Teaching Kids Using All Their “Smarts”
You are about to experience a crash course on a subject that is critical for you to understand and utilize in your ministry. So, hold on, here we go! Understanding the theory of Multiple Intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983 is a monumental help in teaching—children or adults—and in dealing with relationship issues. Most likely, many of you have learned about multiple intelligences along the way, but engraining this theory into your thinking and planning it into your teaching can mean the difference between reaching a child for Christ or not. This understanding is a vital tool and it provides the power to open doors that seem to be jammed shut.
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences proposed that every person’s brain has many intelligences or many ways of taking in information. Some people still refer to these different pathways as “intelligences,” but most now simply call them “smarts.” The seven smarts that Gardner recognized were: math smart, picture smart, music smart, self smart, people smart, word smart, and body smart. Since his initial proposal, nature smarthas been universally recognized as the eighth smart.
Every person has all eight smarts—that’s important to understand. We are different, though, in that each person’s smarts have a degree of strength or weakness. Some kids come alive when crayons and markers are put in their hands. That’s because their picture smart is strong. That same child may lose total interest when asked to sing, probably because music smart is one of their weaker smarts. It’s encouraging to know, though, that a weak smart can be strengthened simply through experiencing it. This tells us, then, that we do a child an injustice by avoiding their weak smart, because using it makes it stronger, which in turn makes them a more well-rounded learner. It also tells us that if the child is having difficulty understanding a concept or needs to get past a particular hurdle to move on in their learning, the child will more likely master the difficult concept if it’s presented in one of his strongest smarts. In many people, it seems apparent what their strong and weak smarts are, but taking a multiple intelligence inventory may have surprising results. Inventories require about 10 minutes to take and can be easily found on the Internet.
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is very helpful information for anyone who teaches children (or adults, for that matter, but that’s a whole different magazine). God has wired us in such a way that we can experience His Word and His presence through eight different pathways or smarts. In the past, we’ve limited the teaching of His Word to mainly one smart—word smart. We read words, and we listen to words. The problem with that is if a child’s word smart is one of his weaknesses, then he’s struggling constantly, and he quickly becomes bored (and you know what that means—discipline problems).
What is the worst method of teaching? The one you use over and over and over. When we lock in to teaching at only one smart, then we become ineffective. That’s really easy to do, because leaders have their strong smarts also, and that’s where they’ll gravitate to in their teaching approach. If our goal is to increase a child’s understanding of God’s Word, then incorporating different smarts into the presentation of a concept is the best way to go.
When a variety of the multiple intelligences are used in a session, the boredom issue will greatly diminish as well as the discipline issues. Why does that happen? When multiple intelligences are routinely used in the teaching approach, kids naturally come to understand that “She may not be doing something that I really like right now, but I know the good stuff for me is coming.”
A logical goal for any session is to incorporate four or five of the multiple intelligences. Hitting all eight is too much of a challenge and would require more time than you probably have. Keep track of the ones you use though, so that as you plan future sessions you can make choices about activities that will rotate through all eight smarts. It’s important for kids to have fun when they’re learning; fun means relaxing in a child’s language, and learning takes place better when you’re relaxed. Adults tend to think that kids are having fun when there’s lots of noise and running. Once you understand multiple intelligences, though, you realize that noise and running are not fun for the child who has a weak body smart. If a child’s strength is self smart, then fun is getting to do something on their own in their own space. If a child’s strength is music smart, then the game really becomes fun when music is added. A grasp of multiple intelligences can really help you redefine “fun.”
Well, let’s take a closer look at these eight smarts and give you some ideas of how each one can be utilized in a lesson.
This smart uses written, spoken, and heard words effectively, and the child thinks in words. They retain information because of explanation and communication.
These kids like to read, write, tell stories, and play word games. They are the ones who actually enjoy a search-and-find or crossword puzzle and are attentive when you read a story to them. One of the things that will thrill them is having a variety of writing implements and interesting paper products. Writing e-mails to missionaries, keeping a personal faith journal, or debating evolution will spark their interest, because it’s words, words, words.
Probably the most misunderstood of the multiple intelligences, it goes way beyond working math problems. This smart enables easy detection of patterns, analyzes problems through reasoning and deduction, and involves sequencing.
You may be baffled with how to include math smart in a Bible lesson. These kids love to experiment, calculate, question, sequence, and figure out logical puzzles. Does that give you some ideas? When you relate science experiments to scripture, you are including a connection to the math smart. These kids will thrive when using manipulatives or when challenged to strategize. Putting different scenes of a Bible story in the correct sequence, deciphering codes in a puzzle, or putting the books of the Bible or people of faith in categories are all good exercises to use the math smart.
With this smart, there is an appreciation for sounds, a recognition of rhythms, and an emotional reaction to sounds.
This is probably one of the easiest smarts to incorporate into children’s ministry because of the worship time. But think beyond singing songs. Whistling, humming, tapping feet, clapping hands, and banging sticks together are all part of music smart. These kids will enjoy writing their own raps or chants, and calm down when there is background music playing. People who play the radio while working are usually high in music smart, because the music actually relaxes them to be able to take in information.
Body movement and control are important elements of body smart. It includes eye and body coordination as well as balance.
We naturally think of running and jumping when we think of body smart, but there is so much more. Of course, those large games can be incorporated, but also include role-play, mime, messy activities, building, and creative movement. To use body smart, ask the kids to create their own motions to a song or depict a scripture passage. Give them problem situations where they will have to role-play a solution.
There are two important parts to this smart: the interpretation of images and the creation of images. Picture smart gives meaning to images and works to understand the relationship the image has with the space.
In order to tap into picture smart, provide kids with photos, movies, illustrated books, or PowerPoint slides that include images. They will also want to create through arts and crafts or use Legos/blocks/Tinkertoys. Interestingly, these kids are doodlers…and that’s a good thing. When they are drawing all kinds of squiggles on their paper, the picture smart pathway is opening up and ready to receive information. So don’t reprimand your doodlers!
Relationships and group dynamics are very important. People smart includes others in decision making and provides the ability to interpret body language well.
Friends are very important to kids who are people smart. They want to do everything in a group and love to party. Sharing their thoughts or opinions with others is a great way for them to learn. These kids also get excited about serving others, especially when they actually get to meet and talk with the person they are helping.
This smart focuses on the understanding a person has of himself. They thrive in situations where they can explore, think, and react by themselves.
In self smart, it is important for the child to have time to be quiet, meditate, work on a project by themselves, or just daydream. They enjoy private places, so reading corners will appeal to them. These kids are the ones who get inspired and motivated easily because they connect personally.
The relationship with the surrounding world is very important in this smart. Understanding comes through the experience with nature.
This is probably the most difficult smart to consistently include in lessons, but anytime the opportunity presents itself, grab it. These kids love animals and plants, as well as caring for them. Books on nature, a nature walk around the church, class pets, or a field trip to a farm, aquarium, botanical garden, or zoo are ways to include nature smart.
Let me close with these reminders. When information is presented using one of the strong smarts of a child, the pathway relaxes and opens up; consequently, they are ready to take in what you have to teach. Using a variety of smarts will help all the children strengthen their weak smarts, will diminish boredom and discipline issues, and will assure that each child makes a connection with the Word.