Where Every Family Matters

Smart Kids: Discovering Your Child’s Innate Intelligence

All kids have brains that are wired differently, so take the educational lead from them.

Some children excel at science, while others are wired differently and show off as geniuses at the local gym. Harvard Professor Howard Gardner suggests that most individuals draw upon “multiple intelligences,” including linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist. Even very young children display a tendency toward one or more aptitudes.

Genetics and brain development contribute to natural gifts, but so does environment, according to Thomas Armstrong, educational expert and author of In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences (Tarcher; $15.95). “Intelligences are not fixed,” Armstrong says. Parents should act as facilitators, without pushing. “It’s not appropriate to give a preschooler formal reading lessons,” he says. Instead, expose him to a “wide range of experiences related to all the intelligences.”

Watch your child to figure out his abilities, and be ready to adjust your ideas about his future. You can use the information below to identify and explore your child’s intelligence – or explore a new one altogether:


A preschool-age child with a knack for words enjoys reading with parents. Nursery rhymes and poems catch his ear. Picking up foreign languages with ease, he’ll chat with anyone who will listen.

Play: Play rhyming games or write letters in sand together. Make up silly jokes, or head to the library and share The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House; $22.99) by Jack Prelutsky.

Famously “word smart”: William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, J.K Rowling and many, many others.


This kid loves experiments, solving conundrums like, “What happens when Jell-O and milk combine?” Number sense comes early, and she’ll add and subtract cookies – without prompting.

Play: Keep a logical little mind busy for hours with UNO, Go Fish and other card games, or give her a broken clock and a screwdriver. Learn about levers at a hands-on museum like the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring in Murfreesboro or Adventure Science Center in Nashville.

Famously “math smart”: Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Ada Lovelace, Leonardo da Vinci


Skilled at drawing, this child takes a paper-and-pencil approach to problems. Special spatial abilities lead to plenty of coloring and creating. He loves puzzles and painting, mazes, maps and gadgets.

Play: Provide construction toys or encourage him to design buildings and clothing. Turn him loose with paintbrushes and paper, and keep plenty of art supplies on hand at all times.

Famously “art smart”: Frida Kahlo, I.M. Pei, Vincent van Gogh


This on-the-go child hates sitting still and loves sports, running and large-muscle movement. She’s a clever mimic of classmates and has excellent fine-motor coordination in preschool classes.

Play: Get her outside, rain or shine. Sign her up for gym, dance or soccer. Ttake her out to a ballgame. Encourage fine-motor handiness with sewing and crafting.

Famously “body smart”: Jackie Chan, Chris Rock, Cal Ripken Jr.


This kid loves tunes, whether singing, clamoring for a favorite CD or shaking maracas. He easily remembers melodies and lyrics and may be extra-sensitive to loud noise.

Play: Make beautiful music together with hand-made instruments, using everyday items such as a soda bottle, dried beans and tape. Attend concerts or a Nashville Symphony performance and let him check out a variety of music to explore from your local library.

Famously “music smart”: Aaron Copland, Yo-Yo Ma, Norah Jones


Born with a high “EQ” (emotional quotient), this child enjoys discussion and debate. She loves playing with pals, solving problems, being a leader, and she picks up on nonverbal cues.

Play: Turn your house into play-date central and enroll in classes that encourage imaginative, interactive play.

Famously “people smart”: Abigail Van Buren, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Luther King Jr.


Following his own road, he gets more out of playing alone. Often lost in thought, he needs downtime to recoup from play group.

Play: Provide options for independent projects, or help him keep a journal with paper, pen or photographs. Carve out a “nook” in your home for personal reflection.

Famously “self smart”: Mahatma Gandhi, Anne Frank, Emily Dickinson


This child loves animals, sometimes even preferring pets to people. She adores the outside world and collects rocks and other outdoor items; check those pockets for live treasures!

Play: Go on walks through a leafy park or start a kid-size ant farm. Visit the Nashville Zoo to contemplate wild things, or take a special trip to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

Famously “nature smart”: Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson, Charles Darwin

About the Author

Lora Shinn

Lora Shinn is a mother, writer and children's librarian.