Almost two decades after Howard Gardner identified multiple intelligences in his ground-breaking book Frames of Mind (1983), educators around the world are using the theory of multiple intelligences in their classrooms. In some ways, parents and teachers have always intuitively known that children learn in different ways and that an activity that grabs one child may not be of interest to another youngster. But many of our traditional ideas about teaching imply that there is a certain way to learn particular skills. As parents, we’ve all had times when we’ve become frustrated by our children’s apparent inability to accomplish a task the way we were taught to do it. When we have a better understanding of their individual intelligences and learning styles, we can provide experiences that speak to how our children learn best.
The eight intelligences are:
To understand your child’s learning style, observe her as she plays. Which toys does she tend to choose? Chances are, you’ll notice that her favorites have something in common. Perhaps they all have bright colors and distinct patterns or interesting textures and shapes, or make sounds. Then look at how at how she plays: Does she tend to look at objects intently or to hold and feel them in her hands? Perhaps she is less interested in toys than in rolling, tumbling, and moving around. As you cuddle up with your child and a favorite book, pay attention to what she is most interested in. Is it looking at the illustrations? Listening to the cadence of the words and rhymes as you read aloud? Touching the different objects pictured on the page? Or does she practically leap out of your lap and start to act out the actions in the story as you describe them?
Most children have a number of different intelligences and learning styles and can be engaged in a variety of ways. If you don’t see a strong preference for particular toys or games, it means that your child has more than one primary intelligence or that she isn’t old enough to have developed a strong predilection. In most cases you can begin to see a preference for particular styles at around age two. By then your child will most likely respond best to specific activities and types of experiences.
Respecting individual intelligences and learning styles means offering your child a variety of ways to learn. This doesn’t mean that you should shy away from helping him master certain skills — almost anything can be taught in a way that works well for a specific intelligence. When you identify and respond to your child’s intelligence and learning style, you help him approach the world on his own terms. Playing to his strengths can make mastering new skills less frustrating — and can help him develop a lifelong love of learning.
Many Ways to Learn
One of the benefits of the multiple intelligence theory is that it offers parents many options — if a child isn’t responding to a particular activity, there are many other approaches to try. Once you have a sense of your child’s learning style, take a look at your home environment and routine to see how well it works for the way she learns. If you find that your child gravitates toward music, make sure that she has instruments available. Try playing music throughout the day and using songs as a way to encourage her enjoyment of different activities (a special song for doing the dishes or going grocery shopping can go a long way!). If she seems to have a powerful physical, or bodily-kinesthetic, intelligence, remember that creating fun hopping or jumping games to play while you’re waiting on lines or at the store can help to make these tough times easier.