The Left-Handed Geek Mom (or: The Right-Handed Geek Mom with the Left-Handed Child)

President Obama Signs a Bill Left-Handed

Fact: Left-handed people actually have shorter lifespans and are more likely to die from accidents than right-handed people. (EEK!)

Fact: As many United States presidents since World War II  have been left-handed as have been right-handed. (YAY!)

Fact: You CAN teach your opposite-handed child how to tie her shoes, draw, crochet, peel carrots, or any other motor skill. (REALLY?)

When I was in Kindergarten, I had a Geek Teacher. You know them: they’re the ones who are always learning. After 30-year careers, when many teachers would be resting on their laurels and teaching from lesson plans so old they still smell like purple Dittomaster ink, these crazy educators are not just going to workshops to expand their skills and improve their teaching, they are teaching them as well.

It just so happened that my Geek Kindergarten Teacher, Mrs. Ammon, had spent some serious time and attention on learning how to teach fine motor skills like handwriting to opposite-handed children. Mrs. Ammon was right-handed and was of that “new school” of teachers in the late 70’s and early 80’s that not only believed that left-handed children were NOT of the devil, but that they could be taught to write (and use scissors and other such fine motor skills) just as well as right-handed children. So, when I enrolled in Kindergarten, one of the first things Mrs. Ammon taught was to my Mom and not to me: she taught my right-handed mother how she could teach me various skills (shoe-tying being a big one) with a minimum of tears and heartache. The secret Mrs. Ammon taught us  was that Mom should set herself up as a literal mirror for me, her left-handed child.

Try this exercise at your child’s next playdate or the next time you are surrounded by kids. With all of the children facing you, raise one of your hands and instruct the kids to raise theirs as well. Don’t tell them which hand to raise (that messes up the experiment), just raise one hand. As the kids raise their hands, you will notices that most of them will raise the hand on the same side as your raised hand. Because they are facing you, this means that, if you raise your left hand, the children will raise their right hands: they will mirror your actions.

New teaching workshops on Brain-based Learning tell us that this reaction is the result of what neuroscientists have dubbed “mirror neurons.” Human beings are actually hardwired to repeat certain actions without thought. This is why yawns are contagious: our mirror neurons “see” another person yawning, which is an indication that the oxygen supply may be low, and cause us to yawn as well. Similarly, a child’s mirror neurons will cause the child to exactly repeat an action, even if that action is technically being performed “incorrectly.”

Thus, if you want to teach a kid to do something, motor skills-wise, and you want him to do it with his right hand, you have to place yourself so that he can watch you model the skill with your right hand. This is why we stand next to kids, or behind them, to teach them to bat, throw, bowl, etc.

However, if the kid’s dominant hand is different than yours, this method doesn’t work. You end up with a left-handed child who throws right-handed and may never achieve the level of skill that either you or she want. So, when teaching an opposite-handed child a motor skill, take advantage of those mirror neurons. Unless what you’re doing is dangerous to someone in front of you (like archery or fast-pitch softball) have the child face you directly as you model the skill. the magic of the mirror neurons will kick in and the child will do with her left hand what you do with your right and vice versa. This method may take some planning – you have to remember to be across from your child in the kitchen instead of side by side at the counter, for example, but it will make it easier for your child to learn and you to teach.