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Confessions of a Left-brained Mom

Pamela Gates, CLS

There she was, my 8-year-old daughter, crying at the table with her phonics workbook in front of her. This was becoming an all-too-familiar scene. I thought, "What am I doing wrong?" I loved being a homeschool mom, but schooling should not be this hard!

But my other kids learned this way
As a mother of six, I had learned to be efficient at assigning independent learning times. My older boys (11 and 9), learned to read so easily using the regular curriculum. They breezed through the phonics games. Completing their workbook assignments was not a challenge for them. Checking off each assignment from their daily list was something that gave them a sense of completion. Oral instructions were no problem, and their spelling words were learned by using the spelling curriculum and writing each word multiple times. I thought that this homeschooling was actually pretty easy!
However, none of this worked for my daughter. "Slower, louder" and more repetitions didn't help. In fact, it just seemed to make her feel like she was dumb. What to do? It was obvious that I needed to find alternative teaching methods for her. But what methods? I'm about as left-brained as they come. (Schedules, rules, auditory instructions, lists, etc., are my friends.) I like sticking with what I'm comfortable doing – what I've always done – NOT looking outside of the box.

I sought help
I began asking other homeschool moms if they had any suggestions. Dianne Craft's name came up as a specialist who works with struggling learners. I made an appointment. I watched and learned as Dianne worked with my daughter. At age eight, she still did not know all of the letters in her name. To give her an immediate boost in her confidence, Dianne wrote her name on a card with colored markers, adding picture and story on the letters to "jazz them up". To help her access her photographic memory, she held the card up high and had her take a picture of it with her "camera". She liked this new process of learning. Remarkably, she was able to spell her name forward and backward in less than a minute.

A grin appeared!

My daughter was a non-reader, despite hours of phonics games and sight word memorization. The words continued to be brand new every time she saw them. Dianne showed me how to teach her sight words using the whole new method of embedding color and picture on the words. She started with my daughter's hardest word, "the". Using this embedding technique, my daughter was able to read the word and spell it within a couple of minutes. By the end of this short session, she was able to read eleven new words and actually read a simple story from a book.

The grin got wider!

Tackling phonics using a whole new method was the next step. In teaching phonics once again, the sound and letter were superimposed on one another, so the brain could learn it as a "unit". By employing her photographic, visual memory and bypassing her weaker auditory memory, my daughter was able to learn and retain many phonics combinations in one short afternoon. She experienced the instant success that had eluded her before. Dianne explained, "We are simply accessing the smart part of her brain."

I knew the grin was here to stay.

Is my child a Right-Brained Learner?
Why did this process work? Dianne called this new teaching process I was learning, "Right Brain Learning Strategies". The right brain is where the long term memory storage is. It learns best with color, picture, story, and emotion. This way of teaching is often thought of as the "universal learning method". That means that when "Plan A" (more left-brained, black and white, rules, repetition, workbooks) don't work with a child, then "Plan B", the more right brain (visual, color, picture story, emotion) method always works. Does that mean that my daughter is a right brain learner? Not necessarily. It could mean that her auditory processing problem was blocking her normal method of learning. Then, this more visual approach is what moves her past this learning block.

A common question we hear from parents is, "Will I have to do this forever?" As your child begins to understand how well these simple strategies work for her, she will use them on her own. In fact, the more she develops her photographic memory, the more she will be able to "see" black and white information in her head. I found that my other children enjoyed right brain strategies because they were more fun. In fact my second daughter found that by adding color, picture, and emotion to her class notes in her college courses, she did better in tests. She said her friends questioned her about it at first, until they realized she was getting high marks, spending a fraction of the time they were spending studying their copious written notes. A picture really is worth a thousand words! (For a copy of these notes, put "Nicole's Psychology Notes" in the subject line of an email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Think "Opposite"
This new way of thinking about learning is stretching, to say the least, for a more Left-Brained mom. How do you do it? One of the best ways of adopting the use of these new (and strange) teaching strategies is by thinking "opposite" of the teaching strategies you have been using. For example:

  • Think color embedded in words vs. black and white words.
  • Think discussion vs. workbook writing.
  • Think colored stick figures vs. oral instructions.
  • Think embedding picture, story, and emotion vs. memorizing rules.
  • Think picture notes vs. studying written notes for a test.

I had to train myself to ALWAYS have a colored marker in my hand when I was teaching. Words from my mouth were not working. I had to remember to draw what I was saying whenever possible. White boards everywhere! I am not an artist in any sense of the word. I found that when my children laughed at my "abstract" art, it just made things stick better!

Results: Priceless!
This paradigm shift was uncomfortable for me. But I quickly became addicted to my daughter's new-found enthusiasm. It is wonderful to hear from parents who tell us that their child is now asking for the next spelling word: "Give me something really hard, Mom!" Or, "I'm so smart!" Or, "Can I read more?" I saw my sad, discouraged little girl become a happy, confident, successful learner. When she was eight, I wondered if college would be an option for her. She recently graduated summa cum laude and is currently attending graduate school.

We all know that in many ways, homeschooling requires us to brave. It may be time to bravely move from Plan A to Plan B!

Homeschool with No Regrets
The Arts of Language