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Harold Gardner put forth Multiple Intelligence Theory (MI) in his book Frames of Mind in 1983. Gardner’s theory redefined aspects of human intelligence, and one of the strengths of Gardner’s work was that he could accurately pinpoint parts of the brain that correlated to each described intelligence. Frames of Mind included seven types of intelligence: verbal/linguistic, mathematical/logical, spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence.

Gardner has more recently added an eighth intelligence, naturalistic intelligence. Though the biological link to this form of intelligence is understudied, “nature smarts” is important in the context of learning and child development. Natural environments nurture healthy child development because they “tickle” the senses while integrating informal play with formal learning.

Though there is not yet a proven link between creativity and play in a natural environment, research is hinting at a connection. Studies have found that children engage in more creative forms of play in green spaces. One study found that children playing in an environment of primarily manufactured play structures were likely to establish a social hierarchy based on physical competence. When an open, green space was added, children started to move toward fantasy play, and social standing in the group of children became based more on language skills, creativity, and being the inventor.

Nature provides our children—actually, all of us—a direct experience in which we can stimulate all of our senses. We can see, feel, taste, hear, and smell for ourselves when we interact with the natural environment. This exposure is particularly important for children because it is through sensory experiences that children link their external world with their internal world, which includes their emotions.

So, encourage and nurture play in green spaces . . . for you and your child.

More to consider . . .

If your child enjoys outdoor activities, has a strong connection to animals, notices nature’s patterns, or loves collecting flowers or rocks, he or she may be nature smart.