There isn't only one type of intelligence. Here's how to cultivate every kind of smart.
Canada’s Smartest Kid might be at your breakfast table.
There is a popular quote often (and almost certainly incorrectly) attributed to Albert Einstein that you've no doubt seen floating about: Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Side note: Mudskippers (Periophthalmus barbarus) are amphibious fish that have been known to climb trees, and some fish fly. Regardless, imaginary Einstein still makes a good point. There is no one singular way to be smart or to learn. Or climb a tree, come to that.
Harvard psychologist and professor Howard Gardner, who's given us the now popular theory of multiple intelligences, posits that smarts actually manifest themselves in many forms (as opposed to the standard and tired measures of an IQ test). Those varied smarts also inevitably dictate the things we excel at. You might be linguistically gifted and blessed with eloquence, or more visual with a bent for leaving expert doodles in your wake. Physical prowess allowing you to ace every slapshot may come easily to you, while logic puzzles escape you – or quite the opposite and you can count yourself among the keenest of mathletes. Possibly, you're musically inclined with perfect pitch only a vocalization away or have social skills that let you read a face like an emotional map. In actuality, says Gardner, everyone is some kind of bright. Case in point, there's a reason I'm writing this post and had no hand in designing the train you took to work today. Smarts be praised.
CBC's Canada's Smartest Person is predicated on just that theory – that there are numerous intelligences that all lend themselves to exceptional acumen and problem solving. We see it in our kids early on. My sister was always a math wiz: ended up in finance. I took to the arts like a mudskipper to a tree: writer. Enter Canada's Smartest Person Junior. There might be a brilliant little human sitting at your breakfast table every morning. You knew that, of course, but now Canada wants to meet them and applications are being accepted right away to get your little lightbulb competing with other bright kids on national television for the title of Canada's Smartest Kid. I'd have put five exclamations points there but my editors won't let me - which is exactly why they're the editors.
Likely, you already have a sense of which way your child's gray matter leans but consider that a test can better clinch what style their smarts truly fit. Happily, cultivation of all of Gardner's intelligences is possible – although learning will always come easier to young minds when their particular predisposition for perspicacity is catered to (the case for there being no poor students, only poor teachers).
Unsurprisingly, in each of us there's a fair bit of overlap in the cleverness categories. Professional dancers need plenty of physical intelligence but couldn't excel without refined musical acuity to stay on point (and en pointe) or a modicum of emotional sensitivity to evoke stirrings in their audience.
Here, then, are Gardner's multiple displays of intelligence and, more crucially, the best ways to activate them in your offspring (and you):
Known as linguistic or verbal intelligence, this profile lends itself to language mastery, rhetoric and poetic dexterity. If you can still recite The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner or barely break a sweat when you've a written or oral assignment due, you've probably got word smarts.
Learning style: rereading and rewriting class notes are one way to ensure that any new input is assimilated; also, if your friends and family can stand it, orally summarize key lessons to them (self-quizzing out loud while alone in your room also works - unless you rate high in people smarts).
Sometimes called visual or spatial intelligence, this type of thinking is not unique to purely visual domains. Gardner has remarked that this profile has been identified in blind children who can expertly navigate a space after only a brief interaction with it. If you can get your bearings in a new city after a passing glance at google maps, you've likely got picture smarts.
Learning style: visual flash cards, charts, graphs, and filling the margins of notebooks with sketches that support the study topic all help the visual learner solidify knowledge and understanding.
Significantly, physical or bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is not the absence of mental intelligence. Rather, it's a physical manifestation of mental agility – being able to puppet-master your body into a soaring slam dunk with three seconds left on the clock and five people trying their best to stop you from doing just that takes a deft brain.
Learning style: drawing or writing vocabulary in the air or on paper, acting out crucial lesson concepts, looking for and engaging with real life examples that relate to a lesson, playing with interactive web resources and even studying while moving or exercising all work towards the tutelage of the body smart student.
Recognizing musical tones and rhythms or being able to immediately mimic them (or generate your own compositions from scratch) are the aptitudes that define musical intelligence. If you can peg the song playing before the end of the first bar, you've been blessed music smarts.
Learning style: pening a rap or song about a recent lesson, associating similar sounding words together to create a rhyming jingle, singing or saying difficult concepts aloud without peeking and even simply listening to rhythmic, instrumental music while studying all help the music smart learner absorb facts and theory more efficiently.
Often referred to as social intelligence, this category is typically split into two distinct aptitudes by Garner: interpersonal intelligence, which lets you easily read and understand the feelings of others; and intrapersonal intelligence (*self smarts), giving you an advantage when it comes to deep self-awareness and personal motivation. If you're the person in the squad that everyone calls when the chips are down because you just get it, chances are you're proper people smart.
Learning style: avoiding the solo-study scenario by joining (or creating) a study group, talking about newly acquired knowledge with family, having a buddy quiz you before a big test, and sharing ideas face to face all help the people smart person get smarter. *If you lean more self smart, solo studying in a quiet spot and some journaling is the way to grow.
Pattern detection, deductive reasoning, brain-busting logic problems and number puzzles are easily sorted by the brain beatified with logical (aka mathematical) intelligence. If all the tumblers seem to fall into place when science or math is being covered, you're number smart.
Learning style: categorizing new information into your own classifications, translating study topics into graphs, tables and numeric charts, itemizing and organizing your notes with precise numerology, comparing and contrasting new knowledge with prior knowledge and forming one's own analogies for more complex concepts all help the number smart person learn.
Didn't find your kid (or yourself) in the list? No matter. Consider that these aren't exhaustive in any way. Gardner himself has since discussed naturalistic (nature smarts), existential (spirit smarts) and pedagogical (teacher smart) intelligence as possible cognitive categories worthy of inclusion. Sadly, some others like cooking and humour intelligence he's recently rejected outright. And double drat on both counts, say I.