The Seven Kinds of Smart

How does your child score?


She can’t spell—but stars in the ballet.

He flops in math—but can fix your car radio.

Although their teachers may not know it,

these kids are gifted too—in areas the experts

are just beginning to understand.




Readers Digest, May 1985

Parents have always known that I.Q. scores don’t tell the whole story. How can a written test show that Susie plays piano like a dream, or that Paul can take two broken radios and make a new one that works? But because I.Q. scores are often treated as sacred, some children have suffered.

Take Leslie. At age ten she was excluded from a class for the academically talented because her I.Q. measured only 100 instead of the required 125. Leslie’s father, however, maintained that his daughter had something more important than a high I.Q.—"people savvy." Fifteen years later he was proved right. When Leslie graduated from law school, she did so well in interviews that she beat out stiff competition for a $38,000-a-year job.

As Leslie’s story indicates, children—and for that matter, adults—have many abilities the experts have failed to measure, or even appreciate. Now an innovative attempt to catalogue these abilities has been made by Howard Gardner, a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and co-director of Harvard Project Zero, a study of normal and gifted children. In his book Frames of Mind (Basic Books, 1983), Gardner maintains that there are seven basic kinds of intelligence, and that most children—especially if encouraged—develop strengths in at least one. I.Q. tests focus on two of these intelligences—the linguistic and the logical-mathematical. But, says Gardner, the other five—the musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and personal (knowledge of oneself and knowledge of others) intelligences—deserve more attention too.

What’s your child’s special strength? Read these descriptions of Gardner’s intelligences and learn how to pinpoint and develop your child’s potential.


A linguistically gifted child is probably an early and avid talker. "If only he’s stop talking!" parents of such children often say. He may play around with a private language, or an altered one like pig Latin; he will probably also pick up foreign phrases easily and memorize long strings of words from television or books. Chances are, he likes to write poems and tell stories. A linguistically gifted child learns to read at an early age, often by himself. One boy who scored 750 on the verbal section of his SATs says he taught himself to read at the age of four by watching "The Electric Company" on television. (His mother started him on picture books when he was only nine months old.)

How can you encourage a linguistically gifted child? Read to him every night at bedtime. Once he can read on his own, provide lots of books and a library card. Ask him to recite poems; recite a few yourself. Play word games. Buy him a good dictionary. Respond to everything he writes or recites.

In general, a child who’s linguistically gifted receives a lot of stimulation. His teachers will respond to his gift and feed the fires. Just don’t insist every day that he put down his book and go outside to play.


The musically gifted child loves making music. Fascinated by sounds, he will listen to radiators, taxi horns, typewriter keys, even washing machines. As a toddler, he may touch piano keys and stand transfixed to listen. Later on, he will recognize familiar songs when played without their lyrics or when differently orchestrated. He will learn new songs readily and sing them back on key.

How can you further a child’s musical intelligence? Sing to him. Rent a piano. Buy a flute. Find a compatible teacher. Look for schools with extracurricular music lessons. And keep summer music camp in mind. Since not all schools value the musical child, yours will need encouragement from people who can appreciate his gift.


A child who’s strong in math and logic is mesmerized by category and pattern. How are these building blocks the same? How are they different? He is also good at checkers and chess, loves abstractions and is quick to learn equivalencies ("two days" equals 48 hours, for one.) He may construct carefully ordered, rule-governed imaginary worlds. (Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was a mathematician.)

What are ways to encourage a logically and mathematically gifted child? He’ll love having see through plastic boxes for storing small toys by category. Give him a Monopoly game. Play cards with him often, even though he’ll usually win. Find out if there are other mathematically gifted kids in your area—they might form a math club.


These gifted children are superb visualizers. Take Kitty. At four, she was trying to draw milk cartons in perspective. Now 15, she’s making straight A’s in art, and thinking of becoming a photographer.

It’s easy to encourage this gift. Early on, provide paints and a special area for drawing. Supply various clays, modeling plastics and scissors. Go on long walks over unfamiliar terrain and encourage the child to draw maps of where you’ve been. Offer lessons in pottery making or drawing. And keep in mind that spatial intelligence is not well rewarded in our school system. A child who draws will probably be encouraged to find something "more practical" to study.


This intelligence comprises two basic skills: how to manage our own movements gracefully and how to handle objects skillfully. Accomplished athletes and dancers are bodily-kinesthetically gifted; so are many engineers.

If your child finds it easy to turn somersaults, swim, and ride a bicycle with no hands, he or she may be bodily-kinesthetically gifted. This child does well at tasks requiring motor skills, such as playing catch, threading a needle, working with a variety of tools, disassembling and reassembling clocks, radios and even computers.

What to do for these children? Try an Erector set or electronic gadgets you can afford. Take them to "hands-on" science museums. Introduce them to Little League, dance and gymnastics, sports clubs.

At school, sports and wood working can be great for kinesthetically gifted children. But, unless they also happen to have verbal and logical-mathematical skills, they may do poor academically. They will shine, though, in areas using their motor skills, including crafts and the performing arts.

Personal—Knowledge of Self and Others

It’s hard to recognize a child who is gifted at knowing himself, says Professor Gardner. Usually we only notice the lack of such a gift—for example, when a child is so obviously troubled that he may need special help. "Self-intelligent" kids are easier to spot when they’re older—they’re the ones who know how to plan and how to make the most of their own capabilities.

The second personal intelligence—the ability to know others—is not hard to pick out. A child gifted in this intelligence notices changes in other people: "How come Grandma was sad today?" he’ll ask. If he’s reading a mystery or watching a police show on TV, he may quickly identify the villain.

How can you encourage the personal intelligences? If your child is self-intelligent, compliment him on his insight. If he is other-intelligent, encourage him to join a scout troop, or any other small group where chances for leadership are abundant.

For kids gifted in either of the personal intelligences, skits and play are a good outlet—you can provide dress-up clothes and maybe even summer drama classes. After a theater production or TV show, talk about the characters. Ask your child for a thumbnail sketch of everyone in your family. The results may astound you.

Hardly any of us shines in all seven of Professor Gardner’s intelligences, so it’s important to appreciate those we have rather than lament those we do not.

As parents, of course, we can’t simply ignore school. If your child is weak in the verbal and mathematical-logical intelligences, consider spending extra time or money on tutors. But don’t judge your child entirely by achievements in these two overemphasized areas. At home, recognize and reward your child’s talents, even if they’re not your own.

"Kids make their mark in life by doing what they can do, not what they can’t," Howard Gardner says. "School is important, but life is more important. Being happy is using your skills productively, no matter what they are."


To find our in which way, or ways, your child is gifted, answer these questions. True or false:

1.____ Your child is a whiz at memorizing poetry and TV jingles.

2.____ Your child notices when you are sad or happy.

3.____ Your child often asks questions like "When did time begin?"

4.____ Your child seldom gets lost.

5.____ Your child is especially graceful.

6.____ Your child sings on key.

7.____ Your child often asks questions about how thunder and lightning work, what

makes it rain, and so on.

8.____ If you change a word in an often-read storybook, your child corrects you.

9.____ Your child learned to tie shoelaces and ride a bicycle with surprising ease.

10.____ Your child especially enjoys acting out roles and making up plays.

11.____ On car trips your child often remembers landmarks and points them out, saying, "This is where we were when…"

12.____ Your child likes to listen to different musical instruments and can easily recognize them by the sound they make.

13.____ Your child draws maps well and depicts objects clearly.

14.____ Your child mimics physical movements and expressions.

15.____ Your child likes to sort toys into categories by size or color; in fact, patterns of all kinds appeal.

16.____ Your child can connect actions with feelings—saying, for example, "I did it because I was mad!"

17.____ Your child likes to tell stories, and tells them well.

18.____ Your child comments on different sounds.

19.____ When someone is introduced for the first time, your child may say, "She reminds me of so-and-so."

20.____ Your child is an accurate judge of what he or she can and can’t do.

If you answered "true" to all three questions concerning any of the following intelligences, your child is probably strong in that area. Questions 1, 8 and 17/linguistic intelligence. Questions 6, 12 and 18/musical intelligence. Questions 3, 7 and 15/logical-mathematical intelligence. Questions 4, 11 and 13/spatial intelligence. Questions 5, 9 and 14/bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Questions 10, 16 and 20/knowing oneself. Questions 2, 10 and 19/knowing other people.