The Flashcard Backlash!

Hi Readers — Lovely article by Tara Parker-Pope in today’s New York Times about how we have been led astray by the flashcard mentality that says the more we DRILL our littlest students the SMARTER they become.

On the surface of it, the drilling idea makes sense: Why not efficiently shove info into our kids? Here’s the info, kids: Shove it!

But all the research (not to mention a million years of human development BEFORE flashcards) is suggesting that the way kids really learn is through PLAY. Even a game like Simon Says — or a variation that’s “Do the Opposite of What Simon Says” — can give a lot more developmental boost than another afternoon of  learning “F is for Foot.”

While the game may sound simple, it actually requires a high level of cognitive function for a preschooler, including focus and attention, working memory to remember rules, mental flexibility (to do the opposite) and self-control.

“We tend to equate learning with the content of learning, with what information children have, rather than the how of learning,” says Ellen Galinsky, a child-development researcher and author of “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.” “But focusing on the how of learning, on executive functions, gives you the skills to learn new information, which is why they tend to be so predictive of long-term success.”

You probably know that I dislike having to endorse a Free-Range approach because it is actually a “long-term success” incubator. But, hey, if you’re talking to parents who really believe LESS playtime means their kids will be MORE triumphant, it’s not bad to have a little ammo. – L.

Flashcards are fine…but not at the expense of play!

Forget the Flash-Cards: How To REALLY Help Your Pre-Schooler

It’s no secret that parents worried about how their kids are going to do in kindergarten are willing to work hard to help them make the grade. But a new study reported in Connect with Kids shows that teaching pre-schoolers the academic stuff — letters, numbers, etc. — may not be the best approach. What is?

Chores. Teaching them to listen to you, follow instructions and complete a task:

According to a study of 379 children published in the ‘Journal of Personality’, kids who had more responsibilities at age five, were more likely to have better grades and better behavior in school as 8-year-olds.

“When you get to school you have multiple step direction of things that children are expected to do,” explains Psychologist Laura Mee, Ph.D., “If they’ve been practicing that and listening to parents and following thing in a sequence at home for several years… I think it is more automatic for them.”She says simple chores also help a child develop a sense of confidence, independence. “And then feeling more self confidence that then helps you have more mastery in school,” says Dr. Mee.

She says if parents are paying attention, they’ll get cues from their child when they want to help out. “So if you can catch them when they want to do things independently, it’s a great time to encourage that and help them move forward,” says Dr. Mee.

I’m not saying I had my toddlers cleaning the house  — I’m pretty bad at that  myself (and always forget where the switch is on the vaccuum cleaner). But this study sure makes sense to me. Especially when we remember that until recently, children were always expected to help out their parents, not just the other way around.  — Lenore