The Smarts #1: Nature And Nurture

The Smarts #1: Nature And Nurture

Today’s blog is the first in a series of blog posts from my book, 8 Great Smarts: Discover and Nurture Your Child’s Intelligences. I trust you’ll benefit from and enjoy these. Please share this with friends who need to know about how their children are smart. Thanks!

In today’s excerpt, you’ll learn some things about my mom and how both nature and nurture contribute to which smarts are our strengths.


Smart is a power word. Everyone wants to be smart. If some children believe others are smart and they’re not, they can give up. They lower their expectations for today and tomorrow. They may not accomplish what God intended them to. This is also true of adults. Language is powerful. Words matter.

I love the freedom of thinking about children and adults through the grid of multiple intelligences. When I taught second graders, it was painful for me to realize some children were already classifying themselves as either “smart” or “not smart.” Their parents were doing the classifying, too, which is probably where their children picked it up. I would have loved having the language of intelligences. I could have pointed out how Paul, Tracy, Worthy, and others were smart. This would have framed relationships, academics, our year, and their future differently.

I’ve met many adults who didn’t have the opportunity for much post high school education. My mom was one of these, although she was extremely bright. She doubted it, at least somewhat, because she didn’t have the traditional proof. She always enjoyed hearing me teach on this topic and I think that’s one of the reasons.

My mom could remember significant details from the news and analyze them carefully. She co-led several very successful political campaigns for her father. She sang in tune and had a great appreciation for classical music. She had two green thumbs and made our home beautiful. She wrote and spelled well and served on various committees because of these abilities. She was a trusted friend to many and could work a room of complete strangers as well as her father, the gifted politician. My mom was smart. Multiple intelligences allow us to look beyond old “proofs” of grades and degrees to see evidence of smarts in life.

Although it was probably fifteen years ago, I still remember the woman who came up to me at the end of a seminar for educators. She was clearly excited so I knew her noticeable tears were tears of joy. She introduced herself as a teacher’s aide and explained she had never finished her teaching degree because she hadn’t thought she was smart enough. She declared, “I’m enrolling to finish immediately! I am smart!”

I am so privileged! It’s never too late to discover more about yourself. I truly hope there are truths here that bless you as a woman or man and then also as a parent, grandparent, teacher, or someone who cares about children. There is power here! Let’s get more specific.

Dr. Armstrong’s
Dr. Gardner’s Labels Think With
Word smart Linguistic intelligence Words
Logic smart Logical-Mathematical
Picture smart Spatial intelligence Pictures
Music smart Musical intelligence Rhythm/
Body smart Bodily-Kinesthetic
Nature smart Naturalist intelligence Patterns
People smart Interpersonal intelligence People
Self-smart Intrapersonal intelligence Reflection

Nature and Nurture

Dr. Howard Gardner determined that everyone is born with each of these distinct intelligences. They have to be awakened, but they’re there, built into each person at birth. God uses our nature (our genetic makeup) and nurture (experiences we have and attitudes surrounding us) to create us as He wants us to be. Dr. Gardner stated the idea this way: “I reject the ‘inherited versus learned’ dichotomy and instead stress the interaction, from the moment of conception, between genetic and environmental factors.”

When “sitting at the potter’s wheel” (Isaiah 64:8) and “knitting us together in our mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13–14), God chose our unique combination of genes to develop His gift of multiple intelligences. He did this for you and each of your children. He chose which smarts would be strengths. He chose you as the parent. The nurture you provide matters.

If a child grows up with apathetic or absent parents, poverty, abuse, or any number of other negative factors, his or her smarts may remain weaker throughout life. This may be partly due to lies children believe about themselves when parented in these situations. “I don’t matter.” “I’ll never amount to anything.” “My ideas aren’t important.” A child believing these truths won’t bother investing in himself to develop latent gifts. The quality of your nurture matters.

Sadly, some children’s intelligences don’t fully develop. Perhaps illness or disease is the cause. For example, Merry, the adult daughter of a friend, is severely disabled both physically and mentally, with capabilities similar to a two-month-old. Yet Miki beams when sharing evidence that Merry’s strongest intelligences are music and people. The nurturing Merry receives makes the difference. Though her development is very limited, Merry responds to music and people around her. For instance, when a prospective nurse arrives, Merry’s parents have learned to use Merry’s quick evaluation when determining whether to hire her. Merry will give her mom a certain look if she doesn’t like the nurse, and Miki knows not to hire her.

Nature and nurture together determine which intelligences will interest your child. That’s where strengths always start—with interest. Some smarts will become strengths, some may not develop much at all, and some will plateau at a point in between. When you exhibit healthy and positive attitudes and provide a variety of interesting experiences for your child, you cooperate with God in the development of his or her smarts and full potential. The nurture you provide is very important!

From 8 Great Smarts, by Kathy Koch, PhD, pages 16-21.


Think back to your early years. What kind of nurture did you receive at home and at school? How do you see that it matters still today? Perhaps voice a prayer of gratitude for the good things that were done and to God for creating you with strengths He chose for you to have.