Anything that is worth teaching can be presented in many different ways. These multiple ways can make use of our multiple intelligences.

 (Howard Gardner)

By Guest Educator, Andrew Watson. He has been in education for 30 years and has worked in a number of countries. He has extensive experience as an Education Advisor in school reform, teacher training and leadership.

How do we measure intelligence?

Most education systems base their judgements of intelligence on attainment in national tests or exams focused on verbal reasoning or logic. The results of these tests are often used to divide children into various categories of ability that can have a marked effect on that child’s life chances.

In my experience, this can be a very dangerous track to follow as it is too exclusive and does not give the child a chance to grow and develop at their own pace. Howard Gardner, in his seminal work, Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983), and in subsequent follow-up work (1995), argued that intelligence cannot be defined and measured in such a narrow way. His thesis was that intelligence is a much broader concept and that we need to see value in a much wider range of areas. He defined these areas of intelligence as follows:

1. Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence – children who excel in this area use varied language and enjoy reading and listening to stories. They speak confidently and enjoy poetry and rhymes.

2. Logical/ Mathematical Intelligence – characterised by the ability to group and categorise. Children who have skills in this area recognise relationships and connections and are quick to ask why and how questions. They are good at problem solving.

3. Musical intelligence – this includes the ability to perceive pitch, tone and rhythmic pattern, as well as to create melodies and remember songs easily.

4. Visual/Spatial Intelligence – this involves processing information through pictures and imagery. This is often allied to an active imagination and the ability to design and create.

5. Body/Kinaesthetic Intelligence – emphasis is on the ability to handle objects well, enjoy movement and dance, along with the ability to train responses and understand the goal of a physical action.

6. Interpersonal Intelligence – children with high interpersonal skills relate well to others, take notice of the moods and feelings of others and can discern other people’s underlying intentions, as well as working well in groups.

7. Intrapersonal Intelligence – this involves the skills of self-reflection and a strong sense of their own needs and self-worth. They are effective goal setters and like to work alone at times.

8. Naturalistic Intelligence – this stresses the ability to recognise flora and fauna, specify animal and species and understand aspects of the natural world reflecting a clear connection to the natural world.

Gardner’s work has achieved prominence in educational theory and has changed the way some people feel about the kind of activities young children should be involved in. Perhaps it is useful to consider what sort of access your child is getting to stimuli, either at home or school, that will lead to development in the seven areas of intelligence as identified by Gardner.



Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence Is your child getting a chance to read or listen to a wide range of books? Are they given a chance to explain their ideas, ask questions, challenge what they see?
Logical/ Mathematical Does your child have access to puzzles, word and board games? Are they encouraged to use these on a regular basis, both at home and at school?
Musical intelligence What opportunities exist for singing, learning instruments, hearing sounds from nature. Are you able to help your child to appreciate music?
Visual/Spatial intelligence How many times a week does your child get to paint, draw, make objects. Are they learning to compare and contrast differing pictures, photos and charts?
Body/Kinaesthetic intelligence Is your child physically active? Research suggests that children are doing less exercise as they spend an increasing amount of time behind a screen (The Atlantic, 2011). Do they use playgrounds on a regular basis, get a chance to dance and use materials with different textures?
Interpersonal intelligence What opportunities does your child have to work on group role plays or drama sessions? Is there regular provision for group discussion and a chance to work on a project which assigns distinct roles to individuals in order to achieve a shared goal?
Intrapersonal intelligence Does your child get quiet time when they can work alone on a task? Some children can initiate their own activities and need space and opportunities to follow their own interests.
Naturalistic Intelligence What access does your child have to plants and animals? How much do they understand about how we as humans relate to the world around us?

Although Gardner’s work has been criticised as being over simplistic and lacking a basis in empirical data, it seems to suggest a way of thinking that sees value in every child and gives room for children to develop naturally without the straight jacket of more conventional approaches.

Gardner’s theory stresses that every child has potential and is a valuable framework to identify how children learn by building on their innate strengths and exposing them to multiple tools and teaching strategies. From a teaching perspective, it encourages the use of learning centres that promote a variety of activities and challenges for children. It acknowledges that intelligence is not a unitary concept, but can be demonstrated in many different ways.

In terms of preschool or the early years of formal education, I think it is important to feel confident that the teaching staff recognise the uniqueness of your child and that learning can take place in different settings and situations.

It is my view that Gardner’s theories should give hope and confidence to all parents. Although your child may be struggling with some aspects of the standard curriculum, it may be that the aptitude that they show in music, art or drama could be the key to unlocking their potential to achieve across a much wider range of disciplines.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1995) Reflections on Multiple Intelligences: Myths and Messages. Philadelphia: Kaplan