Educating the Whole Child – Spatial Learning

The Multiple Intelligences Institute defines spatial intelligence as “the ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind–the way a sailor or airplane pilot navigates the large spatial world, or the way a chess player or sculptor represents a more circumscribed spatial world. Spatial intelligence can be used in the arts or in the sciences.”

As a new parent at Spring Garden Waldorf School, I have been immediately and consistently dazzled by the beautiful, concrete evidence of the school’s commitment to nurturing its students’ spatial intelligence in multiple subject areas. On my first tour of the school, I was impressed by the youngest students’ knit handwork; by the middle students’ multiplication art boards, geometric designs that use different colored strings to represent parts of the multiplication table; by the correctly proportioned marionettes that the older students were constructing; and by the year-long woodworking project for Class Eight, which was to transform a raw chunk of log into a chair.

In addition to these examples of spatial skills being utilized by students of all ages across the curriculum, the classrooms themselves feature teachers’ full color chalk drawings depicting everything from fractions to historical events. And, of course, each desk holds lesson books hand-written and illustrated by the students themselves.

This learning space, carefully crafted by the community of staff, students, and families, exemplifies some of the most basic tenets of Howard Gardner’s theory of intelligence itself. In his book, Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, Gardner defines intelligence as the “potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve a problem or fashion a product that is valued in one or more community or cultural settings.” From the moment I walked through the door at SGWS, I could see that I’d found a community that cultivates intelligence in its students and values the tangible objects that they create.

But more than merely teaching children to accurately represent the external world in their own minds, I believe that a Waldorf education can empower young people to express their own inner worlds in three dimensions, to enrich the world around them by giving physical form to their own visions of reality. I don’t know about you, but that’s my kind of spatial intelligence.

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