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Monday, August 15, 2011

Academic Futures and Flash Cards?

While I'm sad that Borders is going out of business, I'm glad that I took advantage of their current discount to pick up the book "Einstein Never Used Flash Cards:  How Our Children Really Learn--And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less" by Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek, and Eyer.   The title says it all, doesn't it?

When I bought this book, I thought 3 things:  

1)  Uh, oh!  I use flash cards to teach my little ones Chinese!  
2)  What is the balance between preparing them for their academic futures and letting them "play"?  and
3)  Now I'm going to read about all the things I'm doing wrong.

Yet, the more I read of the book, the better I feel.  I think I've struck a good balance, both at home and in the classroom.  And, if I'm reading the authors correctly, balance (and some common sense) is what it's all about.  It's not that you can't or shouldn't use flash cards, it's just that they have to be used in a developmentally appropriate (i.e. playful) way, such as using them to play a game.  Whew!  Good.  That's what we're doing.  No drills.  Nothing devoid of meaning and daily application.  

I have to admit that I was a little worried about what their opinion of early language instruction would be.  So, I read some of the beginning, then skipped right to the part about language development.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they recognized the need to begin language instruction during the early years.  Of course, they discussed how you only need to TALK to your child in order for him/her to learn, that no formal instruction is necessary.  Unless (I want to tell the authors) you don't happen to speak the language you want your children to learn!  Then some actual instruction needs to occur in order for both you and your child(ren) to learn!

All of this was swimming around in my head when my son and I went to our Language Stars* Parents and Tots class last week.  (All those thoughts PLUS some Mandarin!  Needless to say, it was a stressful morning!)  I was reassured, once again.  We sang.  We played.  We ate a snack.  We read a book.  All of these are things children do every day anyway.  We did not sit down for longer than the 5 minutes or so that it took to eat snack (appropriate for babies and toddlers).  We changed activities and/or teaching approaches so fast that it made all the adult brains spin.  We used language to describe what was happening, to ask for items, and to talk to our friends in class (all meaningful, everyday uses of language).  

My son counts ladybugs and stars
The class counts toys on the parachute

The book advises against scheduling your child for this and that, but I think they'd be okay with Language Stars.  After all, learning Mandarin is really the only "extra" activity we do.  My kids get lots of unstructured "play" time.  Our time spent at Language Stars is really just play that happens to be in another language.  And, as far as the flash cards are concerned, at least I learned a couple of new words with them today!  Now, I'll go practice my new words with the kids . . .

Thanks for reading,
Teacher Tam

*Even though I receive 50% off my tuition for blogging about Language Stars, all of the opinions expressed in this and other posts are authentic.  I wouldn't take my kids there in the first place if they didn't impress me!  
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