Right Brain? Left Brain? Does It Really Matter?

When my husband and I were first married, for some reason, we got into a debate about how we each saw the passage of time. He saw it as a linear line of calendar pages that tore themselves off as each day passed. I saw time as a huge spiral taking up immense space with each year a spiral, and each calendar day a spiraling path that tilted and spun its way through the universe.  We tried to convince the other they were wrong and that our way was the “right” way. Seems silly now, but what we didn’t know is we were giving each other a glimpse of how differently our brains worked. Years later, as I was struggling with the learning challenges my children had, I discovered brain science.  It was a light in a dark closet!

Our brains have 2 hemispheres and each is used for different tasks. The left brain is more linear and task oriented. The right brain is more artsy and creative. All of us use both sides, but we tend to use one more than the other.

So how do you know which one you are?  Does it matter? It does, especially with learning. What works for a right brain learner, won’t for a left brain learner and vis versa. Here are some differences:

Auditory/ Sequential Learners (left brain)

  • Think in words
  • Excel at rote memorization
  • May need repetition to reinforce learning
  • Is a step by step learner
  • Auditory
  • Is well organized
  • Learns by trial and error
  • Analytical thinker
  • Attends well to details

Visual/Spatial Learner (right brain)

  • Thinks primarily in pictures
  • Has visual strengths
  • Relates well to space
  • Is a whole to part learner
  • Learns concepts all at once
  • Is a good synthesizer of information
  • Sees the big picture; may miss details
  • Creates unique methods of organizations
  •  Learns concepts permanently; doesn’t learn by drill and repetition

There are also whole brain people who use both sides easily but they tend to lean either left or right.

The breakdown of averages is 25% of people are strongly Auditory/ Sequential (left brain),  33.33 are strongly Visual/ Spatial (right brain) and 41.67%  use both hemispheres with 30% leaning V/S and 15% leaning A/S.

This has a huge impact on how each person learns (adults included). As homeschool moms we need to ask the question, are we setting our kids up to fail without even knowing it?

The typical public school is set up for left brain students with lectures, drills and workbooks. These work well for this type of learner, but not for a right brain student. They need hands-on and experimental activities such as building models , measuring things, performing science experiments and going on field trips.  These are perfect for a homeschool classroom.

It has been my un-scientific experience that most kids who are pulled out of public school because they are not doing well are right brain kids who struggle with left brain teaching methods. With the flexibility of homeschool we can meet the needs of our kids by choosing methods that cater to their learning style. Here are a few quick examples to get you started.

  1. As stated earlier, this type of learner needs lots of messy hands on experiences. What they see and do they remember forever.
  2. Since a right brain person sees primarily in pictures, having them explain things can be a challenge.  And this also makes writing more difficult. It’s hard to change pictures into words and back again. This is also why your child may give you detail after detail when they are telling you a story. That is what they see! This can be frustrating when all you want is a quick answer.  You may need to work with them to help them see what details need to be shared and which ones don’t.
  3. Another challenge with seeing things in words instead of pictures is that a right brain child can think faster than someone who thinks in words. They see things in their mind like a movie, so they can process information very rapidly and thus see all the possible answers to a problem. I remember when my 3rd grade daughter was taking a standardized test for the first time. The testing center called me to come get her after about 30 minutes because she was in tears. I was sure it was the stress of trying to read the test. No, as she said in tears, “Mom, all the answers could have been right. It just depends on who was asking the question!”  Ahh! Yes, a new test taking skill I need to teach!
  4. An added quandary to being able to solve problems quickly, is that once they have solved the problem they cannot always remember the steps they took to get the answer. This can be a difficulty when they have to show their work. They really can’t.  It happened too fast.
  5. When teaching concepts to right brain children you will need to show them what the big picture is. If you want them to build a puzzle, they have to see what the puzzle looks like when finished. The little pieces don’t mean anything unless they are connected to the whole. If you want them to clean their room, they have to see what a clean room looks like or their version of a clean will differ greatly from yours!
  6. This is especially important in teaching algebra. Algebra, by its very nature is abstract. It is very difficult for right brain children to understand algebra because it is taught in tiny pieces that build on one another, but if they can’t see the point of what the steps are they will never remember them. They remember in pictures. They have to see it to remember it. Manipulative can help.
  7. This takes us to the next point. When you have a list of instructions that you want your child to do, help them see what you want them to do. Want them to go get the mail, leave it on the desk, then let out the dog? Go through the list slowly, having them visualize each step. Once it is in their head as a picture, they won’t forget! This applies to anything you want them to remember long term, spelling words, poems, scriptures, math formulas, etc.
  8. And finally, right brain children (and adults) have a hard time with the concept of time. Left brain people can tell you they have been sitting there for 10 minutes without looking at the clock. Not so for right brain children. This can make school last forever because they will dawdle over everything. Time means very little. But events mean a lot! Timers and motivators to finish a project are a must!
  9. This same disregard for time makes shifting activities difficult.  They hyper- focus on an activity and have a hard time breaking that tie and moving on to something else. Letting them know they have 5 minutes then they need to stop helps them refocus. Also, when they start the next activity it may take a few minutes for them to get focused again.

These are just a few of the things you can do to help the right brain child in your life.  These children are creative, energetic, thoughtful and fun! School will never be boring teaching them!  They know how to add a spice to life if we will just let them.

There is no “better than” side of the brain. The Steve Jobs of the world (right brain) can see the big picture of where we need to go, but it is his left brain colleagues who see the details on how to mass produce that vision! We couldn’t live without both!

Next time we will talk about time management for right brain people!


Right- Brained Children in a Left- Brained World, Jeffery Freed and Laurie Parsons

Visual Spatial Learner