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  • Writer's pictureAngelina Zhang

What is Naturalistic Intelligence and How Does it Benefit Our Children?

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Aneesa Khan, Abby Zhang, Hanqi Zhang


What is naturalistic intelligence?

The multiple intelligence theory was proposed by Howard Gardener in 1983 in the book Frames of Mind. He suggested that people develop several distinct types of intelligence throughout their lives and one of which is naturalistic intelligence.

Naturalistic intelligence is linked to a person’s ability to connect with nature and their surrounding natural environment. This includes the ability to classify natural forms, understand the environment and apply the understanding of nature to execute tasks. For example, children might show different levels of interest in nature, and different capabilities in understanding nature concepts and applying them in real life.

Why is naturalistic intelligence important to children?

Environmental cognitive development

Based on its definition above, students with higher naturalistic intelligence will do better in nature-associated subjects. Apart from this obvious reason, the development of naturalistic intelligence will allow children to understand their surroundings and environment better. Applying skills of naturalistic intelligence to the world around them, children may be aware of different patterns and behaviours in the environment.

Another reason is that students with higher NI will learn more effectively if taught using methods that align with their thinking and skills. According to the relevant research, children who think in naturalistic ways may perform better and advance cognitive development when they spend more time being in green spaces. Therefore, there is a need to understand the students' naturalistic intelligences and tailor the methods of teaching accordingly.

Nature-based education and its benefits

Nature-based education will help students in various ways. From watching a bird building its nest to learning how the ecosystem functions in the forests, numerous studies confirm that children blossom in nature – improved academic performance, stimulated creative thinking and curiosity, strengthened physical and psychological health, and enhanced language abilities are observed compared to traditional indoor classroom educational environments.

What does naturalistic intelligence mean to future generations?

Living in an uncertain time, the next generation will likely face the negative impacts of the climate crisis and other environmental issues. But we are optimistic about our children’s future. By immersing them in a natural environment from a young age, they can develop a higher level of interest and awareness for nature to be more resilient towards these changes and become green leaders of the next generation.


Question Time

Which of the following is incorrect regarding naturalistic intelligence?

A. It was proposed by Howard Gardener as a part of the multiple intelligence theory.

B. It involves abilities such as plant classification.

C. It is something that we were born with, and cannot be changed.

D. It is associated with children's improvement in learning ability in some studies.

Tap to see the correct answer and explanations.

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