Help kids discover how they’re smart

BOOK NOTES by Joan Ruddiman

   "You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kid’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences" is a terrific premise for a book. Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., translates his knowledge of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory into a hands-on book for kids. Dr. Gardner revolutionized how we think about intelligence by re-framing the question "How smart are you?" to ask "How ARE you smart?"
   Any parent raising children today is aware of the pressures kids are under. Being a good student means being good at everything — math to music, literature to leadership, science to physical education. Outside of school, kids are expected to participate in sports and — again — be good at soccer, hockey, basketball, cheerleading; the endless list of teams to join begins with T-ball before they ever go to school. "Being good" is measured and reported in grades, honor lists, and public awards to winning teams.
   Many kids find a niche where they not only excel but also actually enjoy what they do. Many more struggle with not meeting the straight A or all wins/no losses records they think are not only expected, but are all that is acceptable.
   How empowering for a kid to learn that most people are not exceptionally good at everything and that this is absolutely acceptable. Moreover, how enlightening for a kid to experience some self-reflection in order to recognize his or her own unique talents. This book is a powerful tool for parents to share these valuable lessons with their children.
   Dr. Armstrong provides a step-by-step approach for kids — preferably with their parents — to appreciate the beauty of being smart in their own way. The first chapter provides a quick overview of the Multiple Intelligence Theory in terms kids will understand. The following serves as a reference and provides a taste of the author’s style.
   • Word-Smart (linguistic intelligence): You like to read, write, talk, tell stories, play word games, and learn languages.
   • Music Smart (musical intelligence): You enjoy music, rhythms, hum melodies, hear harmonies and patterns in sounds. You play musical instruments and/or your CDs.
   • Logic Smart (logical-mathematical intelligence): You are good with figuring things out — both with numbers and math concepts but also are good at finding patterns, doing riddles, breaking codes, and solving brain teasers.
   • Picture Smart (spatial intelligence): You see the world with images, colors, shapes, design and think in 3-D (three dimensions). You do all types of art, and also are prone to invent — as well as build — models, play with Legos, sew, and fix things.
   • Body Smart (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence): You are graceful, athletic, can dance but also use your body to convey attitudes (think Jim Carey or Robin Williams), as well as do crafts, build, and make repairs.
   • People Smart (interpersonal intelligence): You genuinely like people, interact well, and communicate with ease. You prefer to work with a group rather than alone.
   • Self Smart (intrapersonal intelligence): You know yourself better than anyone does. You are aware of and understand your own feelings, what you are good at, and what you need to improve.
   • Nature Smart (naturalist intelligence): You are good at identifying and classifying plants, animals, rocks and stars in the sky. You also tend to classify other things like your CD collection or what your friends wear. You love being outdoors and tending living things.
   Dr. Gardner defines "intelligence" by two criteria. First, he has identified in the brain where each intelligence is "housed." Next, which is a most revolutionary concept, Dr. Gardner defines intelligence as "yielding a product that society values."
   Does society value athletic ability? Our society surely does. Look what we pay gifted athletes! Do we value people who are good with their hands? Most societies would be hard put living without plumbers, carpenters, and electricians, as well as those who are wizards with technology. Thank Dr. Gardner for emphasizing that being smart is more than just school smart, or book smart.
   Dr. Armstrong, echoing Dr. Gardner, asserts that ALL brains have ALL intelligences. Most brains have two or three intelligences that are more strongly developed than the others, which is why people are good at different things. Dr. Armstrong validates that all intelligences yield different products but that all are equally important. This is a critical concept for kids to understand. The artists who do not play music or the readers who do not excel at math realize they have gifts to share and gaps to fill. Dr. Armstrong emphasizes that all intelligences can be developed — a point he makes with practical suggestions provided throughout the book.
   Armstrong uses kid-friendly language and turns sophisticated psychology into ideas that make perfect sense to kids and their parents. He explores each of the eight intelligences in a chapter that begins with a quick quiz for kids to determine their strength in the intelligence that is featured. For example, Dr. Armstrong details how someone who is "Word Smart" uses this intelligence. Brief sidebars on each page provide real-life examples of famous folks who are smart in this way, as well as interesting "Did you know?" facts to consider. For example, "You can have a stutter when you speak, but still be a great speaker" like Winston Churchill and James Earl Jones or that those who use sign language to speak are using the Word Smart areas of the brain.
   Each chapter provides ways to use the intelligence followed by ways to become more intelligent in this area. But perhaps the most powerful tool Dr. Armstrong provides is a way kids can consider building what they consider a weak area particularly by approaching this from a strength.
   For example, if a kid takes the Word Smart quick quiz and confirms, "I’m not a word kind of guy," the author suggests how to use other intelligences that are a strength. Musical intelligence can build language-based skills. Read lyrics of music like poetry to see the patterns. Dr. Armstrong suggests "singing or rapping spelling lists." The Picture Smart kid can become a better reader by visualizing what he or she reads — turn words into images.
   Conversely, a kid can use his or her strength to improve other intelligences. For example, the Word Smart kid should be talking through math word problems and turn science lessons into myths to explain complex relationships.
   "You’re Smarter Than You Think" is another wonderful offering from Free Spirit Publishing that offers self-help books for kids. Everyone in the household will benefit from Dr. Armstrong’s guided self-analysis of how we are smart.

   Joan Ruddiman is a teacher and friend of the Allentown Public Library.