color graphic of a wheel showing the 8 intelligencesWith mass school closures around the United States (and the world), parents are finding themselves needing to get up to speed on teaching their kids at home.  We educators, who have been at it for decades, have an obligation, I believe, to share what we know about learning and education, to help parents through this difficult time.  One of the key learning ideas that I’d like you to master during this crisis is to understand how your kids learn best.  If you know how your child learns best, you don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to teach them with methods that are just going to lead to boredom and disengagement.

I’d like to introduce new homeschooling parents to what I believe is the best model for understanding how their kids learn:  Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.  Gardner says that every child (and adult) has eight basic intelligences through which they can learn new things.  While every child has all eight intelligences, each child has them at different levels of development.  Here are some indications of which intelligence(s) your child may have in greatest measure:

  1. Word Smart Kids – these kids love to read and/or write (either in school or on their own), have good vocabularies when they speak, like to tell stories, enjoy word games and puzzles; and/or have good memories for facts.
  2. Number/Logic Smart – these kids are more attracted to numbers and things that can be expressed in logical ways like scientific concepts; they look for logical patterns in things, they’re often good at math, or excel in calculating in their heads;
  3. Picture Smart – these kids have good imaginations, like to draw or play with Legos, see details in the visual world that others might miss, and/or liked art class in school; if not good at Word Smart, they may be identified as having dyslexia or other learning disabilities;
  4. Body Smart – these kids learn best by moving around or engaging in hands-on activities, they often are good athletes, and/or express themselves dramatically using their hands or their whole bodies; these kids may be at risk for being identified as having ADHD, because they have a hard time keeping their bodies still;
  5. Music Smart – these kids love to sing, may play a musical instrument, have melodies running through their head, know lots of different popular songs, and/or have a good sense of rhythm;
  6. People Smart – these kids love to learn with other people (one-to-one or in small groups), they are often leaders, mediators, or organizers of social activities in school or the neighborhood, they have friends and like joining clubs or other social organizations;
  7. Self Smart – these kids may be more introverted but have a lot of things going on inside of themselves such as hobbies they’re interested in, goals for the future, or ideas that are out of the mainstream. They may remember their dreams, enjoy writing in journals, or engage in quiet reflective activities
  8. Nature Smart – these kids prefer to learn outdoors and/or enjoy interacting with animals (e.g. pets etc.), like to study plants, rocks, insects or other living things, and/or have a strong urge to save the planet from environmental destruction.

If your child is really Word Smart and Number/Logic Smart, they probably did very well in school, and will do best studying using traditional school materials (e.g. writing assignments, learning through books, etc.)  But if your child is more Picture Smart or Body Smart, for example, traditional school learning approaches may not work very well for them, and you’ll need to come up with some other methods of helping them learn (including the use of maps, art activities, role play, imagination activities, video, photography etc.).  Similarly, if your child is more People Smart than Self Smart, you’ll want to do more social learning (e.g. find someone who they can learn with like a brother or a friend, or learn with a group of neighbor kids).

Self Smart kids will do better learning on their own through independent projects.  Music Smart kids will obviously learn better if they can pair their learning with music in some way (e.g. learning about the Civil War by finding examples of songs that were popular during that time).  Nature Smart kids will do best with much of their learning outside, exploring the environment, interacting with living things, and/or studying ecology.

One of the neatest things about the multiple intelligences concept is that it’s really easy to teach kids about their eight intelligences (see books for them, below), and they can use this information to help them learn more effectively and with a greater sense of self-esteem and engagement.  It can really be a wake-up call for some kids to realize that the reason they had so much difficulty at school was because they were Picture Smart, for example, but the teachers never asked them to draw their answers or take photos for homework!

Here are two books that will help your kids understand how they learn best through the eight intelligences.

For older kids (ages 10-16), You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kid’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences

cover of You're Smarter Than You Think







For younger kids (ages 5-9), the book: Smarts! Everybody’s Got Them.

cover of Smarts! Everybody's Got Them





And for parents, I’d suggest my best-selling book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences.

cover of In Their Own Way

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About the author

I’m the author of 20 books including my latest, a novel called Childless, which you can order from Amazon.

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