Educating the Whole Child — Interpersonal & Intrapersonal Intelligence

We’re picking up where we left off with our Educating the Whole Child series reflecting on the Waldorf implementation of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Waldorf educators feel a strong kinship with Gardner, who said:

“I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place. Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do… Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves.” — Howard Gardner, 1999

Compare this to our school’s mission statement:

“We are committed to educating each child so that he or she will contribute to the future of the world with clear and creative thinking, compassion, moral strength, and courage. Spring Garden Waldorf School is part of the long-standing Waldorf tradition, a worldwide movement putting Rudolf Steiner’s educational philosophy into practice.  This method works because it addresses the whole child—cognitive, social, and creative—and meets the needs of each individual through a challenging and multi-sensory environment.”

Spring Garden spends time cultivating interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence, an area most traditional education systems downplay or even neglect. With the rise of online social exclusion and our country’s rising concern about bullying in our schools, helping children develop inter- and intrapersonal intelligence is more important then ever.

Here are definitions of each of these categories of intelligence:


Interpersonal intelligence refers to the ability to interact well with others by using empathy and understanding intentions, motivations and feelings of other people. It manifests itself in an ability to cooperate with others, communicate effectively and work within groups.


Intrapersonal intelligence refers to the ability to introspect and understand ones own intentions, motivations and feelings. This manifests itself in an ability to have an effective working model of our own lives and using that information to regulate actions.

One of the most important contributors to cultivating these two intelligences in the Waldorf system is our one teacher, one class structure for educating our Grade 1-8 students. Small classes of students spend eight years together learning to work with each others’ unique personalities and the unique personality and style of their main lesson teacher. In each grade, children are met at their age’s developmental capacity and are taught to regulate impulse, manage conflict, and understand different types of personality — described to them as winter, spring, summer and fall personality types (which parallel DISC temperaments).

Our school also spends time in the upper grades doing community outreach and social responsibility work through organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, EarthFare, Good Samaritan Hunger Center and others.


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