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Rethinking the Concept of "Smart"
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Prescriptions for Parents

Making Scientific Research Practical for Families

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Your "Smart" Child

We often use the word “smart” to indicate how intelligent an individual is – and by intelligence, we are usually referring to the ability to problem solve on an IQ test. However, several researchers are encouraging parents and educators to rethink the concept of “smart” to include eight different forms of intelligence and problem solving.

In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University published a book in which he described eight “intelligences” – linguistic, logical (mathematical), spatial, musical, kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal and intrapersonal.  His colleague, Dr. Tom Armstrong, has simplified the labels and uses the word ‘smart’ instead of intelligence. His eight categories become: word smart, logic smart, picture smart, music smart, body smart, nature smart, people smart, and self-smart.

Parents and teachers can identify and encourage these various realms in children, thus enhancing their innate abilities and stimulating their development.   Each child can view himself/herself as “smart” in at least one, if not more, realms.  So, the question is no longer, “Am I smart?”  but rather, “How am I smart?”

We hope this newsletter will encourage you to discern your children’s various forms of intelligence so you can encourage their development.

Word & Logic Smart

WORD SMART – Your child thinks with words

Children who are ‘word smart’ enjoy language and problem solve with words. They tend to

  • process emotions by writing or talking
  • get in trouble at home or at school for ‘talking too much’

Family Game Night suggestions:
Scrabble, Scattegories

CAUTION: Criticizing them for talking too much may stifle their creativity and problem solving. Try letting them know you need a break from conversation without criticizing.   

LOGIC SMART – Your child thinks with questions

Children who are ‘logic smart’ enjoy asking questions and need things to make sense. They tend to

  • need to solve problems and can easily become bored
  • process their emotions by asking questions; they may become upset when things are confusing and will often ask “Why?”

Family Game Night suggestion: Clue

CAUTION: They may get in trouble for asking too many questions or by seeming to be defiant by asking, “Why?” Parents should avoid shutting them down with answers such as, “Because I said so.”

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Body & Nature Smart

BODY SMART – Your child thinks with movement and touch

‘Body smart’ children move when they are excited and need the freedom and space to do so as movement helps them learn and think creatively. They tend to

  • enjoy outdoor games and physical activities like hiking, dancing, running
  • process emotions through physical contact and physical activity

Family Game Night suggestion: Twister

CAUTION: It is important to show these children how to control their movements so they don’t interfere with or hurt other children.  

NATURE SMART – Your child thinks with patterns

‘Nature smart’ children seem to naturally categorize items and information as they think with comparisons and contrasts. They tend to

  • thoroughly enjoy the outdoors and easily observe patterns in nature – noticing shapes, designs, colors
  • process emotions by being outdoors or being with a pet.

Family Game Night suggestion: backyard obstacle course or scavenger hunt

CAUTION: ‘Nature Smarts’ won't be awakened unless children are able to see, touch, smell, and feel the natural world. Parents should allow all children the opportunity to spend time outdoors, experiencing nature.  

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Picture & Music Smart

PICTURE SMART – Your child thinks with pictures

Children who are ‘picture smart' think with pictures, maps and diagrams. They tend to

  • daydream and may enjoy doodling
  • process emotions by coloring and creating

Family Game Night suggestion:
Pictionary

CAUTION: They may not want to look at their parents’ faces if they are disappointed or upset as the children will keep that image in their minds for a long time.  

MUSIC SMART – Your child thinks with music

“Music smart’ children think with melodies and they may enjoy singing in choirs and playing musical instruments. They tend to

  • sing or make music when excited by tapping their fingers or spontaneously humming
  • process emotions by listening to or creating music.

Family Game Night suggestion: Cranium

CAUTION: They may get into trouble because of distracting behaviors such as humming when they are supposed to be quiet. Parents can help them find quieter ways to express their musical abilities - moving fingers, tapping feet, etc.

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People & Self Smart

PEOPLE SMART – Your child thinks by making connections with people

‘People smart’ children enjoy being with people and learn by making connections with people. They tend to

  • need people to listen to them and are adept at discerning other’s body and nonverbal language
  • process emotions by talking with others
Family Game Night: Charades

CAUTION: They may get in trouble for talking with others at inappropriate times, so they often need help learning self-control.

SELF-SMART – Your child thinks with reflection

‘Self-smart’ children think by reflecting deeply and carefully weighing all options.

This means they often need quiet space, peace and privacy in order to learn. They tend to

  • enjoy playing quiet games by themselves, such as building with Legos
  • process emotions by spending time alone and thinking quietly
Family Game Night suggestion: Chess

CAUTION: Self-smart children may get into trouble because of their reluctance to share their ideas in class and their lack of participation in discussions. Parents can let teachers know that group projects at school may be especially difficult for them.

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Dr. Kathy Koch has written several books to help parents identify and encourage the various realms of intelligence in their children.  In 8 Great Smarts: Discover and Nurture Your Child’s Intelligence, Dr. Koch describes children as having more resilience and confidence when they can identify the best ways in which they can problem solve.  The information in this newsletter comes from Dr. Koch’s book and is obviously simplified. We encourage you to read her book for a more in-depth look at how children can manifest many of the ‘smart’ categories and how they interact.
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