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Teaching in the early years means becoming familiar with many theories and approaches to education – most commonly, Montessori, Waldorf Steiner and Reggio Emilia – but it’s to our benefit to continually reflect on our practice and broaden our knowledge by exploring the work of others too.
Howard Gardner is someone we should all become familiar with. An American psychologist, he designed the Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory, which seeks to illustrate why we shouldn’t expect everyone to learn in exactly the same way.
The MI theory empowers individuals, as everyone is valued and no type of intelligence is regarded as more important than another.
The MI theory splits intelligence into eight areas: verbal, logical, kinesthetic, rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual and naturalist. A person can fall under one or more of these eight areas, but a particular strength will usually be apparent.
If you take a look at your friendship group, you will notice that each of you has different strengths and weaknesses, and this is what makes you unique and individual.
Just because your peer is fantastic at mathematics, for example, that doesn’t mean they are any more intelligent than you are purely because you find the subject challenging and your own strengths lie with music.
The world would be a very boring place if we were all good at the same one thing or learnt in the same way! The world is diverse, and as educators it is vital that we realise this and understand that it means education must also be diverse. Howard Gardner sums this up perfectly:
Education which treats everyone the same way is actually the most unfair education because it picks out one kind of mind and if you think like that, great, but if you don’t then there is no room on the train for you.
If we know that one child has a very spacial or visual way of learning, another child has a very hands-on way of learning and a third child likes stories, we do not have to talk very fast as a teacher; we can provide software, materials and resources which present material to a child in a way in which the child will find interesting so they can use their intelligences productively and show their understanding in a way that is comfortable to that child.
It is widely known that a child’s early years are crucial in laying the foundations for later development, growth and success. Whether you work in a nursery, preschool or Reception class, or as a childminder or nanny, your actions will have a great impact on the children you look after.
It is imperative to instil confidence in each child that they are capable learners, which is what the MI theory looks to achieve.
As early educators, we can use the MI theory in our everyday practice with the children that we teach and care for.
If a child is struggling to understand when taught in a particular way, then rather than believing the child can’t do the task, we should reflect on the way we are teaching and what we can do to modify and change our methods.
In this way, we can also learn how to be effective educators who cater for every child’s individual needs and qualities.
For example, at preschool you might be teaching the children about the weather and seasons. Some children may pick it up immediately while others take longer to grasp the concept.
This is completely normal and is a reflection that not all children learn and understand in the same way. Here are some ideas for what you might do to support children who fall under one or more of the eight intelligences:
The most important advice that I can give you is to believe in yourself and your ability to think outside the box and create stimulating and exciting activities that are hands-on and inclusive.
Children are inspired by their role models, so if you can instil confidence in a child by supporting them to learn to their strengths, they will be far more likely to succeed in future.
Sometimes we worry about ‘school readiness’ and push phonics and numeracy upon children when, in fact, they need to develop emotional intelligence, social skills and self-confidence first.
These are the attributes that will carry them when they make the transition to school and ensure they are ready and equipped to take on further learning and the challenges that school life brings.
Early childhood passes us by quickly, and the rate of development and growth children undergo during this period is rapid. It’s important, therefore, to make the most of it – by allowing children to enjoy being children and learn through play and exploration.
Combining this thinking and the MI theory allows us to create an environment that offers them the best possible start and cements those foundations in place so that they continue to succeed as they grow older.
Confidence comes from within, so it’s beneficial for children to have someone supporting, praising and believing in them from the start.
As soon as they are made to feel inferior or less important because their intelligence does not fit the stereotype of mainstream education, confidence is lost, and they may begin to doubt or question their real strengths.
Positivity is essential, and an open mindset to reflect and be the best educator we can be is the recipe for success.
Jamie Victoria, AKA the Childcare Guru (@childcareguru_), is an early years specialist who has worked as a nanny, nursery manager and deputy head. Today she advises early years settings and parents, and offers freelance forest school training and much more.
Visit thechildcareguru.co.uk and connect with her on Facebook at facebook.com/thechildcareguru and on Instagram at instagram.com/thechildcareguru_.
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