The Smarts #14 - Nature Smart: Observing and Understanding

The Smarts #14

Nature Smart: Observing and Understanding

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


Nature-smart children think with patterns. When they’re excited, they want to go outside. They need their love and appreciation for nature respected and to be outside often. They get joy from personally participating with nature somehow. Their power is observing patterns.

Because nature-smart children use their eyes, this intelligence has close ties to picture-smartness. However, nature-smart children don’t think with visuals in their mind in the same way picture-smart children do. Rather, they’re very aware of their surroundings. Because they think with patterns, they notice shapes, sizes, colors, designs, and textures. Their ability allows them to remember if a bird they see is a bluebird or blue jay even if they learned this quite a while ago. They’ll also know if trees they walk past are elm trees or oak trees because they remember which has leaves with rounded ends. They easily and naturally think with comparisons and contrasts. They tend to categorize easily.

According to Dr. Howard Gardner, people raised in cities and in rural settings can all be nature smart. Where they spend their developmental years will influence their interests and where and how they use their skills. Those of us raised in cities may notice lighting and reflection from downtown buildings, unique designs on doors, and patterns from peaks and rooftops. Those raised in rural settings will use this ability in nature, paying attention to differences among animals, patterns created by fields of crops, and sunsets. If they’re also picture smart, they’re stunned by the beauty of the night sky. If they’re paying attention mostly because they’re nature smart, they’re thinking about how cloud patterns might affect overnight temperatures. No matter the surroundings, we all use the same skills to observe, analyze, and remember the patterns.

Weather can be an area of interest and ability for nature-smart children. They might pay attention to it, learn to accurately predict if a storm is coming, and enjoy watching the clouds. They might also easily remember which are cumulus and which are stratus. Linda, a friend who teaches special-needs children, told me about a student of hers who reads poorly and can barely add and subtract. Yet as soon as he gets to her room and gets online every morning, he gives the weather report. That is his interest and his ability.

As with other intelligences, there’s a hierarchy of giftedness within nature smart. For example, I enjoy nature. In my travels, I’ve been privileged to see much: the snowcapped mountains of Lake Tahoe, fog rolling across the hills of Scotland, animals during safaris in Africa, and so much more. I appreciate nature; I don’t need to understand it. But many children are more nature smart than I am because they want to understand where mountains come from, what causes fog, how elephants think.

Many years ago, I taught a one-week learning styles course at a seminary north of San Francisco. I had been told deer lived on campus. Instantly, many questions formed in my mind: How did they get here? Why do they stay? What do they eat? Why aren’t they hit and killed by cars? Would they prefer to leave if they could?

When coming back from lunch one day, several deer ran across the road. I exclaimed, “What are they doing here?” This question did not spring from being nature smart. It’s not one of my strengths. What smart do you think drove the question? It was my logic-smartness. I asked that question because I want things to make sense and it made no sense to me that deer lived on this busy campus.

Avoid trying to determine children’s intelligence strengths based on isolated incidents and brief exposure. My question about the deer might have caused people to assume I’m nature smart. That wouldn’t have been terribly serious, of course. But you can negatively affect motivation and learning if you misjudge a child’s intelligence strengths and design learning activities based on that decision. So be careful. Look for consistency.

If your child asks a question like mine and it seems out of character, it may be your opportunity to awaken that smart. In other words, if you had been driving the car and your child had asked, “What are the deer doing here?” you could have taken the time to help him or her find the answer. You could have asked what other questions your child had. You could have suggested some of your own and then worked together to research the answers. This interaction might awaken your child’s nature-smart part of the mind. Look and listen for these opportunities with each of the eight intelligences. Then choose to take the time to delve in and strengthen them. It will be time well spent.

What nature-smart strengths do your children have? Are they already interested in gardening? Are they able to grow vegetables well? Do they enjoy delivering extras to shut- ins and neighbors? Do they like to help you choose which colors of petunias and pansies to plant? Do they enjoy making bouquets for grandparents and friends who are sick? Do they offer to help church staff water trees and bushes? Or, do they care deeply about the environment? Do they talk with you about pollution, recycling, and collecting litter along highways? Have they formed a school committee to increase participation in recycling? Do your child’s nature-smart strengths show up more with animals? Is your daughter impatiently waiting to be old enough to volunteer at the local animal shelter?

As with other smarts, nature-smart children will benefit from knowing that their abilities with plants, animals, and the out-of-doors spring from a part of their mind. They can be deeply encouraged to learn that they’re not just good with animals and plants but they’re smart because of that!

From 8 Great Smarts, by Kathy Koch, PhD, (Moody Publishers, 2016), pages 166-170


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