This article was originally written by me as a guest post for EdGeeks, a great educational blog. Marisa Kaplan published it two weeks ago, you can see the article here. Check out the site for some great tips and thoughts on technology and education today.
Are you a parent? A teacher? An educator? Then I assume you are always on the lookout for new ways to teach and engage. Educational games and practices pop up constantly and it can be hard to weigh the benefits or to determine the right way to use a learning tool, simply because there is so much information out there and so many products vie for attention. On my blog I focus on flashcards, an area I know quite well, so why not take the time to help you untangle some of the web surrounding this study tool for you?
Flashcards for children are quite popular as a playful means to introduce children to new words, images or concepts. This does not match the image many have of adult flashcards, which are often associated with meaningless drill. In reality, the concept of flashcards is the same for all ages and it is probably one of the oldest and most basic ones: Repetition. What differs, naturally, is the approach we take to learning (or teaching) at different ages. Learning at a young age holds a more playful element, because it is not yet accompanied by the demands of schools and tests. The great thing about flashcards therefore is that you can introduce them to a child early on as a learning game, which over time might evolve into a more involved yet natural form of studying.
How to go about introducing flashcards? As previously stated they are an all-age learning tool; even toddlers can ‘study’ with them. While the traditional format is two sides with one asking a question and the other depicting the answer, a spoken word to accompany a picture properly targets language development in younger children. Repeating words to children so they mimic them is already the most natural form of early teaching; adding a pictoral clue offers great visual stimulation in addition to the auditory learning. When you are using flashcards with your child, you can add written words over time to help develop reading and writing comprehension. And once a child reaches a certain stage it is important to go beyond mere recognition of words and sounds and towards actual production of the word in question.
When flashcards are first introduced and later, once their application progresses, there are many ways to keep the process ‘fun’ or interesting for a child. A central element should be the choice or creation of the flashcards, something the young learner can easily become involved in.
How to find or create the right flashcards? Card creation can be a great activity for older children that helps them learn how to go about building their own learning tools later in live. It is also a first step towards learning the material that will be covered with the flashcards. Children can be involved in the creation process in a number of ways: If there is no ‘required learning’ or you simply want to introduce cards as a learning game, get your child’s input on a subject to study. Once you have made a choice, get creative on the card creation process: Your child likes to draw? Allow them to draw the question side of the card. S/he’s learning to write? Help them spell out the answer. When images are involved (and they should be wherever possible, because they enhance the visual learning flashcards promote) you can pick them with your child: Find images to color in, give the child magazines/newspapers/coloring books to choose and cut out images from, add these to the flashcards.
As long as you are the primary educator and have a firm grasp of the subject matter and its boundaries, compiling flashcard material is fairly easy. Motivating a child to condense material covered in school into flashcards can be difficult, because it may seem like an arduous and too involved task. To facilitate the evolution from voluntary (fun) learning to required flashcard learning, start small. Children in elementary school won’t need to cover complex or even very detailed material. A first project that will also encourage automatic learning is to ask your child to write down a few important words or sentences that s/he took away from that day’s (or that week’s) classes. Over time you will have a nice collection and a great starting point for your flashcards. When you have these pointers on what was important it will be fairly easy to add the details or expand to related concepts.
How to keep learning with flashcards interesting. If flashcard creation and learning is supposed to be – and stay – fun for your child there are some easy ways to keep things interesting. The fast-paced quizzing flashcards support can make a great game with other learners, for example. When the material has been covered by all children, quiz your child with a classmate, friend or sibling to offer more enticement to remember. And in the digital age, there are also a vast number of apps available that introduce children to digital/mobile learning. The choices are numerous and you may be faced with the difficult decision on what is best for your child. Choosing the right app takes time and consideration. Ask yourself the following two questions: What is my learning goal? How would I like to reach it? The answers are important because they determine both the content and the features of the app you will download. A child learning about colors and animals will have different needs than a child studying for a school exam. If cost is a factor, be on the lookout for (temporarily) free apps or free trial/light versions. Important: Consider that these apps will often contain ads that, while usually targeted at the young audience, may not be child-appropriate. You should always open an app repeatedly and test it yourself – watching out for things like ads – before involving your child. How do you find the perfect app then? Top Apps or staff recommendations may be a good starting point; if you frequent educational blogs or sites look or ask for recommendations. Also, do not hesitate to scroll to the bottom of your search results to find interesting apps. User reviews are great for orientation, but new products may not always have these. Keep looking around – the perfect app for you and your child is out there.