One of my hopes is that my kids would see profound value in each person and let that insight fuel empathy and kindness. This is no one-and-done lesson. This value must be built in many small ways throughout their lives (and ours). One fun step in that direction is celebrating just how many ways there are to be smart. When we take stock of the diverse gifts God is growing in each of us, we can better appreciate and care for each other.
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All the Ways to Be Smart by Davina Bell with illustrations by Allison Colpoys is a great book to start that conversation with your kids. Using a delicious color palette and inviting rhymes, this book describes both traditional and not-so-traditional ways to think about intelligence. One part whimsy, two parts genius, it celebrates counting past forty right alongside bubble blowing and taking chances. It had us giggling and smiling the whole way through.
Make Faith Connections
To build on the power of this book with my sons (ages 9 and 5), we did two activities. One helps kids celebrate the amazing person they are. The other helps them encourage others.
My boys are always on the go, so I knew if we were going to go deeper I needed to plan some ways for them to slow down and engage. In this activity, kids will get a chance to think about their strengths and how they want to grow.
After we read the book, I told them to come up with a symbol to represent themselves–like Batman’s bat symbol. Then I gave them some sticky notes (they make everything more fun) and special colored pens (again, office supplies for the win) and had them each draw their symbol on four notes. True to form, my older one made each copy exactly the same, and my younger had elaborate variations.
If your kids are not into symbols, you could have them write their initials or a fun nickname. Then say something like, “There are so many ways you are smart and so many ways you are growing! Use your symbols to mark in the book three of your favorite ways you are smart. Then, mark one way you want to grow.” Of course, I gave my kids the option to mark as many pages as they wanted, but as I said, they are on-the-go kids and were happy to keep it to the minimum.
Go Deeper with Scripture
While the kids are working on their symbols is a great time to make a deeper spiritual connection. Try saying something like: It’s so awesome how God made us with our own special strengths. The Bible says:
I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.Psalm 139:14 (HCSB)*
You could follow up by asking: Why do you think God made us all different?
It’s important that kids know we (their parents) continue to learn and grow, too. Try making some sticky-note symbols for yourself and placing them in the book. Better yet, let your kids play teacher! Tell them they can create a symbol for you and place sticky notes in the book to mark some of your strengths and ways to grow. It will be enlightening (possibly hilarious) to see what they come up with.
Get a window into their hearts
When they are done, discuss what they chose and why. You could also ask them what special abilities they have that are not in the book.
I love this activity because it gives them a fun way to communicate things that might be hard to verbalize out of thin air–how they see themselves and how they hope to grow. I find it so helpful to get new insights into their hearts to guide me as I parent them.
The next day we regrouped around the book. I asked them to think about a friend or family member and some “super powers” they have. I said: “Some people are told that if you’re not good at reading and math, you are not smart, but we know that’s not true. We know there are many ways to be smart! Who could we encourage today?”
I asked them to write and decorate a note of encouragement saying: “You are smart at _________.”
Encouraging others is a complex skill
This activity was much more of a struggle for them than the first one. They were fine with writing cheery notes, but they didn’t want to get specific in their encouragement. I get it. It’s a high-level skill, right? Encouraging requires:
- paying attention to others and identifying their strengths
- understanding what actions on your part may make a difference for them
- embracing the vulnerability to actually do the thing
- and then reflecting on how it went.
Wait. Why did I think it was a good idea to ask my kids to do this today?! Oh, yes, small steps toward the goal.
Guiding them through
I usually don’t like to direct them too much, but with the above complexities in mind, I gave them lots of guidance in figuring out who to encourage and how. The book All the Ways to Be Smart was super helpful for getting the ideas flowing. As you can see in the picture below, they thought up their own ideas, too.
For all the push back they gave me at first, they ended up doing more notes than I requested! Well…they asked me to put their drawings in the copy machine so they didn’t have to duplicate their artwork, but since they were still writing individualized messages, I was happy to oblige. To me, it’s not about the artwork or even the writing. It’s about learning to celebrate others for their unique gifts. And they were doing it!
Printables for you
My kids’ desire to encourage more people (and use the copy machine) inspired me to create four printable notes for you to use with your kids. Each note has a different design to color and a different encouraging message with room to write how the recipient is smart. Like this:
There is so much to celebrate about you!
I especially love how smart you are at ___________.
Sometimes staring at a blank page can be intimidating and overwhelming for kids, especially when they are learning a new skill. I hope these pages give them a fun place to start as they encourage others.
Just pop in your email address below, and we’ll send the four easy-to-print encouragement notes right over. You’ll also get new posts and other goodies!
Cheer your kids on as they practice the skill of encouragement. Take note when they pay attention to the ways others are smart. And of course, point out to them all the amazing gifts they display every day!
If you love this theme, here are a couple more tools to check out:
- Help kids learn more about being “wonderfully and remarkably made” with our Faith and Literature Two-Pack. (Psst…You get it free when you sign up above.) It has tons of lesson ideas (8 pages!) for using the popular picture book What Do You Do With an Idea? (for the older kids) and Eric Carle’s The Mixed-Up Chameleon (for the littles).
- Right now, kids can listen to stories free on Audible. May we recommend A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. These original stories have a different, more mature (dare I say, more sassy) tone than the Disney versions I grew up with, and we all love them (yes, even my nine-year-old). The stories tie in well to helping kids understand there are many ways to be smart. If those are not your style, there are plenty of other options!
One more thing! Thank you to the collaborators on this post. Here are just some of the many ways they are smart:
- Andrea Moore – printable prowess
- Dian Kidd – edifying editing
- Kenda Biddle (K. Biddle Photography) – photo finesse
We’d love to hear your thoughts! Please drop us a comment below.
*If you use the ESV or NIV, you may be more familiar with the term “fearfully” in Psalm 139:14. If you want to use that word, you could explain it to kids as “awestruck wonder” or “awesome amazement.”