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

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

  • Conduct research on local wildlife and vegetation

Famous People with High Naturalistic Intelligence


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.


E.O. Wilson, the world's greatest naturalist, and the father of socio-biology, won the Pulitzer Prize for his extensive work on the complex social lives of ants.

For example, history's most famous evolutionary scientist, Charles Darwin proposed the theory of evolution through natural selection. Darwin's famous journey on the HMS Beagle allowed him to study and collect natural specimens from across the globe. Alexander von Humboldt was a 19th Century naturalist and explorer, and the first person to suggest that humans were having an impact on the natural world and causing climate change. And more recently, E.O. Wilson (see photo on left), arguably the world's greatest naturalist, and the father of socio-biology, wrote a 1990 book, "Ants" -- one of two books for which he won the Pulitzer Prize -- that explained how these insects create complex social structures, organizations, and hierarchies.


Getting Rid of 'Nature Deficit Disorder'


Building naturalistic intelligence among children is essential for developing a deeper understanding of, and healthy respect for the living world. It also gives children the chance to be inquisitive, to explore the world around them and to tune into the cycles of nature. And it's now more important than ever before that we connect children to the living world, to avoid what Last Child in the Woods author, Richard Louv calls "Nature Deficit Disorder." Who knows, perhaps one day a few of those "nature smart" youngsters might just join the long list of history's most renowned natural scientists and change the world of science forever!



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