I remember my mum waving flashcards in front of my face as a child. I think they were probably considered one of the “how to be a good parent” tools of the 70’s. Parenting trends are a bit like the articles I see instructing us on what we should and shouldn’t be eating; they change according to the advertiser’s needs – sorry I mean the latest research. It seems advice changes so frequently that unbeknown to us we’re probably all in a constant state of confusion about everything as nobody really knows what they should or shouldn’t be doing for the best. It appears it’s no different when it comes to finding ways of supporting and encouraging our children to read when often the information available can be just as conflicting.
I don’t really think flashcards are an evil reading tool, I don’t feel traumatised by my experience of them as a child either or that they impaired my reading skills in any way but some have proposed a number of convincing arguments to the contrary.
Let’s get critical.
The biggest criticism of flashcards is that they limit interpretation. As they lead the reader towards the association of a single picture with a single word they are not allowing for variance of a word such as the type of dog, car or colour for instance. This suggests flashcards are only teaching a child how to associate a word with a picture through sight opposed to understanding it and learning to read.
Another criticism is that as the words on flashcards are out of context they serve to introduce an unnecessary additional layer in the steps required to interpret and understand a word when it is in context. In everyday terms this means they guide the reader into taking the long route to learning.
Hail praise to all flashcards.
On the other hand retaining a number of words by sight (reading them as seen, opposed to sounding them out) is considered a good thing because it allows for smoother, more continuous reading which gives the brain more time to think about meaning and comprehension.
In addition for those who have a dominant visual memory flashcards can act as an added aid for imprinting the word formation in the reader’s mind through the use of colour, shape and images.
As parents, it is our natural instinct to want to do the right thing for our children (whatever that may be) and if taken verbatim, it is contradictory advice like this which can feed the innate panic mechanism within us . However if you’re searching the internet for the “right thing to do” or solely relying on small scientific studies to appease your fears you are missing a vital ingredient; and that is to trust your own judgement.
Many articles are only one person’s opinion and many of the studies have only been conducted on a minuscule percentage of the population where their sole purpose is to uncover a similarity within differences in order to neatly file any traits or habits under one category. It never does any harm to question if a study is truly looking for the ultimate answer that we seek or if the researchers are merely looking for the answer that they think it is?
That’s not to say that all the information we find is nonsense but it does mean that the information that may be right for one person may not be right for the next. So when it comes to helping your own children to read, don’t limit yourself to one isolated method or be afraid to explore new methods and techniques but discover the options and give yourself a break. Listen to your gut feeling as to which methods you think are best suited to your child.
Further links on the topic of flashcards: