What is Naturalistic Intelligence: Theory and Practice

     When Howard Gardner (1983) first proposed Multiple Intelligences in 1983, there were only seven intelligences in his theory. Years later, in 1996, he added Naturalistic Intelligence into the MI list. Gardner (1999) identified naturalist intelligence as the intelligence that “designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). (p. 49)” In other words, naturalistic intelligence is the ability to interact with surrounding. Studies regarding naturalistic intelligence have been focused on the following two major topics:

1. How to identify naturalistic intelligence
Even before Gardner (1999) gave the explicit description of naturalistic intelligence, Wilson (1998) concluded several characteristics to identify that particular intelligence. If the child:

  • “Notices patterns and things from nature easily,
  • Has keen senses and observes and remembers things from his/her environment and surroundings,
  • Likes animals and likes to know and remember things about them,
  • Really appreciates being outside and doing things like camping, hiking or climbing, even just like sitting quietly and noticing the subtle differences in the world of nature, or
  •  Makes keen observations about natural changes, interconnections and patterns(p. 2)”,

then he or she has naturalistic intelligence. Even now, more scholars have been studied this topic, the above characteristics are still the main ones that commonly agree on that belong to naturalistic intelligence.

 2. How naturalistic intelligence informs teaching and learning

     In educational field, the use of multiple intelligences in teaching and learning is mostly discussed. Educators and researchers would like to know how to tap students’ naturalistic intelligence to facilitate their learning as well as encouraging students to develop this intelligence. Tom Hoerr (as cited in Meyer, 1998), Principal of New City School in St. Louis, states, “The Naturalist Intelligence offers one more way to help students understand and learn.” A lot of strategies have been developed, and cases have been tried which have proven the effectiveness in using naturalistic intelligence. For example, according to Meyer (1998), teachers could use the following to encourage students to learn and use naturalistic intelligence:

  • “sensory observation: feeling, smelling, listening
  • data collection from observation
  • grouping of natural objects (classification)
  • observation of animal behavior
  • growing things . . . plants, garden, butterfly garden
  • recycling projects and worm boxes
  • field studies . . . out of doors
  • observation through the microscope, telescope, binoculars, hand lens
  • drawing, sketching, photographing, video taping nature
  • manipulating outdoor equipment or kits (water testing kits or nets)
  • outdoor silent observation, reflection, journaling
  • identifying sounds in nature
  • interacting with animals (bugs) and plants
  • establishment of a nature trail, viewing deck, or outdoor classroom,
  • making scientific instruments (inventing)
  • designing experiments
  • field trips (real, electronic, video, guided imagery)
  • walks outside for fresh air, sounds of nature, and dirt underfoot
  • modeling, measurement, or scale drawings of animals, plants, or outdoor settings
  • writing poems or songs using adjectives from the outdoors
  • identifying shapes in natural setting
  • observation of plants or out of doors change over the course of the school year
  • observing a fruit, vegetable or other plant or animal material decompose overtime
  • collecting trash or other items (rocks, feathers, flowers, leaves . . . ) in the school yard and group (classify) the items by their characteristics (shape, color, etc.)
  • read aloud stories/articles relating to the out of doors, space, natural phenomena, animals, or plants
  • performing role plays of cycles in nature, animal behavior, plant growth etc. (p. 5-6) ”

     It also encourages project tasks as projects usually involve contexts and could be linked with multiple intelligences. Students’ learning also takes place when they are planning for the projects. (Delaney & Shafer, 2007)

     In addition to instructions, assessment and evaluation has also been considered under the impact of multiple intelligences. With multiple intelligence embedded in assessment and evaluation, students are more likely to perform their true ability without interference of other variables. For students with naturalistic intelligence, given a context of nature related setting, they are easier to demonstrate the learned knowledge and skills.


Delaney, C. J., & Shafer, F. K. (2007). Teaching to multiple intelligence by following a “slime trail”. Middle School Journal, 39(1), 38-43.

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the Twenty-first Century. Basic Books

Meyer, M., (1998). Learning and Teaching Through the Naturalist Intelligence.

Eighth Intelligence- Naturalistic Intelligence

Additional resources recommendation:

Multiple Intelligences @ JohnsHopkinsSchool of Education. 

Almeida, L. S., Prieto, M. D., Ferreira, A. I., Bermejo, M. R., Ferrando, M., & Ferrandiz, C. (2010). Intelligence assessment: Gardner multiple intelligence theory as an alternative. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(3), 225-230.

Mbuva, J. (2003). Implementation of the Multiple Intelligences Theory in the 21st Century Teaching and Learning Environments

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