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Letting Go of Flash Cards and Letter of the Week
January 16, 2024
I have challenged myself that I will read thousands of books and I will empower myself with knowledge. Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism.
-Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani female education activist

An article for parents on the NAEYC website discusses misunderstandings some families have that flash cards will help their toddlers learn to read better:

"Sam recently bought alphabet flash cards because he wants his 18-month-old daughter Abby to learn to read. But are flash cards and other learning toys that emphasize memorization a good way to prepare a toddler for reading?  

"Parents see many advertisements promising that their child can become the next Einstein with the right combination of learning toys and DVDs. It’s easy for parents to get caught up in the hype that new, better products make smarter children. And because so many of these products emphasize memorization, it can sometimes cause families to think that a focus on memorization is what’s important.  

"In fact, using flash cards is not an effective way to help toddlers build language and literacy skills."

In her inspiring new book, The Whole Child Alphabet, Stacy Benge describes some misconceptions that early care and education professionals also have about reading instruction. She describes what she offers to early educators to replace "an overemphasis on alphabet instruction; specifically letter of the week…

"I started presenting a training that explains the solid base that needs to be developed before children can even attempt reading and writing…I break down the skills needed for alphabet knowledge, including children’s ability to:

  • understand the purpose of the alphabet (genuine interest and print awareness)
  • identify individual letters (visual perception)
  • assign sounds to those letters (phonological awareness and auditory sense)
  • eventually write the letters (physical development and proper letter formation)

"I emphasize the importance of designing an environment that encourages child-led play to enhance and strengthen these developmental skills."


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Comments (4)

Displaying All 4 Comments
Kirsten Haugen · January 17, 2024
Eugene, OR, United States

Deborah, what an important reminder to return to our 'roots' — to revisit the wisdom that has pervaded our field even as trends come and go. I may just have to pull that article for an upcoming Exchange Every Day!

Kirsten Haugen · January 16, 2024
Eugene, OR, United States

To be fair, Francis, this article is specifically to support those practitioners, as a tool to respond to parents who request activities and goals we believe are inappropriate for young children. But yes, always important to own our part of the story!

Deborah A Wansbrough · January 16, 2024
Kaitiaki Kindergartens
Auckland, New Zealand

As a parent in the 80s listening to "Teach your baby to read" I thought getting a head start was important. Then I was given Lillian Katz's article "What Should Young Children Be Doing?" and it was an epiphany for me (she has been a guru for me ever since). She talked about dispositions and how a child had to have a disposition to read which comes from those warm reading sessions with someone who cares for you. You can teach the mechanics but it won't make them a reader. I so believe this.

Francis Wardle · January 16, 2024
University of Phoenix/ Red Rocks Community College
Denver, Colorado, United States

Why do we always blame parents? I remember doing a presentation at a childcare center on why the calendar activity is not DAP. As I was doing my presentation, I caught a glimpse of a calendar activity on the wall next to us! I have known programs that rote taught answers to development assessments! What about all the crap sold at the annual NAEYC convention? Parents are SINCERELY concerned about the progress of their children. A central purpose of our field should be communicating to parents appropriate activities and materials for their children.

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