My experiences as a creative person, tutor of children, and teacher of creative writing

Friday, February 10, 2017

Helping Children Learn to Read the Right Way

Lets face it, we live in a culture where left brain skills are valued in our schools, even though the right brained skills of creativity and problem solving are most needed by adults. Most of elementary school is spent in memorizing details and practicing processes. Since most young children learn in a more right brain way through action, pictures, music, and the whole picture, teaching in a left brained manner requires hours of ineffective, boring drill work such as filling in workbook pages. Some children naturally prefer to use their left brain (memorization, numbers, sequencing, listening to lectures). These children are the ones who do well in elementary school. The more gifted a child is physically (athletic), or visually (visual-spacial, creative), the further they will be from the prevalent teaching style of most elementary school teachers. These are the children who will have trouble learning to read. It is not that they are "defective" or "slow", but simply that they are not being taught in the way that they learn. Just as an orange is not a defective apple, these right brained children are not defective left-brained children. The solution is to teach right brained children to read in their natural right brain way.*

This isn't hard, in fact it is fun. It doesn't require special training, just a love for the child and an understanding of the types of learning styles that fit a right brained person.

Most educators consider that there are seven basic styles or ways of learning.

The Seven Learning Styles

  • Visual (spatial):You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study                                                       
In school, children are taught primarily through the Left brained Verbal/linguistic and Logical/mathematical methods. Right brained children learn best through the Visual/spatial, Aural/auditory-musical, and Physical methods. This is why they my seem "slow" in school. They are not slow, but just not being taught in way they learn. It is like being taught math by a teacher who only speaks Chinese. 

Depending on the person, a right or left brained person may prefer social or solitary learning. Some children prefer to learn with peers and others with adults.  They may also vary in the amount of light, noise, and movement that they are comfortable with. (Most children need more movement than they are allowed in the classroom.) Experiment and see what your child prefers, then set up a learning environment that helps them learn. For example, I learn and work best alone, or with one other person in a quiet, beautiful, uncluttered, place by a window (that's where I am writing right now).

Here are some of my suggestions for teaching a right brained child to read. These are my tried and true ideas from over 40 years of reading tutoring, a degree in elementary education, and a lifetime of being a right brained person.  I was the tutor who was called in when the teachers had done all they could do, usually in the last few weeks of school, and I was expected to bring the child up to level before the school year ended. I was always able to help the child to not only be successful in their school work and catch up, but feel good about their abilities and consequently, themselves.  See my post  This post explains that it is far more effective if you allow the child to have a picture of what is happening in the reading; allow them to read in context where the words are part of a whole, part of a thought,  or something they can see in their mind. Teaching isolated sight words is like expecting someone to memorize isolated puzzle pieces. It can be done, but it is very difficult and takes a lot of time. It can also be incredibly frustrating. Yes, the child may not know many words, but read stories they like with them, prompt them, and they will learn to read.

Remember, reading is not just being able to identify an isolated word, but understanding the ideas formed by the words. Allow the child to read and accept that if the child understands what the story is about, they can read. Once I was told that my daughter could not read. I asked why they thought she couldn't read. The resource teacher replied that my daughter could not pass the phonic tests, therefore she could not read. I asked how was her comprehension tests. She replied that they were on her 5th grade level. My reply was that if she understood what was on the page, then she could certainly read. Be careful to go by your good sense (I knew my daughter was enjoying reading the Tolkien series at that time) and not by tests which are designed by left brained teachers and administrators to measure the skills that they value -- their own linguistic memorizing and numerical abilities. One girl I tutored went from below a third grade reading level to a sixth grade reading level in one year, by my reading with her. Context is extremely important in reading, and absolutely essential for right brained learners.

When children are not taught to read the way they learn, they probably will learn to read some, but they will end up hating reading. Though we may have won a battle, we have lost the war. The child may even test ok, but will never know the joy of reading. Not only will the child dislike reading, but school, learning, and even life itself, becoming depressed and defeated. Children cannot be pressed into molds. Here are some ideas for teaching right brained children to read-- their way.


  • use pictures to illustrate stories (picture books); can draw own
  • use word puzzles (put letters together to make a word) puzzles develop and use visual skills
  • cut out the word so they can see its shape
  • draw in color around the shape of the word
  • make associations to aid visual memory; this forms a picture in the mind; rhymes "cat in the hat", build on words they already know such as if they know "at" try to keep rhyming going as a game -- The cat in the hat sat on the mat with a bat. The more silly the image, the more memorable.
  • use color and patterns- have the word be in a color or a part of the word such as at in the cat example to help see  the "at" pattern, use a colored plastic sheet over the reading page; Show that reading is easy. Many words are similar.
  • use games such as having the word on one card and a picture representing that word (tree and a picture of a tree) on the other and allowing the child to match the picture and word(tree and a picture of a tree)  (it makes it more of a game and relaxes the child more if you or other children at his level also play with him); you can also use matching to build vocabulary (match word with it's definition); make it a real game, but make sure they are successful- give hints), you can also do this for phonic sounds and matching pictures with that sound (One father was upset because I just "played games" with his son whom I was tutoring because he was behind since he had missed kindergarten. The child was tested and was now competent on all his phonic sounds. The father apologized to me.) There are many wonderful visual games at good toy stores. I made most of my own using magazines, 3x5 cards, and a glue stick. Keep in mind that children learn best when they are relaxed and having fun, so make learning to read fun. Read fun stories and play fun learning games with them.
  • listen to stories while they read it (read with them or can use recorded stories; they have many available in libraries and online)
  • use spelling songs
  • use Nursery Rhymes to help learn language rhythm and rhyme
  • play soft music while reading- may help some to be more relaxed and learn better
  • ring a bell when the new word is seen while reading (let the child ring the bell and say the word)

  • read a story and hold up each new word instead of saying it; have the child act it out; such as "run" and they run in place
  • have the child write over the word in color many times
  • children could do short sketches where they read their simple parts (can be taken from children's stories such as The Billy Goats Gruff)
  • allow the child to use magnetic letters to make their new words; a sentence could be written on a magnetic board leaving out the new words, then the child uses the letters to put in the words
  • use different medias; allow the child to write words in crayon, chalk, pudding, finger paints, in the dirt with a stick
  • read a simple story to the child, but pause when you come to a word the child is studying; allow the child to hold up a card with the right new word on it (prompt if needed; "what word seems to fit; sounds right; makes sense); then continue the story till the next new word
  • allow the child to illustrate stories and even write their own with assistance
These methods are not ways to remediate "slow learners". These are simply the ways some of us always learn. As a person who struggled with learning to read, but later received honors in high school and college, I know I am not "dumb" or "defective". I still struggle with left brain tasks such as spelling, and adding numbers in my head. On the other hand, I soar with right brain creative activities such as writing and problem solving. We are all blessed with many gifts; they just are different. As parents and teachers, it is not our responsibility to "re-mediate" children to conform to our expectations. Instead we need to support each child in developing their own unique potential; their special talent, and consequently, their self esteem. 

For more information on teaching right brained children see: 

Most of my posts deal with understanding and teaching the right brained child.
*Remember that some children are not just right brained, but have other problems which affect their their learning. There are times when you will need the assistance of doctors and other specialists to help your child.