Best teaching practices for left vs right
Learning to dress themselves, use a knife and fork and sing songs or play games are just some of the activities children love to do - but force them to learn their left vs right. Knowing our left from right is a concept which is able to be taught and understood during the preschool years and yet it is something which people can struggle with into adulthood.
So how do we learn our left and right? The exact process is not totally understood however it has been linked to the concept of Laterality. Laterality is the internal self-awareness of the left and right sides of the body. It is also linked to an awareness of a body midline, or an invisible line which divides our body in half. This is an important concept linked to learning left from right because it reminds us to first teach children the concept of left and right using their own body, before moving onto objects such as shoes.
You can determine whether your child is aware of their body midline by watching them run. Do they move the same arm and leg or do they alternate? When your child colours with crayons does the left hand reach for crayons on the left and colour on the left side of the page only passing a crayon to the right hand to draw on the right side of the page? This is a normal developmental phase which children normally pass through around the age of 3 when they develop hand dominance.
So how do I teach my child their left from their right?
Research in the field of Special Education has shown that the age of teaching left and right is not as important as how the concept is taught and the recommendation is to not teach the terms together. Use your child's hand and body side dominance as a starting point. If you are unsure of your child’s body dominance (they will have a dominant eye, ear and hand side) ask them to listen to a shell and watch which ear they raise it too. Ask your child to cross their legs and watch which leg they place on top. These are generally considered reliable indicators.
Activities to teach kids left from right
- Singing songs such as the Hokey Pokey is a fun way to introduce the concept of left and right to children. The movement involved helps muscle memory develop.
- Tickling or Squeezing - ask your child to raise their right arm and then gently tickle them underneath. Only tickle on their dominant side and they will quickly learn the name for that side.
- When holding hands gently squeeze their hand for example "I'm going to hold your right hand while we cross the road". Your child will connect the gentle squeeze with the term right.
Left-right activities for kinaesthetic learners
- Dressing - children of this age love to be independent. Shoes are a great place to start with learning left from right. If your child can recognise their name write half inside the left shoe, and half inside the right. They will know if they have them positioned correctly on the floor because they will be able to see their name. If they can't yet read, half a smiley face works also.
- When helping your child to dress always begin with their dominant side "step in with your right foot, slide your right arm through the sleeve".
- Try buying your kids shoes with flowers or characters such as Spiderman or Dora - they can be helpful for reinforcing the concept. Explain that the character must be on the outside to 'see what is happening in the world' and if they are on the inside they are on the wrong foot. Generally children cannot use the feel of their shoes as a reminder and many parents report that their children happily wear their shoes on the wrong feet.
- For children who are in kindergarten and still struggling to learn their left from right you can introduce the familiar trick of using their hands. Have children place their hands palm down in front of them with the thumbs touching. The left hand looks like the letter "L" and explain this reminds them it is a left.
- Body features. Children who are older may have a freckle, mole or scar on a side of their body. Many adults recall this is useful in reminding them of their left and right side. Children find this useful as it involves their body and a powerful reminder.
- Finally many children are now learning left and right from listening to the GPS in their parent's cars. The familiar "turn right in 100m" followed by the reinforcement of the car turning right assists in learning this concept.
Learning left from right is a confusing concept which requires repetition and patience from the teacher. Always use your own body to demonstrate and stand next to them rather than opposite. Finally remember to identify their dominant side and introduce this term first.