diagram of a wheel with the eight intelligences in the slicesOne of the most important things that homeschooling parents can share with their kids is to teach them about how they learn best.  You can always teach them individual things (spelling, math concepts, reading skills), but if you teach them about their own personal style of learning, you give them a gift that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.

The most solidly grounded theory of learning that we have at present is Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.  Gardner suggests that I.Q. as a measure of intelligence is far too limited a concept and that there are at least eight distinct intelligences that take account of our ability to solve problems and create meaningful products.  They are:  Word Smart, Number/Logic Smart, Picture Smart, Body Smart, Music Smart, People Smart, Self Smart, and Nature Smart.  Every child has all eight of these intelligences, but each child expresses them in different ways (for descriptions of kids who learn best in each of the eight intelligences, see my blog post).

One of the best things about this theory of eight intelligences is that it’s very easy to explain to your kiddos.  Even kids as young as first or second grade can learn the rudiments of the eight intelligences and use the theory to describe how they learn.  Here are five strategies to use to teach the multiple intelligences to your children and teens:

1. Use the MI (Multiple Intelligences) Pizza:  The above graphic is a simple wheel (or pizza) split into eight segments (or slices).  You can show your child this graphic, and go around the circle explaining each different kind of smart.  In fact, you can ask your child or teen to explain it to you.  Ask them,  ”When do you use your Word Smart?  Your Picture Smart? and so forth.  Another activity is to have kids rank their favorite and least favorite intelligences from 1 to 8 (1 being their favorite and 8 their least favorite).  Or, you could have your kids draw happy faces in the slices that they most enjoy, and sad or neutral faces in the slices they they like the least.

2. Play Games:   Different games engage different intelligences.  Pictionary draws upon Picture Smart, Monopoly (Number/Logic Smart), Cranium (Body Smart and other intelligences), Scrabble (Word Smart), Encore (Music  Smart), The Game of Life (Self Smart), Bridge (the card game)(People Smart). Play a different game every day or every week, and during and afterwards talk about how the different intelligences helped (or didn’t help) you win.

3.  Study Biographies:  Learn about the lives of individuals today or in history who excelled in one or more of the eight intelligences.  Here are some examples:

  1. J.K. Rowling, writer (Word Smart)
  2. Stephen Hawking, physicist (Number/Logic Smart)
  3. Pablo Picasso, painter (Picture Smart)
  4. Stephen Curry, basketball player (Body Smart)
  5. Jay-Z, rapper (Music Smart)
  6. Michelle Obama, first lady (People Smart)
  7. Martha Stewart, entrepreneur (Self Smart)
  8. Jane Goodall, primatologist (Nature Smart)

You might put up pictures of these or other figures around the house along with the intelligences they use most, or read online biographies of how they developed their abilities.

4. Have Intelligence Days:  The best way to learn about the multiple intelligences is to experience them directly.  You might want to have eight different days (consecutively or once a week), where an intelligence is featured and you get together as a family and do an activity featuring a given intelligence. Some examples might be:

  1. Word Smart Day:  read together as a family, or tell stories to each other;
  2. Number/Logic Smart Day: play chess, checkers, or some other logic  game;
  3. Picture Smart Day: get out some art materials and create visual art together (either producing one family project, or having each member do their own work);
  4. Body Smart Day: play a sport together as a family
  5. Music Smart Day: get some percussion instruments, then put on favorite recorded music, and play and sing together as a family;
  6. People Smart Day:  have a group discussion about some topic of high interest to all the members of the family;
  7. Self Smart Day: have a quiet day of journal writing and self-reflection
  8. Nature Smart Day: go on a hike and enjoy the richness of natural events and living beings.

5. Read Books for Kids About the Multiple Intelligences:  I’ve written two books that acquaint kids with the concept of multiple intelligences.  For older kids (grades 4-9) there’s You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kid’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences.

And for younger kids (grades K-3), I have created (along with “‘Picture Smart” illustrator Tim Palin) the picture book: Smarts! Everybody’s Got Them.

To sum up, the best way to teach about the multiple intelligences is to notice them when they occur during the course of each day, and point them out when you see them being used.  If your child is having trouble understanding something they’re reading, for example, you might say ”I see you’re kind of having difficulties with your Word Smart, why don’t you try using your Picture Smart and visualize the scene that you’re reading about.”  Or for a child who’s just made up a spontaneous song just before dinner, you might say: ”That’s neat that you’re using your Music Smart to compose such a fun song!”

You’ll likely find that after you’ve taught your kids about the eight intelligences, they’ll immediately begin to use the vocabulary to describe their own experiences (”Gee, Mom, I wish this homework assignment had more Body Smart in it!).  Perhaps the biggest benefit of teaching your kids about their multiple intelligences, though, is that it will stop them from getting stuck in the idea that a person is born either smart or not smart (something that researchers call a ”fixed mindset).  With the theory of multiple intelligences, your kids will begin to understand that there are lots of different ways of being smart, and that through effort you can become good at all of them (a ”growth mindset”).  Have fun as a family with all eight of the smarts!


For parents who want to use this multiple intelligences model to help their kids academically, get my best-selling book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences.

This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.

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I'm the author of 19 books including my latest: If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education - https://amzn.to/2KAxT8F.

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