Is your child struggling in school?  Does your child stall when it comes time to do homework?  Does your child’s teacher often comment that your child is capable, but is just not working to his or her potential? Or, does your child do alright in school, but seems a bit bored or lacks enthusiasm for learning? There is a little secret that you need to know in order to change this.

We are all born with certain propensities.  We enjoy doing some things more than others and we see the world and experience it from a certain perspective.  Parents can often say, “Oh, Johnny could stay outdoors playing in the dirt all day long,” or “Susie is such a people person”.  At a very early age children show what they enjoy doing and what they are naturally interested in.  Paying attention to this can be very beneficial to parents and in turn, to their children.

Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, developed a theory called, “Multiple Intelligences”. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults.

Here is a brief summary of these eight intelligences:

1) Linguistic intelligence (word smart) involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically; and language as a means to remember information. Writers, poets, lawyers and speakers are among those that Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.

2) Logical-mathematical intelligence (number/reasoning smart) consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Gardner’s words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.

3) Musical intelligence (music smart) involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms.

4) Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (body smart) entails the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements.

5) Spatial intelligence (picture smart) involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas. 

6) Interpersonal intelligence (people smart) is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counselors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.

7) Intrapersonal intelligence (self smart) entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations.

8) Naturalist intelligence (nature smart) enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment. A number of schools in North America have looked to structure curricula according to these intelligences, and to design classrooms and even whole schools to reflect the understandings that Howard Gardner developed. It takes a commitment though from school boards, administrators and teachers to put something like this into practice.

Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live.

Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.

So, if your child’s school does not teach based on these principles, how can you as the parent use them to help your child be successful in school and in life?

Let’s first take a look at how Howard Gardner’s theory would work in a classroom.  Then, we’ll look at how you can use these techniques at home.

Let’s pretend a teacher needs to teach a lesson about the law of supply and demand. They might read to their students about it (linguistic), study mathematical formulas that express it (logical-mathematical), examine a graphic chart that illustrates the principle (spatial), observe the law in the natural world (naturalist) or in the human world of commerce (interpersonal); examine the law in terms of one’s own body [e.g. when you supply your body with lots of food, the hunger demand goes down; when there's very little supply, your stomach's demand for food goes way up and you get hungry] (bodily-kinesthetic and intrapersonal); and/or write a song (or find an existing song) that demonstrates the law (perhaps Bob Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing? Or John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”).

It isn’t necessary for teachers to teach something in all eight ways, just for them to see what the possibilities are, and then decide which particular pathways align best with the topic. As well, a teacher should also provide students with an opportunity to discover which intelligence best describes themselves.  After students are aware of this they can take charge of their learning.  When they study for tests they can relate all the ideas to topics that mean something to them.  When they do a project they can present it in a way that most makes sense to them.

If your child’s school doesn’t work this way then you can still teach this to your child and they can still use the strategy to study and complete projects and assignments.

The first step is to go to http://www.bgfl.org/bgfl/custom/resources_ftp/client_ftp/ks3/ict/multiple_int/index.htm

Have your child take the test that determines their intelligence.  Then describe all eight intelligences to them, in language appropriate to their age of course, so that they will have a clearer understanding of each one.

Once your child is clear about how they learn and how this is innately what they enjoy, then the next step is to show them how they can use this with their school work.

When an assignment or project comes home tell them to put the topic of whatever the project is in the center of a blank sheet of paper, and draw eight straight lines or “spokes” radiating out from this topic. Label each line with a different intelligence. Then start brainstorming ideas for learning or showing that topic and write down ideas next to each intelligence. They might just want to do the assignment in a way that aligns with their intelligence, but it’s important for them to know that everyone has a little of each intelligence so they can mix and match too.

With anything new, this process will need guidance and practice however, you will be amazed at how quickly they catch on and how engrossed in their homework they will be.

Our world has become smaller due to globalization and it’s also becoming a world where different “traits” or intelligences are needed.  Let’s help our children understand and feel good about themselves. With these two things in place they will feel confident to use what they’ve got to help make their difference in this world.

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