Aptitude —

1. inherent or acquired ability
2. ease in learning or understanding; intelligence
3. the condition or quality of being apt [1]

Language areas of the brain Angular Gyrus Supr...

Language Areas of the Brain: Image via Wikipedia

We don’t need any expert to tell us that our child has certain strengths, and other areas which need some work in order to become practically functional. What we don’t necessarily comprehend without deliberate thought, is how those strengths or aptitudes influence our child’s engagement with learning.

Influences on Aptitudes

American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner proposed that a child who quickly grasps a given concept is not necessarily more intelligent than the child who does not. This second child may have a different kind of intelligence, and thus:

  • may learn the given material better through a different approach,
  • may excel in a different field, or
  • may be considering the subject matter at a deeper level, which appears slow to others, but actually reveals a genuine intelligence in that area that of a higher standard than the swift-understanding contemporary. [2]

Gardner used specific criteria in order to establish initially seven intelligences, and later eight, although nine intelligences are now commonly spoken of in current use.

Identifying Intelligences

Gardner’s criteria for identifying intelligence included [3]:

  • potential isolation by brain damage (neurological evidence)
  • evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility
  • identifiable set of core operations
  • susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system
  • recognizable end-state and distinctive developmental trajectory
  • existence of savants, prodigies, and other individuals distinguished by the presence or absence of specific abilities
  • support from experimental psychological tasks
  • support from psychometric findings

One of the more interesting aspects of Gardner’s research, to my mind at least, involved patients suffering brain damage. The extent to which a specific ability is destroyed or spared as a result of brain damage, as with stroke patients, provides considerable information about the basic nature of abilities. This neuro-psychological evidence indicates that one intelligence can be isolated from others at the basic brain level.

Example: Language/Singing

An example of this compares human language and human singing. Singing and speaking are apparently similar faculties, and yet they are different faculties that can be independently damaged or spared.

The parts of the brain that subserve spoken language in hearing people are (roughly speaking) the same parts that subserve sign language in deaf people. This underlying linguistic faculty cuts across sensory and motor modalities.

Musical intelligence being relatively autonomous is indicated by cases of brain injury where musical ability is preserved, although other abilities such as language are lost. Thus, musical and linguistic intelligences are shown to both exist and be independent of each other. [3]

The Nine Intelligences

These are the Multiple Intelligences as defined by Gardner and refined by others. Below, we explore an overview, a quote from Gardner or about his thoughts, general characteristics and ideas for working with each intelligence. [4] [5] [6] [9]


Sensitivity to the meaning of words, grammar rules and the function of language as in writing an essay.

Linguistic intelligence is the capacity to use language, your native language, and perhaps other languages, to express what’s on your mind and to understand other people. Poets really specialize in linguistic intelligence, but any kind of writer, orator, speaker, lawyer, or a person for whom language is an important stock in trade highlights linguistic intelligences.” – Howard Gardner (Checkley, 1997, Sept. p. 12)

People with this intelligence:

  • have a rich vocabulary
  • enjoy listening and talking to people
  • in their younger years enjoy listening and telling stories
  • effective in expressing themselves and convincing others by using the language and their rich vocabulary wisely
  • like word games and puzzles
  • listening and hearing makes successful learners
  • sort information through listening and repeating skills

Working with this intelligence:

  • use storytelling to explain the topic
  • conduct a debate on the topic
  • write a poem, myth, legend, short play, or news article about the topic
  • create a talk show radio program about the topic
  • conduct an interview on the topic


Ability to hear tones, rhythms and musical patterns, pitch and timbre, as in composing a symphony.

Musical intelligence is the capacity to think in music, to be able to hear patterns, recognize them, remember them, and perhaps manipulate them.  People who have a strong musical intelligence don’t just remember music easily – they can’t get it out of their minds, it’s so omnipresent.” – Howard Gardner (Checkley, 1997, p. 12)

People with this intelligence:

  • sensitive to nonverbal sounds in the environment
  • enjoy listening to music and singing to themselves
  • usually play a musical instrument
  • participate in choirs or bands
  • like to sing or drum to themselves
  • can remember and repeat a melody after listening it to once
  • ability to understand the structure of music to create melodies and rhythms
  • learn through rhythm and melody
  • need music to study or learn new things more easily if sung, tapped out, or whistled

Working with this intelligence:

  • give a presentation with appropriate musical accompaniment on the topic
  • sing a rap or song that explains the topic
  • indicate the rhythmical patterns in something
  • explain how the music of a song is similar to something
  • make an instrument and use it to demonstrate something

Logical / Mathematical

Ability to see relationships between objects and solve problems, as in calculus and engineering.

People with highly developed logical-mathematical intelligence understand the underlying principles of some kind of a causal system, the way a scientist or a logician does; or can manipulate numbers, quantities, and operations, the way a mathematician does.” – Howard Gardner (Checkley, 1997, p. 12)

People with this intelligence:

  • curious about how things work
  • like to ask questions and investigate
  • use numbers wisely and enjoy solving problems
  • have the ability to understand logical patterns, categories and relationships, causes and effects
  • enjoy strategy games, logical puzzles and experiments
  • like to use computers

Working with this intelligence:

  • translate into a mathematical formula
  • design and conduct an experiment on the topic
  • make up syllogisms (use deductive reasoning) to demonstrate the subject
  • make up analogies to explain the concept
  • describe the patterns or symmetry in

Visual / Spatial

Ability to perceive and mimic objects in different forms or contexts, as in miming or impressionist painting.

Spatial intelligence refers to the ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind – the way a sailor or airplane pilot navigates the large spatial world, or the way a chess player or sculptor represents a more circumscribed spatial world.  Spatial intelligence can be used in the arts or in the sciences.  If you are spatially intelligent and oriented toward the arts, you are more likely to become a painter or a sculptor or an architect than, say, a musician or a writer.  Similarly, certain sciences like anatomy or topology emphasize spatial intelligence.”  – Howard Gardner (Checkley, 1997, p. 12)

People with this intelligence:

  • able to visualize three-dimensional objects
  • take information and translate it into images and pictures in their mind
  • have the ability to retrieve the information through the images and pictures they restored earlier
  • have the ability to understand geometry and recognize the relationships of objects in space
  • are successful in geometry
  • very good in visual arts, sculpture, architecture and photography
  • enjoy mazes and jigsaw puzzles
  • like to spend free time drawing and building with Lego
  • known as daydreamers

Working with this intelligence:

  • chart, map, cluster, or graph the facts
  • create a slide show, videotape, or photo album of information
  • create a piece of art that demonstrates the topic
  • invent a board or card game to demonstrate the subject
  • illustrate, draw, paint, sketch, or sculpt in accordance with the topic

Bodily / Kinesthetic

Using the body, perceptual and motor systems in the brain to solve a problem, as in catching a ball.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the capacity to use your whole body or parts of your body – your hand, your fingers, your arms – to solve a problem, make something, or put on some kind of a production.  The most evident examples are people in athletics or the performing arts, particularly dance or acting.” – Howard Gardner (Checkley, 1997, p. 12)

People with this intelligence:

  • use their body to communicate and solve problems
  • good with objects and activities involving their body, hands and fingers
  • prefer to learn through their body or feelings
  • more successful in learning if they can touch, manipulate and move or feel whatever they are learning
  • learn best with activities: games, acting, hands-on tasks, building
  • process information by applying and through bodily sensation, such as acting out an historical scene, or building a model with blocks
  • like being physically active, playing sports, dancing, and acting
  • enjoy crafts and working on mechanical projects

Working with this intelligence:

  • create a movement or sequence of movements to explain the topic
  • make task or puzzle cards for the subject
  • build or construct a model
  • do a field trip that will provide interaction with the topic
  • use hands-on materials to demonstrate the subject


Ability to understand and define inner feelings, as in poetry and therapy.

Intrapersonal intelligence refers to having an understanding of yourself, of knowing who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, how you react to things, which things to avoid, and which things to gravitate toward. We are drawn to people who have a good understanding of themselves because those people tend not to screw up. They tend to know what they can do. They tend to know what they can’t do.  And they tend to know where to go if they need help.” – Howard Gardner (Checkley, 1997, p. 12)

People with this intelligence:

  • aware of their strengths and weaknesses, moods and motivations
  • have the ability for self discipline to achieve personal goals
  • self-motivated
  • can monitor their thoughts and feelings and control them effectively
  • need their own quiet space most of the time
  • prefer to study individually and learn best through observing and listening
  • like to play by themselves
  • use self-knowledge to make decisions to set goals
  • are sensitive to their own feelings and moods

Working with this intelligence:

  • describe the qualities needed to successfully complete a set task
  • set and pursue a goal to achieve a success
  • describe one of your personal values about the topic
  • write a journal entry on the topic
  • assess your own work in the subject


Sensitivity to the actions, moods and feelings of others, as in teaching, parenting and politicking.

Interpersonal intelligence is understanding other people.  It’s an ability we all need, but is at a premium if you are a teacher, clinician, salesperson, or politician.  Anybody who deals with other people has to be skilled in the interpersonal sphere.” – Howard Gardner (Checkley, 1997, p. 12)

People with this intelligence:

  • understand and care about people and their feelings, and interact effectively with them
  • approach people with empathy
  • recognize differences among people and value their point of view with sensitivity to their motives, moods and intentions
  • sensitive to facial expressions, gestures and voice
  • always get along with others and they are able to maintain good relationships with one or more people among family and friends
  • have more than one friend
  • care about friends and like to help to solve their problems
  • like to teach other kids
  • take up positions in organisations and clubs
  • have the ability to influence people and are natural leaders

Working with this intelligence:

  • conduct a meeting to address the topic
  • intentionally use social skills to learn about the subject
  • participate in a service project to explore the field
  • teach someone else about the topic
  • practice giving and receiving feedback on the subject
  • use technology to demonstrate to others


Ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature.

Naturalist intelligence designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations).  This ability was clearly of value in our past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef. The kind of pattern recognition valued in certain of the sciences may also draw upon naturalist intelligence.” – Howard Gardner (Checkley, 1997, p. 12)

People with this intelligence:

  • ability to recognize plants, animals, and other parts of natural environment such as rocks, trees, flowers, clouds
  • may like doing activities related to nature such as fishing, hiking, camping
  • have a strong connection to the outside world or to animals
  • enjoy outdoor activities
  • notice patterns and things from nature easily
  • love collecting flowers, rocks
  • may enjoy stories, shows or any subjects that deal with animals or natural happenings (events)
  • interested and care about animals or plants
  • may show interest in biology, astronomy, meteorology, and zoology
  • show an interest towards endangered species
  • learn the characteristics, names, information about any species found in the world easily

Working with this intelligence:

  • create observation notebooks of research
  • describe changes in the local or global environment
  • care for pets, wildlife, gardens, or parks
  • use binoculars, telescopes, microscopes, or magnifiers to explore a subject
  • draw or photograph natural object


Sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here.

Existential intelligence – the capacity to ask profound questions about the meaning of life and death – is one of the cornerstones of art, religion, and philosophy and qualifies as an intelligence in its own right, says Gardner. However, since he has not been able to find the part of the brain dedicated to dealing with such questions, he is hesitant to add it to the list.” – Scott London [8]

People with this intelligence:

  • enjoy thinking, and questioning, and are curious about life, death, and ultimate realities
  • pose and ponder questions about life, death and ultimate realities
  • curious about what the earth was like years ago
  • ponder their purpose in life
  • wonder if there is life on other planets
  • consider where living things go after they die
  • contemplate the possibilities of the existence of another dimension
  • think about the existence of ghosts or spirits
  • interested in famous philosophers and their thoughts about life and human beings

Working with this intelligence [10] [11]:

  • choose own activities
  • freedom to express self and opinions
  • managing own learning
  • evaluating own performance
  • seeing the “big picture” of human existence by asking philosophical questions about the world
  • technology tools include email, chat, listservs, teleconferencing, and other interactive communication tools to help students address their questions

Links to Online Tests

  • Birmingham Grid for Learning – test can be taken in either text or audio form. Does not include Existentialist option.
  • SurfAquariam – printable test of all nine intelligences, but not in the order listed above. Order is revealed at the very bottom of the page.
  • Quizfarm – The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences. Only covers eight options.


Based on his study of many people from many different walks of life in everyday circumstances and professions, Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences. He performed interviews with and brain research on hundreds of people, including stroke victims, prodigies, autistic individuals, and so-called “idiot savants.” [6]

According to Gardner:

  • All human beings possess all nine intelligences in varying amounts.
  • Each person has a different intellectual composition.
  • We can improve education by addressing the multiple intelligences of our students.
  • These intelligences are located in different areas of the brain and can either work independently or together.
  • These intelligences may define the human species.

Working with Strengths

At a home education forum in September 2010 conducted by DET, one of the presenters discussed the innovations of Big Picture Schools. One of the principles of this type of schooling, like home education, begins with teaching to the student’s strengths. The presenter of this forum session quoted a student, who made this observation on returning from a highly encouraging real-world experience:

“Sometimes people say that Big Picture is too narrow, allowing us to focus on our strengths and interests. But when you start with what you’re interested in, it changes and grows.”

This fabulous quote is in every way equally applicable to home education, and in fact echoes the thoughts of a great many home educators.

As you explore this area of Multiple Intelligences and proceed with home educating your child, don’t shy away from resourcing the child’s strengths for fear that they won’t end up with a ‘balanced’ education – it does lead somewhere. That Somewhere isn’t necessarily predictable, but it is worth the journey. As your child pursues what they are genuinely interested in, in a way that is meaningful to them, they will gain balance along the way.

Intelligence is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.
~ Susan Sontag

[1] Dictionary.com listing of ‘aptitude‘, World English Dictionary defintion.
[2] Wikipedia article: Theory of Multiple Intelligences
[3] Multiple Intelligences Institute, white paper: Multiple Intelligences Basics p7.
[4] Casa Canada, Children’s Corner, Multiple Intelligences: What Are the Seven Learning Styles?
[5] Multiple Intelligences Institute: Intelligences
[6] Thirteen Ed Online: Concept to Classroom, What is The Theory of Multiple Intelligences
[7] Casa Canada, Children’s Corner, Multiple Intelligences: The Eighth Intelligence
[8] Scott London, Book Review: Howard Gardner, “Intelligence Reframed”
[9] Casa Canada, Children’s Corner, Multiple Intelligences: Activity Chart
[10] About.com: Learning Disabilities, Existential Learning
[11] Eduscapes.com, Multiple Intelligences: Existentialist