An Introduction to the Creative, Right-Brained Learner

“She’s smart, but lazy.” “He’s living below his potential.” These are some of the comments a parent of a right-brained learner may hear about their child in regard to their learning process. This creative learner is often later in developing the areas of reading, math computation, spelling, handwriting, and writing. But, there are reasons for this timing in the development of these areas based on their strengths and how they learn and process information. And there are reasons we subconsciously place judgments upon these children and how they learn.

Mass institutions of education teach in a left-brained fashion. They use such formats as sequential scope and sequence resources, short-term memorization, part to whole “show me” steps, and verbal-based written work. There is nothing inherently wrong with this process, as there are a group of people who function best with this style, but there is an equal group of people who learn in an exact opposite manner. Right-brained people learn best with random interest-based resources, long-term association, whole to part conceptual formats, and visual pictorial mental work. Because our schooling systems are “no fault zones”, they are prone to labeling these children who learn differently than they instruct as descriptives shared at the beginning of this post at best, or disordered, broken, or learning disabled at worse.

Because most of us were schooled in a mass production process, we often start with that style and timing in our homeschools. If we have right-brained children, we will soon run up against a wall of resistance to our methods of teaching. Creative children love to learn; hate to be taught. That often begins with the understanding that we are not teaching in the way that they learn. We are using left-brained methods on a right-brained child. Because our population as a whole has been schooled in this fashion, our society values left-brained traits. We have been deeply conditioned to believe the left-brained scope and sequence is “normal” and everything outside of that forum is “wrong”. This is simply not true, and the first line of defense is questioning our conditioned value system of learning.

Right-brained learners are the most labeled children in our mass educational system. There are a plethora of labels that often overlap as professionals scramble to justify the discrepancy between these intelligent and creative children and their inability to perform to the expectations of their setting. There are experts who recognize the mismatch of learning environments such as Thomas Armstrong, Mel Levine, Linda Kreger Silverman, Jeffrey Freed, and more. The institution is too unwieldy to change its course, but the family can save its own through homeschooling. However, to capitalize on the benefits of individualization, parents must be ready to deschool themselves from their conditioning and learn better information about how people learn and gift that to their children in their home learning environment.

What is some of this better information regarding the right-brained learning style? There are two universal gifts to be found in these learners: an extraordinary imagination and thinking in three-dimensional pictures. (Each creative person will also seek out the development of one or more of these creative gifts: art/drawing, computers/video games, theater/showmanship, fashion/sewing, music/dance, building/Legos, math/numbers, puzzles/mazes, but we won’t be going into this area in this post.) So many children begin with the ability to be imaginative, but you will notice a higher level with a creative learner. This can come through their imaginative play with toys or in extensive role-playing. This learner is more prone to imaginary friends and can often have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality in their early years.

But it is their three-dimensional pictorial thinking that is a base for developing certain subjects later. I asked one of my right-brained sons what he sees in his brain, and he replied, “It’s better than the best three-dimensional computer software available. It’s more like the holodex in Star Trek where you can place yourself in the setting, yet still view it from any angle. It’s as if you’re really there. It’s better than any movie.” Up until the ages of 8-10 years, the right-brained learner is amassing a library of pictorial images in their brain’s filing system. These are three dimensional images, able to be seen from all angles. Their brain is wired to send messages to their eyes to view everything from a three-dimensional vantage point.

Let me take the example of learning to read in the context of the attributes of a creative learner. Reading words in a book is both a two-dimensional action as well as a symbolic one. Letters are symbols; numbers are symbols. It is what we created to communicate with one another. But the letters combined to create “d-o-g” actually represents a three dimensional real object. When a right-brained child learns to read, he will translate every word into a picture. If the time for gathering these images has been valued, it will ease the process of learning to read for these children. However, the timing for when the brain of this creative learner is ready to shift from three dimensional viewing to two dimensional viewing is between 8-10 years of age. If she is asked to view symbolic, two-dimensional work before this shift occurs, struggles will result as the images may float and move, appear backward then forward (because three-dimensionality can see all angles), and even blur.

This is just the tip of the iceberg about the relationship between the right-brained learning style and the process of learning to read. Some other important attributes include: a preference to learn whole to part which translates to using a sight word base first and then adding phonics behind, needing to translate every word into a picture which means that many of those so called important Dolch words will be the last to be learned because words such as “the” or “is” do not have pictures, the act of visualizing is the crux of why a right-brained learner can have high comprehension and these learners skim across the top of words to “catch the visual” in order to accomplish this instead of bogging down in the semantics of reading every single word, and this is why they are better silent readers than ones who read aloud.

Another area of conditioning that has to be scrutinized and reworked in our minds in order to give it value is how we view the resources used in order to become a reader. This includes two major areas: meaningful and interesting reading material and highly visual material. So much in the reading program arenas are dry and stilted material barely bordering on a storyline. Because reading is all about the visualization for the right-brained person, there is nothing to capture the imaginations of these highly creative learners to entice their efforts. Further, many reading programs separate the learning of words from the context of reading. Because right-brained learners are whole to part people, they want to capture the big picture and use context to do so. Separating words from context cripples their learning process. My right-brained son’s first effort at reading was “The Lost World”, an adult novel. He was reading this book within weeks of getting just the basics of reading down, so I asked him, “Are you understanding that book?” in which he replied, “Enough.” And, that’s often all that is required while they are in the pre-fluency stage.

Which leads me to the other area that we need to learn to value: The types of reading materials our creative learners most gravitate to while they are in the pre-fluency stage (somewhere after they begin to read, so still around 9-11 years of age) are highly visual materials such as comic books, magazines, manga. Why? Remember, the most important aspect to their reading is “catching the visual”. If they have to master the semantics of reading AND catch the visual, it is difficult to do because there has to be a certain level of fluency to catch that visual. So, if you read material that already has the visual captured for you, then you can concentrate on the semantics! This is also why our creative learners still want you to read aloud to them or bring in books on tape. It’s simply another way for them to catch the visual before reading the material themselves so that they can concentrate on working out the semantics of reading the words.

If any of these processes are interfered with or not valued, you could have a resistant learner on your hands. Creative learners are often highly sensitive as well as perfectionistic. They like to watch, then do it well the first time. If there has been any “testing” through either asking them to read aloud during pre-fluency (where they may not be picking up every word just right yet) or asking them questions without allowing them to use their best strategies (like visual materials to help catch the visual) or making them “sound out” words (which bogs them down in the semantics), you may have a resistant creative learner. The best way to counter these roadblocks is to learn about and understand the traits of a creative learner and their process and to give it value in your homeschools. We must hold up our conditioned reactions to how our children learn and investigate the source of that information. Does it hold up to Truth?

With this new and better information about how our child learns and processes information, we become more confident in countering those comments that come from various sources as I mentioned at the very beginning of this post. We understand why our child learns in the manner he learns. We value the timeframe of how our child comes to various subjects and what is “normal” for their learning style. You’re wondering why my child isn’t reading yet and he’s 8? Sit down a spell and let me tell you all about what I’ve discovered and observed about these amazing learners. I’ve never had a person come and ask me again!