Oct 122012

Children all learn differently. Peek into any classroom or place where children are gathered and you are sure to see a variety of learning methods at work:

  • children talking and discussing a problem to find a solution.
  • children drawing diagrams to understand a problem.
  • children acting or role playing to solve a problem.
  • children building with blocks to solve a problem.

It is clear that children have different ways to thinking about and interacting with the world. When teachers and leaders in the classroom understand this concept, they can create a learning environment where children thrive as more active, involved learners.

A great framework to help us better understand children’s learning styles is a theory developed by Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor of neuroscience from Harvard University. Dr. Gardner developed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983, and since that time his theory has revolutionized the way teachers think about how children learn.

Multiple Intelligences states that human beings have nine different kinds of intelligence that reflect different ways of interacting with the world. Though each person does contain a spectrum of all nine intelligences, each person has a unique combination of strengths and no two individuals have the same exact configuration!

For Gardner, intelligence is defined as:

  • the ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture;
  • a set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life;
  • the potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge.


1. Linguistic Intelligence: the capacity to use language to express what’s on your mind and to understand other people. Any kind of writer, orator, speaker, lawyer, or other person for whom language is an important stock in trade has great linguistic intelligence.

2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: the capacity to understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system, the way a scientist or a logician does; or to manipulate numbers, quantities, and operations, the way a mathematician does.

3. Musical Rhythmic Intelligence: the capacity to think in music; to be able to hear patterns, recognize them, and perhaps manipulate them. People who have strong musical intelligence don’t just remember music easily, they can’t get it out of their minds, it’s so omnipresent.

4. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: the capacity to use your whole body or parts of your body (your hands, your fingers, your arms) to solve a problem, make something, or put on some kind of production. The most evident examples are people in athletics or the performing arts, particularly dancing or acting.

5. Spatial Intelligence: the ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind — the way a sailor or airplane pilot navigates the large spatial world, or the way a chess player or sculptor represents a more circumscribed spatial world. Spatial intelligence can be used in the arts or in the sciences.

6. Naturalist Intelligence: the ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) and sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef.

7. Intrapersonal Intelligence: having an understanding of yourself; knowing who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, how you react to things, which things to avoid, and which things to gravitate toward. We are drawn to people who have a good understanding of themselves. They tend to know what they can and can’t do, and to know where to go if they need help.

8. Interpersonal Intelligence: the ability to understand other people. It’s an ability we all need, but is especially important for teachers, clinicians, salespersons, or politicians — anybody who deals with other people.

9. Existential Intelligence: the ability and proclivity to pose (and ponder) questions about life, death, and ultimate realities.

As I read this list, I am in awe at the creativity of God. Often, we are reminded of God’s greatness, power, and glory when we look at the stars and galaxies in the heavens. This list of Multiple Intelligences reminds me we can see the greatness, power, and glory in the way He created our brains to think and process information. We can marvel at God’s splendor when we see the diversity in children – not just their physical features, but the way God wired their bring to think about Him and the world He made. In my next post, I’ll unpack some specific ways we can use this information about Multiple Intelligences on Sunday mornings in Crossing Kids.

* As written in Dr. Howard Gardner’s INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED: MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

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