What kind of learner is your child?

Fay Prideaux takes a look at what the term ‘Multiple Intelligences' means and how a modern world is now recognising that our children need to learn in ways to match their own varying style of intelligence. What kind of learners do you have in your home?

All kids are smart. They just show it in different ways.

As parents and educators we have to meet the challenge of giving our children opportunities to discover their special type of ‘cleverness' and nurture it to its full potential.

Historically, schools have catered primarily for two intelligences; Mathematical/Logical and Verbal/Linguistic. Put simply, Maths and English.

Levels of accomplishment in each were easily measured by pen and paper tests with little credence given to talents outside the mainstream curriculum and fewer opportunities to explore them. Schools used marks and percentages, calculated from a student's ability to accurately regurgitate facts and figures, as a measure of academic success. Critics of this system pointed out that it was a gauge of memory and factual recall, rather than intelligence, which was more complex.

Howard Gardner, a Harvard university professor and author, developed the theory of multiple intelligences.

He recognized seven different intelligences, each one an equal gift: verbal/linguistic, (words, language) mathematical/logical, (maths) visual/spatial, (art, design) musical/rhythmical, (music, dance) body/kinesthetic, (sport, movement) interpersonal/intrapersonal (social, emotional) An eighth intelligence has been added to the theory in recent years, that of the naturalist, the understanding of the world of nature and animals.

Gardner highlighted the heavy emphasis most school systems placed on Maths and English, leaving other intelligences largely underdeveloped and unrecognized by comparison. Howard Gardner's style of thinking would appraise the world's best golfer or piano player on the same level as the world's best mathematician, only with a different type of intelligence. A learning environment embracing this theory would employ a wide range of activities in lessons, including, music, movement, talking, listening and interpreting.

Gardner's theory also has strong implications for the way assessments are made in the field of education. If we are only evaluating two or three types of intelligence, we are selling a large proportion of our school population short. Educators face the challenge of diversifying their assessment procedures to include a wide variety of activities, beyond the realm of pen and paper. Many schools have broadened their curriculum as theories on intelligences have gained popularity and credibility. Public speaking programs, musicals, drama productions and sporting electives are included to a greater degree than in previous generations, in an effort to recognize and nurture the talents of all students.

Developing an awareness of our children's intelligences has benefits beyond the classroom.

It helps us steer them in the right direction when it comes to vocational choices.

Enabling an individual to work in a field that taps into their talent heightens their chances of success and job satisfaction. Artistic individuals trapped in careers that involve repetitive routines with little opportunity to use creative juices will quickly become frustrated and disenchanted. Conversely, a logical mathematical mind will feel all at sea in an unstructured work environment requiring creative flair.

Exploring your child's dominant intelligence is not an exact science. You won't need to invest in an array of tests and procedures to discover their talents. Observation is the most powerful tool you can use.

Linguistic intelligence

A child who can 'talk under water' is clearly verbally and linguistically adept.

Encourage this child to embrace public speaking and debating opportunities, or if they demonstrate a love of the written word, ensure they have sufficient access to the world of books to explore and develop this strength.

Artistic intelligence

Those who demonstrate an early interest in drawing, painting and creating are demonstrating their artistic intelligence.

Nurture this natural ability by providing them with a variety of art materials and opportunities to experiment with at a young age. As they get older, visit galleries and exhibitions and consider enrolling them in art classes. Ensure continued growth of their natural talent.

Sporting intelligence

Sporting intelligence is found in those who exhibit sound hand/eye co-ordination, flexibility and a passion for physical activities in their formative years.

Introducing these children to a variety of sports and physical pursuits, outside of school opportunities, will ensure they can utilize the intelligence with which they have been endowed.

Interpersonal intelligence

Interpersonal intelligence is perhaps more difficult to detect, but children with emotional intelligence often display compassion and understanding of how to relate to others, beyond their years. They thrive in situations requiring them to tap into thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Natural intelligence

Australia's indigenous people are perhaps our best example of those with natural intelligence. Their innate understanding of the earth, its plants and animals, seasons and cycles, enabled them to live harmoniously with nature, surviving drought, flood and famine without ever consulting a book. Characters like our late Steve Irwin, who had an undeniably strong rapport with animals, are classic examples of those possessing the naturalist intelligence.

Identifying a child's dominant intelligence and matching it with opportunities to explore their unique talents is sound practice. It continues to be a challenge for all involved in education but the payoff is well worth the effort. Round pegs in square holes could become a thing of the past- a clever choice all round.