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​Using Toy Soldiers to Educate Children

Oct 22nd 2019

Children (and all people) have different styles of learning, strengths, and intelligences. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences asserts that “human beings have a number of relatively discrete intellectual capacities” (MI Oasis), which contradicts the standard psychological view of intellect that purports that there is one single intelligence (that which can be measured by IQ tests). According to MI Oasis, there are two primary scientific implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences:

1) The intelligences constitute the human intellectual toolkit. Unless grossly impaired, all human beings possess the capacity to develop the several intelligences. At any one moment, a human being will have a unique profile, because of both genetic (heritability) and experiential factors.

2) Each human being has a distinct intellectual profile. Identical twins will certainly have similar cognitive profiles. But the profiles will not be identical; even though the genetic constitution is the same. Identical twins have different experiences (even in utero!) and once born, each may be motivated to distinguish himself from his genetic clone” (MI Oasis).

Additionally, there are two significant educational implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences:

“1) Individuation (also termed personalization) – Since each human being has her own unique configuration of intelligences, we should take that into account when teaching, mentoring or nurturing. As much as possible, we should teach individuals in ways that they can learn. And we should assess them in a way that allows them to show what they have understood and to apply their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar contexts.

2) Pluralization – Ideas, concepts, theories, skills should be taught in several different ways. Whether one is teaching the arts, sciences, history, or math, the seminal ideas should be presented in multiple ways. If you can present the art works of Michelangelo, or the laws of supply and demand, or the Pythagorean Theorem in several ways, you achieve two important goals. First of all, you reach more students, because some students learn best from reading, some from building something, some from acting out a story, etc. Second, you show what it is like to be an expert—to understand something fully, you should be able to think of it in several ways” (MI Oasis).

These educational implications are exactly why toy soldiers can be effectively used as an educational tool, because they are a good vehicle for individualizing and pluralizing learning. Gardner identified eight distinct intelligences: Spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic (MI Oasis). People tend to score highly in several of these intelligences, and children often learn with the most ease in intelligence categories that come naturally to them. The definitions of each of these eight intelligences are below (again according to MI Oasis, the official website of MI Theory):

  • Spatial: The ability to conceptualize and manipulate large-scale spatial arrays (e.g. airplane pilot, sailor), or more local forms of space (e.g. architect, chess player).
  • Bodily-kinesthetic:The ability to use one’s whole body, or parts of the body (like the hands or the mouth), to solve problems or create products (e.g. dancer).
  • Musical:Sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, meter, tone, melody and timbre. May entail the ability to sing, play musical instruments, and/or compose music (e.g. musical conductor).
  • Linguistic:Sensitivity to the meaning of words, the order among words, and the sound, rhythms, inflections, and meter of words (e.g. poet). (Sometimes called language intelligence.)
  • Logical-mathematical:The capacity to conceptualize the logical relations among actions or symbols (e.g. mathematicians, scientists). Famed psychologist Jean Piaget believed he was studying the range of intelligences, but he was actually studying logical-mathematical intelligence.
  • Interpersonal:The ability to interact effectively with others. Sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations (e.g. negotiator). (Sometimes called social intelligence.)
  • Intrapersonal:Sensitivity to one’s own feelings, goals, and anxieties, and the capacity to plan and act in light of one’s own traits. Intrapersonal intelligence is not particular to specific careers; rather, it is a goal for every individual in a complex modern society, where one has to make consequential decisions for oneself. (Sometimes called self intelligence.)
  • Naturalistic:The ability to make consequential distinctions in the world of nature as, for example, between one plant and another, or one cloud formation and another (e.g. taxonomist). (Sometimes called nature intelligence.) (MI Oasis)

Many of these intelligences correspond with learning styles. For example, the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence corresponds with kinesthetic learning. Whitby says the following about kinesthetic learning:

“The most physical of all the learning styles, kinesthetic learners absorb information best through touch, movement and motion. The word kinesthetic refers to our ability to sense body position and movement. This means that to really understand something, they need to touch it, feel it and move it around.

How to Recognize Kinesthetic Learners

If your child means “Let me hold that,” whenever they say “Let me see that,” they’re likely a kinesthetic learner. They’re the kids who love building sets, model kits and interactive displays at the children’s museum They often tear things apart just so they can learn about them. If kinesthetic learners are offered the choice in art class, they’ll choose modeling clay over pencils or paint. From an early age, they’ll reach for books that encourage interaction—pop-ups, little doors that open and close or books with textures that can be touched or petted.

How to Help Kinesthetic Learners Excel

Whenever possible, offer your kinesthetic learner things to hold in their hands” (Whitby).

If you’re dealing with a kinesthetic learner, playing with toy soldiers while explaining historical concepts and situations will be a helpful way to help the child absorb information in a hands-on, engaging way. Not only kinesthetic learners benefit from a personalized, interactive approach. Often, children can be visual or auditory learners (Whitby). Different children learn and exist in different ways, paralleled by the fact that different people excel in different intelligences. Discovering the way a child learns and interacts with the world can be useful to facilitate learning with as much joy and as little frustration as possible. Visual learners can benefit from seeing toy soldiers in action, and auditory learners can benefit from invented dialogue and stories pertaining to the figurines at play. Returning to Gardner’s set of intelligences, those with spatial skills will benefit from the spatial dynamics that can arise between figurines, set pieces, and accessories; those with interpersonal skills will benefit from sensitivity to and empathy with the predicaments of the figurines; logical-mathematical children could delight in calculations about amounts of soldiers and supplies and the logical relationships between events and objects; and more. 

Personalizing education, and tuning into the particular strengths and habits of the child with whom you are working, is a way to make the learning process smooth, fun, and accessible, and using toy soldiers as an educational tool can be a tool in that process.

Check out our website for toy soldiers so you can play and learn with the children in your life, and take a moment to think about your intelligences and learning styles, too!

Further Reading & References

4 Types of Learning Styles: How to Accommodate a Diverse Group of Students.

MI Oasis. A Beginner’s Guide to the Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Whitby. A Closer Look at the Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic Learning Styles.

Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.

Learning Styles.