The Evils of Flashcards


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:

Ditch the books and flashcards! You can’t teach a baby how to read, claim experts – Mail Online.

Sight Words Flashcards and Tips for Early Reading – School Sparks.

Teaching with Flashcards? – Flashcards Guru.

(Don’t Make Me Say the F-Word) Flashcard-Free Vocabulary – Cochlear Implant Online.

Is an Early Reader a Lifetime Reader?

Reading with Baby 2

Should a three year old who is found to be capable of learning to read be taught to read? This article from the Independent titled Toddlers could be ready to begin reading lessons at three years old, study finds, instantly got my fingers typing! Why can’t we as a nation just leave our children to play and explore their new surroundings? Instead we seem to need to instantly exert pressure on them to achieve targets and goals the moment they clap eyes on the world.

In short, the study concluded that three year old children were demonstrating they could recognise that a written word represents a single linguistic unit which should be interpreted in a set way whereas a drawing can be interpreted in a number of ways. This ability to differentiate between the two was considered a skill required to be able to learn to read.

Children in the UK are currently taught to read by the phonetic learning method during their first year at school between the age of four and five in reception class. Compared with many of our European counterparts this is very early. In Poland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark for example children typically start school at age seven. So unless their parents or carers have taught them to read and write most children will still be in the early stages of doing so.

I’m a big supporter of regularly reading to children even from as early as a few months of being born but there is a vast difference between encouraging reading and actively pushing reading instruction onto them. Undoubtedly this study could help us understand child development and capabilities in more depth and even assist in developing new effective teaching methods but I’m struggling to see any practical benefits for a three year old being able to read.

There are many immediate and long-term, social and psychological advantages to learning to read at a young age but are there sufficient additional advantages to learning at age three opposed to four or five? Does waiting a year or two really make that much difference to a child’s life? Let’s look at what we could consider to be other benefits of reading at three years. Parents and teachers would have an alternative communication method other than speech, in terms of written instruction.  The children could sit and read a book by themselves. Perhaps it would increase their vocabulary knowledge – very impressive for school test results providing they could also speak and write coherently at three years. Hang on a minute… aren’t these more beneficial for the adults than the children? I’m seriously wondering if we are focusing on the child’s best interests or ours. It seems that most of these so called benefits are limiting conversation which could potentially have the knock on effect of hindering the development of oral communication at this important stage of their lives.

I volunteer in the foundation unit of a local primary school each week and part of my role is to assist with reading to or with the children (depending on their age). I’ve observed that reading abilities within this age group vary greatly. Many of the nursery aged children at three to four years are yet to develop the attention span to sit still and listen to an entire story being read to them unless they are actively being engaged by the reader with intermittent questions. Not exactly a strong indication that they have the ability to concentrate on recognising letters and learning phonic sounds. In addition many are still unable to consistently form clear, comprehensible speech. This is not because the children are being naughty, lazy and stupid or feeling bored; they are merely being toddlers who are developing at their own pace.

So is three years too early to start reading? To consider this viewpoint, I think we need to look at what else is going on around a child at three years. What else are they trying to achieve at this time? To talk coherently is high priority. They are also mark making but very few are writing. What about learning social skills? For many it is the first time they have mixed with a large group on a regular basis or been expected to conform to a strict routine. Surely the last thing we want to encourage is an earlier divide between reading abilities?

Reading with Letters 2

For a child already dealing with a steep learning curve, throwing in the need to master additional reading targets could have the opposite effect and put them off for life! Children first need to experience the world before they read about it in a book. We’ve already been communicating with our children since birth through words, sounds, actions, instincts and intuition. Concentrating too heavily on the written word at three years could have long term detrimental effects on the development of all these other valuable forms of communication. It’s these interactive skills which are learnt through play and conversation that ultimately serve to enhance a child’s appreciation of reading in later life not the exposure to letters and phonemes. People enjoy reading because of the content, imagination and empathy these stories inspire, not because they like the look and sound of the letters! If a child is truly capable of learning to read at this age they will naturally pick up letter recognition through sound and sight from other daily interactions without the need to be formally instructed.

So let’s take a step back for a moment and question whether we want to nurture a revolution of avid readers or create a reading rebellion? What do you think? Is there an optimum time to learn to read?

Other interesting articles on this topic:

Guardian 2007 – Under sevens “too young to learn to read.” (Written before the plans for a Foundation Stage were implemented and any untested targets of achievement were set).

Huffington Post 2011 – Learning to Read: How Young is Too Young?

Teach Reading Early – Benefits of Early Reading.

A Doorway to a Bigger World: Part 3: Imagination


Image courtesy of digitalart at


“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”. Albert Einstein

Imagination, WOW! Saving the best for last! Stories are a great source for developing imagination. Imagination is at the heart of all great achievements. Everything we achieve in life begins as a thought in our imagination. If we don’t use our imagination we only limit our achievements. Reading develops imagination by helping children to believe in possibilities beyond their own experience and that to me is like offering a child the potential for an incredibly fulfilling life. So how exactly does reading stimulate their imagination?

  1. Reading develops the skills to visually imagine something in order to make sense of it. Children need to be actively engaged in the story in order to become a part of the story and be able to critically and imaginatively process the information in front of them. To actively engage in a story demands a visually imaginative mind to comprehend the ideas and meaning conveyed. To explain this further, if a child is still learning to read they first need to visualise the letters in relation to each other as meaningful words. They then have to figure out what the individual words mean within the sentences and their meaning within the context of the whole story. This requires the ability to imagine things from different perspectives in order to make sense of why they are put together that way. Then just to make the whole process that little bit more mind blowing, by this time more images, more ideas and thoughts are popping into their heads creating their own interpretation of the story. With all this going on simultaneously, it’s no wonder reading can be a real effort for many.
  2. Reading stories can provide inspiration for pretend play. Role play and pretend play, whether in the playground or independently at home is a way for children to act out and practise real life scenarios or conjure up their own make believe world.
  3. Books leave room for the imagination to grow. Picture books and films are a representation of the author’s and illustrator’s imagination. However, unlike films and television, a book cannot create the whole picture but inevitably leaves some gaps for the child to fill. Children are still required to imagine the feelings, the setting and sounds on a larger scale and it is the words which force these new images to appear in their minds. A book is a series of static snapshots of the story whereas television can encompass so many more continually active frames to the story. So an author’s creativity becomes the trigger for the child’s imagination to take part in the story, whereas television is more akin to passively viewing someone else’s idea.
  4. Reading introduces the possibility for new experiences. This may simply be through reading about an event or person they have no prior experience or knowledge of or it may be the idea that something is achievable that they previously thought was not. The point is, reading opens up their minds to consider what might be possible and it puts no limits on imagining what is possible.
  5. A large vocabulary leads to a creative communicator of ideas. Books by their very nature are bursting with words. The more words a child is familiar with the easier they find it to communicate their ideas and share what’s in their imagination. In turn by talking to others, more ideas and inspiration are absorbed in their minds which can only lead to an even greater imagination.

For more information on pretend play here is an article from Psychology Today Reading for Imaginative Play .

10 Tips to Transform Your Reluctant Reader into a Master Reader!


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Getting lost in a far off land of fictional books appeals to my imagination but not everybody is interested in that form of escapism. Some would say it’s pointless and impractical or just plain unbelievable. Reading is simply, not for everyone. Or is it? We are all different but everyone still has an interest in something, whether that’s quantum physics or dogs who can dance in the rain! In some form or other there is always a book and probably even one hundred books to be found about a given topic. There are many benefits to reading and that is why people start getting agitated and opinionated when they come across a reluctant reader. We’ve all had times when we’re just settling into, what we think is going to be that special cosy reading time with our children, only to be jumped on, interrupted with a totally random question about loom bands or a sudden desperate plea for the toilet! However, dealing with a reluctant reader is more than the odd lack of motivation and the anxiety it can cause between parent and child is often hard to cope with. It can come to a point when it’s far less stressful just to avoid the whole situation altogether. As understandable as this is, obviously this is not the ideal solution as reading has a far reaching impact on an individual’s personality, social skills, knowledge, imagination, comprehension, to name but a few. So here are some tips on how to turn your reluctant reader into a master reader.

  1. Let your child choose the book they want to read. It sounds simple but if your child is interested in the book, you’re off to a good start as they’re more likely to want to read it. Sometimes merely finding the right book that grabs their attention can make all the difference.
  2. Show an interest in the books your child is reading. Ask them questions, point out bits you like, chat about the illustrations but try and avoid making it sound like a test.
  3. Ask your child to read out loud to you and give it your full attention. Let this be your special ten minutes together out of a busy daily schedule. Hearing their voice out loud can help them with pronunciation in particular. Listen to the words they are struggling with. Help them sound these words out and ask if they know what the word means and explain if not. This will help increase their vocabulary and comprehension. Even when they are fluent readers children will often read a word without having a clue what it means.
  4. If your child has a younger sibling, suggest they read to them. This can be a major boost for their confidence.
  5. Read to your child daily and read it with enthusiasm, maybe using different voices and sounds. Yes you may look and sound ridiculously silly but it will be so much more entertaining for your child! Point to the words as you read them to help word recognition. Again let them choose the book first, otherwise choose a topic you think they might enjoy or a book that makes them laugh so reading and listening to it becomes a pleasure for both of you. Reading to them will help improve their listening skills, concentration and use of intonation.
  6. Don’t feel guilty if you use another device. In this day and age, traditional books aren’t the only access we have to reading. There are I-pads, Kindles, computers and Smart phones. Undoubtedly any of these will look way more exciting to a reluctant reader and could engage their interest far quicker and for longer. It’s all about making reading interesting to your child so they are keen to read more.
  7. Reading isn’t just about books. There are many other things we could read. You can get your child reading at any time and often they won’t even notice they are doing it! Show them reading can be fun. Make a cake and get your child to read out the ingredients to you, take them on a treasure hunt and get them to read the clues, play a car game to spot certain road signs, get them to read their menu at a restaurant, play a board game and ask them to read the instructions to you, pull up their favourite website, read competitions on cereal boxes, the programme at the theatre or comic strips in magazines. The list is endless, it is just a matter of giving your child access to these opportunities that we might otherwise automatically do for them and suddenly there becomes a practical reason for them to read.
  8. Demonstrate your love of reading too. Children are great copycats and whether we like it or not our children will always adopt our habits and opinions to some extent. Therefore, logically there’s a greater chance that if you’re an avid reader yourself, your child is more likely to follow suit from being intrigued by what you find so fascinating about reading. The reality though is that not all of us as adults have this passion ourselves and are less inclined to bother changing it later in life and even those that do, often struggle to find the time to read. However, it is still possible to show a love of reading as part of our daily routine. For example, books might not interest you but reading a daily paper or monthly magazine might or checking through a manual on your favourite past time. Simple, enjoyable activities like these can all help and even show that reading reaches far beyond fairies and zombies (don’t get me started on zombies!). We want them to read because they want to, not because they are told they have to.
  9. Where’s the fun in a difficult book? There are many reasons why your child may be a reluctant reader, one being that the books they have are too difficult for them. Don’t rush them onto a higher level book just because their friends might be reading it. Every child progresses at their own rate and rushing can often have the reverse effect. They should be able to read most of the words in the book fluently with a few longer more difficult words thrown in to challenge them; otherwise they may quickly become discouraged and frustrated. If they really want to read a book they are struggling with but it’s popular with their peers and they want to join in with the chat about it at school, read it to them until they are ready to tackle it themselves and concentrate on the books that are at a more suitable level to build confidence.
  10. Make reading time special and it can create long lasting fond memories. For some children it is purely the regular bedtime stories that makes them feel secure and loved but sometimes a little more creativeness may be required. Put out a special reading rug or blanket hideout, find novelty places for story time in a tree house, tent or on a trampoline. Invite their favourite teddy to listen too. Small touches can lead to a big change in their attitude towards reading.

Even if you don’t do all of these tips just trying a few could make such a difference to your child’s future. To me being able to read and loving it can open up so many doors for opportunity.

Here’s a great website I found which suggests books to help inspire reluctant readers of all ages.