The Smarts #13 - Body Smart: The Power of Motion

The Smarts #13

Body Smart: The Power of Motion

Today I’ll continue the series about the 8 great smarts with information about being BODY 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.


Body-smart children think with movement and touch. When they’re excited, they move more. They need freedom and sometimes lots of space to move productively. They get joy from accomplishing or surpassing their physical goal so everything comes together perfectly. Motion is their power.

When being body smart, children learn and think with their entire bodies. Their hands are busy “talking,” building, writing, touching, twisting hair, playing, etc. Their feet are busy tapping, shifting in place, or walking. Body-smart children are often moving—sometimes purposefully and intentionally, sometimes not. This is because when body-smart children are excited, they can’t help but move. Being in motion is like breathing to body-smart children.

Body-smart children are usually good at large-motor tasks because they can control their entire body. Therefore, they may enjoy and be successful at physical pursuits like hiking, sports, dancing, acting, camping, and/or playing musical instruments. How might being body smart influence the choice of which instrument to play? These children might prefer drums, trombone (which is dependent upon remembering and feeling how far out to pull the slide), and string bass (which they can stand and play and requires full-body posture and balance). Make sense? Yet, we can’t put children in boxes. My niece Katie, who is so body smart she earned a college soccer scholarship, chose to play the flute. She liked the tone.

Often body-smart children can easily execute small-motor tasks. Their eye-hand coordination allows them to handle objects carefully and to master skills using the finer muscles of their fingers and hands. Small-muscle movements are needed for such skills as sewing, carpentry, model building, cooking, handwriting, and typing. And, the playing of Katie’s flute. These are also the children who may like and win certain online and computer games because of how quickly their fingers can react to things on the screen.

It’s possible to have strengths in large-motor areas but not in small-motor skills, or vice versa. Understandably, children with abilities and interests in both are more body smart than children with strengths in just one area. If it’s hard to identify strengths with either large-motor or small-motor tasks, maybe body smart hasn’t been fully awakened yet. If this is true for one or more of your children, I trust you’ll make it a priority to awaken it soon. Just get out of the house and go to the park.

My body smart was awakened because of a wise decision my parents made when I was about six years old. Until then, I had obviously used my body to walk, run, play, color, cut, etc. Nevertheless, not unlike many children, I was somewhat clumsy. My parents enrolled me in dance class and God used tap and ballet instruction to establish connections between my brain and my body. I’m grateful my parents didn’t just assume I was destined to be clumsy. Rather, they were solution-focused problem solvers and I overcame my clumsiness.

After hearing me teach about this intelligence, many children share that they never knew moving well was a way of being smart. I find great joy in helping these children redefine themselves as “smart.” Although this intelligence doesn’t get the same respect in school that word and logic smart do, children with large-motor and/or small-motor skills are smart. They’re not just athletic, good sculptors, children with neat handwriting, or good at putting a worm on a hook. They’re smart because they do those things well. One of my fond memories is of a student who came up after a high school assembly and declared: “I’m not a dumb jock. I’m a smart one!”

Body-smart children can demonstrate this intelligence in many ways. They can learn sign language so they can interpret for the deaf during church services and conferences. Or they might form or join a church drama or dance team. Puppetry and clowning come easily to many body-smart children. They may enjoy using these skills to present evangelistic programs for younger boys and girls.

Athletes can demonstrate Christlikeness on church-sponsored or school teams, or when helping to coach younger children’s sports teams. They can also use sports as a platform for evangelism. My niece Katie traveled to Northern Ireland to play soccer when she was in high school and to South Africa with her college team. On these mission trips, she told athletes on the other teams, “I play for Christ. That’s why I play. Why do you play?”

Perhaps you’ve already thought of this: Many children suspected of having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be body smart, not ADHD. This disorder and the smart have things in common—moving and learning by touching and direct experiences—so one can be disguised as the other. Many children who have been properly assessed and diagnosed as having ADHD may also be body smart. If this is your son or daughter, I encourage you to choose to see his or her physical energy and the ways he or she embraces life through touch and action as strengths. Although proper medication is sometimes appropriate, we must be careful to not medicate out of these children the greatest channel God has given them through which to experience life. I tell children that I’m not so concerned with whether they have ADHD or not but that they choose to respect others and be self-controlled regardless.

Another contrast to be aware of is between body-smart children and kinesthetic learners. Just as auditory learners aren’t necessarily word smart and visual learners may or may not be picture smart, some children who appear to be body smart may be kinesthetic learners instead. These children remember what they do. Body-smart children think with their movements and touch. It’s possible to be one, both, or to have strengths in neither.

I’m so body smart that when I’m in the fitness center working out with my trainer, Linda, I’ll regularly think of ideas related to a blog I’m writing or a book chapter I’m finishing. I may think of the next video to film or something to talk with a member of my staff about. I’m moving and that causes thinking—and the thinking isn’t even related to the movement. I might be biking, lifting free weights, or on a machine working my back. But these movements somehow stimulate thought. When my workout is over, I quickly capture the ideas with a note in my phone or by writing them down.

The kinesthetic part of me comes in handy at the gym, too. It’s what allows my muscles to remember doing an exercise in the past. Just this week, Linda had me do a challenging exercise for the shoulders. We do three different reps and the first time at that station, finishing the twelve reps was very challenging. I almost didn’t complete the last two. But a few minutes later, after two other exercises in between, I returned to that station and did the twelve reps without as much trouble. The third time was easier still. Why? My muscles remembered what they were supposed to do.

If your child is a kinesthetic learner, that’s great. He or she will remember things by doing them. Writing the word will be more effective than just looking at the word on the page. If he runs the basketball play at practice rather than just hearing it described, he will more likely remember how to execute it during the game. They move productively to remember. Body-smart children move productively and not productively to think.

From 8 Great Smarts, by Kathy Koch, PhD, (Moody Publishers, 2016), pages 143-148


Who do you know who is body 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 body smart is a smart! Also, how could you help them benefit others because they’re body smart? Talk with them.