Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

One of the cardinal rules of parenting is “don’t compare your children”. Well, it’s kind of hard not to when people are constantly pointing things out to you that you’ve already observed but deliberately avoided commenting upon. If we must observe their differences, let’s look at the positives of their individual differences…

Aristotle was very articulate from an early age. He started speaking early “for a boy”. I knew it because people we met were always commenting on how well he speaks and how articulate he is. Prior to having my own children, I confess that spending time with young children was not something I preferentially chose. If truth be told, it was probably something I avoided whenever possible. When I was assigned a position in the paediatric dental clinic for my intern year, I put in a request to be moved out. I didn’t hate kids, I was just uncomfortable around them (funny how motherhood changes you – maternal hormones are amazing stuff, don’t knock it).

Having very little experience with young children, I really had no idea about what was considered “normal” development and what was “advanced” when it came to my own children (okay so I learned it in behavioural science but heck if I remember it). When people commented that Aristotle spoke very well for his age, I merely acknowledged the compliment but thought to myself that I didn’t think he was THAT articulate. Now that I have heard Hercules speak at the same age, I have to agree that Aristotle was far more articulate. Aristotle’s words generally sounded like the words they were supposed to be. Hercules, on the other hand, says things like “micken” for “chicken”, “schmips” for “chips”, and “bemana” for “banana”.

This difference in articulation, and the fact that Hercules is not quite as well-spoken as Aristotle, has prompted remarks from certain family members that Hercules’ intellectual development is “slow”. Therein lies the danger of comparison. Hearing that remark alone, you could be forgiven for thinking that Hercules not as smart as his brother. I would agree that he is probably not as cunning as his brother, but he is definitely not “slow”. He might not be as articulate as his brother, but he is more advanced in ways that are not so evident.

Although I lack the records for a true comparison, I do believe that Hercules started recognising his alphabets at an earlier age compared to Aristotle. He can also recognise numbers up to 100, which I’m not so sure if Aristotle could at this age. I don’t know if Hercules knows every number up to 100 (we don’t test), but he has pointed out random numbers including 100. He can also recognise whole words and detect parts of words (like he noticed “dog” and “frog” end in “og”). Of course, being a second child, some of these things are expected. Additionally, I was also more aware of early childhood development programs being a second-time parent.

What is probably most evident in the differences between both boys is the fact that Hercules is very physical. His motor coordination far exceeds his brother’s at this age. Hercules was jumping with two feet off the ground somewhere between 18 and 24 months. Aristotle was still struggling to get both feet airborn at 3 years. When Aristotle was learning how to jump, every effort was exhausting. Hercules practices jumping with a bountiful supply of energy – he’s like the energiser rabbit: he just keeps going and going and going.

Recently, we were at the playground and the boys were “discovering” the swing. Ordinarily, I’d insist that Hercules sit in the baby-bucket swing so he couldn’t fall off, but he hates it and insisted that he sit on the “big boy” swing like his brother. My MIL was pushing Aristotle, while I pushed Hercules. After a while, I noticed that Hercules was instinctively moving his body to keep his momentum and I didn’t have to push him. Overall, he just has better body awareness compared to his brother.

I could go on about the differences between the two of them but I won’t. In essence, they both display abilities far in advance of the other at the same age. They not only have different preferences, they also developed different skills at different rates. Examined superficially, it could be said that Aristotle is the brains and Hercules the brawn (hence their nicknames). Unfortunately, when it comes to early child development, there is a general tendency to only notice children who are intellectually advanced.

I don’t know if Hercules is advanced as far as physical development goes, but I do know that compared to Aristotle, he is ahead. This difference in their development prompted me to explore Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory in greater detail. We’re so used to looking at intellectual intelligence that it is easy to neglect other areas. And yet, to help our children reach their full potentials, it is important to be aware of the other areas of excellence so that we can help our “non-intellectual” children discover their element (for more about this, I recommend the book “The Element” by Sir Ken Robinson).

What is Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligence?

Gardner believes “that there is a wide range of cognitive abilities, and that there are only very weak correlations among them. For example, the theory predicts that a child who learns to multiply easily is not necessarily generally more intelligent than a child who has more difficulty on this task. The child who takes more time to master simple multiplication 1) may best learn to multiply through a different approach, 2) may excel in a field outside of mathematics, or 3) may even be looking at and understanding the multiplication process at a fundamentally deeper level, or perhaps as an entirely different process. Such a fundamentally deeper understanding can result in what looks like slowness and can hide a mathematical intelligence potentially higher than that of a child who quickly memorizes the multiplication table despite a less detailed understanding of the process of multiplication.” – Wikipedia.

However, there is some controversy over Gardner’s theory:

Traditional intelligence tests and psychometrics have generally found high correlations between different tasks and aspects of intelligence, rather than the low correlations which Gardner’s theory predicts.

I’m no expert, but I like to think that although it may be true that there is generally a high correlation between different tasks and aspects of intelligence, every individual has different inclinations and that desire to pursue one aspect over another is what makes all the difference. And because of this, it is even more important for us to help our children identify their inclinations and to encourage them follow them.

Gardner’s 7 Intelligences

  1. Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically; and language as a means to remember information. Writers, poets, lawyers and speakers are among those that Howard Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Howard Gardner’s words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.
  3. Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. According to Howard Gardner musical intelligence runs in an almost structural parallel to linguistic intelligence.
  4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Howard Gardner sees mental and physical activity as related.
  5. Spatial intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas.
  6. Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counsellors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner’s view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives.

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Although there are 7 intelligences listed, they are interrelated. For instance, at first glance, we might say that Aristotle demonstrates linguistic intelligence and Hercules demonstrates bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. However, it is also evident that Aristotle has good spatial intelligence, and that Hercules may have good logical-mathematical intelligence and musical intelligence (difficult to assess at this age because he’s too young).

Being aware of the different intelligences helps us attune to our child’s individual inclination. Rather than insisting that they follow the stereotypical cookie-cutter mold, we can then tailor their routine and programs towards their interests and potential talents. I say “potential” because I think the term “innate” gives the misleading impression that an individual is automatically good at a thing or they are not. One might find it easier to pick up a skill compared to another person, but at the end of the day, if you won’t put in the effort, talent alone won’t get you there.

After this long-winded article, I guess what I’m really trying to say is: respect your child’s individuality and value his uniqueness. Don’t get caught up in his “weaknesses”. Identify his strengths and help him build them up. A confident child can achieve anything. A child who is too aware of his weaknesses will feel incapable of achieving anything and will easily overlook his own strengths and lose confidence.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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