by Gloria S. Lee
In my developmental psychology class during my junior year in college, I had “a light bulb above my head” moment or an A-ha moment as some call it! Here is the Revelation: I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner! No wonder college lectures just went through one ear and out the other. Wait, why didn’t my teachers take into account the visual and kinesthetic learners? Why did they the only lecture? If my teachers had made the subject fun and interesting, I actually might have liked History and English… If I ever go into teaching, I’m going to make sure that I cater to different learning styles…
Fast-forward 15 years. I had another a-ha moment while reading a book called Children’s Ministry in the 21st Century. I was introduced to Dr. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence, which proposes eight different intelligences to how adults and children can learn. According to Dr. Gardner, traditional education and culture focus and put a greater emphasis on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. Those who do not fit into this traditional model are often labeled “learning disabled” or underachievers. However, the Theory of Multiple Intelligence challenges the conventional idea of teaching and suggests presenting the material to allow for effective learning by each student. One by one, schools around the country are catching onto this model… but how about the churches? Are we still stuck in teaching through lectures, pictures, and worksheets to communicate the exciting stories and truths in the Bible?
Before I continue, let me first introduce the eight different learning styles:
- Word Smart (linguistic intelligence) – These learners have highly developed auditory skills and are generally elegant speakers. They think in words rather than pictures.They learn by listening, speaking, writing, discussing, and debating. Possible career interests include writers, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, politicians, poets, and teachers.
- Logic Smart (logical-mathematical intelligence) – They have the ability to use reason, logic, and numbers to make connection between pieces of information. They learn by detecting patterns, problem solving, and working with abstract concepts to figure out relationships between given information. Possible career interests include scientists, mathematicians, accountants, engineers, researchers, and economists.
- Picture Smart (spatial intelligence) – They tend to think in pictures. They have the ability to vividly see things in three-dimensions and patterns easily. They learn by sculpting, drawing, constructing, creating visual images, and looking at maps and charts. Possible career interests include artists, architect, sculptors, interior designers, and painters.
- Music Smart (musical intelligence) – These learners are musically inclined and tend to think in sounds, rhythm, and pattern. They often have the ability to perform, compose sounds, and appreciate musical patterns. They learn by singing, playing instruments, creating songs, and learning rhymes. Possible career interests include instrumentalists, singers, conductors, disc jockeys, writers, and composers.
- Self Smart (intrapersonal intelligence) – These learners are able to self-reflect and understand their feelings, relationships with others, and their own strengths and weaknesses. People with intrapersonal intelligence also prefer to work alone. They learn by reflecting, self-analyzing, and sharing their feelings with others. Possible career interests include philosophers, psychologists, theologians, and writers.
- Body Smart (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) – They express through movement. They learn by using their body, interacting with the space around them, and playing physical games. Possible career interests include athletes, dancers, musicians, actors, surgeons, doctors, builders, firefighters, and soldiers.
- People Smart (interpersonal intelligence) – These learners have the ability to relate and understand others. They are able to sense intentions and motivations of others. They learn by listening, interacting with others, and participating in interactive games. Possible career interests include sales, politicians, counselors, managers, teachers, and social workers.
- Nature Smart (naturalist intelligence) – They are able to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment. They learn by studying environments, being outdoors, and working with animals. Possible career interests include naturalists, farmers, zookeepers, and gardeners.
Having read and researched more on the Theory of Multiple Intelligence, I couldn’t help but ask more questions. How many kids are engaged in the learning process in our ministry? How many are bored or unresponsive and why? Are these kids “not getting it” because they’re disinterested or have we failed to cater to how they learn best? Were we only catering to the traditional Word and Logic Smart kids? Wait, didn’t Jesus cater to different learning styles when He taught the truth? Jesus told stories, asked thought-provoking questions, used visuals, allowed for reflection, had people actively experience the truth, and even used nature to teach His lessons.
I knew we had to do something to reach the kids that appeared apathetic to learning and to enjoying the learning process. I shared this theory and vision with my children’s ministry volunteer staff. The results were astounding as one by one, we discovered that kids that we had labeled as “not so bright” or “passive” just learned differently. For example, we discovered that one preschoolers who never seemed to remember the Bible lessons from the week before was Music and Body Smart because it was obvious that his favorite time was singing praise and doing motions. We started putting our lessons into songs and motions as part of the class activity. Guess what? He always remembers the previous week’s Bible lessons now. We also discovered that a couple of our very shy kids could express themselves wonderfully through pictures. When we have the kids draw what they have learned, Picture Smart kids shine and are thoroughly engaged. Soon, we were able to distinguish Nature Smart kids who want to discover the outdoors rather than sit at a table with paper and pen from Self-smart kids who are always willing to share their feelings with us. This insight has revolutionized the way we do children’s ministry.
We intentionally select praise songs, games, crafts, and other activities. There are no more activities just to “fill” time, but everything we do emphasizes the Bible lesson over and over and over again. We may not hit all eight learning styles every Sunday, but we definitely try our best to present the Bible truths in many different ways in hopes of reaching as many kids as possible with different learning styles. The truth is, we only have our Sunday school kids for 1.5 hours per week and that is if they make it out that week! My desire is to maximize our time with these kids so that they can see, hear, and experience the excitement of the truths that are in the Bible and ultimately grow in their relationship with our Lord and Savior! This concept may seem obvious but it’s amazing how often we do crafts for the sake of having something to take home or play game with the kids just to get them moving. Why not use these activities to further instill the week’s Bible lesson into their minds and hearts?
In our volunteer team meetings, we used to spend hours talking about what we’re teaching the kids. The question we now ask is “What are the kids learning at the end of our time with them?” and “Are we teaching lessons or kids?” Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences allows us to teach with the end goal of life transformation rather than downloading information.
Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria Lee has been in Children’s Ministry for 15+ years. She is committed to leading and equipping Children’s Ministry workers. She’s led many workshops at conventions including NorthWest Ministry Conference, Bay Area Sunday School Convention, and Children’s Pastors Conference. She currently leads Children’s Ministry at a multi-site church in Southern California. You can contact Gloria @ firstname.lastname@example.org.