Putting on shoes, learning to use utensils and navigating the neighborhood are all skills that require telling your left from your right.  If your child is anything like my 3.5 year-old, learning to distinguish direction can be a challenge.

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Teaching Kids Left from Right

Ever since A could put on her own shoes, she would put the left shoe on the right foot and the right shoe on the left foot nine times out of ten.  And even though A could recognize the alphabet at an early age, having her hold out her outstretched hands to form the letter “L” with her left hand didn’t work reliably for her to figure out directions.

Since A was young and still using both her left and right hands interchangeably, I didn’t rush to correct her mistakes. But now that she has shown that she is right-hand dominant, I thought it would be a good time to really focus on teaching her right vs. left.

First Thing In the Morning

Instead of teaching both left and right terms simultaneously, I concentrated on A learning just her dominant right hand.  Once a child has learned her right hand, she can easily figure out which hand is left… no pun intended!  We started first thing in the morning as she was getting dressed.  When A needed help, I always started with her right side saying, “slide your right foot into your sock, ” or “put your right arm into your sleeve”.

The Shoe Trick

To help her figure out her shoes, I wrote her name on a piece of painter’s tape and cut it in half.  I placed the beginning of her name in the left shoe and ending in the right shoe.

What a clever way to teach kids left from right!

It took her a moment to figure out she had to make her name and her shoes would be positioned correctly.  She was so excited with this trick she ran to show her dad.  {If your child doesn’t recognize their name yet you could draw a simple picture and cut it in half.}

“L” for Lime and Left

For a little more fun, I painted the nails on A’s right foot and hand red and her left foot and hand lime green.  I then put a red circle in her right shoe and a lime green circle in her left shoe.  She instantly made the connections, “R” for right and red, “L” for lime and left.

PicMonkey Collage - Teach Kids

The visual reminder of the red nails not only helped A with her shoes but she was able to navigate on a walk around the neighborhood following my directions.

Something Sticky

In scouring the web for tricks on teaching left from right, I came across many people using a body feature such as a freckle or scar on a certain side of their body to help them learn.  Since A doesn’t have a body feature, I created one by giving her a temporary tattoo, stamp, or sticker on her right hand.

Smelly Hand

A could instantly tell me which was her right hand with her tattoo in place, but the most effective trick was what A called “smelly hand”.  After A got herself ready for the day I would ask her to give me her right hand and then I would rub fun scented lip balm on the back.  She loved smelling her hand throughout the day and quickly learned which hand to present after a few mornings.

Simple Ways to Teach Kids Left from Right. {Playdough to Plato}

Right Around the Block

To help her navigational skills we’ve been taking walks “right around the block”.  I let A lead us but with one important rule: she can only make right-hand turns.  When we cross the street I ask her for her right hand, when we drive familiar routes, I have A tell me which direction to turn and when we go grocery shopping I have her navigate the cart.

Within a week, A has her right and left hand down pat. It’s been really easy and fun to teach her this skill that still trips up many an adult.

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  1. I learned my shoes from my mom telling me to look at the arch in the sole. If it made a circle shape when next to each other they were in order, if it made an x, they were wrong. I am a visual learner and the first born so I picked up on things pretty fast watching all of the adults around me.

  2. This post is AWESOME! Can’t wait to try these and share with all the parents I know!! 🙂

    1. I love Noirin’s awesome tips for teaching left and right too, Claire! Thanks for passing it along to your friends. 🙂

  3. My 5 year old has slowly been learning the difference between right and left, but I just figured it would take time. I never realized there were so many great tricks to teach him! I’ll start today and hopefully he’ll have it down as fast as your daughter. 🙂

  4. I remember one of my teachers telling us in primary school to hold up both of our hands so that the fingers were straight up and the thumb was perpendicular to them. The one that makes an L is Left

  5. This is awesome! My 3 year old has had a tough time with his shoes. He is also left handed and says he is “backwards” from everybody else in his class. lol But I am thinking with the name tape in the shoes and starting with the left side, we may just get it down pat! Thanks for the motivation! I do believe you just gained a follower!!!

  6. I put R and L stickers inside my son’s shoes to get him to wear his shoes correctly.

    He promptly switched the stickers and continues wearing them the “wrong” way.

  7. You can also put dots on the inside of the shoes above the arch and teach your kids if they can pick the shoes up with ONE hand and their finger and thumb are on the dots, they will always be on the correct feet.

  8. Thanks for this. My son is 5 and has no problem with his shoes, but he still has an issue with telling his left from his right. Tonight I tried “smelly hand” with apple lip balm and he LOVED it. He sniffed it and said, “Mmmm.”

    I told him to say, “mmm, my right hand” every time he sniffed it, which he thought was wildly funny. He kept sniffing and saying “Mmmm, my right hand, ” all night. The best part about this is that instead of a visual cue, where he can just look down and see it, this prompts a hand motion that is reinforced with an olfactory sensation, so it involves more than one sense. i am very confident that he will have it down in a few days. Thanks!!

  9. Thank You so much for the half name shoe idea! My 5 year old son has mild autism and he gets very upset when he cant get his shoes on right, I think this is just the idea we needed!!!!

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