whole picture when considering children's intelligence. Psychologist Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory reinforces the fact that there are many different ways for children to be smart. Instead of asking, "How smart is this child?," a better question may be, "How is this child smart?"

During the early years, children learn how to get along with others and meet their own needs. These factors, along with many others, contribute to children's intelligence -- something far too complex to be measured by a standardized test, or even by how quickly children learn to speak or walk.

According to Multiple Intelligence Theory, each of us possesses seven "intelligences," or ways to be smart. Some of us are more adept at using our hands; others are good at making rhymes, or singing songs. Each type of intelligence gives us something to offer to the world. What makes us unique is the way each intelligence expresses itself in our lives.

By recognizing multiple intelligences, we can help children enhance their individual strengths. But don't be too quick to label a preschooler as a future accountant, artist, or athlete without giving her a chance to explore the world, work on her skills, and develop her own abilities.

Understanding multiple intelligences means more than focusing on individual characteristics. Imagine a grown person who could do nothing but write poetry, or solve algebra problems. To do everyday things like drive a car or follow a recipe, a person needs to be smart in more ways than one.

Each of us is smart in all seven ways. Here's how to recognize these multiple intelligences:

  • Word smart -- Journalists, lawyers, and storytellers often demonstrate what Gardner refers to as linguistic intelligence. These people are best at using the written or spoken word to communicate.
  • Logic smart -- People with a great deal of logical-mathematical intelligence are good at reasoning, and thinking in terms of cause and effect. Scientists, accountants, and computer programmers generally have this ability.
  • Picture smart -- Otherwise known as spatial intelligence, this involves thinking in pictures or images. Such individuals may be able to follow directions best, or be able to visualize and draw accurately.
  • Music smart -- Musical intelligence is the ability to keep time with music, sing in tune, and discern the difference between different musical selections. These people can best perceive and appreciate melodies.
  • Body smart -- Individuals with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are best able to control their own movements. This involves not only outdoor sports, but tasks like sewing and carpentry.
  • Person smart -- Such persons have the ability to respond to, understand, and work with other people. This interpersonal intelligence is the gift of being able to see from others' perspectives.
  • Self smart -- These people tend to be contemplative and can easily access their own feelings. Those with intrapersonal intelligence may be introspective and enjoy meditating.

By exploring all of their intelligences, children become well-rounded individuals who are successful in many aspects of life. Parents and early childhood professionals must recognize these different strengths in children as they emerge. Some children may respond more to words, others to music -- the point is for adults to let children express themselves. If children have the opportunity to learn in the areas they prefer, and to improve in those areas that are not as strong, they will grow to become intelligent in more ways than one!

Additional resources:

Armstrong, T. 1993. Seven kinds of smart: Identifying and developing your many intelligences. New York, NY: Penguin Books. Gardner, H. 1991. The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.