Left-Brain Schools in a Right-Brain World: Lack of Play in Schools, Rise in Learning Delays
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I need you to start by imagining the following scene: A paintbrush scratches across the canvas, staining deep blue waves in its wake. The scent of paint hangs thick in the air, coating the painter’s nose and lungs with its familiar chemicals. She reaches over her shoulder, grasping at an itch and leaving a smear of white fingerprints on the already paint-caked t-shirt. Do you have a good picture yet? Maybe add in a few of your own details. Is the water in the painting a lake with a rocky shore or an ocean with a lighthouse on the seaside cliffs? It’s only a short glimpse, but it’s significant. Why? Because in describing that picture and asking you to imagine it, I have stimulated the right hemisphere, or side, in my brain, your brain and the brain of my fictional artist.
The right brain plays a key role in development and intelligence. It’s so important that it has been sited as a key player in the genius in none other than Albert Einstein, the man whose name has been coined to mean intelligence.
To talk about the importance of the right brain, we first need to understand how it develops. Dr. Jean Ayres said, “The brain is primarily a sensory processing machine. This means that it senses things and gets meaning directly from sensations.”
During the first seven years of life, with an especially concentrated period of growth starting at age four, the development of the right hemisphere of the brain takes priority and dominates function. This is why our little ones have such active imaginations. During this time, development hinges primarily on sensory-motor input.
It’s just another reason why active play and a sensory-diverse environment are so important. When children spend their time running around, immersing themselves in dirt and play dough, and imagining a world beyond what they can see, the right hemispheres of their brains are learning and developing. And I might add that it’s doing so much more for the brain than if they were sitting down memorizing facts and rules.
I’m going to stimulate your right hemisphere a little further. Imagine for me your best image of a brain with all its grey squiggling glory. Then right down the middle runs the straight crevice. This crevice is the dividing line between the right and left hemispheres, or portions, of the brain. As similar as these two sides look in our conjured images, they possess quite different functions.
The left portion is used for more straightforward, logical, or linear patterns of thought. But our right hemisphere is much more complicated. The right brain is known for its role in creation and imagination. It’s the portion of the brain we associate with being dominant in artists and creators. But it does much more. The right hemisphere is responsible for processing emotions, problem solving, critical thinking, spatial orientation, intuition, creating a whole picture out of smaller parts, and processing visually oriented learning.
With the development of the right hemisphere so contingent upon movement and sensory input and a school environment so lacking in that department, it’s not surprising that we have children struggling to develop the skills the right brain provides. Children (adults too) with right-brain delays display a number of signs in several different areas. Behaviorally, they are not very logical and may lack social tact or be straight out antisocial. They tend to be disorganized and late, argumentative, impulsive, obsessive, disinterested or bored, and/or inappropriate.
Emotionally, they exhibit spontaneous outbursts, they worry or experience a lot of anxiety. They may be hard to read as they don’t exhibit very strong body language. They may also present dark and violent thoughts or lack empathy. They may also show a wide range of sensory symptoms associated with hyposensitivity such a high pain tolerance, preferring bland food or being overall picky about eating, and unaware of potent smells. However, they tend to be hypersensitive to sound and touch, preferring to avoid loud areas and touch whether by other people or just clothing. And lastly their motor function may be affected. They tend to be clumsy and fidgety, with poor posture and low muscle tone.
Left-Brain Schools in a Right-Brain World
Schools are tailored for the development of the left hemisphere. In some ways this makes sense. Teachers can test the progress of the left brain strengths better than they can the right brain. And we are still teaching on the format developed a long time ago. In the past, the workforce and society demanded left-brained thinkers. Factory jobs dominated the market and people worked toward a more unified vision of the American Dream. But our world now is different.
People are building their own visions of the American Dream. Our job markets are saturated with jobs that require critical thinking and innovation. Because of this shift in society, we’re bringing up right-brain dominant children and sending them into left-brain dominant schools. Right-brain dominant children thrive on play and movement in order to learn. They sit for long hours in classrooms being force fed facts and ideas for memorization and regurgitation.
When they don’t perform, they’re sent back to us with diagnoses like ADHD, learning challenged, and behaviorally challenged because they don’t learn the way they’re being taught and disrupt when they can’t sit still any longer. The other challenge of this situation is the slew of kids left with underdeveloped right hemispheres. Besides being a sensory machine, the brain is a machine that needs priming. What isn’t used gets tossed for new information. The children who are left-brain dominant also need the boost from their right hemispheres to avoid the unsavory symptoms of right-brain delay.
I spent a good time pointing out the flaws of our left-brain oriented school system, but it’s important to point out that left-brain functioning isn’t all bad. Sally Goddard Blythe says, “Sequences of information like the alphabet or multiplication tables can be memorized easily if they are learned with movement, or put to rhyme, rhythm, or song. The child may not understand the meaning of what it has learned, but the information is stored and available when needed at a later date.” She has a perfect example of incorporating left and right hemisphere tactics for a more integrated approach to learning, which is exactly what we aim for.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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