Wake up, your child is Intelligent

Did you know that your child can be intelligent in different ways? This article explains the concept of multiple intelligence and how children are intelligent in different ways.

By Rangashree Srinivas  • 22 min read

Wake up, your child is Intelligent
An intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings - Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind (1983)

Your seven-year-old daughter’s teachers at school are complaining about her. The child has some difficulty following the lessons taught; her classwork is often incomplete. But she draws beautiful diagrams; her project work is imaginative. At home, you know that she likes science. She brings you an illustrated encyclopaedia with pictures of fiery volcanoes, surging seas and interesting pot-bellied ants and asks you to read aloud to her. She cannot bear to see a mosquito squashed. She cannot tolerate the fact that dirty water is going untreated into the sea.

You feel that she has an intelligence innate in her that makes her appreciate the world outside. What is this intelligence and is it enough for her to get by in academics? How should this intelligence be tapped? Are schools (and parents too) progressive enough to treat each child as a unique individual, and adapt themselves accordingly to satisfy her needs?

It is therefore important that both you as a parent and her teachers understand the multiple intelligences (MI) present in every child, learn to identify the dominant ones and tap them appropriately. Howard Gardner, the father of the Multiple Intelligence theory, visited India recently renewing an interest in MI and how it will impact the world in the years to come. In the 30 years since he first propounded the theory of MI, further research has been done, not just by him, but by several other scholars and practitioners around the world.

What is MI?

Gardner developed this theory based on his observations of hundreds of people from different walks of life, under everyday circumstances. His study also included stroke victims, prodigies, autistic individuals, and the so-called ‘idiot savants’. According to Gardner,

  • All human beings possess all eight intelligences in varying amounts, with some, more dominant than others.
  • Each person has a different intellectual composition.
  • We can improve education by addressing the multiple intelligences our students.
  • These intelligences are located in different areas of the brain and can either work independently or together.
  • These intelligences may define the human species.

The MI theory suggests that an individual possesses intelligences in several areas as against the traditional idea of a single intelligence. An intelligent person has been recognized so far only by her linguistic (language) abilities or logical (mathematical) abilities as these are considered to be important for academic advancement. Thus, only the student who achieves high scores in class is considered intelligent. Another child may just be ‘talented’ in the area of her achievement – ‘She is a good dancer; let us send her for the inter-school dance competition.’ ‘He is a good cricket player; but he needs to concentrate now on improving his grades’ and so on.

Worse still, in some schools only the academically well-performing students are given the opportunity to participate in co-curricular activities when there could be others more suited for this. For instance, it is the class topper who gets to deliver the school’s morning assembly speech. It is the girl who scores a 100% in math who gets to automatically represent her school in the inter-school quiz competition.

In contrast, the MI theory recognizes at least eight different intelligences that have to be considered while creating an ‘intelligence’ profile of a person.

MI theory strives to provide educators and parents with a tool to recognize and nurture the different abilities of the child. It redefines the word ‘intelligent’ or ‘smart’. It brings in new thinking towards nurturing excellence, creativity and genius. It emphasises that all children can learn and that it is the adults who need to know how to teach them.

The 8 intelligences in the MI framework

Chitra Ravi (Founder and CEO, EZ Vidya), who has worked under Gardner on Project Zero at Harvard University, gives some pointers to parents to spot intelligences in their children.

Linguistic intelligence

Linguistic intelligence is the capacity to use languages, to express oneself, and to understand other people. Poets specialise in linguistic intelligence. But any kind of writer, orator, speaker, lawyer, or a person for whom language is an important stock in trade, highlights linguistic intelligence.

Does your child love to read and write? Does he enjoy solving word puzzles? Does he think in more languages than one?

Logical-mathematical intelligence

People with a highly developed logical-mathematical intelligence understand the underlying principles of some kind of a causal system, the way a scientist or a logician does. They can manipulate numbers, quantities, and operations, the way a mathematician does.

Does your child reason out why he needs to budget his pocket money? Does he like to pack his school bag in a particular sequence? Is he number smart?

Visual-spatial intelligence

Visual-spatial intelligence refers to the ability to represent the spatial world internally in one’s mind – the way a sailor or a 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. If your child is spatially intelligent and oriented toward the arts, he is more likely to become a painter or a sculptor or an architect than, say, a musician or a writer. Similarly, certain sciences like anatomy or topology emphasise spatial intelligence.

So if your child is caught doodling in class, it is not necessarily a sign of disinterest – he is just ‘mapping’ the lesson out!

Bodily kinaesthetic intelligence

Bodily kinaesthetic intelligence is the capacity to use the whole body or parts of the body –hand, fingers, arms– either to solve a problem, or to make or produce something. Evident examples: athletes or performing artists, particularly dancers or actors.

Some children appear to be restless while studying; they need to take a ‘running’ break every 20 minutes. If your child is doing a cross-legged jig while you are revising his science lessons with him, understand that it is his way of learning. Is he body smart? Can he mime? Look at his facial expressions closely.

Musical intelligence

Musical intelligence is the capacity to think in music, to be able to hear patterns, recognise them, remember them, and perhaps manipulate them.

If your child drums on the table or whistles during his lessons, or listens to music while studying, then it is this dominant intelligence at work.

Interpersonal intelligence

Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand other people. It is an ability we all need, but it is substantial in teachers, psychologists, salespersons, or politicians. Anybody who deals with other people has to be skilled in the interpersonal sphere. Does your child enjoy talking to other children and adults? Does he empathise with them? Does he understand ‘the right moments’ to approach people to get his work done?

Intrapersonal intelligence 

Intrapersonal intelligence refers to having an understanding of the self, of knowing who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, how you react, what to avoid etc. We are drawn to people who have a good understanding of themselves because such people do not screw up. They tend to know what they can do and what they cannot do. They tend to know where to go, if they need help.

Does your child know that if he wears his favourite colour green, he gets pepped up? Does he have an understanding of what tends to upset him?

Naturalist intelligence

Naturalist intelligence designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as 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. Today’s society exploits the naturalist intelligence of people to distinguish between different types of cars, shampoos and the like.

Does your child point out to you the difference between a camel and a dromedary?

A ninth intelligence is to be added to this list and that is Existential intelligence – sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here.


The implication of MI for a parent

Says Chitra, “Every parent should nurture the native intelligence/s of her child. This is better done during the primary days, when the child still displays his natural propensities without inhibition. The parent has a great chance of observing his child at home, where the environment is less rigid and structured, compared to school. If the child is encouraged to do what comes naturally to him from early on, he has a very good chance of leading a happy and fulfilling life. He would make lesser mistakes in his choice of a career, as he would confidently gravitate to where his interest and intelligence lies.

The parent can detect multiple intelligences in a child even when he is in middle school or in high school. But, a lot of spontaneity in that child would have died by then and much of the intelligence would have been pruned.”

Extreme intelligences

The presence of MI is easily detected in both the learning-disabled and the gifted, as Gardner found out. A child who may have trouble reading may have a keen eye for animals and birds. A prodigy who reels off the square roots of three-digit numbers could be tone-deaf. The use of MI theory can help educators of both groups to build capacity in the child.

The Hydra Project in Chennai works with Vidyasagar (a voluntary organisation based in Chennai that works with children and young adults with cerebral palsy and other neurological disabilities) to mentor groups of learning-disabled children.

An after-school activity centre, Hydra exposes the children for a period of 3 to 4 months to various activities. The children are observed for their preferences to certain activities, their approach to problems, and specific abilities. Their MI profiling is created and shared with their educator who incorporates it into her teaching.

“Children with learning disabilities come with very low self-esteem,” says Swetha Chandrashekar, coordinator, Hydra Project. “With planned exposure to various activities like interactions with musicians, movement sessions, working with puzzles, art & craft sessions, field trips to nature parks & photography studios, we are able to show them what they can do, rather than what they can’t do. This boosts their self-esteem and we have seen them improve significantly in other areas too,” she adds.

She also talks about ‘Pluralism’ in administering the MI theory, which allows children to approach a given task through their unique intelligences. In one session, the facilitator showed the children a drawing of colourful concentric circles and asked them to make a similar drawing. One child who exhibited Visual-Spatial Intelligence just picked up different colours and drew the circles intuitively. Another child measured the distances between each circle, outlined the circles in pencil first before filling in the colours. This child possibly possessed high Mathematical-Logical Intelligence.

In another instance, a child who was given paper and a pair of scissors to make a collage, reportedly began to study the mechanics of the scissors. “We never tell a child to do anything in a ‘certain’ way. It is their unique approach that gives us an insight into their minds,” says Swetha.

A handmade poster is prominently displayed in the front room of Hydra. The poster spells out simple classroom rules of cleanliness and etiquette. The ‘N’ of neat is a mirror image as it was written by a dyslexic child. “The dyslexic child was particularly surprised that I did not correct him, he was so used to constant corrections. My job is not to correct the child, but to help him learn by himself,” says Swetha.

Integrating MI into teaching and assessment

The child who is considered to be of average intelligence in school is, as mentioned earlier, inevitably tested only for Verbal-Linguistic and Mathematical-Logical intelligences. He could turn out to be a really good surgeon with more dominant Bodily Kinesthetic and Interpersonal intelligences. In reality, people can bring in their various intelligences into any work they do. Fortunately, reforms in Indian education like the introduction of Continous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE), may give schools an avenue to tap the MI of students and award grades accordingly.

Dr Rajalakshmi Parthasarathy, better known as Mrs YGP, the founder-head of the famous Padma Seshadri schools in Chennai says, “We have always believed that every child has unique abilities. Our theme-based annual productions allow every student to be a part of the production in different ways. For instance, in our last year’s production, ‘Sri Gurubhyo Namaha’, the children were engaged in research, documentation, scripting, art, music and dance. This gave an opportunity for each student to apply his unique intelligences to the whole production.

Recently, some students who were upset on having witnessed the flogging of a bullock, reported it to us. We encouraged them to do a project on ‘Our dumb friends’. Some students did a thorough study in two weeks, researching this topic at the school library and on the internet. Others made charts, and oral presentations. Some produced a dance-drama. So a topic close to their hearts was approached in different ways,” says Mrs YGP.

Applying the theory of MI in schools calls for an effort by the school, and it has to percolate top down. It would mean that

  • The school should believe that any discipline requires MI and that any goal can be reached through MI.
  • The school will have to develop adequate resources and effective modelling for teaching through MI.
  • Teachers have to be coaches and facilitators and not mere content providers.
  • Learning has to be individualized. A topic, say ‘Parts of a plant’ can be explained verbally, or visually through drawings and illustrations, or by taking a walk in the park, through discussions and research, or in many other ways. The teacher should facilitate self-learning according to the child’s dominant intelligence.
  • A time should be allotted everyday for the teachers to discuss with each other, the events of the day.

EZ Vidya, the company that Chitra Ravi founded, helps schools by providing them with products and services that integrate the MI concepts. This framework, when applied in classrooms, triggers the different intelligences in a child, stimulates self-learning and self-discovery. “Apart from conceptual learning, we also focus on ‘living well’ – to be in harmony with the world and oneself,” she says.

“Many of our science and math lessons start with a poem or a crossword. The teacher allows the child to approach a topic in the way he likes,” she says.

If your child is caught doodling in class, it is not necessarily a sign of disinterest - he is just ‘mapping’ the lesson out!

If the child is encouraged to do what comes naturally to him from early on, he has a very good chance of leading a happy and fulfilling life.

Show them the moon and they will reach for the stars!

Best suited careers for an intelligence

The MI profile of your child can guide him in choosing a suitable career path.

Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence: Best suited to be a writer, poet, journalist, teacher, lawyer, librarian, marketing consultant, newscaster, politician

Mathematical-Logical Intelligence: Best suited to be an accountant, mathematician, statistician, economist, detective, computer analyst, computer technician, computer programmer, database designer, engineer, network analyst, physicist, scientist

Musical Intelligence: Best suited to be an audiologist, composer, conductor, disc jockey, music critic, sound editor, music teacher, music therapist, musician, recording engineer, singer, songwriter, speech pathologist

Visual-Spatial Intelligence: Best suited to be a 3D modelling & simulation, architect, artist, film animator, graphic artist, interior decorator, photographer, mechanic, navigator, pilot, sculptor, strategic planner, surveyor, urban planner, webmaster

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: Best suited to be an actor, athlete, carpenter, computer games designer, crafts person, dancer, sports therapist, forest ranger, jeweller, mechanic, personal trainer, surgeon

Interpersonal Intelligence: Best suited to be an administrator, communications manager, customer service representative, human resources manager, marketing specialist, nurse, politician, psychologist, religious leader, social worker, teacher, trainer

Intrapersonal Intelligence: Best suited to be a career counsellor, consultant, criminologist, healer, futurist or trend predictor, personal counsellor, philosopher, programme planner, entrepreneur, psychologist, researcher, small business, owner, spiritual counsellor, theologian, therapist, writer, wellness counsellor

Naturalist Intelligence: Best suited to be an animal health technician, anthropologist, astronomer, botanist, environmental lawyer, farmer, forest ranger, gardener, geologist, landscaper, meteorologist, nature photographer, veterinarian, water conservationist, wetlands ecologist, wildlife expert

We never tell a child to do anything in a ‘certain’ way. It is their unique approach that gives us an insight into their minds.

Busting the myths behind MI

  • MI is not an educational end; it is an educational means to a stated goal.
  • MI is not the same as a sensory system; MI is like a set of different computers in the brain, processing the various sensory inputs.
  • MI is not the same as a discipline or career. A single discipline will require multiple intelligences. For example, a brilliant dancer needs both bodily kinaesthetic and interpersonal intelligence. A particular intelligence is required in several disciplines. For example, you must possess spatial intelligence to be an artist or a chess player or an architect.
  • MI is not the same as learning style, it refers to a mental computer.
  • MI cannot be measured; there is no official empirical measurement as yet.
  • There is no curriculum to follow MI; a framework has to be evolved case by case according to what the society values.
  • MI relates directly to performance or achievement-oriented goals; a child who has Musical Intelligence need not necessarily become a vocalist or instrumentalist. She may use the aspect of music to study Sonography.

Intelligence is God - given and static. In reality, intelligence needs the right kind of exposure to flower. Otherwise, it will wither.

Multiple Intelligences

Creates a profile after assessing different intelligences and abilities.

Was born out of a Dutch grant project of scholarly work on human potential. Gardner developed it while chronicling known facts about human cognition (through discoveries in the biological and behavioural sciences).

Takes into account various cultural contexts and ethnic influences.

Is organic in nature and expands with nurture, exposure and experience.

Every human, even those with retarded brain growth, the average person and the gifted ones have MI of value. In fact, the impaired and gifted have at least one highly dominant intelligence.

Traditional IQ

A single format test that assesses one’s Language and Mathematical abilities.

American psychologist Lewis Terman developed tests designed to measure intelligence quotient (IQ). IQ tests were commonly used in colonial times to measure performance success in public schools, to assess one’s ability to rule over the colonies, and as a military induction test.

Terman was a strong supporter of eugenics (breeding to improve human race), and enthusiastically argued that his test results proved that “the intelligence of the average Negro is vastly inferior to that of the average white man”.

Is static in nature. If you are born with an IQ of 120, it remains so

Has a limited and rigid range. Above 140 IQ is considered genius or near genius and below 70 IQ is definite feeble-mindedness.

For parents

Shirin Mammen, Coordinator, HRD, Vidyasagar advises parents to nurture the intelligences of their children

  • Reduce stress on high marks.
  • Observe without judgement. Let your child be.
  • Let your child play naturally.
  • Be an ‘intuitive’ parent.
  • Stay away from narcissism – both positive and negative.
  • Positive narcissism: “My wife and I are both doctors. My child should opt for medical studies only!”
  • Negative narcissism: “I wanted to be a carnatic vocalist. I couldn’t, but my child has to be one!”
  • Respect your child as an entity different from yourself.
  • Do not look for an ‘end’ for any activity. If he likes music, he need not be a stage performer.
  • Let your child have a ‘happiness’ corner. Let him sing away his blues.
  • Do not opt for any activity only for the sake of achievement.

According to Gardner, Multiple Intelligences should be used to do good work – work that is deemed to be of high quality and which is socially responsible. He echoes Ralph Emerson when he says “Character is more important than intellect”. By nurturing MI in our children, we can foster a new global renaissance, which calls upon everyone – the genius, the impaired and the ordinary to work together in their unique capacities.

A Naturalist named Vikas

Vikas Madhav Nagarajan, 12 years old, started an ecosystem conservation in the year 2007 to create an awareness about flora and fauna. As a part of this project, Vikas has produced a beautiful tabletop calendar featuring a variety of species of birds that he photographed on a day safari from Athirapally falls to Peringalkuthu dam.

Vikas has undertaken personal survey trips to Wayanad, Megamalai, Kabini, Coorg, Sundarbans, Kodaikanal, Mukurthi, Perumparai and some parts of Palani Hills. He participates regularly in the ecosystem awareness programmes conducted by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, the Tree Foundation and the Madras Naturalists Society. This young naturalist has even conducted quiz programmes for high school students. His ‘intelligence’ shows through the intimate descriptions of the birds featured in his calendar.

Looking for expert tips and interesting articles on parenting? Subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube