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Early Subject Strengths for Right-Brained Children

It’s a natural instinct to gravitate to activities that are our strengths. Babies will let you know what foods they like or not, or what toys appeal to them. Preschoolers will show preferences for certain play centers. And boys and girls will lean toward particular gender-specific activities.

In this same vein, right-brained dominant people are attracted to certain skills and subjects based on the two universal gifts of their brain processing preference: picture-based thinking and an extraordinary imagination. Think of the subjects or skills that would center on these traits. History and cultures use imagination to best understand these subjects. Same with mythology and science (which includes dinosaurs). All of these can be pictorially visualized as well, including nature, animals, and geography.  The creative outlets (art/drawing, theater/showmanship, cooking/gardening, dance/music, fashion/sewing, puzzles/mazes, math/numbers (concepts/spatial), building/electronics, video games/computers) utilize both of the right-brained universal gifts, also. Left-brained dominant people are attracted to certain skills and subjects based on the two universal gift of their brain processing preference: word-based thinking and sequential processes. Reading, spelling, and writing are all word-based subjects. Each of these are also highly sequential in nature, including arithmetic. It makes sense that each of these types of learners will gravitate to the skills and subjects that enhance their natural strengths and skills.

Understanding the natural learning path starts with one’s associated strengths and gifts based on brain processing preference (and other factors, such as gender, for instance), it would be important to find or create a learning environment that promotes these subjects in the early years. (This post focuses on traditional school subjects, while a previous post describes the important concentration in the early years for right-brained children on creative outlets.) Currently, most schools provide for early left-brained subject strengths. Some educational models, such as Waldorf, Montessori, and Charlotte Mason, have elements that support early right-brained subject strengths. Having a stronger recognition of what constitutes a well-matched learning environment for various learners will create more joy and success in learning for all children.

Chapter Sixteen in my book, The Right Side of Normal: Understanding and Honoring the Natural Learning Path for Right-Brained Children, shares details and examples of how the early subject strengths of history, cultures and geography, science, animals and nature, and mythology makes sense for right-brained children. I remember my immediate surprise when my firstborn right-brained artist son naturally gravitated to ancient histories, especially Egypt. I just couldn’t understand how a 5-year-old would be interested in such a topic. Of course, the only comparison I really had was myself. History was a subject that made little sense to me and held mild interest. It took all my study skills to do well in history classes. Yet, my young right-brained child was surpassing my left-brained adult understanding of history. It was fascinating. Even the interest of nature and animals most of my right-brained children enjoyed represented differently than my left-brained interest in the same. My right-brained children could visualize what diverse animals looked like, and wanted to visualize it in its natural habitat, thus, naturally incorporating geography. I had more of a concrete interest in animals centering in the care of them. Geography was something I could concretely memorize, but had limited understanding of what animals lived where let alone the diverse cultures surrounding each.

Once I started learning about left- and right- brained learning preferences and universal gifts, it now makes perfect sense why my right-brained children naturally gravitated to early subjects that used their universal gifts and strengths. I was able to recognize my own interest in the subjects I enjoyed based on understanding the left-brained universal gifts and strengths. What an ah-ha moment! I realized why school worked so well for me as a left-brained learner. It started with my natural gifts and strengths, and worked out developmentally to my less natural subjects. As this was done, my style of learning was utilized. For instance, memorizing states and capitals for geography or listing the order to presidents for history or sequencing dates of important events. Bigger conceptual ideas in these subjects didn’t happen until high school.

Yet, looking at my right-brained children, they were intrigued with geography and history as an early subject strengths. They also employed their learning methods by figuring out all the countries and continents by knowing where each animal lived. They learned visually, imaginatively, and by association. They saw history as a grand, highly imaginative story. They could visualize the characters, the settings, and the actions through highly developed visualization skills. They tacked on dates later in their learning careers. This way and time for learning these subjects is no better or worse than the left-brained way. Well, maybe right-brained people are better suited to certain subjects just like left-brained people are better suited to other subjects. For instance, it’s said that the most important thing about history is in the adage, “If we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it.” Right-brained people understand the details of what history teaches us beyond memorizing dates and names. These learners may be better able to help us not repeat bad actions in history. And I’m more likely a better candidate to proofread your novel or dissertation.

If you’re a left-brained parent or teacher, you may view a right-brained child’s interest in their particular early subject strengths as unimportant. Why? Because we’re conditioned to believe the more important early subject strengths are those best suited for left-brained learners, as found in most schools, of reading, writing, and arithmetic. These are important subjects, and right-brained children tend to learn these conceptually and pictorially first, and then move into the symbolic, sequential part at the next developmental learning stage. Not repeating poor history, understanding and embracing cultures to eliminate bias, and honoring nature and animals to ensure our planet’s continued existence are all important, too. As we left-brained adults understand where our early subject strength biases come from, we can encourage a well-matched learning environment for our right-brained children, too.

If you’re a right-brained parent or teacher, you may recognize the attraction to early right-brained subject strengths, but view a right-brained child’s focus on it as a distraction to the more important early left-brained subjects valued in our schools and culture. You may have negative memories of being criticized for not being able to be interested in or successful with reading, writing, and arithmetic in the earlier school years. Adults may have seen your intelligence through your natural drive with early right-brained subjects, but undervalued its expression compared to your lack of interest or progress in early left-brained subjects. Smart but lazy or being considered an underachiever may have been mentioned. In lieu of understanding why left-brained and right-brained people are naturally attracted to certain subjects based on their universal gifts and strengths, each adult responsible for the nurturing of right-brained children can better meet the learning needs of right-brained children.

What were your child’s early subject strengths and how do you see it relating to the left- and right-brained information?

14 responses to “Early Subject Strengths for Right-Brained Children

  1. DD’s interests during the 5-7 age range have been in science, music, drawing, history, and stories in general. She has an aptitude for understanding mathematical concepts, but has had little interest in computation beyond adding/subtracting she can do in her head. I can see her being right-brained dominant. Realizing this has allowed me to be much more patient with her disinterest in reading and writing on her own. I had a lot of difficulty understanding how a child who was so strong in verbal language could have trouble with reading — or at least was so much farther behind in reading words than in aural comprehension.

    Surprisingly, I always thought of DS as the more right-brained one. He cares much less about rules, and conversations with him tangent off wildly, very rarely staying in reality. Right now, at age 5, he is into the left-brained skills of reading using phonics and adding/subtracting. He is also into the right-brained tasks of understanding mathematical concepts (infinity, geometry, fractions, multiplication, exponents). He is very musical and loves science. And he likes to build things and take things apart — which are both creative (or destructive!) and science oriented — RB tasks. His language comprehension is not where his sister’s was at his age, but his reading is stronger.

    The difference in reading skills seems to me to agree with boys using only LB for reading while girls use both RB and LB. DD, being stronger in RB, needs her LB to catch up to integrate better, while DS can work on LB and RB language skills separately. What do you think?

    • Very interesting once again, Victoria. I see your DD as being more classic right-brained. Her “expression in ideas” is verbal, artistic, and even deeply rooted in her story/verbal-based ability (as witnessed by her interest in history, drawing, and aural storytelling visualization). Her gifted aptitude in this area needed to take precedence as her firm foundation before building her symbolic skills of reading and writing.

      Your DS is also very much a strong right-brained learner, but a builder/math type, which puts him almost opposite of his sister’s right-brained strengths. It’s why I used MY artist and builder sons as good representations of the full spectrum of right-brained strengths. They rarely crossed strengths. But each are valued right-brained attributes. My builder son was also strong in math and music. He also more easily picked up arithmetic because he almost viewed it as much like a puzzle as the concept stuff. He ate it up.

      To address your last thoughts, I gave my opinion about your daughter’s need for a more traditional right-brained schedule for learning to read because of her strong strengths. For your son, and I need to write a post about the gender factor, boys are more naturally right-brained, BUT, the male gene brings in logical and analytical. Because your son gravitates to math, building, and music, in a more logical way it appears than spatial, it may be that he is able to use his male gene traits to find the more typical left-brained interest of reading and arithmetic at a younger age. It’s true, though, that I’ve rarely seen a right-brained child learn both reading and arithmetic before age 8. It’s usually only one that happens “early,” if it happens for a right-brained learner. Let me know if your son does so…

      (On the flip side, females are typically more left-brained, but for right-brained females, the female gene brings in such natural traits as organization and being verbal/word-based, which can find some right-brained females reading early.) It’s all individual, though, in each person, how much one uses their left- and right-brained attributes, how much they use their gender attributes, and how much they use their introvert/extrovert attributes, etc.

      • Thank you for your thoughts, Cindy! What you say about my daughter makes a lot of sense.

        I am wondering what you mean by learning reading and arithmetic. This is something that I’ve had a difficult time getting a sense of. What does it mean to be “able to read” or “able to do arithmetic”? Is it that everyone’s definition is different, or am I the only one with a vague sense of what that means?

        My daughter can read chapter books now. This skill came about in the last 6 months or so (she’s nearly 8), when her reading was no longer just decoding, but also comprehending at the same time. Is that the point when we say they are ‘reading’? She has been able add up to three digits with carrying for about a year, though she certainly wouldn’t do it without a reason, such as, we’re at the store and need to keep track of our purchases.

        My son loves puzzles. Does that make him analytical? I guess so. I sure wouldn’t call him logical. Perhaps he is but his imagination overpowers it in conversation. Or he comes off as illogical because his thought processes aren’t very organized. Sometimes he comes to the right conclusion. Other times, I have no idea where his thoughts came from. (Air moves in a circular pattern around the plane, keeping it up? Really??)

        Neither of them do arithmetic by following procedures. Maybe like your son? I’ve shown them how to group, and then carrying or borrowing is a logical tool. Similarly with adding fractions. They understand what it means visually, so they imagine what is needed to combine fractions with different denominators.

        To give you more data, I think I lean towards RB attributes. Between the ages of 5 and 7, I remember doing a lot of baking, enjoying science, and engaging in a great deal of imaginative play. Music was my love. I was also a strong reader, and I learned long division at around 7, but I’ve never loved arithmetic despite earning a degree in math. Then again, I was taught both at home and at school… I’ve never fallen well into brain gender differentiations. I am very logical/analytical, for example. There aren’t many women in math/physics/engineering, but we’re there. 🙂

        • Cindy, I just came across this article which I thought might interest you: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/04/040412012459.htm . I understand your stance is that people are never equally RB and LB. I think this article explains people like me and maybe my son, who seem to have strengths in both hemispheres. Is it because we have more communication between LB and RB? Are we not just to the right of normal but further on the z-axis? ^_^

          • Great article, Victoria! Thanks for sharing. I’m not sure I don’t believe in balanced brains. But what I’ve discovered is that even if you appear more balanced, a person seems still more to favor one than the other. So, for my daughter, she appeared more balance brained growing up, though favored the right. As she’s gotten older, her right side has become more and more prominent, though she still has quite a few strong left-brained traits. The same can be said for her hubby, who appears more balance brained, but favors the left. So, my current thinking is that often those who appear more balance brained often have some bigger contributing factor that brings in the other side. So, for my daughter, her left-brained oriented female trait. For my son-in-law, the same, his right-brained male trait brings in the right-brained traits. For my builder son, his autism difference brings in his left-brained side.

            That said, I liked a couple parts to the article that relates to my information. First, this quote, “Math giftedness seems to favor boys over girls, appearing an estimated six to 13 times more often. It’s not known why…” I feel that math giftedness is more likely to happen with right-brained gifts than left-brained ones, and males are more typically right-brained. Obvious to me in light of my information. Yet, their guess is”prenatal exposure to testosterone.” Really?

            The next interesting quote is by co-author Michael O’Boyle, PhD, “I don’t think we can ‘create’ a math genius without the innate talent already there.” This aligns with why I feel strongly about strengths-based education. Yes, we want to expose children to various things so we know if they would naturally gravitate to it, but we can’t MAKE someone good at something if they aren’t made to do that. Schools tend to be weakness driven because they believe in a generalist education. I think we miss a huge opportunity to develop greatness through strengths, let alone nurture joy in learning.

            Last, the biggest contribution this same person is saying creates math giftedness is ” the brain’s particular functional organization – which allows right-hemisphere contributions to be better integrated into the overall cognitive/behavioral equation — predisposes it towards the use of high-level imagery and spatial skills, which in turn just happen to be very useful when it comes to doing math reasoning.” Isn’t all this just proving that high level math ability resides mostly with right-brained trait?. I think these gifted math people are predominantly right-brained with left-brained attributes. Naturally, it’s functionally best when both sides of the hemisphere work together to bring in the arithmetic side, but I wonder if Einstein, for instance, had that integration as he seemed so highly right-brained, even how he described his process with his higher level math genius.

            It would be totally cool to integrate the knowledge of identifying right-brained and left-brained dominant subjects in a study like this. Obviously, the math gifted subjects were right-brained, but it would be interesting to take identified right-brained average subjects and left-brained average subjects for the comparison. How much more could we learn?

            Interesting…

  2. Kirsten Sonner

    Cindy what is a child who’s educational testing shows part to whole and inductive reasoning. Same child makes comments such as: (sitting in the sun) I wish I could just photosynthesize and then I wouldn’t have to eat. Child hates board games, waiting, slow people. Child likes pretend play, puppet shows, TV, Video games. Child likes to watch “How it’s made” and “Dirty Jobs”. Is SUPER sensitive and syntamental. At. 9 is just starting to read. Better at math. Dyslexia diagnosis. Doesn’t want to talk a lot. Is fairly fashionable despite family’s lack of interest there.

    After all these years still a little confused.

    Is analytical lefty or righty?

    • Everything you listed, Kirsten, that your son DOES, is solidly right-brained. If you read through my previous comment, the male gene component may be your answer to his analytical side. Those right-brained builder/math males tend to potentially have a strong analytical side to them. Mine does. Your son still reminds me a LOT of my builder son at his age. Mine also didn’t talk a lot and had his own quirky way of interacting with the world. He really grew into himself STARTING between 11 and 13, and the biggest impact happening around 16-17 years old.

  3. Beth Blumreich

    Well the first thing we noticed was her high verbal ability. She literally said hi at 2 days old but since I had just said it in a sing song voice to her and she repeated it exactly,we assumed it had more to do with musical abilities than verbal. Both my husband and I are musical and come from musical families.However, it continued with animal sounds. She can repeat most animals sounds with amazing accuracy! She also began using a large vocabulary as a 2 and 3 year old. People would ask me how old she was and I usually heard something like “She’s very precocious isn’t she?” In school before we started homeschooling, her teachers would ask about her large vocabulary. They told me she could write and tell stories so that you could actually picture them like a movie in your head and we witnessed this at home too! She also had an incredible memory. She memorized all of How The Grinch Stole Christmas at 3. My husband thought she was reading but no because if you asked her to read a sentence she couldn’t. She had just heard it so many times she knew it. She love animals and knows amazing stuff about them that will just floor you. She loves science especially the natural world. She is now 11 and can read anything she gets her hands on. When we first started homeschooling she was scoring as low as 1st grade levels in some of her math however we just finished testing and she scored in the 99th percentile for the whole test! This after 2 years! A good example of her rightbrainedness is that in math. She often gives the right answer but when I ask how she got it she doesn’t know. It just seemed right she says. She doesn’t take kindly to being drilled either. Being right brained as well I know exactly how she feels however my husband is left brained and sometimes he just doesn’t get it but as he puts it, he bows to my expertise. lol. anyway, I enjoy teaching her and we enjoy learning together. I am grateful for you and your family Cindy! Luvs, Beth Blumreich

  4. Enjoyed reading your post above. I am still trying to figure out my beautiful, complicated daughter. She is extreme right brained..she was overall left dominant beginning as a baby as she crawled with her left side while dragging her right, she is left handed and her vision in her left eye is 20/20. She loves math (doing it on her own, making up math problems and solving them), the natural world (she loves animals and is in a huge phase of checking out all animal books and reading up on them.) She loves art and draws constantly. However, her spelling is horrid and she has very poor vision in her right eye…her vision is 20/150 WITH a +6 contact lens and only looking at one letter at a time so she lacks depth perception and 3D vision because you need both eyes working (binocular vision) to achieve those things.We are doing VT (vision therapy) to wake up her left brain. 🙂 Like I said, very complicated and frustrating. I love learning more about how she learns but feel like so many educators just don’t get it.

    • Interesting, Lisa. You do know that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, yes? But, yes, with a really poor right eye vision, it does interfere with any of her natural 3-D ability shining through. I had detached retinas in both eyes as well as cataracts in both eyes, so I know how unbalanced eye vision impacts depth perception and the such.

      She sure does tap into all the right-brained strengths and interests, doesn’t she? And yes, spelling tends to develop later for creative children…even up to age 11 to 13. Typically spelling can start to improve about two years after reading fluency is achieved. Good luck helping your daughter along her unique path to learning!

  5. Pingback: The Universal Gifts | The Right Side of Normal

  6. My oldest is typical interest in dinosaurs and animals (in habitat). Early, self taught reader, but still heavily relies on pictures and says reading chapter books without pictures is “exhausting.” Cannot stand math, although he excells at conceptual math. Poorer at calculations. Autistic

    My youngest, strangely enough, is interested in math. He’s 6. He’s in the process of teaching himself to read, but since he’s a perfectionist I don’t know how much he knows. Loves Super heroes. Better 3D builder than brother.

    • I don’t know how old your oldest is, but the good news is that he can continue reading picture chapter books as long as he needs to until his brain is ready for the next jump. One of the ideas you can use to help with the transition is to introduce an interesting series (Magic Tree House is popular, or Redwall if he’s at an older level) and read 2-3 books in the series aloud to him. In this way, he creates the visual in his mind as a listener, so when he reads the other books in the series, with the same characters and rhythms, he has a much easier time creating visuals as he reads the semantics. Does that make sense?

      For math, again, depending on his age, he may be exactly where he’s supposed to be as a right-brained learner for calculations. It was usually between 8-10 that mine learned their addition and subtraction well, and 11-12 when they learned multiplication and division. Conceptually, as you said, they knew them at the traditional age (plus/minus between 5-7 and multiply/divide between 8-10). You can use something visual for the transition (abacus, number lines, charts, etc.).

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