The Naturalist Intelligence

For the final installment in our Multiple Intelligences series, we’ll be looking at one of the types of intelligence that can be the hardest to recognize. In fact, Howard Gardner, who first put forth the theory of multiple intelligences in 1983, did not include Naturalist Intelligence in his original list of seven types of strengths. It took until 1994 for him to start discussing an eighth intelligence, and it appeared formally the first time in his 1999 book, Reframing Intelligence. (Source)

What Does Naturalist Intelligence Mean?

In the simplest terms, it means that a person exhibits “nature smarts.” This can take the form of always wanting to be outside, an affinity for getting dirty, or a natural curiosity about plants and animals. If you’ve ever had a student who could tell you the scientific name of of their favorite beetle, then you’ve had one of these little nature lovers in your life. They will be interested in the birds flocking South for the winter, and will happily report on how many new buds appear on your houseplants.

Those character traits are pretty easy to spot, but by extension, people possessing the Naturalist Intelligence are also aware of their environments in a different way than others. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence can help a person mentally map their surroundings in terms of their own body, but is tailored to taking in a situation or environment as it stands. A naturalist will be in tune with how the environment is subject to changes. They are able to see patterns where others just see chance, and make connections between cause and effect that many don’t see.

This is achieved by having heightened sensory perception. These people literally see, smell, hear, touch, and taste more than the rest of us. They probably don’t even realize it is happening; the patterns their brains pick out are simply self-evident. The naturalist is likely baffled by how the average person can miss so much that is right in front of their faces.

In our fast-paced, tech-obsessed lives, it is painfully easy to overlook the value of Naturalist Intelligence. We spend so little of our time outside, interacting with the natural world, these tendencies could never have a chance to manifest. When you can ask a search engine how many petals a daisy has, there’s little incentive to actually get off the couch and look at a daisy.*

This means that as parents, coaches, and teachers, it has to be our job to take away that screen time sometimes and make our students go outside to see the forest and the trees. When a triathlete gets excited about the biology questions on Face-Off! Or begs to go to the zoo for your team-building field trip, it’s time to sit up and take notice. You’ve got a naturalist on your hands!

Want to find out more about the other facets of the Multiple Intelligence theory? Check out our posts on Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence, Math/Logic Intelligence, Visual/Spatial Intelligence, Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence, Musical Intelligence, and Intra/Inter Personal Intelligences.

*The answer is 21 petals.

I am the Creative Director and Webmaster for US Academic Triathlon. I write the curriculum for Meets, as well as the enrichment activities and articles for this site. Peggy Sheldon, the Founder of USAT, is my mother so I have been living and breathing the program since it was founded over 30 years ago.

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Posted in For Coaches and Teachers, For Parents, Multiple Intelligences, Resources

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