The Smarts #11

Picture Smart: A Portrait

Today I’ll continue the series about the 8 great smarts with information about being PICTURE smart. You can read more in my book, 8 Great Smarts: Discover and Nurture Your Childs’ Intelligences, including how to strengthen this smart, and how it relates to learning, relationships, careers, character, and spiritual growth.


Picture-smart children think with pictures. When they’re excited, they add to their pictures. They need freedom to doodle/draw and their creativity respected. They get joy from being lost in the process of creating. Visualizing and observing are their powers.

Children with picture-smart strengths pay attention to and think with visuals in books, such as pictures, diagrams, maps, charts, and illustrations. They also notice and think with things they see in their environment. When I write that these children think “in pictures,” that includes anything visual. Is this an interest for your child? A strength?

Picture-smart children also visualize pictures, diagrams, and colors in their minds. For example, if you easily create visuals for the words that follow, it’s because you’re picture smart: candle, stagecoach, and volcano. Because everyone is picture smart to some extent, everyone can create some kind of visuals for these words. Very picture-smart children will want to create them and they’ll do it easily, using accurate details and rich colors. Others of us might need to make a concerted effort to merely sketch outlines in our minds, and it will take time for us to do so.

Especially if you homeschool your children, you may be familiar with the concept that children can be visual learners. Picture-smart children are gifted differently from them just as auditory learners are not the same as word-smart learners. Picture smart children usually have more artistic abilities than visual learners and they think with their visuals. Visual learners remember what they see. It’s possible to have strengths in one, both, or neither of these learning styles. Both may visualize.

In my “Eight Great Smarts” school programs, I ask children who can see a volcano when I just say the word, and about 75 percent of the children raise their hands. I then ask them to describe the color of the lava as it erupts. I’m often impressed with how quickly and confidently many of them can do this. “It’s mostly red-orange with some ruby red sections.” “Mine is more orange-red and it’s almost fluorescent where it’s hottest.” “Some sections of my lava are so dark, they look black.”

When picture-smart children get excited, they tell me they add to the pictures in their minds—another color and shape in the design or another animal getting sucked into lava. They also tell me “the movie in my mind plays faster.” They’ll also doodle or create faster or with more colors, details, and designs on actual paper when they’re excited.

Those who are very picture smart don’t intend for words and sights to trigger visuals that pop into their minds. It just happens automatically. Just as word-smart children automatically talk when excited and logic-smart children ask questions without being prompted, children with picture-smart strengths visualize automatically. Often, the visuals help their comprehension, retention, and enjoyment, but this ability can backfire. When the images are irrelevant to the lessons, they don’t help. Besides that, they can cause children to daydream.

The pictures they see in their minds also contribute to their keen sense of humor. They often admit to seeing things that probably weren’t intended. This is sometimes awkward as they laugh in the middle of serious discussions. When you think this is the cause of their laughter, it can be fun to ask them what they just saw. I’ve had children respond with, “How did you know?” and “Did you see it, too?” Both can stimulate a beneficial discussion about how they are smart and how to use self- control at times like this.

Picture-smart children have possibly referred to themselves as creative, artistic, interested in beauty, and talented. You have the privilege now of letting them know they are these things because they are smart. This intelligence may not be considered a “school smart” by most people because these abilities are not as highly valued in the system. But it adds joy to life and is essential for the children God chose it for. We want these children to stop thinking they’re not smart but others are. Tell them they’re smart! This is your power!

When picture-smart children value their abilities, they might develop their skills so they can serve as photographers for their school’s website, designers for their school yearbook, and wardrobe and stage assistants for their school’s spring musical. They might create flyers used to advertise school events. They can arrange furniture, hang appropriate posters, and adjust the lighting in the church youth room to make the atmosphere inviting.

The hierarchy of intelligence is evident with this smart as it is with the others. All picture-smart children can see and design in their minds. They can also sketch, draw, or paint. Some do it better than others; that’s part of the hierarchy. Others are into flowcharts and diagrams and are more likely to draw intricate designs and build with blocks. There are some who struggle to do any of this.

Some children were doing much of this and stopped because of reactions from parents, siblings, and others. Parents might have discovered blocks everywhere and consistently demanded, “Pick those up!” Or they may see doodles and drawings and ask, “Aren’t you going to do anything important today?” Hello paralysis!

Paralysis of the picture smart can also occur due to technology. Children might game all the time or spend all their time scrolling social media sites. They’ll have no time to draw, create, or imagine anymore. It’s absolutely essential that you set boundaries for your children and make sure they don’t use only digital devices when they have spare time.

Watch carefully, though. It’s possible that your early doodler has now become a master at certain games requiring picture-smart skills. They might actually be increasing his interest and improving his ability. It’s also possible your son watches movies in part to critique the design, colors, and sets and because he has a vivid picture smart ability to imagine. In these ways, technology is good. Still, it’s always best to keep a healthy balance between “screens” and other activities.

From 8 Great Smarts, by Kathy Koch, PhD, (Moody Publishers, 2016), pages 99-103


Who do you know who is picture smart? Affirm these people. If you think they haven’t thought of themselves as smart, make sure to talk with them. If you think others have put them down, talk about that, too. Because these children are also word smart and logic smart, hopefully this hasn’t happened. But, it does happen. Being picture smart is a smart! Also, how could you help them benefit others because they’re picture smart? Talk with them.