We used to hear a lot about the left vs. right brain. And, it does seem accurate that many people with have a strength in math rather than language, and vice versa. It’s not that we can’t succeed in both but it’s almost like one comes more naturally, and it does. But, what I’m trying to emphasize in children the last couple years is that we have more than 2 ways in which we can be smart.
In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard, developed multiple intelligence theories suggesting that we have more than 2 areas in which humans are gifted. There are way more than 2 areas of strengths in the brain.
However, in public elementary schools, there is always a push with language (ELA) and math. The majority of the day is centered around these subjects. And while these are very important life skills, we really need so much more to lead a successful balanced. There are a lot of subjects that will lead to amazing careers and life skills that we minimize in school. And, it’s really painful and challenging for children who struggle with math or reading but may be inclined towards nature and kinesthetic learning, for example.
Fortunately, our kids still have music, art, and PE. There’s a push (and law) towards more movement in school. And, they do get some social studies and science sprinkled in there too. But, it’s still very unbalanced . And, I don’t expect that will change anytime soon. We need our kids to read and write. And, we need some basic math skills (although, computers can do most of that work for us)! However, when we look at the climate of this country, I would argue that we desperately need more of these other areas in schools too.
Not only is it discouraging when children struggle with the 2 main subjects, but school is also not fun. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard young children call themselves “dumb” because they don’t get math, or struggle to make C’s and D’s. What politicians decide dictates what we are teaching children in school. The problem is often times, these people (mostly men) come from business backgrounds and have never been educators. Shouldn’t the teachers, the people in the trenches who are in touch with children, be trusted to differentiate and guide their students in many different areas, exposing children to many areas of intelligence and interests?
If they’re not or can’t, it’s up to us as parents to emphasize all the ways our children can be smart. We can encourage them to continue to strengthening this skills outside of school, while also practicing areas of weakness too. For example, the child who naturally gravitates towards experiencing nature and animals should pursue researching and experiencing their area of passion. There’s a small second grade boy in my daughter’s class who is obsessed with sharks. He’s already so much knowledgable than most adults and enthusiastic about sharing this knowledge. This won’t be on the AimsWeb standardized assessment but who cares! He could do something amazing with his passion if he’s encouraged to continue learning about marine biology and the world of sharks. He can add and subtract different species of sharks. He can write essay on sharks. He can and should continue to shine in this area.
Another example is a 10-year-old girl who’s autistic and struggles socially. She is so sweet but fitting in doesn’t comes naturally, despite wanting to. These social skills take some practice for her. However, her ability to identify and verbalize her own feelings is outstanding. She has better intrapersonal skills than most adults as she knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and how she feels. That is an area of intelligence that can be taught and fostered but it doesn’t come easily for many. Think of how many adult friends you have who are depressed and working a job they don’t like. Many adults are still trying to figure out what they want and like, and this young lady already has some of that awareness. That’s intelligent!
Just like my daughter shines in having empathy and recognizing the feelings of others. She’s never been as school ‘smart’ as Brody , but she does well in school because of her work ethic. Math does NOT come naturally to her! But, her intrapersonal skills are impressive. She gets along easily with others and recognizes when someone is sad or left out. She just gets how personal actions impact the feelings of others, and she is kind. This is an area of strength that she’s both gifted in and we foster. Isn’t this skill set as important if not more than math and reading!? Look at our world, with all the hate and dysfunction. We need to value teaching empathy and intrapersonal skills. Research shows empathy and mindfulness can be taught and doesn’t come naturally for all.
It’s important to recognize and praise our children for their strengths. Our son, Brody, is smart, school smart, and he’s tried to point out to his little sister than he’s smarter than her. This is where , as a parent, I point out than Anna is also very responsible. She takes care of herself and others very conscientiously. That’s also super smart! That will allow her to live on her own successfully one day and not depend on others.
They are both smart but in different ways. Brody is that traditional ‘smart’ and I am proud of his good grades. In fact, I admire his ability to memorize things so easily! But, I will also celebrate the ways that aren’t always graded in kids too because these intelligences are just as important! Kids don’t always get a trophy or grade in all the many ways they can be smart but we can recognize and celebrate them anyway.
Parents are the biggest influence on their children. We can humble our children by reminding them to continue growing and learning in areas that don’t come naturally, and also continue pursuing areas that make them great and above average. We all have those areas of strengths and weaknesses. Just because school or society doesn’t respect all these areas equally, we can explain why all these skills can lead to a well-balanced, rewarding, and successful life.
We need to remind children to feel grateful for those areas that don’t take a lot of work, while also encouraging them to not stop trying to grow in those areas that are challenging or just not as fun to them. That’s what I want and expect out of myself too. We are never too old or young to keep growing and changing!