By Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., author of Smarts! Everybody’s Got Them and You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kid’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences
“I got a bad grade on a test. I feel so stupid!”
“The other students are so much smarter than I am in math class!”
“We had a pop quiz yesterday, and I felt like an idiot trying to answer the questions.”
These are the sorts of concerns that can come up for some kids once the school year begins. They’ve had the summer to engage in a wide range of activities, including sports, arts, group games, hobbies, traveling, and more, where they felt engaged, competent, and highly motivated. Now with the emphasis back on academics, many kids may begin to question their brainpower.
What can you do as a teacher or parent? One very simple strategy is to remind kids that they’re smart, and not in just one way, but multiple. According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, everyone has eight intelligences. People will excel at some, and others may be more challenging, but all can be developed through persistence and willpower. These intelligences are as follows:
1. Word Smart
This is the one that schools focus the most attention on. It involves reading, writing, speaking, and listening to words. Some kids can be good in one area (like speaking through storytelling) and have difficulty in another area (like reading).
2. Number/Logic Smart
Schools also put an emphasis on this intelligence, with their focus on science and math. Some kids are super Word Smart but have problems with numbers and logic, while other kids are the reverse.
3. Picture Smart
This intelligence involves the imagination, art ability, visual thinking, and things like aptitude for architecture and design. It also isn’t stressed very much in school, except perhaps in art class (which tends to be curtailed to make time for more reading and math). If a child has strong Picture Smarts, but not-so-strong Word and Number Smarts, they may have difficulties in school. Make sure Picture Smart kids have lots of opportunities to show this intelligence at school and at home.
4. Body Smart
Kids with this intelligence may be good athletes and enjoy competing in school sports. They might also like to use their bodies to perform in dance or theater. Students with strong Body Smarts may find it trying (and tiring) to sit still for long hours in class. Make sure they have ample time to be physically active at home and provide movement breaks at school.
5. Music Smart
If a child is highly musical, they may find an outlet in band or orchestra at school, but most other subjects aren’t taught with music (although they could be—learning history, for example, through the songs of a particular historical era). Try to incorporate more music into their learning.
6. Nature Smart
Kids with strong Nature Smarts may love spending time outdoors and studying plants, animals, insects, or other aspects of the environment. If the school doesn’t take students outside much during the school day, this can make it difficult for Nature Smart kids.
7. People Smart
People Smart kids may prefer to learn with other kids, so being in school might be really fun for them. If they have to do a lot of independent seat work, however, they might have a difficult time not “visiting” with their nearby seatmates, and may be disciplined for being disruptive.
8. Self Smart
This intelligence involves having self-discipline, intrinsic motivation, self-understanding, and/or a goal-directed attitude. Having strong Self Smarts can make school challenging (in a good way) for kids and can help them do independent projects. If they’re a “different drummer” in class, they might end up butting heads with teachers or other students.
Addressing “Stupid-Head Syndrome”
The first thing you can do to challenge a “stupid-head syndrome” in kids is to tell them about the eight kinds of smart and how they have each of them. I’ve written two books that can help kids learn about their own multiple intelligences: You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kid’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences (for grades three to eight) and Smarts: Everybody’s Got Them (for kindergarten through second grade). But you can also just take a few minutes to describe the smarts and then have them tell you which ones they feel strongest in and which ones they find more difficult. Ask them to tell you how they use each intelligence during a typical day at home or at school. Ask which intelligences they’d most like to get better at. Then work out a plan for ways to do this.
For example, if a child is Music Smart and Picture Smart but doesn’t feel quite as Word Smart or Number/Logic Smart, telling them about the eight kinds of smart can go a long way toward helping them know that they’re intelligent, even if they struggle in reading and math. If they’re still having problems feeling stupid in school, make sure they have plenty of time at home to engage in the kinds of smart they excel at, and use parent-teacher conferences to brainstorm ways to include these intelligences in class. Other ways to help kids identify and celebrate the ways they’re smart include:
- Creating a poster for their bedroom that has a positive slogan like “I’m Smart in Eight Different Ways!”
- Making up a song that includes all the eight intelligences.
- Planning to do an activity a day involving one of the eight kinds of smart (e.g., Monday is Music Smart Day, Tuesday is Word Smart Day, etc.).
- Reading a biography or autobiography of one of their role models who’s smart in one or more of their strong intelligences.
- Thinking about friends and classmates and which kinds of smart these kids are best at or challenged by.
- Talking together as a family about each other’s different intelligences and which ones seem easiest and hardest for each family member.
It’s about time that we addressed this “stupid-head syndrome,” and the beginning of school is a great place to start!
Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., is an award-winning author and speaker with 47 years of teaching experience and over one million copies of his books in print. He has authored 15 books, including Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom; written numerous articles for Parenting, Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, and other periodicals; and appeared on several national and international television and radio programs, from NBC’s Today show to the BBC.
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