Shutterstock/Yuriy Golub

Six Intelligences Children Learn Better Outside Classrooms

What can children learn outside school?

Howard Gardner has been a proponent of multiple intelligences. School work typically emphasizes only linguistic (of a certain kind) and logico-mathematical intelligences which is developed through reading and mathematics, the focus of most school tests these days. But there are at least six other intelligences that Gardner and others have mapped. I  focus on those here. The eight intelligences are representative of the talents and knowhow we see among adults generally.

Note, in every case, it is important to follow children’s interests (though you can draw attention to things and see what grabs them) and build curiosity with questions like, I wonder how….?

Join Darcia Narvaez at The Evolved Nest, and find podcasts, resources and the science to create sustainable humans!

Here are things that parents and kids can work on outside of schoolwork.

1- Linguistic Intelligence involves the learning and use of language, from reading to writing to speaking one’s own or additional languages.

  • Here is a site that describes options for online foreign languages learning options for kids.

2- Logico-mathematical Intelligence includes not only mathematical reasoning but the ability to detect patterns and reason deductively, much like Sherlock Holmes.

  • Here are some logic puzzles for children that can be printed. And here and here are places where you can help scientists as a citizen scientist.

3- Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (KI) describes how a person moves his body in space. Star athletes have high KI. Think of the soccer or football player who is able to move the ball among a spread of opponents. Think of dancers (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers come to mind, with Ginger doing everything “backwards and in heels”). But also think of how this intelligence is involved in cooking (cutting vegetables), roofing (not falling off), and just walking down the street avoiding running into anything.

  • Children learn to move their bodies through interactive play with others, through dancing and sport practice (e.g., dribbling a ball). They can also learn through indoor obstacle courses and everyday challenges like carrying a glass of water without spilling. Here are more ideas.

4- Musical Intelligence involves carrying a tune, playing an instrument and giving nuance in musical performance. Composing and arranging music takes knowhow about particular instruments’ capabilities and harmonization. Jazz playing takes on-the spot intelligence where each musician is responding to the other in real time.

  • Children can sing, inventing or mimicking songs they heard. They can create a dance routine or make a composition with different sounds from their body. They can learn to play an instrument with dedicated, coached practice. But they can also learn to appreciate music and identify better and worse performances. The family or even communities can sing together, a tradition in Denmark. This can happen online, as occurs under shelter-in-place orders. Here is a site with bully-proof song videos.

5- Spatial Intelligence is what we see in engineers who are able to imagine the workings of machines, bridges, or cities.

  • When children build things, they are fostering this intelligence, whether creative Lego building, or forts or machines. Here are exercises that parents can use with children.
Indigenous Sustainable Wisdom: First-Nation Know-How for Global Flourishing: Edited by Darcia Narvaez, PhD

6- Interpersonal Intelligence concerns the art of getting along with others. Relational attunement is the ability to flexibly respond to the other in the moment, without an agenda or manipulation. The ability to understand others, be patient and responsive in working through conflicts are aspects that are related to doing well in life generally.

  • Role playing and acting out stories with others builds this intelligence. Learning to mediate conflicts helps children learn to take perspectives of others. Here are more suggestions.

7- Intrapersonal Intelligence has to do with knowing yourself, your preferences, your intuitions, your needs. Good therapy involves developing this intelligence so that the baggage of misconceptions about self (e.g., being in danger, being worthless) can be dropped.

  • Children are still in the course of building themselves and need lots of different experiences to grow. Still, the best way to help them build intrapersonal intelligence is to let them follow their impulses for growth. Erich Fromm notes a case where a parent interfered with a child’s growth impulses: a boy came home and gushed about a new friend. The parent did not approve of that child’s background and discouraged the boy from playing with that child. The parent continued to interfere with the son’s choices of friendships (for reasons of prejudice), undermining the son’s growth and happinessHere are ideas for parents and kids.

8- Naturalist Intelligence involves awareness of natural entities and systems. In our ancestral contexts (hunter-gatherer), it is a type of interpersonal intelligence because the rest of entities in nature are treated as sentient and alive.

  • In the backyard, children can play in mud or sand, construct habitats for animals or insects, garden for pollinators or kitchen food. More ideas here. For parents who really want to dig in, here is a pdf with a host of ideas.

Other intelligences that have not made it into Gardner’s list, but have been considered, include Spiritual, Existentialist, and Moral. These are intelligences that nonwestern cultures still today support, as a matter of being a good human being.

When I was a classroom middle school Spanish teacher for several years, I tried to incorporate multiple intelligences in my instruction. Today as a university professor I try to do the same. We play folk song games with each other and with children as a way to learn multiple intelligences at once (linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal) and to find joy in the moment.

More ideas for developing multiple intelligences that can be adopted for home life are here.


Gardner, Howard (1983). Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, Howard (1999). Intelligence Reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, New York: Basic Books.


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.