color picture of cover of Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book showing two creatures yawningNormally, parents think of reading as a process involving just words or at the most, words and pictures (if the book is illustrated).  But I’d like to show you how to get the most out of reading to and with your child by engaging all eight of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences.(Word Smart, Number/Logic Smart, Picture Smart, Body Smart, Music Smart, People Smart, Self Smart, and Nature Smart)  The book I’m going to use for this purpose is the popular children’s classic Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book.

  1. Word Smart.  Most books have words, but Dr. Seuss’s books are special in that he creates unique words (or neologisms) with delicious sounds which are perfectly delightful.  Here are some of my favorites from his Sleep Book:  the Collapsible Frink, Castle of Krupp, Hinkle-Horn Honking Club. Herkheimer Falls, Vale of Va-Vode.  When reading this book to your kids (or any children’s literature), take time to luxuriate in the sounds of the most interesting words.
  2. Number/Logic Smart. In Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, a character is keeping track of the number of characters going to sleep at night, and a piano/computer is cranking out both the Arabic numerals (e.g. 40,404) and also the tally marks (groups of four vertical lines on a page with a line across it to equal five). This provides a way for the Number/Logic Smart child to get engaged (e.g. ”how many people do you think are going to sleep, right now at this second?”).  When reading any book, look for opportunities where numbers are featured in some way so you can talk about them, compute them, and ask questions about them.
  3. Picture Smart.  When I was a child, I remember my visits to my local public library when I discovered Dr. Seuss’s books in the children’s section.  I was totally blown away by the color and imagination of his drawings.  I think he was the first (or one of the first) children’s book illustrators to create really ingenious drawings.  This is an activity, fortunately, that most parents spend time on (talking with their kids about the pictures in the books they read together), but it bears repeating that for the Picture Smart child, the pictures in a book are as important (or even more important) than the words.
  4. Body Smart.  Find opportunities to respond with your child to different physical things that are going on in the book. For example, on one page of the Sleep Book, Dr. Seuss talks about (and illustrates) creatures who are yawning.  This might be a good time to actually yawn with your child (see who can make the widest or loudest, or most drawn out yawn). Look for points in any book when you can engage with your child in what I’d call ”physical responses” such as mimicking the characters or the action of the book.  This is especially important for kids who are especially Body Smart and learn best by moving.
  5. Music Smart.  One of the most endearing aspects of all of Dr. Seuss’s books are the catchy rhythms of the text which are tailor-made for the Music Smart part of each child’s brain.  In the Sleep Book, for example, one page reads: ”All this long happy day, they’ve been honking about/And the Hinkle-Horn Honkers have honked themselves out.” Dr. Seuss was reputed to have come up with his characteristic rhythms when he was taking a train one day and heard the ”clackedy-clackedy-clack” of the trains wheels on the track.  With any book that you read with your child, look for opportunities to say/chant/sing out loud especially musical or rhythmic passages.
  6. People Smart.  An important part of what I call People Smart and Howard Gardner (the originator of the multiple intelligences theory) calls ”interpersonal intelligence” is developing the ability to pick up on the thoughts, moods, and intentions of other people.  In the Sleep Book there are no people, just these delightfully odd characters, but we can apply this principle to them as well. Ask your child what the characters might be thinking or feeling.  For example, when the Sleep Book talks about some of its characters dreaming, you might ask you child ”what do you think they’re dreaming about?” In any book, this simple question (”what do you think they’re thinking (or feeling) right now?”) can enrich the experience of reading.
  7. Self Smart.  This kind of smart is the flip side of People Smart.  In this case, we’re interested in knowing our own thoughts, feelings, memories, and experiences. So, in one part of the Sleep Book, the characters are sleepwalking.  You might ask your child to think of a time in his life when he went sleepwalking (you probably already know this!).  Or when you get to the section on dreaming, ask her what she dreamed about last night or last week. The important point here is to engage the child in relating the book, any book, to her own personal experience, which makes the reading of the book that much richer.
  8. Nature Smart.  In one part of the book, creatures are building a nest using bricks, twigs, string, and other assorted items.  This might bring up an opportunity to talk about how real birds make their nests, which could enliven the experience of a Nature Smart child to share what they know about nest-making.  Since so many children’s books have animal creatures in them, and/or take place in natural settings, there’s usually plenty to talk about regarding the natural world.

The activities shared above are only suggestions.  They show the wide range of possibilities that exist for interacting with any book or story that you might be reading with your child.  The basic idea is to get as many of the intelligences working while reading.  Since the eight intelligences are in different parts of the brain (see Gardner’s book Frames of Mind, for a discussion of this), by engaging in the sorts of activities described above, you can turn reading into a total brain experience, which will in turn, make your child a better reader!

For more information about literacy activities based on the eight intelligences, see my book The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing: Making the Words Come Alive.

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

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