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Right Brain Math

By Dianne Craft

In the animal kingdom 50 percent of the animals are “right paw dominant” and 50 percent are “left paw dominant.” This has been observed when animals press a lever to get more food or water.

Human beings are 50 percent right brain dominant, and 50 percent left brain dominant, regardless of hand dominance. As we know, the majority of school curriculum and teaching methods are taught in a left brain manner. This is particularly true of math curriculum.

Left brain dominant children learn their math facts easily by repeating them orally, practicing them in timed tests, and working with flash cards. This is the sequential way that works for the left brain, auditory learner. The right brain dominant child, however, likes and often requires a different approach both to memorizing facts, and performing calculation procedures. Let’s look at a model of the brain with its specialization of hemispheres:


black & white
data only



whole picture
rhythm, pictures


As we can see, the left and right hemispheres learn in a completely different manner. Many times a right brain child can learn left brain presented material. It’s just easier for him to learn it in his style, so more energy is left to learn other things. Some children, because of a slight learning “glitch” need to have most things presented to them in their dominant learning mode in order to effectively store things in their memory.

When first- and second-graders learn how to add and subtract, they are frequently given manipulatives to aid them in understanding the concepts. Frequently, however, manipulatives are used longer than necessary and become a crutch, so that rapid calculation is unobtainable. Fingers replace the manipulatives, and continue to slow down the process of quick adding and subtracting.

When a right brain child is presented with flash cards to help with the memorization process, frustration sets in. There are several methods that will serve to speed these processes immensely. One is the old-fashioned method know as “Touch Math.” In this method, the number visually shows the quantity it represents.

For example, the number five has five dots drawn on it. When the child adds 7+5 he says the 7 and touches the dots on the 5, saying “eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve,” as he does so. This eliminates the need to put down the pencil, and count fingers, which greatly slows things down. After this is successfully completed, the next step is to take a mental “picture” of the five with the dots on it, so the counting can be done with the eyes, instead of touching the dots with a pencil. This also leads to being able to do mental math, adding numbers quickly without the need for pencil, paper or fingers.

To learn the number facts using flashcards, since the right brain child learns best when he sees the “whole picture,” put the answer on the front of the flashcard, preferably in color. Then have him look up at it, just as he does to learn his spelling words. With the answer on the front, (which left-brainers tend to think of as cheating), the child learns to see the problem with the answer, so that when just the problem is presented, in his mind’s eye he can still see the answer, usually in the color you originally had it.

You can also place the adding fact on a triangle, putting 13 on the top of the triangle, with the 8+5 on each corner. Place this up high, so the child has to look up at it, further stimulating his right brain visual memory. Thus, when the child sees a 13 and a 5, he knows the 8 is missing. Adding and subtracting can be taught in one step, using this method.

Multiplication fact memorization can be a real source of frustration for a right-brainer, and can keep him from going on to more difficult math because of this block. These facts can actually be very easy to learn, when using a right brain friendly method. Right-brainers learn anything easier when emotion, color, or stories are added to the learning method.

For example, when learning the math fact, 8x3=24, a picture story could be made, creating the number 8 as an eighth-grader who has to baby-sit the neighbor’s 3-year-old while they go out for just an hour. He thinks he’s too old to baby-sit, and besides, this 3-year-old is a naughty little boy who doesn’t listen to anybody.

Put “hands” on the “hips” of the number 8, representing his indignation at the whole idea. When he goes to baby-sit the 3-year-old, he jumps on the couch the whole time. Sketch a couch on which the number three is jumping, represented by lines going up. The eighth-grader looks through the window on the door, and sees the “mom and dad,” 24, walking up. The number 2 is dad, with a hat on, and number 4 is mom with a purse hanging from her “arm.” He knows he’s going to be in trouble because the 3-year-old was jumping on the couch the whole time.

If you draw the picture while telling the story, it’s like “chalk talk” and makes a lasting impression on the child. You will find that with the combination of an emotion-filled story, and the pictures, he will remember it easily.

Then put the 24 in a division box, with the 8 on the outside. They immediately know which one is missing. Do this same process putting the 24 in the division box with the 3 on the outside, and they will know that the 8 is missing, because of the story. Thus you have taught the multiplication fact, and division fact at the same time.

You can either make up your own emotion-filled stories and pictures for the facts that your child is having difficulty memorizing, or you can order them ready-made. For ready-made multiplication cards with stories and color, go to the website

Since the right brain is also responsible for long-term memory, you will find that you won't have to re-teach the facts, as you have done before. Many homeschoolers tell me that their child learned the multiplication facts in a week, after struggling for years to memorize them. I know that God will bless you as you search for ways to make learning easier and more enjoyable for all of your children.

Dianne has a private consultation practice, Child Diagnostics, Inc. in Littleton, CO, in which she helps parents and children find the reason for a child’s learning or behavior problem. She trains the parent how to help the child overcome the problem areas. Read more articles on her website:

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