How and why I use flashcards to support language development

A favorite activity of our four year old, one that he requests at least once a day is…. flashcards.

Yes, really.  Flashcards.  I know, you wouldn’t expect flashcards to be so compelling, right? :) But he really likes them!

I started using these when Yirmi was 14 months old.  I began by printing out words and pictures from the Brill Kids Little Reader computer program; each card is the size of half of an A4 sheet of paper.  One side has the word printed on it in a large font, the other side has a color illustration of the word.



Over time I printed out a number of these sets and laminated them.  Sets include categories like foods, colors, transportation, nature, seasons, parts of the body, and household items.  Ideally I would have used these systematically several times a day, using one set a week and switching out an old word for a new word each day.  Sometimes I did more and sometimes I did less, and I reminded myself that whatever I did was of value.  I found it easiest for me to do first thing in the day since it was before I got distracted with with lots of other things.

Our basket of flashcards

Our basket of flashcards

As a very relaxed homeschooler, it might seem strange that I would embrace something so seemingly formal as a learning tool.  However, if we approach something as a fun and enjoyable activity without the heavy weight of expectations, kids will often perceive the activity as fun and enjoyable – regardless of how ‘schooly’ it might seem.

I use flashcards as a tool to teach reading and support language development, language comprehension and speech development.  The brain grows from use!  Stimulation and input are very important to a child.  Don’t get caught up in looking for visible results – if you’re sharing quality information, it’s beneficial whether you see tangible results or not!   (I don’t know what Yirmi’s reading ability is since I don’t test him, but there’s no question his receptive language is excellent.)

When I introduce new words, I explain what the word means and how it is used.  So he can tell you, for example, that a ‘stethoscope’ is used to listen to your heart.  Usually the words are nouns or verbs and are pretty easy to explain; some are harder concepts like ‘hibernation’, ‘relaxation’ and ‘humidity’ but I do my best. :)

Once he’s familiar with the words, I don’t explain them each time we look at the card.  I read the the word printed on the front, then turn it over, saying the word again while looking at the picture, then turn it back to the word and reading the word out loud again.  It’s a fairly quick process.

small flashcardsAs Yirmi got older, we moved onto cards that were smaller, the size of standard index cards.  In the summer I finally shifted away from using printed picture cards and now the new cards I prepare only have the word handwritten on one side.

While I considered this option from the beginning, I felt it would be more enjoyable and better for comprehension to have the pictures on the back side of the card.  The only downside of that approach was that it took much more time to prepare the cards and I didn’t prepare nearly as many as I would have without needing to go to that effort – we have only about 300 or so cards with pictures.

What I do now is super simple.  Using a dark marker, I write the word in large print on a small white index card.  Recently I went through a children’s book he enjoys and picked out words that we don’t yet have in our sets; preparing the new set of 32 cards took about fifteen minutes!

Most days we ‘do words’, as we call it, once a day.  I’ve kept it a relaxed and positive experience both of us.  For Yirmi,  it means I follow his lead as to which group of words he wants to read together and stop before he’s ready to stop.  I want to keep it fun; I don’t quiz him and I don’t turn it into something he’s ‘supposed’ to do.  For me keeping it relaxed means letting go of the voices that tell me I’m not doing it right by not doing it more often or in a certain order.  Just like I tell you that it’s important to let go of beating yourself up with unrealistic expectations, that’s what I tell myself!

Yirmi has recently been repeating the words as I flash them, so it’s been a great speech opportunity (he has an expressive speech delay called apraxia).  I now slow down as I read the word and ennunciate the word clearly and slowly, techniques we’ve all picked up from the Gemiini video modeling program that he uses daily for speech.

We enjoy reading flashcards together, snuggled up on the couch or in my bed – it’s nice that we can integrate something so beneficial so easily!


3 thoughts on “How and why I use flashcards to support language development

  1. Thank you Avivah for this post! Would you be able to share how you use Gemini in your daily routines and do you still find it to be significantly effective? I attempted trying it at a time where it was hard to figure how to incorporate into our daily schedule and was a bit overwhelmed. My son is almost 3 and receives speech 4 times a week. He is very bright with a big vocabulary, but the words get lost in process from brain to mouth. Different opinions if some apraxia, phological processing and also oral motor weakness/jaw stability or a little of everything. He has made tremendous progress and although now he can physically say most sounds, when he puts words together in sentences, each word seems to be missing something and often he slurs words together and he can be hard to understand in a conversation. So my 2 questions are:
    if you think Gemini is worth trying again and any suggestions in how to incorporate into the day
    and how hebrew language fits into the picture for you. Beezras Hashem we hope to be making Aliyah in a few months, people have a hard time understanding my son in English, I am concerned with bringing Hebrew into the equation. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi, Miriam!

      I do think Gemiini is worth trying – it’s an amazing program! I hear you about the challenge to fit it into your day. At this point, Yirmi regularly asks me to turn it on for him so I don’t need to think about it; I just put it on at his request. I attribute most of his improvements in speech to Gemiini – it’s been a slow road but I’m very encouraged to see his steady progress.

      (He doesn’t have a lot of sounds still, but there’s more and he’s starting to put them together into 2 or 3 word sentences – which is a big deal with apraxia, even though most people outside of the family don’t yet understand his speech.)

      Anyway, I think attaching Gemiini to a regular part of your day is the easiest and most effective strategy – if you had a tablet or ipad, use it while driving somewhere, or at mealtimes if you’re not having family mealtimes.

      Regarding Hebrew – my main concern has been English so far. I’ve recently been introducing more Hebrew into my speech with him – saying something in Hebrew, then saying the same thing in English or vice versa (first English and then Hebrew). My goal is to build his comprehension but I’m not working on Hebrew speech yet.

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