Kids with right-brain characteristics have hit the jackpot when it comes to homeschooling! Although students with a right-brain orientation often struggle in traditional school environments, homeschooling provides the perfect flexibility and individualization to help these children shine! Previous articles (such as “Is Your Child Right-Brain Oriented?”) addressed the differences between children with a right- or left-brained orientation, as well as ways to determine whether your own child has right-brain characteristics. “Right-Brained Math” and “More Right-Brained Math Ideas” explore specific techniques and strategies to help these learners be successful in math.
But what about reading?
It is not uncommon for children with right-brain characteristics to struggle with reading, particularly with phonics. For example, research by the National Institute of Mental Health found that dyslexic subjects relied more upon the right hemisphere of the brain when reading, while non-dyslexic readers utilize more systems in the left hemisphere of the brain. The research also indicated that traditional reading strategies such as phonetic decoding may not be effective for dyslexic individuals. Whether or not dyslexia is an issue for your child, right-brain oriented learners learn to read differently from left-brained students. Right-brained students tend to learn whole-to-part rather than part-to-whole, meaning that they use more of a “sight word” approach to reading than a phonics approach, and they process written word contextually rather than sequentially. Whereas a left-brained child will systematically read each word in a given passage in an orderly fashion and gain understanding of the passage through putting together each word to build meaning, a right-brained child will process multiple words and sentences together as a whole (or in holistic chunks), searching for contextual clues and forming a mental picture for the meaning of those words and sentences.
Because they are holistic and visually oriented, right-brain oriented kids tend to learn more difficult, visual words before simple words (such as “the”, “and”, “in”, etc). They also tend to want to learn by reading “real”, meaningful books rather than readers or phonics exercises; books that are of interest to them. It is not uncommon for these learners to not be ready for reading until later than the traditional reading age of 5 or 6 – often not until age 8 or 10 (particularly boys). Although this delayed approach is eschewed in traditional school settings, it can be a tremendous advantage for homeschooled right-brained learners. For those homeschoolers concerned with the idea of waiting on reading: A ground-breaking recent study by the University of Otago found no statistical differences between the reading abilities of early readers (reading by age 5) and late readers (age 7 or later) by age 11. Reviews of additional research on the benefits of delaying instruction until the child is ready can be found at Christopherus Homeschool Resources. More information on the delayed reading/schooling approach can also be found at the Moore Foundation.
Right-brain oriented children generally read from an overview perspective – they look at the global picture of what they are reading to get the overall context. This means they will often miss details, skip words or parts of what they are reading, and skim quickly, not wanting to stop and sound out words. Once the right-brained student has enough information from the passage to get the overall picture of what is being conveyed, he doesn’t spend time focusing on the “nonessential” details. These students read by forming visual clues in their minds, and they not uncommonly prefer silent reading to reading aloud. Listening to others read, enjoying audio books, and reading familiar material (or material below their reading level) are wonderful ways for right brained kids to build their reading skills even if they do not yet possess strong reading skills on their own. (See research on the effects of parents reading to their children on those kids’ school readiness at Sciencedaily.com).
Strategies for helping children with right-brain characteristics read effectively usually involve the integration of more visual and kinesthetic processes. It is helpful to remember that the three-dimensional cognitive functions for these learners generally mature before two-dimensional ones. Consequently, it is often easy for right-brained children to create meaning from words they hear by visualizing 3-D images in their minds, while it may be difficult for them to translate symbols on a two-dimensional page into meaning. As they mature, and their abilities to process 2-dimensional stimuli increase, reading will naturally become easier. In addition, because they particularly emotionally attuned, it is critical that parents provide a positive, encouraging, supportive learning environment for kids with right-brain characteristics.
Homeschooling provides the perfect opportunity to customize both curricula and strategies to best meet the reading needs of right-brained students. Don’t fight to fit a child with right-brain characteristics into a left-brain oriented world! Homeschoolers have the flexibility to delay teaching, utilize non-traditional techniques, make things hands-on, and create a learning environment which uses, rather than stifles, these kids’ natural creativity, curiosity, and emotional acumen in the process of helping them become competent readers.
Stay tuned for more specific ideas and strategies for helping right-brained students learn to read!