color wheel showing the eight intelligencesKnowing how your child learns best can mean the difference between experiencing frustration and failure at school or achieving academic excellence and engagement.  One of the best frameworks for understanding how your child learns is Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.   Gardner argues that there is not one intelligence for all (measured by I.Q. tests), but at least eight different intelligences that guide how we interact with our environment.  The eight intelligences include:

  1. Word Smart:  the intelligence of the spoken and written word
  2. Number/Logic Smart:  the intelligence of math and science concepts (e.g. statistics, computing etc.)
  3. Picture Smart:  the intelligence of pictures and images (e.g. art activities, photography etc.)
  4. Body Smart:  the intelligence of the whole body and of the hands (e.g. athletics, craftsmanship etc.)
  5. Music Smart:  the intelligence of performing, composing, and/or appreciating music
  6. People Smart:  the intelligence of understanding people’s intentions, working effectively within a group, having a sense of empathy etc.
  7. Self Smart:  the intelligence of self-understanding, self-reflection, and self-assessment
  8. Nature Smart:  the intelligence of natural life forms (e.g. plants, animals, geographical features etc.)

Gardner argues that traditional schooling uses primarily Word Smart and Number/Logic Smart, which means that kids who are intelligent in these other ways don’t have a chance to really shine in the classroom.

If you know your child’s multiple intelligences (and every child has all eight of them in different degrees), then you can guide him to explore areas in his areas of strength and use learning strategies that can help him overcome his learning difficulties.  To get a sense of your child’s (or teen’s) multiple intelligences, here is a checklist you can fill out to give you a better sense of which intelligences they have in greatest measure.  Check any item that applies to your child (for older kids, you might fill out the inventory together).

Word Smart

__ Writes better than average for age.

__ Spins tall tales or tells jokes and stories.

__ Has a good memory for names, places, dates, or trivia.

__ Enjoys word games.

__ Enjoys reading books.

__ Spells words accurately

__ Appreciates nonsense rhymes, puns, tongue twisters, and other fun word antics.

__ Enjoys listening to the spoken word (stories, commentary on media, talking books etc.)

__ Has a good vocabulary for age.

__ Communicates to others in a highly verbal way.

Number/Logic Smart

__ Asks a lot of questions about how things work.

__ Enjoys working or playing with numbers.

__ Enjoys math class.

__ Finds math and computer (logic) games interesting.

__ Enjoys playing chess, checkers, or other logical strategy games.

__ Enjoys working on logic puzzles or brainteasers.

__ Enjoys putting things in categories, hierarchies, or other logical patterns..

__ Enjoys science class.

__ Shows interest in science-related topics.

__ Does well on assessments of logical thinking.

Picture Smart

__ Reports clear visual images.

__ Reads maps, charts, and diagrams more easily than text.

__ Daydreams a lot.

__ Enjoys art activities.

__ Good at drawings.

__ Likes to view movies, slides, or other visual presentations.

__ Likes to draw or doodle.

__ Builds interesting three-dimensional constructions using legos or other building materials.

__ Gets more out of pictures than words while reading..

__Enjoys doing puzzles, mazes, or similar visual activities.

Body Smart

__ Excels in one or more sports..

__ Moves, twitches, taps, or fidgets while seated for a long time in one spot.

__ Cleverly mimics other people’s gestures or mannerisms.

__ Loves to take things apart and put them back together again.

__ Puts his/her hands all over something he’s/she’s just seen.

__ Enjoys running, jumping, wrestling, or similar activities (e.g. running to class, jumping over a chair etc.).

__ Shows skill in a craft (e.g. woodworking, sewing, mechanics), or displays good fine-motor coordination in other ways.

__ Has a dramatic way of expressing herself/himself.

__ Enjoys dare devil amusement rides.

__ Enjoys working with clay or other tactile experiences (e.g. finger painting).

Music Smart

__ Has a pleasant singing voice.

__ Can tell when a musical note is off-key.

__ Frequently listen to music on radio, records, cassettes, or compact discs.

__ Plays a musical instrument.

__ Remembers melodies of songs.

__ Has a rhythmic way of speaking and/or moving.

__ Unconsciously hums to himself/herself.

__ Taps rhythmically on the table or desk as he/she works..

__ Is sensitive to environmental noises (e.g. rain on the roof)

__ Sings songs that he/she has learned outside of the classroom

People Smart

__ Enjoys socializing with peers.

__ Seems to be a natural leader.

__ Gives sound advice to friends who have problems

__ Seems to be street-smart.

__ Belongs to clubs, committees, organizations,or informal peer groups (e.g. cliques, gangs, etc.).

__ Enjoys informally teaching other kids.

__ Likes to play games with other kids.

__ Has two or more close friends.

__ Has a good sense of empathy or concern for others.

__ Others seek out his/her company.

Self Smart

__ Displays a sense of independence or a strong will..

__ Has a realistic sense of his/her abilities and weaknesses.

__ Does well when left alone to play or study.

__ Marches to the beat of a different drummer.

__ Has an interest or hobby that he/she doesn’t talk much about.

__ Has a good sense of self-direction.

__ Prefers working alone to working with others.

__ Accurately expresses how he/she is feeling.

__ Is able to learn from his/her mistakes and failures in life.

__ Has a good sense of self-esteem.

Nature Smart

__ Relates better to animals (e.g. pets),than to people..

__ Likes field trips to natural settings.

__ Notices details in natural formations (e.g. clouds, mountains, geology, etc.) that others might miss.

__ Likes to hang around the gerbil cage, aquarium, terrarium, or other natural objects in class.

__ Prefers to spend free time in natural setting.

__ Speaks out for the rights of animals, or the preservation of the environment.

__ Has an ability to identify different kinds of birds, plants, or other living things.

__ Has a pretty highly developed sense of ecological awareness and/or sense of responsibility for helping to take care of Mother Earth.

__ Enjoys doing nature projects, such as bird watching, butterfly or insect collections, or raising animals..

__ Does well in topics at school related to living systems (e.g. biology, environment studies etc.).


Remember that your child has all eight intelligences, and she probably has strengths in more than one intelligence.  If your child is not as developed in Word Smart and/or Number/Logic Smart, but shows strengths in Body Smart or Picture Smart, for example, she may not do well in classrooms that emphasize a lot of reading, writing, and calculating.  She’ll need ways to learn that include physical activity (see, for example, a kinesthetic activity to teach exponential curves) and pictures, images, and video to learn (see, for example, a list of 11 ways to teach academics to visual-spatial learners).  More importantly, she’ll understand that her problems in school aren’t due to being ”dumb”, but because she isn’t being taught in the way she learns best.  Multiple intelligences gives every child a chance to shine!


For more ways to use the eight intelligences to help your child succeed in school and at home, see 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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