The Bigger Picture of Multiple Intelligences

The Bigger Picture of Multiple Intelligences

“Find out your child’s learning style.” It’s advice that’s frequently given to new homeschool parents, and it’s not bad advice. Certainly, the more we can know about our children as learners, the more effectively we’ll be able to tailor our efforts to their needs.  

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences proposed that there are eight different types of human intelligence (musical, visual, verbal, logical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic), and he later added existential and moral to his list of intelligence modalities. There are plenty of resources out there for determining your children’s learning style. You might simply read a description of each modality and realize that it fits your child’s aptitude to a tee, or you might decide to take a quiz to narrow down your child’s top intelligence modalities. Either way, it’s a handy little nugget of knowledge to have about your child.

When you hit a proverbial educational wall with your child, it can be valuable to consider your child’s strongest modalities. A child who is struggling with division and has strong kinesthetic intelligence might finally “get it” by walking along a number line and placing a marker to divide the number line into equal parts. A musically-inclined child who struggles to memorize the parts of speech might finally be able to recall the definition of an adverb by singing School House Rock’s “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here.” 

At the same time, I think that sometimes multiple intelligences are misunderstood. Sometimes people think that when they discover their child is strongest in one area, it’s best to focus only on learning via that method. The thing is that all people are capable of learning using all of the intelligence modalities. In fact, it’s best if we can teach using as many of those modalities as possible. When we’re using methods that appeal to many of Gardner’s intelligences, we’re taking a multi-sensory approach.    

Why is it important to use a multi-sensory approach? In a homeschool setting, there are two major advantages:

  1. Appealing to more than one sense (or type of intelligence) means more pathways to learning. If you’ve had the privilege of sitting in on a good lecture, you know that you can learn a lot just from listening to a dynamic, knowledgeable speaker. If that speaker either draws or uses a slide of a visual organizer that illustrates his or her talking points, that learning becomes even more clear for you. Then, if you record the speaker’s words and visual organizers by hand onto your own paper, your knowledge of the lecture content is yet further enhanced. 
  2. When students make more connections in the brain by using multiple senses, long-term learning is more likely to happen. A young child might see the letter s on a paper and then recall the “sssss” sound she made while she carved the letter shape into a pan of shaving cream, which reminds her of the “s” puzzle piece she manipulated in her hand, which reminds her of when it was her turn to say “s” when she and her mother took turns singing the letters in the alphabet song. 


Research shows that knowledge occurs in webs, or, in other words, that we build knowledge by attaching it to other knowledge. Let’s help our kids build really great webs with plenty of diverse strands that attach in many ways.       

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