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The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Support systemsThe Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and what it could mean for your child?

A frequent complaint many parents have with present-day education systems is that they define intelligence too narrowly – intelligence is usually synonymous with how good one is at maths and language. And this definition of intelligence is further pared down to include only those who are good at conventional methods of learning.

It is unfair to call my child unintelligent just because she does not fit into the pre-defined mould set by society, one might say, she is such a good musician after all. Shouldn’t that be considered intelligence as well? Howard Gardner would probably agree.

Gardner, an educator and professor at Harvard University, was the first person to suggest that there were several skills people displayed that did not fall under the umbrella of traditionally defined intelligence. He wondered if the existing methods of intelligence testing were as ‘scientific’ as they claimed to be. Thus was born the theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI).

Gardner redefined intelligence as the ability to create a service or a product valuable to one’s culture, a set of skills that allowed individuals to solve the problems they encountered and the potential to find or create solutions for problems, enabling them to acquire new knowledge.

When the theory was first proposed in 1983, it was an alternative to the then accepted concept of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) testing which relies largely on maths and verbal skills as indicators of intelligence. MI first comprised seven intelligences, and an eighth was added in 1999 by Gardner.

Unfortunately, even though it has been twenty eight years since this theory was first advanced, schools continue to rely largely on standardised testing. Not all schools recognise MI, or are in a position to help children with various intelligences reach their potential.

This is where the parent can help. Parents can either use the idea of MI to work with schools and teachers to help them include  previously absent intelligences in their curriculum, or they can work individually with their children, helping them find activities outside of school to further develop his/her dominant areas of intelligence.

The first step towards embracing MI is to re-evaluate one’s own definition of intelligence. Children are extremely sensitive. If you have ever felt your child was ‘dull’ because he/she was not very good at maths and verbal skills, chances are he/she caught onto it.

What may have been just an innocuous comment to you (“Why can’t you understand this? It’s so simple. Use your brain a bit.”) can haunt your child, leading him/her to believe that he/she is, in fact, stupid. Also, do praise your child for all of his/her talents, not just the academic ones.

It is important to identify your child’s areas of dominant intelligences so you can build upon his/her strengths and work on his/her weaknesses.

The eight intelligences are briefly explained below, along with a set of questions you can ask yourself. Your child’s dominant intelligences are those intelligences for whose questions you answered ‘yes’ the maximum number of times. An activity has been suggested along with each intelligence; but don’t limit yourself. Our suggestions simply serve to get you thinking – you can adapt our ideas into something that works for you.


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