5 Types of intelligence every child should develop

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At the moment, schools are catering for the different types of intelligence - some more than others, depending on the school, the resources and the teachers. Howard Gardner broke the different types of intelligences down into 9 categories. Logical. Spacial. Musical. Linguistic. Bodily-Kinesthetic. Existential. Naturalistic. Interpersonal and Intrapersonal. I love the idea of different intelligences but I find them easier to relate to if they are broken down into 5 categories:

- Academic Intelligence ‘involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience.’ Linda Gottfredson, Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Delaware. This is the sort of intellectual genius you would expect from a savant like Walter O’Brien. The man with an IQ of 197 - that’s higher than Einstein!

- Physical Intelligence: this refers to the ability to control and move your body. The kind of impeccable movement and judgement of force that you would expect from someone like Rory McIlroy.

- Artistic Intelligence: this refers to your personal expression and creativity. Think music, theatre, writing, art etc. Something you can see in the artistic flair of Brendan Glesson.

- Emotional Intelligence: this term was made popular by psychologist Daniel Goleman, however it was first coined by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey. 'Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.' The likes of which are part of the teachings and writings of Dr. Maureen Gaffney.

- Spiritual Intelligence: this refers to personal growth, self-awareness or spiritual growth. This is like the ability to have self awareness and create a higher meaning for your life - The type of transcendent enlightenment that is evident in the Dalai Lama.

Most people will accept that we don’t just use one type of intelligence in our jobs or in our lives, but that we often need a combination of them to be truly successful. Depending on the school, students and teachers, most teenagers in Ireland have the opportunity to develop each of these intelligences to some extent already. But I don’t think it’s clear that they can pursue one of them in particular and make a career out of it. I went to college with lots of people who had no business being there. I’m not saying they weren’t intelligent enough for it, because they were. I’m saying that they had other talents that they could have used to their advantage - they just didn’t know how to use them. University is an amazing opportunity for people who’s career path requires a third level education, but it’s not for everyone and it’s not a marker of success. It’s a marker of competency in one or two of the intelligences.

I’m not saying that education is not important. I believe education is essential - but going to university lectures isn’t the only way to learn something. In fact, as students progress in their studies, the more independent a learner they’re expected to become. Many PhD students are required to teach themselves and get feedback from a supervisor, as their method of learning.

Sir Ken Robinson, an international advisor on education, made a great point in one of his TED Talks. He spoke about Death Valley in California, a place where there is no possibility for life and no potential for growth. Or so they thought... until it rained. “Death Valley isn't dead. It's dormant. Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions to come about.” It’s a great metaphor and something that I firmly believe myself - The potential is always there.

One day, a former colleague of mine asked me the question from an old debate. Nature or nurture? I simply answered “both”. Why would you choose? When you see someone who has potential and passion for something, of course you have to nurture their nature so that you give them the best possible opportunity. But if we put round pegs in square holes, without giving them the chance to explore all of their different types of intelligences completely, we’re going to get people who are unhappy with their work and not enjoying their lives. 

IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014 has ranked us 1st in the world for the availability of skilled labour and 1st for the flexibility and adaptability of our workforce. So despite the grievances that some people have with regard to the education system, including the teachers themselves, the data suggests that it’s contributing to the production of the most skilled workforce in the world. 

I honestly believe that the teachers have the best interests of their students at heart and are doing the best they can with what they have. For obvious reasons, they don’t have all the money or resources that they’d like to have to do everything that they could. Even if the government could do something about this and they did do something, let’s face it, it would take too long. This is something that needs to happen now.

So, for anyone who is interested in helping our young people to discover their passion and do work that they love.

Here are 3 things that you can do:


  • Gardner, H. The Nine Types of Intelligence. Available at: http://skyview.vansd.org/lschmidt/Projects/The%20Nine%20Types%20of%20Intelligence.htm
  • Gottfredson, Linda S. (1997). "Mainstream Science on Intelligence (editorial)” Intelligence 24: 13–23.
  • Ireland ranks first for availability of skilled labour in the world – IMD Yearbook 2014. Available at: http://www.idaireland.com/docs/publications/Facts-about-Ireland.pdf [Accessed 18 April 2015].
  • Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, cognition, and personality, 9(3), 185-211.
  • An Irish genius with an IQ of 197 is the inspiration behind a new US TV show. Available at: http://www.dailyedge.ie/scorpion-tv-show-irish-genius-1617836-Aug2014/ [Accessed 18 April 2015].