Thursday, September 09, 2010

Right brain, Left brain

All is well. I have approximately 7 more weeks before the next baby arrives. We are on schedule with the schooling. And if I want a working dishwasher in the near future we will be doing some much needed work in the kitchen in the immediate future. So the battle between order and chaos continues.

In the meantime, Tim and I are still trying to think ahead to the next step in homeschooling, so that it doesn't sneak up on us and take us unprepared. Two things we have been considering are first, what kind of physical activity do we need to get our kids into so that they don't turn into blobs, and second, what kind of art do we need to teach. As a result we are keeping our eyes open and asking for advice from those we know. Tim's brother suggested some art books to help with teaching drawing. They are "Rapid Viz" by Hanks & Belliston, and "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. We've taken a look at them and think that these books will be helpful, but to do it right, we will need to learn the techniques ourselves to be effective teachers of them. So we are starting now (particularly Tim) in working through the lessons and exercises so that next year we will be better able to teach them.

Each book has a different slant. Rapid Viz teaches methods to take ideas and to quickly get them on paper using perspective and other technical skills. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is about teaching a person to better control which part of the brain is doing the artwork. It talks a great deal about what the left brain does and is good at, and what the right brain does and is good at. Reading through this information has helped to explain some things going on with us and our kids that we thought puzzling. It turns out understanding left and right brain function can be helpful in education.

OK, that's not really a huge surprise. But, until you actually learn what the left and right brain functions are you miss a really big piece of the puzzle. For instance, I knew that my two daughters seem to operate and think completely differently. I chalked this up to personality and individualism. But, now I see a left brain, right brain element at work that I had not realized before. And although I see it as useless alter a person's personality to educated them, I can evaluate whether they are operating more left brain or more right brain and tailor instruction to meet them where they are. Personalities are tricky and complicated. brain function is quantifiable and much easier to adapt to.

So what have we learned about left brain and right brain you might ask? Well, many of these things we knew in some fashion. Left brain is where language use takes place. Left brain is where logical methods of thinking take place. Left brain thinking is orderly. Right brain is more comfortable with symbolic understanding, intuition, and chaotic thinking processes. What I didn't realize so much is that the left brain likes to be the boss of the two and tries to take over even when the right brain is better able to handle the task at hand. Also, some people have a more shared way they use their left and right brains. The more we read the more we realized that although I am very left brained (no surprise there), Tim actually is one of those people that has a left-right sharing going on in the brain.

Then that got us thinking about our kids. Are they lefties, righties, or shared as far as brain function goes? The Pillowfight Fairy shows strong signs of being a left brained kid, a bit like her Mom (puzzling since she's so much like her Dad). The Adrenaline Junkie shows strong signs of being either right brained or shared like her Dad (even though she's much like her Mom in other ways). We are not sure about the Happy Boy yet. It is easier to tell when they are older. It helps if they read and write some, as well as some other older kid things, to be able to diagnose how their brains are functioning.

So now we understand better why our oldest kid does so well with language, prefers routine, and gets upset when she is asked to try something different or learn something new. Now we understand better why our second kid has more trouble recognizing patterns, can't stand to write a letter of the alphabet the same way twice, gets more confused about her left and right, and likes to move about and experience her learning, rather than hearing, or reading it. So now that we know where their strengths lie, it is tempting to just keep to those strengths. However, we need to help them overcome weaknesses too. If we just right them off as left brained or right brained, without helping them to compensate for their weak areas, we are not doing them favors. So a left brained kid can learn easily in left brained ways. But we will also have to do things to teach her how to access her right brain for some useful skills in life. A right brained kid can be very creative and intuitive, but will encounter lots of bumps and road blocks in life if she can't learn to maneuver in a world set up for left brained people.

We are already helping the left brain side of learning with our emphasis on rigorous academics in language arts, mathematics, science, history, and religion. I like to think that we are also already helping some development for the right side of the brain with teaching music and art. But even so, you can teach mathematics in left brained ways (pattern matching, counting, logic) or right brained ways (spatial perception, symbolic representation, role playing). You can teach music and art in left brained ways as well (scales, notation, perspective). So is it better to teach these subjects only to the student's strengths, avoid the strengths and work on the weaker area, or a little of both? I am currently of the opinion that you start with strengths when you can, but don't completely leave out areas where they function in a weaker mode. We may start to teach drawing from a more left brained method for a left brained kid (like perspective) and then later teach some right brained methods after progress and success has been gained the other way. We may teach dance and music appreciation to a right brained kid first, and then move on to mechanics of dance and musicals instruments to round out their learning.

It has definitely got us thinking about how we do our teaching. It also explains a lot of things that just seemed strange. Like how our Adrenaline Junkie who has trouble remembering which hand to use in playing the piano will suddenly break down and weep at the piano, not because of the mechanics of playing the piano, but because the song is so sad (in a minor key). She has a feel for the music that her older sister, who masters the mechanics more easily, misses.

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