Verbal Skills Are Just One Type of Intelligence

While waiting in line for the cashier, a 3 year old was talking excitedly to his mother.  Another person in line said, “Oh my, he is so smart!”  Yes, he is verbally intelligent.  He can express his wants, needs and observations with words.  Adults are drawn to children who can communicate well.  I believe we are drawn to them because it makes us feel better.  The child has exhibited an ability that is part of our grown up world.  The verbal children can tell us what we need to know.  They can tell us what they see, what they hear, what hurts, what happened. 

As someone who has worked with young children for many years, I am intrigued by those who build amazing structures with wooden blocks or have an eye for copying what they see onto paper with paint or crayons.  I am enthralled when a child can pick up an instrument and play instinctively with the beat of the music.  I wonder why some children navigate the social sphere with such natural ease while others struggle to make friends.  There are many types of intelligence.  Some children happen to be more gifted at the one we prize most in this society – verbal skills.  Those children are not necessarily more intelligent or more able to process information than the others.    In fact, when we identify verbally advanced children as the most intelligent, we are doing every child a disservice.  Adults tend to act as if verbal intelligence always equates to overall brilliance and, therefore, those children don’t need as much of our assistance with other tasks.  There is also a tendency to label the children who are less verbal as being generally less intelligent.  No one benefits from either of these assumptions.

Developmental Psychologist Howard Gardner is known for his theory of multiple intelligences.  In his book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983), Gardner said that humans have multiple and differing ways of learning and processing information.  He said that there are multiple types of intelligence that work independently.  He has identified eight types of intelligence:  verbal/linguistic, logic-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.  While his theory has been debated, it cannot be denied that we are all better at some of these skill sets than others.   I have always been verbally intelligent while mathematical skills take more time for me to learn.  Likewise, I know people who can calculate with ease while writing is more of a challenge.  

Young children enter preschool classrooms with a plethora of abilities and levels of development.  When we watch, we can see that a child who has not yet mastered verbal skills may be an excellent builder and is, therefore, exhibiting logical-mathematical and spatial intelligence.  Children who are not as skilled at interpersonal interactions may be instinctively musical or athletic.  We need to value each type of intelligence and not make sweeping generalizations.  It is important to identify each child’s strengths and challenges so we can foster growth for everyone.  Every child’s abilities should be prized and we need to teach in a way that captures every learner.  A foundation of self-worth is built upon pride in one’s abilities and the confidence to know that each of us is capable of learning.  When we acknowledge each child for his/her individual intelligence and encourage the work it takes to tackle a more difficult task, we truly prepare our children for the world.  When they feel confident and capable, it doesn’t matter which form of intelligence they exhibit most.  They will find a path that will lead them to success.


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  1. I personally find that people get more impressed with academic achievement but what you say about language is so true. I have an 11 yr old nephew who has been speaking like an adult since he's a little boy.His social skills however, are so dismal that his intelligent talk makes him sound like a little professor and I think as a result he has almost no friends.

    1. I've received a lot of feedback from parents who feel like you feel. I will be writing more!


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