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Question: My son’s school uses a multiple intelligences approach in their curriculum . What exactly does this mean? What are the benefits?

Lara Ashmore responds: Your son will benefit from a variety of diverse learning experiences rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to education. “Multiple intelligences” refers to Dr. Howard Gardner’s 1983 publication, “Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” Dr. Gardner is a Harvard University psychologist whose theory is that each individual has a unique combination of strengths or gifts that they have to offer the world. He believes that previous theories of intelligence do not account for profoundly gifted children nor children with learning challenges nor other individuals who do not fit neatly into the standard categories.

A school that incorporates this theory provides a diverse array of activities to address the individual learning needs of the children.

Gardner defined seven (and later, eight) major types of intelligence based on specific scientific criteria. The following table (Table 1) shows Gardner’s definition of the eight intelligences as well as Thomas Armstrong’s implied labels, Sue Teele’s suggested teaching methods and suggested activities to correspond with each intelligence.

Table 1. Multiple Intelligences

Gardner’s Intelligence Armstrong’s Simplified Labels Teele’s Teaching Methods Activities
1.Linguistic: sensitivity to spoken or written language, ability to learn and capacity to use language Word Smart lectures, word games, storytelling, debates, speech, reading aloud, reading, writing, spelling & listening exercises learn to read, learn a foreign language
2. Logical-Mathematical: capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations and investigate scientific issues Number Smart making graphs, charts, and lists, sequencing patterns and relationships, outlining, solving problems, predicting, questioning, categorizing have fun with numbers, do a puzzle
3. Musical: ability to perform, compose and appreciate musical patterns Music Smart chants, clapping or snapping fingers, poetry, moving rhythmically sing a song, play an instrument, dance
4. Bodily-Kinesthetic: use one’s body to solve problems or fashion products Body Smart manipulatives, games, simulations, experiments, hands-on activities cook, garden, do yoga, play sports
5. Spatial: recognize and manipulate patterns and space Picture Smart pictures, slides, diagrams, posters, graphics, movies paint, draw, take photographs, edit videos, make scrapbooks
6. Interpersonal: understand intentions, motivations and desires of others, work effectively with others People Smart cooperative and collaborative group work play a game, tell a joke, create a team project
7. Intrapersonal: capacity to understand oneself Self Smart journals, independent study Investigate how the human body works, explore cultures around the globe
8. Naturalist: recognition and classification of the flora and fauna of his or her environment Nature Smart gardening, caring for pets, managing ecosystems, keeping records of plants, animals (Armstrong) volunteer at an animal shelter, create a butterfly garden

List and description of Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 2000, p. 41-43), simplified labels (Armstrong, 2000) and teaching methods (Teele, 2000, p. 28-45)

Gardner recently added the eighth intelligence category, the naturalist, and is currently considering a ninth intelligence type, the existential.

Many teaching methods and activities involve more than one intelligence. The main issue is to ensure enough variety to reach all of the children with the desired subject matter.

The theory of multiple intelligences is increasingly popular with educators and parents who realize that children are unique individuals who learn in different ways. Gardner says that each individual possesses a unique combination or profile of the various intelligences, but he is against grouping and labeling children for convenience. An individual intelligence profile is fluid and changing and can be altered depending on educational opportunities.

A complete education should emphasize development of all of the intelligences, rather than just one or two. In traditional schools, the linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences take precedence over the other six intelligences. In a school that uses a multiple intelligences approach to its curriculum, all eight intelligences are equally important.

Children with learning and behavior difficulties greatly benefit from a variety of activities that engage the multiple intelligences. Often these difficulties have less to do with the children and more with the educational environment or other causes. You might ask why more schools do not embrace multiple intelligences for the benefit of our children.

The answer lies with mandated state and federal standards and assessments and lack of proper teacher training. However, as we educate more teachers about how to employ activities from the other six intelligences, such as musical and spatial, for standardized subject matter and as schools accommodate alternative methods of assessments, even more schools will have the opportunity to support multiple intelligences.

The Nobel Prize-winning poet William Butler Yeats said ““Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” It is likely that your son’s fire and passion for learning will be sparked because he is in an environment that values individual learning differences.

Check out the websites and books in Learn More below the references.

Armstrong, Thomas. (2000). In Their Own Way. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
Gardner, H. (2000). Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.
Teele, S. (2000). Rainbows of Intelligence: Exploring How Students Learn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

Learn More

Web sites
More information about Howard Gardner and his multiple intelligences research

For information on multiple intelligences for parents and teachers see Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D.

Multiple Intelligence Survey for Children (adapted from Thomas Armstrong’s Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom) By Diana Bohmer on

Armstrong, Thomas (2000). Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development; 2nd edition.

Armstrong, Thomas (1991). Awakening Your Child’s Natural Genius-Enhancing Curiosity, Creativity and Learning Ability. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

Gardner, H. (2000). Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.

Lara’s Amazon Listmania list of Books on Multiple Intelligences

Zephyr Press Books on Multiple Intelligences

© Lara Ashmore

Lara is the founder and director of the Dallas, Texas, vegetarian group Veggie KIDS. She currently works with the Robert Muller Center for Living Ethics exploring creative uses of technology and conducts parent and teacher education workshops on a variety of topics including multiple intelligences, parenting in the digital age, multimedia scrapbooking and digital storytelling.


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