The Role of Outdoor Learning in Nurturing the Whole Spectrum of Human Intelligence

Updated: Sep 4, 2021


The Theory of Multiple Intelligence

According to the Theory of Multiple Intelligence by Harvard psychologist, Howard Gardner, there are at least eight identifiable types of human intelligences. These include abilities like logical reasoning; speaking (or verbal) and even musical intelligence. Everyone of us possesses gifts or talents which fall within a wide spectrum of identifiable human 'smarts'. A soccer star is 'body smart' (demonstrating a high degree of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) as she is able to move her body very effectively to score goals against her opponents. A talented mathematician is 'logic smart' as he is able to solve complex puzzles and mathematical problems. A person who works well with others is 'people smart' (possessing well-developed interpersonal intelligence), which helps her perform well in collaborative settings.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Albert Einstein

Each of us has a unique combination of strengths that allow us to excel at something (or more often than not, many things!). Gardner sustains that although we all possess these eight types of intelligence, they do not develop in the same way and at the same pace in every individual. Some may be naturally stronger and more dominant than others at any given time of our development, but all can be strengthened. I think most of us recognize this intuitively from personal and professional experience. However, while there is a growing appreciation of the need to develop the 'whole' child, I would argue that there are relatively few schools that adequately celebrate and nurture all eight types of human intelligence.

Unfortunately, our culture and many school systems tend to value linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities above all else. The tendency for schools to adequately cater for perhaps just two or three types of human intelligence results in lots of students leaving compulsory education feeling undervalued and inadequate. But the time has come to intentionally explore and celebrate the whole spectrum of human intelligence in education. Being able to read and write is just one vital piece of a much bigger puzzle. Human communities thrive when individuals can pursue their unique interests and develop their gifts in interesting and unexpected ways. As Albert Einstein once wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

Let's Get Children Outdoors!

After more than a decade of working with young people, I am yet to meet a child without identifiable 'smarts'. I believe it is our role as educators to mentor children to a) identify their unique gifts and talents; b) learn to value and appreciate them in whatever form they take; and c) encourage them to nurture their 'smarts' and live a meaningful and happy life. To achieve this, we need to go beyond the walls of the classroom or the lines of the basketball court. We also need to take children outside to experience authentic and meaningful learning in real world settings!

Take naturalistic intelligence (or 'nature smarts'), for example. Unfortunately, we often overlook nature smarts and fail to realize this as a distinct domain of intelligence. We build our nature smarts by learning how to identify plants and animals, and how to recognize patterns and changes in nature. Connecting children with nature boosts health and wellbeing, and also helps to cultivate lifelong environmental stewards. Many of the world's most renowned scientists had high naturalistic intelligence, which would have been essential in making their ground-breaking new discoveries. Think of Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt and E.O. Wilson and you will soon get my point.

Similarly, kinesthetic intelligence (or 'movement smarts') is often overlooked or undervalued. Athletes and performing arts students spring to mind when talking about kinesthetic intelligence. It is equally important that these students have outlets to develop their talents, and again outdoor and experiential learning can play a tremendous role. Outdoor play, for example, supports the development of essential motor skills, such as balance, agility and coordination, while also nurturing creativity and pro