Are You "Nature Smart?" How to Awaken Naturalistic Intelligence in Children

Multiple Intelligence Theory


In 1983, Multiple Intelligence Theory was first put forth by Professor Howard Gardner in his ground-breaking book, Frames of Mind. Over the past four decades, Gardner’s MI theory has become popular with both teachers and parents as a tool for explaining and differentiating the talents and gifts of children.


"When planning and delivering educational activities and lessons, combining multiple learning styles in your teaching is essential for fulfilling the learning needs of your students and optimizing the learning process."

While initially Professor Gardner described seven aspects of human intelligence as being verbal / linguistic; mathematical / logical; spatial; musical; kinesthetic; interpersonal; and intrapersonal, in 1994 he heralded the discovery of an eighth type of intelligence, “naturalistic intelligence” (or “nature smarts”). Naturalistic intelligence was then more fully described and officially added to his original theory of seven intelligences in 1999 in his book Intelligence Reframed.



"Naturalistic intelligence is thought to be the type that aided our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors in identifying which flora and fauna were edible and which were not."

Professor Gardner theorized that all children are born with one or more "intelligences," such as logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic and even musical intelligence. And he emphasized that the best way to test, and develop, these intelligences is by practicing skills in these areas, and not through paper-and-pencil/online tests. When planning and delivering educational activities and lessons, combining multiple learning styles in your teaching is essential for fulfilling the learning needs of your students and optimizing the learning process.


How to Foster "Nature Smarts"


Naturalistic intelligence is thought to be the type that aided our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors in identifying which flora and fauna were edible and which were not. In addition, “nature smarts” may have helped early humans to notice patterns and changes in their surrounding environment increasing their chances of survival. This type of intelligence is present in the parts of the brain responsible for recognizing patterns, for making subtle connections, and is specific to those areas of the brain responsible for acute sensory perceptions, as well as object discrimination and classification.



Outdoor learning is well-suited to developing naturalistic intelligence among children. Students with nature smarts are typically interested in conservation and recycling, like animals, enjoy gardening, like to be outside, are interested in the weather and feel a strong connection to the Earth.


"Many of history's most revered scientists and naturalists had high naturalistic intelligence, which would have been important for discerning the patterns and complexities of the living world in their work."

As parents and educators, we can enhance and strengthen naturalistic intelligence among young learners by getting them to:

  • Attend lessons outside

  • Keep a nature journal to record changes or discoveries in nature

  • Illustrate discoveries in nature

  • Read books and articles about nature and the environment

  • Write articles about nature (poems, short stories, news articles)

  • Give lessons on weather and nature

  • Perform skits about nature and cycles

  • Cond