Teaching laterality, or the internal awareness of the left and right sides of the body, is an important first step before teaching children to distinguish left and right on objects such as shoes. Make sure to sit or stand next to your child rather than across from them when teaching and use your own body to demonstrate. Left/right discrimination is a difficult concept to learn and can require many repetitions; it is generally mastered by the age of five or six (although some adults I know still struggle with it). Here are some ideas to help your child learn left and right:
1. Start with your child’s dominant side and teach her that it’s her left or right side. When kids are right-handed I like to say, “You write with your right.”
2. After reinforcing whether a child’s dominant hand is left or right, put a stamp or washable tattoo on his dominant hand or have him wear a bracelet on his dominant arm to help him remember.
3. Hold your child’s dominant hand when you cross the street and tell her you’re going to hold her left/right hand.
4. Do the Hokey Pokey to help teach left and right and develop muscle memory.
5. Teach your child to dress beginning with his dominant side. Give verbal cues such as, “Put your right arm through the sleeve.”
6. Write the first half of your child’s name in her left shoe and the second half in her right shoe. When her shoes are positioned on the floor she can see her name.
7. Have your child hold his hands in front of him with his fingers straight out and thumbs toward the middle (see photo above). Show him how his left-hand looks like the capital letter L, which is for left; therefore, the other hand is the right.
8. Play games such as Simon Says, Twister, and Left Center Right to reinforce left/right concepts.
10. Incorporate left/right concepts during walks by having your child tell you which way she is turning. Likewise, the concept can be reinforced while driving and listening to GPS directions “turn left in 500 feet.” The car turning left then reinforces the direction.
11. Do sorting activities in which your child has to place one type of object on a paper placed on his left and another type of object on the paper to his right.
12. Once your child has mastered left/right on her own body, have her trace, cut out, decorate, and label her paper hands left and right. Make your own set of paper hands. Stand across from your child and shake paper hands using either your right or left paper hands. This is a playful way to begin teaching the concept of mirrored left/right.
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