Different types of smart

By many measures, Sunboy is academically smart. He started reading at four-years old, has an intuitive feel for math and asks great, complicated questions. Socially, however, he can be overly innocent to the point where his two-year old sister has learned that she can toy with him. She’s probably already surpassed him in social intelligence. Flowergirl is a social puppet master. She assesses and understands social situations effortlessly and knows how to manipulate them, particularly when they involve her older brother.

Flowergirl and Sunboy are differently, but equally, smart.

Flowergirl is linguistically smart. She started speaking early and has an impressive vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure to show for her 26 months. Sunboy on the other hand, barely spoke before two-years old. I remember thinking “any time now would be great” but as soon as his odometer rolled over, words poured from him. He spoke on his own time frame, and in the end he was fine.

Sunboy has always been insatiable with books, starting from  a ridiculously early age of three months old. I would place several books in front of him and he would point to which book to read. He would choose book after book to read, and would sit, entranced and listening as long as we would continue reading to him. On the other hand, Flowergirl has become obsessed with books only over the last several months. Before that, she didn’t have the attention span or the interest to sit for a story. She would rather practice gross motor activities and talk, talk, talk. She embraced books when she was ready to sit and listen.

Flowergirl is already athletic, coordinated, agile, balanced and dextrous. She doesn’t cry when she falls. I often forget she’s only two-years old. Sunboy was a bit clumsy as a toddler and often didn’t brace himself well when he fell. Thankfully, Sunboy has outgrown much of this and has become a force on the soccer field. He got there in his own time.

All parents could probably make similar statements about ways that their child is both brilliant and challenged in different ways. All kids – and all people – are smart in their own way. I always believed this but watching these two young lives bloom so beautifully yet so uniquely I know this to be true.

According to some tallies there are many different ways to be smart. Linguistic intelligence. Spatial intelligence. Inter-personal intelligence. Emotional intelligence. Logical intelligence. Existential intelligence. Musical intelligence. Naturalist intelligence…and I suspect that more ways to be smart will continue to be discovered.

It’s true that the world involves competition between people. In early education, however, learning to compete doesn’t strike me as important as exploring your own intelligences: both those in which one is brilliant and those in which one is challenged.

As a parent, I know it’s difficult to not reinforce natural intelligences or to try to hasten the development of an area of challenge. Perhaps an approach would be to expose children to areas of intelligence the roughly the same way I try to expose my children to music: I have my favorites, but I try to play music I don’t like for my children as well so as to give them a fair exposure to all musical expressions.

There’s the types of smarts that are widely valued and the types of smarts that are under-recognized as smart. Reading and math are emphasized more than understanding of natural systems and emotions, for example. Why not share the melodies of all types of intelligence and see which make a child dance? Imagine a world of such well-rounded people where all smarts are appreciated.

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