Teaching a child their left and right is hard for me. Not because it is technically challenging or requires some secret knowledge...well maybe it does require secret knowledge come to think of it.
No, teaching which way to go if you need to turn left for me is hard because I've always had a hard time distinguishing the two directions myself. North, south, east and west aren't issues in my brain, but to this day, left and right can stump me.
My second grade PE teacher in West Lafayette, Indiana is one of the heroes of my life. I clearly remember her always tanned face, salt and pepper hair, the whistle around her neck. Apparently, my struggle with directions was obvious in her class. She took me aside one day and gave me the key, the secret knowledge to the world of never getting lost and always knowing which hand to use during the Pledge of Allegiance.
She told me to hold out my two hands palms down, fingers and thumb extended. When I did so, she pointed out the fact that the pointer finger and thumb on my left hand formed the letter "L" and that the word Left began with "L."
The room got suddenly brighter, birds started singing, my life was changed.
I've used this piece of knowledge repeatedly in my life. It came in most handy while taking my driving test when I was 16. I practiced sticking up my "L" slyly so that the driving instructor wouldn't see me doing it if I needed a little directional guidance on my test.
Over the course of kids, I've used the "L" to teach my sons their left and right. It seems they didn't need much help with the concept however. They just instinctively knew which was which. My oldest daughter has been a different story. (Which leads me to believe that this might be a girl thing except that my sisters didn't have the same problem I did from what I remember.)
I taught her the "L" trick a long while ago, but it was apparent to me the other day that she hadn't gotten the concept. She was riding her bike with me as I walked and pushed the stroller. Needless to say, she was a bit faster than I and would come to the corners before me. I'd yell ahead which way I'd like her to turn to which she asked, "Which way is that?" Hmmmmm..."Don't you remember the "L" trick with your hands?" I asked when I had caught up to her.
She said, "Well, I tried that thing you showed me and I saw the "L," but my other hand didn't make an "R" so I figured it couldn't be working."
I laugh so hard I cried, but only after she was around the corner and on her way.