Multiple Intelligences in a Church Context
Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences has had an impact on how we teach and the development of curriculum in recent years. But how can we translate this easily into how we minister with children in a Sunday School setting?
Verbal-Linguistic = Word Smart
This person likes to learn new vocabulary, play with words, read and write. We can read Bible stories to them, invite them to read the Bible on their own, introduce a concordance to them when they are ready, offer word puzzles and games using words from worship and scripture.
Logical-Mathematic = Number Smart
This person likes to be precise, figure out relationships, have a special goal and solve things. This learner thinks best with sequence, structure, and organization. We can invite them to develop timelines for biblical events, draw family trees with characters from the Bible, measure distances with Bible maps, and outline themes learned.
Musical-Rhythmic = Music Smart
This person likes to connect music to emotions, hear music in his or her head all the time, sing to him- or herself, and tap or move to rhythms. The learner thinks best by using patterns of sound. Use hymns to tell the stories of our faith. When curricular resources offer music options, use them!
Bodily-Kinesthetic = Body Smart
This person likes to build, experience, feel and touch, make things, move. This learner needs to move and feel. Everyone learns best through experience and doing. Hopefully our classrooms no longer have students sitting at desks with a “teacher expert” pouring information into their heads.
Visual-Spatial = Picture Smart
This person likes to do puzzles, draw, imagine, use color, and visualize. This learner thinks best through seeing or visualizing. Make sure your learning space has posters and charts appropriate to the themes you are learning about. Refer to them. Invite students to design displays and bulletin boards around your church. Explore prayer through drawing. Illustrate Bible stories.
Interpersonal = People Smart
This person likes to be with people, emphasize, interact, lead, teach. This learner learns best by working with others and is also very tuned to others’ feelings and needs. Involve your students by inviting them to present and lead class activities. Outreach and service projects are other opportunities where these people thrive.
Intrapersonal = Self Smart
This person likes to be along, have time to think things through, and reflect. This learner learns best by reflecting and making connections to self. When asking questions or having discussion, make sure pauses and silence are used in order to allow these people the time to process their thoughts. Ask those who are always the first to answer to try to wait a few moments before jumping with a raised hand. Self-reflective exercises of prayer, meditation, silent imagination benefit these learners.
Naturalist = Nature Smart
This person likes to categorize, collect, grow, plant, relate to animals, and sort. This learner thinks best by using natural phenomenon. Tap into God’s creation! Explore environmental issues and act – plant seeds, build and tend a garden on church property, hold a blessing of the animals to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis. Celebrate Rogation Days and Earth Day!
All of us learn in a multitude of ways. Each of us has a strength in one or more of these learning styles (multiple intelligences). As a teacher, it is important to remember that we tend to fall back and teach according to the style in which we personally learn and are comfortable with. Our challenge is to push ourselves to tap into a variety of ways to teach, making sure that we are not leaving anyone behind (or at a disadvantage) in learning.
Think about how Jesus taught. How did he interact with others? I think we could say that Jesus tapped into each of these learning styles in his teaching.
To learn more about Multiple Intelligences, check out various books by Howard Gardner.
Sharon Ely Pearson is a 30+ year Christian formation veteran, currently serving as an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated. Wife, mother, grandmother, and author, she enjoys connecting people with each other and the resources they need for growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus.