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Child choosing the left or right path

Tips for Teaching Children Left from Right

If you have a child who is getting ready to start kindergarten, you might be wondering how to teach your child left and right. This is a common frustration for many parents, so remember that you are not alone. This is a concept that many parents try to teach during the preschool years; however, many people struggle with this concept even into adulthood.

Child choosing the left or right path

Why is this the case? It is helpful to look at how the brain learns left and right. This concept has been linked to the idea of laterality, or the knowledge that the body has two distinct sides with a line that is separated down the middle. For example, many children learn that their body has to distinct sides separated by a belly button in the middle. 

In order to know if your child is ready to learn left and right, there are a few actions you can look for. These include:

  • Does your child move the arms and legs together as he or she runs?
  • Is your child aware of hand dominance?

These are signs that your child is aware that there are two sides to the body. Normally, this happens around the age of three. Then, your child is ready to learn left and right. If you feel like your child is struggling with this concept, that is okay! Learning this concept takes time, practice, and patience. There are a few ideas that we can propose to help you and your child.

Starting with the Body Parts

While it is important to learn left and right, research has shown that how the concept is taught is more important. Try not to teach the terms together. Instead, use your child’s body, such as his or her hands, as the starting point. Your child should have a hand preference, leg preference, and ear preference. If you are unsure of which side your child prefers, there are a few strategies. These include:

  • Ask your child to draw something. The hand they use will indicate hand preference.
  • Ask your child to cross his or her legs. The leg on top is the dominant leg.
  • Give your child a shell and ask them to listen to it. The ear they raise it to is the dominant ear.

As your child goes through these exercises, teach him or her left and right by simply saying the words “right hand” and “left leg, “ etc. Then, you can expand to other activities.

Basic Activities to Teach Left and Right

There are a few activities that you can perform with your child to teach him or her left and right. Some of these ideas include:

  • Songs: A great idea to introduce the concept of left and right is to sing a song. For example, the Hokey Pokey is a fun place to start. This will have your child singing and dancing using the body parts we discussed in the previous section. This will help your child develop muscle memory, which is an important concept in learning left and right.
  • Wrestling: If you like to engage in horseplay with your child, then this one is for you! Ask your child to raise an arm or leg and squeeze or tickle underneath! Try to stick to one side and your child will probably learn the name or that side of the body. As your wrestle with your child, get them to practice saying body parts with the proper laterality.
  • Crossing the Street: Finally, as you walk around town with your child, you probably hold their hand. Before doing so, say “I’m going to hold your right hand” or “I’m going to hold your left hand.” Then, squeeze the hand. Your child will form a connection between the squeeze, the hand, and the words. This will help him or her learn left and right.

These are a few of the basic activities that you can perform to help your child learn left and right. As your child develops more motor skills, you can expand these exercises to include several other activities.

Left and Right Activities for Kinesthetic Learners

Many young children are kinesthetic learners. This means that they learn by doing and touching. Therefore, solidifying the concept and left and right should involve movement, touch, and feel for children. There are a few ways that you can incorporate this concept into their daily routine. These include:

Dressing and Undressing in the Morning and Evening: As your child gets closer to starting kindergarten, he or she is going to become more independent. Your child will probably want to dress and undress on his or her own. Use this to teach left and right, particularly when it comes to shoes. Write half of your child’s name in the left shoe and the other half in the right. If your child has her or her shoes on correctly, they will see their name. This will help them learn which shoe goes on which foot while also teaching left and right.

In addition, as your child gets dressed, have them start with their dominant side. “Put your right arm in the shirt first, then left.” This is another way to get your child to learn left and right.

Use the Hands to Your Advantage: This is another easy kinesthetic activity to help your child learn left and right, particularly if they forget from time to time. Ask your child to place their hands with their palms down. Have them extend their fingers. Then, ask them to touch their thumbs together. The left hand is going to make the letter L, which stands for left. This can help them remember if they forget from time to time.

Unique Body Features: If your child has a mole, freckle, or scar on a single side of the body, use this to help the child remember which side is which. Many kids find this distinguishing feature useful because it is always a part of them. For example, if your child as a freckle on the right side of the face, this can serve as a reminder of which side is right.

Use the GPS: A surprising number of children are learning left and right by listening to the GPS in the car. For example, the GPS might say “turn right in 200 feet” or “left turn ahead.” Then, the car will turn that direction. If your child pays attention during the ride, ask him or her to point in the direction the car is turning. The hand they use will match to the left or right turn, reinforcing the concept.

These are a few helpful kinesthetic activities that will help children learn to distinguish left and right. Put these to the test for your child.

Patience and Persistence

Learning left and right is important for children who are going into kindergarten because this is a critical part of following directions. If you or your child get frustrated learning this activity, remember that this is normal! You are not alone and your child can learn left and right as well. Try to reinforce this concept on a daily basis using these activities. Consistency is key for young children mastering new concepts.

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