How are you smart? Today’s Learning Guest Post is written by “Intentional Parenting” blogger and faith-based author Carole Sparks.  I love it when everyday families make learning an everyday conversation.  Carole’s family sat down together for a family discussion on what it means to be smart, and the results almost channel “Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences” but not without sharing some unique perspectives on “leadership, learning and life” and a couple of disclaimers!  Check it out! 


boy in park holds magnifying glass in front of face Before my children knew the real “s-word”, we had another s-word at our house: stupid. We simply didn’t use it. One may be ignorant about a certain subject—nothing wrong with that. One may do foolish things when one isn’t thinking, but stupid? There is no redemptive reason to use that word. Instead, we focused on the different kinds of smart. Although there are more specific words, smart fit my children’s level of understanding at the time…and it stuck.

Every human being has natural talents that, with training, become high-functioning skill sets. When you base your view of humanity on this assumption, you no longer have smart people and dumb people, bright people and dull people. You simply have people—lots of different people—who can all make valid contributions to society. In addition, the child (or adult) with this perspective does not judge people on their “book larnin’” (as we say here in East Tennessee) but recognizes the inherent value in every individual.

Some individual’s natural talents arise in a formal instructional setting, and these are the people who have historically been labeled smart or intellectually gifted. We are comfortable with this kind of smart; we even measure it with IQ tests. But many people have talents and levels of perception that will never become evident in a traditional classroom or on a standardized test, especially not in elementary school. For this reason, we need to strip smart of its solely intellectual connotation and celebrate all the smarts in our classrooms, boardrooms, and living rooms!

For educators, celebrating all the kinds of smart means children who struggle with math, for example, can maintain their self-esteem and continue to be valued by their classmates because their giftedness becomes evident on the playground or around the lunch table. It might even lead them to more readily accept help from another student who is math-smart because they no longer feel inferior. The challenge for educators lies in identifying and nurturing the less-documentable smarts.

“For leaders, recognizing and equalizing the many kinds of smart on your team means people function in their giftedness without prejudice. It means you assign tasks that fit with an individual’s skill set, knowing your team will be more satisfied even as their work increasingly exceeds expectations. The leader’s challenge will involve transferring this new understanding to the whole team.”

As a family, we have compiled the following list of smart types.

  1. Intellectually smart—These people usually excel in school (with the proper motivation). They read well, process data efficiently, and grasp concepts quickly.
  2. Socially smart—These people can “read a room,” recognizing the power players and those who are ostracized.
  3. Emotionally smart—These people empathize without even knowing the situation and always have the right words of comfort or encouragement.
  4. Physically or Sports smart—These people excel at physical tasks involving coordination and strength, but it’s more than just being strong. It’s about understanding the game and/or your own physical limits. Of University of Tennessee womens basketball player Diamond DeShields, Holly Warlick said, “Not too many people have a feel for the game. She has an unbelievable feel for the game. She sees the floor. That is hard to teach. Players like that can see things develop two to three plays before they happen, and that is one solid thing that Diamond has.”
  5. Spatially smart—These people read the LEGO instructions upside-down and still assemble the parts correctly. They recognize patterns quickly and are naturally aware of distances and sizes, from rearranging furniture to designing Central Park.
  6. Mechanically smart—These are the people who take an engine apart and put it back to together just for fun. True story: A certain seven-year-old boy was riding his new dirt bike when he wrecked. “There’s something wrong with the front one!” he insisted. Nearby adults dismissed his exclamation, thinking that he just wasn’t used to riding it. When he soon wrecked again, they began to listen and found that the front brake was locked. No one ever taught him about the inner workings of a dirt bike; he just knew.
  7. Linguistically smart—These people understand the intricacies of their language and express themselves beautifully through writing or speaking. They may also learn other languages easily.
  8. Musically smart—These people understand and produce music at a level beyond the rest of us. It comes naturally to them.

Such a list demands a few disclaimers and/or explanations.

  • Using your smartness/giftedness requires training and discipline.
  • There is no morality attached to these smart types; throughout history, they have been used for both good and evil.
  • The lack of a specific smartness does not disqualify a person from something in the fields typically associated with that skill set. For example, one who is spatially and socially smart may become an exceptional athlete. One who is linguistically gifted may prove to be an excellent engineer because he or she can explain the processes.

Where do you see yourself, your students or your co-workers on this list? Are you comfortable accepting that different people may excel in different areas? What kinds of smart would you add to the list?


carole sparks leans against treeCarole Sparks is a people-watcher and a parent. She thinks a lot (maybe too much). She also runs, reads, and writes…usually in that order. Carole advocates intentional parenting on her blog,, and practices it with her two tweenage children.