The Natural Learning Development for Right-Brained Children

I’ll start off taking excerpts (in blue) from my book, The Right Side of Normal, from Chapters Four and Seven to explain the natural learning development for right-brained children using the Learning Stages chart I created.

Because the left and right hemispheres of the brain are mirror images of each other, each specializing in something different, it makes sense that the educational paths for left- and right-brained learners are opposites of each other. The time frame that schools utilize in teaching various subjects aligns with the left-brained learner stages of learning. I’ve noticed that right-brained learners acquire subject matter in a different learning pattern than their left-brained counterparts.

I have identified the time frames of three stages of learning, depicted in the charts below. This chapter introduces the function of each stage while Chapter Seven provides details for the content and subject expression.

The first stage of learning is called the Foundation Stage because it focuses on the universal gifts and strengths of each learner (see Chapter Five). Left-brained learners are two-dimensional thinkers who focus on symbolic and word development. Right-brained learners are three-dimensional thinkers who focus on global and creative development. For both left- and right-brained learners, it makes sense that learning should build upon one’s strengths for a firm foundation.

The second stage of learning is called the Transition Stage because it’s the beginning of the integration process of the two hemispheric specializations. This is the time when the right-brained learner starts to utilize some of the strengths of the left side of the brain to incorporate two-dimensional thinking. The left-brained learner begins to utilize some of the strengths of the right side of the brain to incorporate three-dimensional thinking. The Moores support my theory of a major shift during this stage in their book Better Late than Early. They say, “Studies have demonstrated a variety of significant changes in brain maturation between ages 7 and 11. Some of these changes are in the brain’s structure, others are in its chemistry and still others in its electrical potential.”

The third stage of learning is called the Integration Stage because the established dominant brain preference increasingly integrates the opposite brain specialties so the learner becomes competent in more subjects. Even though each brain processing preference continues to rely heavily on its own specialization (right-brained children are still right-brained dominant and left-brained children are still left-brained dominant), each more fully integrates the less preferred specialty skills. Better Late than Early states, “A recent Stanford Research Institute study by Meredith L. Robinson points to the likelihood that the early adolescent years, from 10 to 14, may be the time when most children finally develop the full range of their capacities, or in effect, reach their integrated maturity level.”

If you study my chart for the learning stages above and compare it to the traits of the left- and right-brained learners I have listed on the right side of this site, I think you’ll find it quite evident that schools are truly set up for the left-brained learner to succeed. And as the first sentence I quoted above from my book states, doesn’t it make sense that left- and right-brained people will learn opposite one another if the brain specialties are mirror images of one another, each with its own specialty? How are we missing this huge component?

In the early years, both learners are supposed to be able to delve into their dominant brain specialties so that they have a firm foundation in their strengths. Left-brained learners are doing that because of how schools are set up to support their strengths. Right-brained learners try to do that, too. I challenge anyone to find me a young right-brained learner at the 5 to 7 year age who isn’t actively trying to engage in a creative outlet, or what I call the “early subject strengths” for right-brained learners.

The creative outlets are computers/video games, art/photography, puzzles/mazes, building/electronics, math/numbers, music/dance, theater/showmanship, cooking/gardening, and fashion/sewing. The right-brained early subject strengths are areas of study that promotes creative and imaginative thinking that include history, mythology, cultures and geography, animals, nature, and science.

Does school promote these subjects between 5 and 7 years old? No, they promote the subjects that left-brained children succeed in as a foundation. My oldest son’s interest in the right-brained early subject strengths, plus his avid pursuit of drawing, was the primary catalyst for our choosing to homeschool him. He was so engaged in learning and we knew schools for his age group didn’t teach the subjects he so craved to know.

As noted by the Foundational Stage of Learning, it isn’t that right-brained children don’t learn to read, write, spell and learn math facts, but it’s that they are pursuing history, science, geography, cultures, nature, and animals as well as art, music, dance, computers, electronics and all the other creative outlets, instead. Who gets to decide that the subjects most conducive to the right-brained universal gifts is less important than those subjects most conducive to the left-brained universal gifts? Once we understand this difference, we can celebrate it and encourage it instead of fearing it and misunderstanding it.

What are these subject and creative pursuits accomplishing within our right-brained children’s minds as their foundation? They are building a large library of pictorial images that they need in order to successfully  transition to the next stage … because they think in pictures. They are developing a strong visualization ability which is needed to create, maintain, and translate the images. And they are nurturing their extraordinary imaginations which is the base for innovation, creativity, and big picture thinking they excel at as learners.

Instead of honoring this foundation for our right-brained children, we are trying to turn them into left-brained thinkers. We can’t make three-dimensional right-brained thinkers change to two-dimensional left-brained thinkers, but they’ll integrate these abilities at the developmentally appropriate stage. We can’t make big picture, concept thinking right-brained children perform sequentially like their left-brained peers, but they’ll use their own strategies to perform those tasks at the developmentally appropriate stage. We can’t make history-loving, right-brained artists prefer writing words and spelling, but they’ll become competent at it at the developmentally appropriate stage. We can and should value the focus and natural development for right-brained children during the foundational years of learning.

During the next two stages of learning, the Transition and Integration Stages, each of the two gift areas of each of the brain processing preferences get learned by the non-dominant side. So, note that left-brained learners are naturally good at word and symbolic development, so right-brained learners pick each of those up individually at each of the next two stages. Right-brained learners are naturally good at creative and global development, so left-brained learners pick each of these up individually at each of the next two stages. Both types of learners — left- and right-brained children — integrate all the gifts and necessary skills at the developmentally appropriate time for their brain processing preference.

Right-brained children are ready to transition to two-dimensional, symbolic work and development at the Transition Stage, between 8 and 10 years old. This includes the important reading and math facts skills everyone feels is crucial to have sooner than later. I agree that these are important skills, but what everyone is actually implying is that these need to be everyone’s foundational skills, but foundational skills are actually those skills that line up with the traits for the dominant side of the brain.

If we’re patient and honor this natural development in right-brained children, then some time in the 8 to 10 year time frame, these children will begin to learn to read … their way. Because they are whole-to-part learners, the sight word method is often a good starting place for learning to read. Phonics comes behind that. In fact, there are appropriate ways to help right-brained children learn to read that have everything to do with their brain processing traits. Here is a post that talks about some of these traits that influence how right-brained children learn to read best. And here is a link to a reading resource page on this site and a page with examples on how certain reading programs can work for right-brained learners. Math facts, starting with addition and subtraction, will also begin during this stage. All painlessly when we understand how, when, and why right-brained children learn.

The Integration Stage is when the last of the subjects get integrated by each type of learner. In the case of right-brained learners, word parts are finally incorporated. Being part-to-whole learners, and being word and symbol based, left-brained learners can learn to decode and encode symbols at the same time. For left-brained learners, the process of learning spelling and writing and reading are parts of the same coin. For right-brained children, being whole-to-part learners, and being picture based, decoding and encoding are two separate acts. Right-brained learners first tackle the symbol decoding of reading (the whole). After fluency is developed and “the whole” is achieved, only then can right-brained children do “the parts” section of symbol/words with spelling and writing. That’s because the process for right-brained children to learn spelling and writing is different from the process for learning to read.

From Chapter Seven in my book, The Right Side of Normal:

For the right-brained learner, reading is about taking the whole word and creating a picture. This is a translation process, moving from a non-gift area (symbols) to a gift area (pictures). However, spelling uses two double left-brained strengths. In order to spell a word, a right-brained learner sees a picture (right-brained gift), translates the picture to the word (left-brained strength), and then needs to decipher the whole word into its individual sound parts (left-brained strength).

Writing has three left-brained strength requirements. Right-brained learners visualize a whole picture (right-brained strength), translate it into the individual word parts (left-brained strength), break these down into its spelling parts (left-brained strength), and sequence the picture scene in words (yet another left-brained strength). Notice how the skills required to do well with spelling and writing favor the gifts of the left-brained learner: a symbolic, word-driven focus and sequential processes.

Because a right-brained learner uses two entirely different processes, one to learn to read, and another to learn to spell and write, it’s not effective for a right-brained learner to learn spelling and writing at the same time he receives reading instruction. Because right-brained learners do best with whole-to-part learning, it’s best to master each process independent of the other, establishing the holistic, or whole skill first (reading), followed by the linear, or part skills (spelling and writing) last.

To summarize the Stages of Learning, I again take a section from my book:

Foundation Stage (5 to 7 Years)

 The ages of 5 to 7 are best focused on the universal gifts of each type of learner. Because the left-brained child enjoys sequential, symbolic, word-based activities, she’s ready to tackle reading and beginning arithmetic (addition/subtraction) at the ages of 5 to 7. Because they are part-to-whole word-based learners, left-brained children can learn spelling and writing alongside reading. A right-brained learner is gifted in imaginative, three-dimensional, picture-based activities, so instead enjoys history, science, geography, social studies, (see Chapter Sixteen) and the creative outlets (see Chapter Six) as his foundation during this time.

Transition Stage (8 to 10 Years)

 Around the ages of 8 to 10, the left-brained learner sequentially improves in reading and tackling higher arithmetic (multiplication/division). Left-brained children learn best with part-to-whole sequential processes using memorization as a primary tool. They have the ability to show their work as they go. Creative thinking is integrated through higher level spelling and writing ability, reading comprehension skills, and math story problems. The right-brained learner will shift into the two-dimensional, symbolic realm to begin learning to read and tackle beginning arithmetic. A deeper understanding of the previous subjects occurs during this 8 to 10 year stage for the right-brained child, as well as development of higher skill levels in the creative outlets.

 Integration Stage (11 to 13 Years)

 As left-brained learners reach the full integration stage and use the weaker hemisphere strengths more reliably, they’re ready to develop the global concept strengths of right-brained learners by studying subjects like history and science and taking the other subjects to the highest level. Right-brained learners will more fully integrate the strengths of the left-brained learner: reading (by achieving fluency) and higher arithmetic. This is when the word focus of spelling and writing is tackled as a separate subject from reading because they use completely different techniques to achieve success. Right-brained children learn best with whole-to-part conceptual processes using association as a primary tool. They enjoy various imaginative tools such as mnemonics and the ability to intuitively discover ideas through holistic imagery.

Question: What surprises you the most about these patterns of learning, and why? Do you see these learning stage patterns in your right-brained child?

25 Responses to The Natural Learning Development for Right-Brained Children

  1. Thank you for this! I see these differences and stages in my two girls – one very RB and one very LB. The accepting /letting go of my LB expectations and seeing this as normal, good, healthy, and even advantageous (!) is my challenge – not theirs. I look forward to sharing this with my husband as well!

    • I think it’s a challenge our society has created for most of us, Julia, so know you’re not alone :-) This is the number one reason I share the information that I do, because the left-brained measuring stick has become so accepted, that it’s considered the “norm.” That’s why I called my book, “The Right Side of Normal.” There’s a right-brained normal as much as a left-brained normal! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Cindy, I just love your website (and yahoo group). Can’t wait to read the book! This post really struck me because I’ve finally adapted to my oldest RB daughter. She’s 12 and we’ve been through the wringer; looking back I see how it all played out. Now my totally LB (age 6) son comes along, and all he wants to do is math worksheets! And I’m frustrated bc he won’t read greek mythology with me…. Time to reverse gears back to LB and learn how to work with his strengths!

    • Robyn, Ha! Just when we finally figured it out … learning difficult lessons *often for us* in a way that empowers us to feel like we know a little something. And then the next one comes along and tells us to start over … haha! Yep, that’s life learning!

  3. I always felt I did something terribly wrong when my child, who had been so wildly creative in her younger years — making up plays and songs and even languages, including “dog language” — left that behind in her middle years. Now I see that is part of the integrative stage, and that her learning focus was elsewhere during that time. Indeed she learned to spell and punctuate right on your schedule for right-brained kids, between 11 and 13; coincidentally, I discovered Jeffrey Freed’s visual spelling techniques right about then, and she just surged forward.

    Now, at 16, she’s finally starting to draw again, and I’m hopeful that the creativity will come out in new ways. I can’t tell you what a sense of relief I felt to understand that the pattern of development she showed was right-brained normal, rather than something I’d done to constrict her creative streak. I have felt bad about this for YEARS. Thank you for lifting the guilt burden!

    • Karen, I’m sorry you worried and felt guilty for so long, and I’m also glad to help you see that your daughter is traveling along her natural path to learning. You may also find my Collaborative Learning Process interesting. It goes hand in hand with the natural stages of learning. What I discovered after the Integrative Stage was through, and after I helped my children learn how to integrate goal setting into their lives, their creative lives came back with a vengeance. Just like you’re hoping, I found that my children were able to take their creative pursuits to a higher level, in a way that could shape their career choices. Exciting stuff! Enjoy :-)

  4. This is wonderful! Finally after finding this site, I recognize that my son’s struggles in school really are avoidable. We are now home schooling him and will be approaching it from a right brained perspective. Thank you!

    • I would love to hear back from you with what you discover, Jan, as you enter this journey with your son. I truly believe our family avoided a lot of struggle, too, though it took a LOT of deschooling from me to open up that space to happen. I’m happy for you and am here to support you as you take that step!

  5. These are very interesting trends — thought-provoking indeed. I would like to know what you think about people who are less extreme in their favour of one side of the brain over the other. For example, when I saw the chart near the beginning of the article, I thought, “Oh! My son is a left-brain learner,” but when I came down to the part about favoured activities, “No, he likes right-brain activities (He’s 5.)” For my part, all the tests/quizzes I’ve ever done have put me at “slightly right-brained.” I wonder how that fits into learning development.

    • Good questions, Victoria! As it pertains to your son and which he favors, I would continue to observe throughout his 5 to 7 year development. This is the time that I feel my children showed me how they learned. If you look under my Collaborative Learning Process tabs, I share what each stage showed me and how I supported it.

      As for the quizzes coming up as “slightly right-brained,” most of the quizzes I’ve seen have only about up to a 60/40 split. I think it’s hard to come up with appropriate questions to really measure brain preference. I think I talk about that in my Am I Right-Brained Dominant post. If you look at what you were drawn to engage in, especially when you were young (before school and society molded you), it may show you what you favor based on your interests. As I mention in my book, Linda Kreger Silverman, a person who has spent years trying to develop a test for VSLs, says that what a person is interested in is still the most predictable factor for knowing. Interesting, huh?

      That said, you could be a right-brained learner whose female traits influence your learning more to the left in certain areas. The natural female gene traits favor the left-brained side, and the natural male gene traits favor the right-brained side. So, a right-brained dominant female may still read at 5-7 and enjoy organizing, but still love photography, cultures, animals, and think in pictures. There is the right-brained foundation, but every individual brings in their own nuances to the whole picture that creates YOU.

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  7. I wish my mom read this when I was in school. I used to do so well in school and was ahead of my peers, but fell behind somewhere in high school. I begged to be homeschooled, but she didn’t listen.

    Not all kids want to be homeschooled, but if they ask, I think you should listen.

    It’s my dream to make a school system for right brained kids and teens. (k-8) and (9-12).

    • It’s one of my dreams, too, Elizabeth! If either of us manage to do this, let’s contact each other and share :-) And yes, when a child asks to be homeschooled, I’m positive there’s a strong reason for it and should be taken seriously. It’s still a huge problem that young people are viewed as always getting out of things or looking for the easy road instead of viewed as people who know what is good for them and know what is or isn’t working. Sigh. We still have a long way to go.

  8. Do you consider a synesthete to be a right brain learner, or would the child need to have other right brain characteristics as well?

    • I certainly believe that being a synesthete is a strong indication you are right-brained. That’s because of the visual translation of something. For instance, my daughter sees color patterns for different music.

      • I wish I would have explored right brain learning before now. I’ve always tailored her education to meet her needs, but I don’t feel that I’m doing as well now that she’s in high school. College, for sure, isn’t designed for right brain learners, but she has career desires (that match her right brain strengths as well as life experiences) and I want to help her succeed in whatever way I can.

        By the way, she has at least 15 different areas of synesthesia: letters, numbers, words, days of the week, musical instruments, pitch, rhythm, household noises, and quite a few that I can’t remember. Her “oddest” one is that if she’s eating and we mention another food, she will taste that food instead of the flavor of what she’s eating!

        • How fascinating about the variety of areas she experiences synesthesia, especially the food/flavor thing! I wonder if some people have strong sensory spaces that are more able to inter-relate with each other. Interesting…

          I think the more important thing I may have done during the high school years is to continue promoting strengths-based learning. Although my children were more able and willing to do traditional topics, it still remained at the 30% level versus the 60% level devoted to strengths. They also chose individualized specialties within subject areas, such as animal science for a science course or Japanese history for a history class. Of course, most of these were interest translations, not specifically chosen studied topics.

          Instead of reverting back to making our goal about taking the traditional route going from strong grades in generalized topics during high school to applying to as top a school as possible to continue getting strong grades in generalized topics, we recognized the diverse types of higher education out there and specifically chose a school based on its good fit for each child and their goals. Also, embracing the entrepreneurial choice instead of college was viable. I always told my children that if they were going to take risks and try something on their own, at the younger ages when they had no family commitments and obligations was the time to do it. College would always be there.

          Some thoughts…

  9. So… Do you find that the Right brained learner is predominantly Left handed? My eldest son (7) is I believe from your chart Right brained (and Left handed) We’ve just had a sit down with his teachers, and principal about doing away with his ‘homework’ because it is such a struggle. Both my husband and I are LH as well, and when I sit with my son to do homework we usually go off on a tangent and learn something in a different way that he grasps without a problem, far beyond the level of his school work. He is very creative artistically, and takes great interest in animals and geography, and history. I’ve read to him from books like ‘The World Without Us’ which he finds fascinating… even though the vocabulary is far beyond his school level, he still ‘gets it’. What we ‘learn’ at home is very different from school, and I have told his teachers that we can not do his plethora of ‘homework’ and teach him things of interest to him… there is not enough time in the day, and I am unwilling to have the daily fight about it with him. Schoolwork is for school at this age. Homework will be what we choose to learn done how we choose to learn it.

    • Yes, Sherri, those who are left-handed are right-brained (though not all right-brained people are left-handed because of the cultural influence). How exciting to hear how your son’s interests line up perfectly with what I say is typical for a right-brained child your son’s age. Validating, yes? And, also, how interesting to see how he learns and grasps high level concepts, another typical trait for a young right-brained learner.

      Kudos to you for standing up for your son’s learning rights by refusing to waste his valuable free time on homework that will be more of what doesn’t match his learning style or interests. I’m always interested in how parents advocate for their right-brained children in school so that it can work better for them. I know there’s an active opt-out of standardized testing movement; I think it would be equally valuable to have an active opt-out of homework movement as well. Keep me informed!

  10. I’ve always wondered about my remarkable turn-around in school. I was a “terrible” student until midway through the 5th grade, at which point I got my first straight A report card. I thought it was a fluke – I had been so used to the idea of being bad at school that it didn’t seem possible – but I continued to get them through my high school graduation. It was so odd because I never changed the way I approached school, yet these amazing report cards started following me home.

    My six-year-old son is showing similar difficulties in school, so I’m trying to find out what options I have to help him. I can’t figure out why they want to teach a Kindergartener how to read. It seems that all the “advanced” schools in our area push early literacy and neglect all other areas of study. He’s expected to write sentences every day, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a science worksheet come home in his backpack. We used to spend our after-school time exploring and investigating the world around us, but now I have to dedicate it to homework. For a Kindergartener! I look forward to summer when I get to start crafting his curriculum for him again.

    • What a fascinating anecdotal discovery, Ruth! Thanks for sharing how your experience matches up with what I’m saying about the right-brained time frame, even though you didn’t know about it before. Very cool.

      And, yes, it’s SO frustrating how mismatched the early elementary grades are for our creative learners. Not only does it go into areas they aren’t ready to develop until later, but as you said, they neglect the very subjects they would excel in.

      Who knows, maybe you’ll have so much fun this summer, you’ll just keep right on doing it into the school year (wink).

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  12. How does dyslexia play into this. My son is a right brained thinker and was found to have visual and auditory processing disorder in first grade. He went to 24 sessions of VT for a weakness, eye teaming, tracking and focusing. He even had auditory therapy via FastForWord with Lindamood Bell for 3.5 years. He even had OT for 2 years. The district now wants to drop his IEP, after the triennial results. I want some type of safety net due to new CC standards and grade level 7th, plus the new testing in 2014 SBAC. He is going to be 13 and in 7th grade.

    • Did you read my recent post, Schmitt, on dyslexia and right-brained learning? It’s here: http://www.therightsideofnormal.com/2013/06/12/dyslexia-or-right-brained-dominant/

      Basically, what you describe about your son sounds like a typical right-brained learner. Visual differences and auditory differences are two ways a young right-brained child can appear different when comparing him to his left-brained peers and their preferred scope and sequence. Right-brained children typically view in pictures between 5 and 7 and three-dimensionally almost primarily. I feel they process visual information differently in these early years. I hope for research to be able to prove this. You notice how long it took for him to do the vision therapy. Based on my information, I’m not surprised.

      We use our senses as a way to input information. These are called input modalities. Our right-brained children tend to favor the visual and kinesthetic inputs. Some are still good with auditory. When some don’t prefer the auditory input, it can be a problem in school especially, because they favor the auditory input for teaching. Again, it makes sense he had to do those programs for so long. Right-brained children don’t tend to develop a more left-brained representation of these two senses (visual processing in a two-dimensional way and auditory input) until starting between 8 and 10. That’s when it appears to have begun to click for your son.

      As for your fears going forward without supports, I would highly suggest reading up on the right-brained learner and their gifts. These two posts will help get you started: http://www.therightsideofnormal.com/2013/05/08/early-subject-strengths-for-right-brained-children/ and http://www.therightsideofnormal.com/2013/03/20/the-creative-outlets/. At his stage, he should be better able to do the left-brained tasks. BUT, he’s meant to be strong in his gifts. He may have been remediating so long in his weaknesses, that he never got a chance to really develop his strengths and gifts (or he has, and that’s great!). This is where he’ll shine in our world, and I would definitely encourage you to help him show everyone where he really shines!