June 1, 2014

How Are Your Kids Smart?

In the wonderful book How Am I Smart?, Dr. Kathy Koch explains that Howard Gardner, the “father” of the multiple intelligence theory, "determined that everyone is born with…eight…intelligences.” In other words, each person has some innate ability in each of eight different areas: word smart, logic smart, music smart, picture smart, body smart, nature smart, people smart, and self smart. Drs. Gardner and Koch demonstrate that though “each intelligence has to be awakened…they’re [all] there [from the beginning], built into each child at birth.”

Now, to be sure, God is as creative here as He is in making snowflakes or in using a limited number of lines and whorls to stamp every person who’s ever lived with a unique fingerprint. So each individual has a different mix of the “smarts.” For example, I am very word- and music-smart, and I’m fairly body-, self-, and picture-smart, too. But I’m not very nature-smart; I do not much notice the variety of plants and animals around me and, frankly, I don’t really enjoy being outdoors. But according to the theory, I do have some nature smart, no matter how limited.

Another important thing to remember, particularly as we apply the theory with our children in mind, is that every intelligence must – and can – be awakened and developed. In fact, the smarts will not sufficiently grow and become useful in a child’s life unless they are brought to light and then exercised.

One way to do this is to expose children to a wide variety of different experiences, starting in infancy and continuing through adolescence. For example, take them to music concerts – whether free city band shows in the park or symphony performances. Enroll them in “physical education” classes – dance, soccer, T-ball, gymnastics – and (within reason) allow them to try different sports at different times (instead of forcing them to choose one focus too early). Make available some simple but valuable “learning toys” – Legos, intricate puzzles, Sudoku – to develop logic smart. Provide opportunities for both time alone (for self-reflection) and group interaction. Incorporate nature walks and visits to zoos and aquariums into your curriculum. Encourage drawing and crafting, both as a part of schoolwork and just for fun. Allow your children the means to write or otherwise record the stories that fill their heads with words. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and ability to research the options!

The constraints inherent in many traditional school settings – large classes, discipline issues, the pressure to “make” children test well – present many challenges for public and private school teachers who want to acknowledge and develop each individual’s multiple intelligence strengths. Thus, in typical classrooms, the emphasis and value are often placed on word- and logic-smart – the intelligences that can most easily be assessed by seatwork and paper-and-pencil tests. As a result, children who have high levels of one or the other smart do well in those settings and are labeled (by themselves and others) as “the smart ones.”

But where does that leave other children, those whose word- and logic-smart might be relatively low but who excel in other areas? All too often, for example, the body-smart child is labeled “ADHD” – even without a formal, medical diagnosis – and parents are pressured to medicate her. Or the picture-smart child is disciplined for daydreaming, even if the doodles in his notebook are his way of listening to and appropriating into his memory the botany lecture. And a self-smart child may be deemed “anti-social” and, thus, become the target of bullies.

Some of that is unavoidable in traditional schools, even if particular teachers do their best within an untenable system to incorporate activities that allow expression of all the intelligences. However, in home education, we have a much easier job in that regard. In fact, one of the reasons we homeschool is undoubtedly to allow each of our children the freedom to grow and develop as he’s been designed. And so in homeschooling, we naturally provide individualized instruction.

In spending most of every day with your children, you surely know each one quite well; in fact, you may have been able to loosely categorize the “smarts” of each one from my brief descriptions here. However, I’ve barely scratched the surface. And as with any building task, good tools help immensely. Thus, I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of How Am I Smart? this summer.

In it, Dr. Koch explains in layman’s terms the theories developed by Dr. Gardner and others. And she has packed the book with practical examples for identifying and working on each smart. She writes from a Christian perspective, but parents of all faith backgrounds have thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from it. So why not devote some time this summer to reading about how each of your kids is smart in eight different ways?


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