An Introduction to The Theory of Multiple Intelligences
by CES Dovehaven

In 1983, Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, wrote a book called Frames of Mind, based on the premise that there exists within the human psyche biological and psychological potentials which he termed "intelligences." He identified seven of these ways of receiving, assimilating and utilizing information: Linguistic-Verbal, Logical-Mathematical, Visual-Spatial, Musical-Rhythmic, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal. More than a decade later, he added an eighth: the Naturalist intelligence, and is currently considering yet another.

The value of this theory and its applications to parents and educators is incalculable, because it gives credence to the often passionate cry of mothers, fathers and perceptive teachers that "All children can learn; even though at their own time and in different ways!"

Each of these intelligences is seen as equal in importance. Each of us possess all of them, although certain ones are dominant in some of us and less dominant in others. All, however, can be nurtured and developed.

EXISTENTIAL: This is the newest intelligence designated by Dr. Gardner (At this writing, he has not yet "officially" proclaimed this a full intelligence, because of the lack of evidence in brain research. Rather, he refers to it as a "half-intelligence.") Here the focus is on seeking answers to universal questions: "Where did I come from?" "Why is the sky blue?" "Where do people go when they die?" "Why do we have to have wars? Even "Why do I have to learn this?" Is there a parent who has not heard these and similar questions hundreds of times from their inquisitive youngsters, who are eagerly curious about this world they have entered into? The answers to these questions inevitably challenge us to examine our own most deeply held beliefs and opinions. And for a child, these answers will form the basis of his or her belief system for a lifetime, to color everything learned henceforth—or until the child’s core beliefs are brought into conflict with new information or circumstances of living. Therefore, answers like "Because I say so!" or "You’re too young to ask such questions," or "The angels (or stork) brought you…" may stimulate a core belief based on a romantic fantasy, or confusion over questions of right and wrong, good and bad, truth and falsity.

Perhaps the most honest answers a parent can give are, "Well, I believe…" or "This book says…" or even better, "I don’t know; let’s see if we can find out!" Whatever you do, don’t take these questions lightly. Your child doesn’t.

LINGUISTIC-VERBAL: No parent is immune to the flush of excitement caused by their child’s first utterance of "Ma-ma" or "Da-da." (The word "mama," by the way, is virtually the same in every language in the world). When the child first begins to put words together in phrases or sentences, we are gratified that our offspring is developing normally and taking the first steps toward socialization. He or she is beginning to communicate basic wants and needs.

To a large extent, our civilization is based on words—spoken or written. The laws and contracts that govern our social behavior, the philosophy that lays the foundation of our beliefs and opinions, the advertising that fuels our economy, the rhetoric that persuades us to support one or another political candidate even the effectiveness of our day-to-day interaction with one another is primarily expressed in words.

Semantics (the meaning of words) is believed by some so crucial to understanding that an entire philosophy of life has been built up around the subject. The dictionary is often the best friend of verbal-linguistic dominant people. Denotation (the precise dictionary interpretation of a word-symbol) and connotation (associated meanings based on social or personal feelings) can and do directly effect every aspect of our lives.

And language is a living thing, constantly changing and growing. (In contemporary youthspeak, "bad" means "good," "hot" and "cool" have similar meanings—totally unrelated to temperature, and previously sacrosanct words like "mother" ["mutha"] have acquired meanings undreamed of by past generations. Words and phrases (culled from the media) like "ruby slippers," or "Emerald City," "Watergate," and "May the Force be with you!" convey layers of meaning difficult to define, but instantly communicative to millions of the world’s citizens. Since July 2000, the word "muggle," (meaning humans who are neither witches nor wizards, from J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster stories of Harry Potter) has been popping up in news articles with no explanation either given or expected.

Books, magazines, newspapers, news reports, commercial advertisements, instructions and directions and explanations all give testament to the expertise in language required to be a fully functioning citizen of the world.

LOGICAL-MATHEMATICAL: Because we live our lives sequentially (birth, youth, adolescence, adulthood, marriage, parenthood, middle age, old age and death, for most of us) we have, as a race of beings, created the construct of time. This requires us to systematize our thinking. Twenty-five hundred years ago, Western Civilization developed the system of thought we call logic—a way of identifying and intellectually measuring progress. This has become the dominant mode of thought process throughout the world. So deeply ingrained in us is this system of thinking that we tend to automatically reject any idea that seems to us "illogical."

The measuring tool that enables us to logically navigate our lives is mathematics. Height, weight, depth, volume, amount, distance, proportion, schedule, variance and dimension are the means by which we logically and precisely articulate the individual and collective components of our universe. The fields of Science and Economics (two driving forces of our civilization) are dependent on our being fluent in the language of mathematics.

The linguistic-verbal and logical-mathematical intelligences (reading, writing and arithmetic) have been the foundation of American education since the Industrial Revolution. Whereas the study of whole-brain thinking during the 20th Century has demonstrated unequivocally that there are equally viable ways of knowing, math, science and language arts remain the practical cornerstones of our educational systems and our consumer society.

"Art is the clearest, purest mirror of the nature of Humanity"
William Thomas Sly, Founder
CES Dovehaven

VISUAL-SPATIAL: "Seeing is believing," we say, and we know that the sense of sight (inner as well as outer) is the first education most infants receive. Sight recognition and the internal assimilation of visual images enables a child to make sense out of his or her world and to functionally progress within it. The Visual-Spatial intelligence actually creates the world as we first understand it. We learn to associate words with pictures. We attribute meaning to colors and shapes. We dream and we daydream in visual imagery. Illustrations in books, billboards and advertising art, our natural and artificial environment—and, of course, television—communicate infinite amounts of information to us daily. And the way we interpret that information—what we remember and don’t remember, what we like and don’t like, what symbols we relate to and those we don’t; all these are crucial factors in our development as individuals. There is certainly no dearth of visual imagery and spatial relationships to which our children are exposed before they even begin to talk—and indeed, for the rest of their lives. As educators, it is our role to guide our children in the selection and understanding of what they see and to help them use these images to communicate thoughts and feelings.

Concepts such as "small-large," "up-down," "light-dark," and "here-there" are nearly indecipherable without sight—and obvious when we open our eyes and see. Colors are such a part of our lives that they have become an unquestioned part of our vernacular, such as "seeing red" to express anger; "feeling blue" to indicate sadness; "green with envy," "in a black mood," having a "yellow streak," or taking advantage of a "golden opportunity." Body language (although traditionally different in different cultures) can either enhance or impede our relationships with others. And the shape and size of things can evoke strong emotions within us (awe or fear at enormity, curiosity and delight at miniatures).

The "art of seeing clearly" is, in each of us, an innate way of knowing and, as such, helps us to relate our inner selves with the outer world. As David Rockefeller once wrote, "Art is the nourishment of the soul."

MUSICAL-RHYTHMIC: Just as our social conditioning has led us to take our learning through pictures almost for granted, so our indelible relationship with music and rhythm have usually been perceived as "highbrow" or "lowbrow" entertainment—treasured as adding to the quality of our lives, but largely irrelevant to the process of teaching and learning—except, of course, as a prized extracurricular activity, subject to elective course choice and ever-threatening budget cuts. For the vast majority of educational administrators contemplating a music program in their schools, a primary issue is still the cost of band uniforms and a full complement of traditional musical instruments.

The Musical-Rhythmic intelligence, however, is inherent in all of us, regardless of whether or not we have perfect pitch or can keep time to a musical rhythm. Almost every American child is introduced to literacy through the "Alphabet Song." We remember the days of each month by memorizing a rhythmic jingle ("Thirty days hath September…") and the date of the "discovery of America" from a simple verse of iambic tetrameter ("In four’-teen hun’-dred and nine’-ty two,’ Col-um’-bus sailed’ the o’-cean blue’…") America’s major wars can be traced through its songs: "Yankee Doodle," "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie;" "Over There" and "The Caissons Go Rolling Along;" "Anchors Aweigh," "From the Halls of Montezuma…," "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder…" and so forth. The musical concepts of social protest (from "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" to "Happy Days Are Here Again," to "Give Peace a Chance") conjure images of eras and issues. Song from movies ("Heigh-Ho, Heigh Ho," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "When You Wish Upon a Star," "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" and countless others) evoke detailed memories of favorite fairy tales. And what child ready to enter school can’t reproduce word for word and note by note any number of commercial jingles they’ve learned by watching TV?

Music and rhythm are used successfully by the military, by ad agencies, by politicians and by social organizations to inflame our passions, stimulate us to action, control our moods and stimulate our minds—even identify our ethnic differences and, as well, leading us toward the transcendence of those differences.

Children inevitably respond to the potency of music and rhythm in their lives. When they are very young, they spontaneously sing and dance to whatever melodies and beats they hear. As they grow older, they even choose their friends, in large measure, according to their musical preferences. And thus they learn. Internationally acclaimed teaching strategies have demonstrated the use of Baroque music to stimulate cognitive thinking, rap music to teach math concepts and the utilizations of strict rhythms to encourage precise actions and self-discipline.

Music and rhythm are powerful motivators of the heart, the mind and the will; and, therefore, an important method for acquiring knowledge and understanding the knowledge acquired.

BODILY-KINESTHETIC: A publisher (who was, of course, highly dominant in the Linguistic-Verbal intelligence) was chagrined to discover that his fourth-grader son was reading far below grade level. The boy simply could not consistently recognize the letters of the alphabet. After experimenting with a number of strategies, the publisher finally asked his son to "stand up and show me what the letter looks like." The boy began to act out each letter with his body and within a few weeks, his reading scores improved significantly. Making the connection between a printed letter and the physicalization of that letter is an excellent example of learning through the Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence.

Dancing, acting and active participation in sports activities are all indicative of a child’s receptivity to learning through his or her physical body. The toddler learns what walking is all about through walking. Counting on fingers and toes is how most people first learn about numbers. "Manipulatives"—objects to be moved into specific patterns—are widely used to teach math principles. Creative drama and role-play are effective methods to help children feel what it may be like to live under different climatic conditions, or to experience different emotions, to engage in unfamiliar activities (like mountain-climbing or underwater exploration, or chopping down a tree).

Most youngsters seemingly have boundless reserves of energy. In the traditional classroom (where "learning" is all too often equated with sitting quietly at one’s desk and listening, reading and writing) all that energy is given expression through periods of recess. For the child who is dominant in Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence, recess is usually insufficient in the effective channeling of physical energy; and quite possibly detrimental in that it develops the mental habit of separating the concept of learning with body movement, an unnatural and unnecessary separation. Experiencing one’s body as a conscious organism, capable of both learning and doing can become a joy for parents and children alike in learning to ride a bicycle, prepare a meal or demonstrate the giving and receiving of affection.

INTERPERSONAL: Some children learn best in the company of others, some learn best by themselves. Those who are dominant in the Interpersonal intelligence tend to revel in group games, group projects and group problem solving and will most likely grow up to join committees and be successful in any kind of social interaction. It is as though the very dynamic of relationship quickens their minds and stimulates their comprehension of any subject. Give these young people an assignment that they may accomplish together and they will find the task of learning to be comprised of both opportunity and reward. Cleaning the house, preparing for a trip, playing board games, putting together a play, working out a budget, comparing notes and collaboration of any kind is enriched in this intelligence as the learners discuss, argue, challenge one another, stimulate each other’s imagination and resolve disagreements, giving and receiving and reaching mutually acceptable solutions, each having grown through the process.

INTRAPERSONAL: The Intrapersonal intelligence reveals itself in the child who likes to play alone, who may daydream or enjoy solitary walks. To the intrapersonally dominant child, his or her own thoughts and feelings are very important and nothing will seem worth knowing unless it can be applied to his or her individual life in one way or another. This intense communication with one’s self is the touchstone for the development of good self-esteem and self-confidence.

Independent research, character-identification, poetry and contemplation are all qualities of the Intrapersonal intelligence. One of the greatest teachers of all times, Socrates, admonished each of us to "know thyself." And Maria Montessori (another of the greatest teachers of all times) encourages us as educators to "follow the child." There is, in us all, the innate awareness of what we need to learn and when we need to learn it.

NATURALIST: The Naturalist intelligence allows us to understand our natural environment and our place within it. It’s directly related to our survival as human beings. Gardner, himself, says about this eighth intelligence, "The naturalist intelligence refers to the ability to recognize and classify plants, minerals and animals, including rocks and grass and all variety of flora and fauna. The ability to recognize cultural artifacts like cars or sneakers may also depend on the naturalist intelligence.

Now everybody can do this to a certain extent—we can all recognize dogs, cats, trees. But some people from an early age are extremely good at recognizing and classifying artifacts. For example, we all know kids who, at age 3 or 4, are better at recognizing dinosaurs than most adults."

from "The First Seven…and the Eighth: A Conversation With Howard Gardner," Educational Leadership, Volume 55, Number 1, September, 1997

Encourage your children to play out-of-doors…and to pay attention to the world around them.