Existential Intelligence

Welcome to our last post in our series about how Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences relates to outdoor learning.  The intelligence I will discuss here is sometimes called Existential intelligence.  This intelligence is not officially part of Gardner’s list of intelligences because of a lack of empirical evidence, but as Gardner has considered this intelligence, let us consider it here too!

Existential intelligence involves having “a concern with ultimate issues” and thinking about abstract concepts and ideas that go beyond what is visible and audible.  Outdoors in the children’s outdoor play areas, children can learn about “ultimate issues” that involve our natural world.  Some of these issues include protecting the environment, the importance of recycling, and the circle of life.  Interactions with nature can teach all of these topics.

Concerning concepts that cannot be easily seen or heard, think of the children on the preschool playground who are rolling a ball down a ramp or tube and learning about physics, the children who are kicking a ball into the air and learning about gravity, the children who lay on their back and wonder about the clouds drifting by.  These children may be exercising an existential intelligence!


Smith, Mark K. (2002, 2008) “Howard Gardner and Multiple Intelligences,” The Encyclopedia of Informal Education, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm

Picture Source:  http://www.sxc.hu/