Finding the Smart Part in Every Child

There’s a quiet revolution taking place in the school systems around the country. It’s premise? All children are smart, and the job of teachers and parents is to help kids find the style of learning that lets their unique natural intelligence shine through.

The teachers in these systems are putting the theory of MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES (MI) into practice. The MI Theory, developed by Howard Gardner and his colleagues at Harvard University, moved into the mainstream with the publication of the book 8 Kinds of Smart by Dr. Thomas Armstrong. Advocates of MI challenge traditional notions of intelligence, as well as tests that claim to rate intelligence.

Researchers point out the traditional teaching and testing focus only on 2 of the 8 kinds of intelligence people possess – language and logic skills. So, kids who don’t learn in a style that relies on language and logic are labeled “deficient.”

According to Armstrong, it’s the teaching methods, not the kids that are faulty. “In traditional education, we try to remake children to get them to learn in our way. In fact, we need to remake the way we teach so that it fits the kids,” he explains. “Only when we recognize that different kids learn in different ways, and that all ways of learning are okay – are we going to be truly in the business of education,” he adds.


As the title of Armstrong’s book suggests, there are 8 styles of learning, 8 distinct intelligences that students bring with them to the task of learning. VERBAL abilities and LOGIC skills, which make up the traditional “Three R’s: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic,” account for just two of these intelligences, and are what Armstrong calls “Word Smart” and “Logic’s Smart.”

The six other intelligences, according to MI research, are equally important, and to ignore them is to risk that children end up working against their own intelligence rather than with it. So, the question for teachers and parents is this: How do we match children’s learning styles to what is being taught? Let’s look at the ways kids learn and some ideas about how to direct them:

  • WORD SMART. Most teaching today is geared to the expectation that kids are word smart, meaning they absorb information by listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Parents of these kids need only encourage their children to keep up with their assignments.
  • LOGIC SMART. This too follows traditional teaching lines, using number facts and scientific principles, as well as observation and experimentation. Kids who are logic smart respond well to questions starting with “What if….” Parents might also suggest that these kids draw diagrams, graphs, and devise other analytical props.
  • PICTURE SMART. These kids can understand so much more when they visualize what they are learning, be it a math concept or a history lesson. Give your Picture – Smart child plenty of visual demonstrations, from simple homemade charts to museum visits, and ask her to draw as often as possible what she has observed and studied.
  • MUSIC SMART. You’ll find that background music doesn’t distract these kids; rather, it helps them absorb their studies! Information presented melodically – whether in ditties or even rap songs – hits home with Music-Smart kids. Try clapping out anything that can be put to rhythm – times tables, perhaps? – and watch this child “get” it.
  • BODY SMART. The child who suddenly catches on to today’s lesson as she walks home from school probably has Body Smarts. She also needs plenty of Touch to Teach and Stand UP and Move learning opportunities through performing in skits and other physical experiences. Be sure these kids have breaks to stretch and move throughout the day to keep their learning focus sharp.
  • PEOPLE SMART. Group projects, which require kids to compare notes, discuss and decide, are ideal for routes to learning for people-smart kids. They are very sociable, and learning as part of a group rates high for them.
  • SELF SMART. Ask the Self Smart child how a situation would feel to him, and he’ll grasp the lesson immediately. This child is often accused of daydreaming when, in fact, he is absorbing his lessons by personalizing them. What would it have felt like to be a Civil War soldier or an explorer at the North Pole?
  • NATURE SMART. For the child in tune with nature, a walk in the woods sets off the learning lights in his brain. Projects such as collecting bugs, charting weather patterns, and studying the lives of explorers ensure optimum learning.

All kids have each of these learning styles to some degree, but obviously in greatly varying strengths. To learn most readily, students naturally tend to draw upon one or more of their stronger styles. Armstrong notes, too, that a learner’s preferred style this year may be supplanted by another next year. “Toddlers are body smart,” he says, as an example. “They learn by touching, feeling, and doing. As kids grow and change, other strengths emerge.” Culture, too, plays a part in which strengths may flourish and which may go underground. “Almost all cultures pass on knowledge musically from one generation to the next,” Armstrong observes. In our culture, kids learn their ABC’s through song. As kids move along the school path, we use music less and less as a teaching device. “That’s sad for all children,” says Armstrong, “but for some kids, it becomes a real tragedy.”


Fortunately, putting Multiple Intelligence ideas into the educational system doesn’t call for a complete overhaul. “Incorporating MI theory into the classroom requires a shift in attitude,” Armstrong explains. “With MI We work from kids’ strengths, rather than trying to compensate for weaknesses.” “It’s not necessary, MI supporters point out, to teach every new concept in a way that draws on each learning style. A history lesson, for example, might draw on a word, picture, people, and self smarts, which a math concept might be facilitated by calling on logic and body smarts. Over the course of the day, all children should be able to bring their unique balance of learning styles into play,” adds Thomas Hoerr, principle of the New City School in St. Louis, which has incorporated MI into his curriculum.


The parents’ role is to become a “cooperative advocate” for their kids at school, suggests Armstrong. For your Picture-Smart child, as an example, you might say to the teacher,” I know my child learns best by drawing. What are the ways you can let him use drawing in his math work?” If the teacher’s reaction is negative, provide your child the opportunities to explore learning using his particular smarts at home.

One last warning: Armstrong is concerned that MI could become another exercise in labeling. “Tagging a child as an artistic learner, or any of the other learning styles, defeats the purpose of MI,” he stresses. “Our goal is to broaden, not limit, each learner’s potential. Let children use their special gifts, but also encourage them to explore all of the intelligences. That’s the road to discovery.”