Existential Intelligence Activities for Kids

Michele Meleen
Boy in front of blackboard with question marks

Existential intelligence activities for kids bring the bigger pictures of the world and the universe into a child's personal life. This is not one of Howard Gardner's official 8 Multiple Intelligences, but every child can hone their existential intelligence skills even if they never master them.

Existential Intelligence Activities for Young Children

Existential activities with toddlers, preschoolers, and kids in first or second grade can be challenging because at this stage of development children still have a self-centered worldview and aren't quite able to empathize. Start by introducing topics like summarizing, differences, and the importance of community.

Play the Big Questions Game

This simple game gives kids the chance to think deeply about complex topics and understand different points of view in listening to their friends' answers. You can do this as a family or as a small class.

  1. Sit in a circle and have a notebook and pen handy.
  2. Ask one big or critical thinking question at a time to the whole group. Questions should be existential, but not controversial in nature.
    1. How do the lights turn on?
    2. Why do you sleep?
    3. How old is the oldest person in the world?
    4. Are aliens real?
  3. When each child thinks of an answer to the question, they can come up and whisper their answer in your ear and you can write it down. If you allow kids in preschool or kindergarten to shout out their answers, you'll often find they just repeat what the last person said. If kids are old enough to write, have them write their answer down and hold on to it.
  4. After everyone has given an answer, share them all with the group. Let kids say their own answer, but you can prompt them with what they already told you if they forgot.
  5. Keep a tally of how many different answers there were.
  6. If there is a factually correct answer to your question, share it with the group. Take care to treat their answers with respect even if they were far-fetched.
  7. Ask another question and repeat for about three questions in one sitting.

Save the Animals

Understanding the importance of animals on a larger scale and seeing how each small person can make a big impact are two important goals for this activity. Involve kids in the community service process from choosing a cause to carrying out every step in the process. Present three or four options and let the kids vote on one to do:

  • Raise and release Monarch butterflies.
  • Create a certified wildlife habitat.
  • Visit and volunteer at a wildlife center.
  • Join the Ocean Guardians Kids Club.
  • Collect supplies then deliver and volunteer at an animal shelter.
  • Bring rescue cats or dogs into the classroom as reading buddies.
  • Adopt a nearby stream or forest and keep it clean from garbage.
  • Adopt a classroom pet like a guinea pig from the Humane Society.
  • Create and care for a pollinator garden.
  • Make bird houses, bat boxes, or even bee houses to post in an animal habitat.
  • Participate in a local animal count like the Audubon Great Backyard Bird Count.
young girls collecting trash on beach

Complete a Puzzle Hunt

Introduce the concept that small pieces may come from different places to make one big picture with a simple puzzle hunt.

  1. Start with an oversized puzzle and hide each piece separately in the room. Make some easy and some hard.
  2. Ask your child to find all the pieces then put the puzzle together. If you're working with a group, let every kid find one piece at a time.
  3. Talk about how all these pieces made one big picture and how easy or hard it was to find and put the pieces together.

Existential Intelligence Activities for Upper Elementary Kids

Upper elementary and middle school kids are able to start exploring more existential concepts and skills because they have developed empathy, logic and reasoning, and have more tools and life experience at their disposal. Look for ways to broaden their worldview and challenge them to make connections between lessons and the real world.

Read Books in Different Languages

Kids in grades 3 to 5 don't need to be able to read or speak another language to understand a picture book written in another language. Use this simple activity regularly with different languages to help broaden your child's worldview and learn to use details to create a bigger picture.

  1. Choose a picture book from another country that's written in that country's native language. Go beyond American books translated to other languages and find books made in other countries.
  2. Lead a story time with one or more kids.
  3. Show the cover and do your best reading the title, author, and illustrator.
  4. Pose questions that help kids understand what the words might say or what the book might be about.
    1. What language/country do you think this book is from and why?
    2. What do the structure of the words tell you about them?
    3. What do the pictures tell you about the story?
    4. Can you identify a main character?
  5. Read each page, then stop and ask the same types of questions.
  6. At the end of the book discuss how kids could find out what language the book is actually written in and what it actually says.
    1. Does anyone in the room speak this language?
    2. Can you think of anyone in the school or neighborhood who might know this language?
    3. What resources (books, internet) could you use to find the information?
  7. Extend the activity by assigning an individual or small group project where kids need to find a way to translate the book to your native language.

Host a Metric Versus Imperial Measurement Debate

Host a debate fair where kids present their analysis of the metric versus imperial measurement debate. This activity highlights the importance of a small issue on a global scale and explores various perspectives on a single topic.

  1. Briefly discuss the two different types of measurement systems, how they started, who uses them and why, and what makes them different.
  2. Demonstrate why this can be a problem with a few simple activities.
    1. Give kids an imperial-only ruler and a math page that asks them to measure small distances using the metric system. How will they complete the worksheet?
    2. Present instructions for making slime that include metric measurements then give students only imperial measurement spoons. How will they make their slime?
  3. Ask kids to research and form an opinion about whether the whole world should use the same measurement system or if it's okay to have different ones. If they think all should be the same, which do they choose and why?
  4. Kids use this information to make posters that highlight their research and stance on the subject.
  5. Set up all the posters and ask kids to view each one.
  6. Discuss as a group.
Girl doing measurements

Show History Repeating Itself

You've heard the saying "history always repeats itself" and now it's time to prove it. Kids will learn to spot patterns in behavior across time and locations while pondering why this is a part of life.

  1. Present kids with a list of famous events in ancient or early history that are part of your social studies curriculum for their grade and the grade level prior.
  2. Kids need to choose one of these events and show how that same event, behavior, or cause repeated later in history somewhere else in the world.
  3. Kids will present their history project in the form of visual aids like maps and timelines.
  4. After everyone in the class or group presents their topic, open a discussion to see if others can identify more events that are a repeat of that presenter's original event.
  5. Have kids discuss what some common themes are that keep repeating and why these themes would keep repeating.

What Is Existential Intelligence?

The term "existential" means anything related to being alive and real. In the 1980s Howard Gardner proposed his theory of multiple intelligences outlining the different ways every person thinks. While existential intelligence didn't make the cut for his final types, he did talk about it as being an important part of a person's brain function. He described existential intelligence as the ability to be sensitive to and have the capacity to imagine and face large, complex questions about human life, its purpose, and its meaning.

Existential Intelligence Skills

Skills that highlight or indicate this type of intelligence include:

  • Insightfulness
  • High intuition
  • Making connections beyond the obvious
  • Asking deeply thoughtful questions
  • A clear view of the big picture
  • Ability to easily see different viewpoints
  • Ability to easily summarize long texts or discussions

Tips for Teaching Existential Intelligence Concepts

Existential intelligence concepts are more difficult to identify and teach than many other types of intelligence. Some simple ways you can promote this way of thinking in the classroom or at home are:

  • Craft lessons that incorporate a variety of subjects like math, art, social studies, science, and reading or writing so the lesson becomes a microcosm of the bigger picture of education.
  • Give a summary of your lesson before presenting it so kids get used to the idea of summarizing.
  • Expand on any topic by opening a discussion on how it relates to life in your town, your country, and other countries.
  • Give kids opportunities to be a part of something bigger in your school, town, or state.
  • Read books from other cultures and ask kids to think of stories from your culture that are similar.

Seeing the Big Picture

Promoting existential intelligence in children helps kids better understand the world they live in. Kids who learn to see the bigger picture and navigate it gain valuable life and work skills for their future career and personal life.

Existential Intelligence Activities for Kids