Using flashcards to teach your kids sight words?

At a recent parent meeting, one mother asked if she should use flashcards to teach her kindergartener sight words. My gut response? Don’t bother. But here’s why avoiding flashcards is my knee-jerk reaction, and when, on the other hand, flashcards might not be so bad.

There are instances when flashcards can work well

When flashcards are picked up and played with in a game-like way at this age, they can be a great chance for learning Letter & Sound skills. There should be tons of excitement around learning to read; if playing concentration (for example) with sight words is fun for all and a child emerges with a sense of mastery, then flashcards are a bonus. If a child feels as if the flashcard task is a job to do, I would skip it entirely and leave this kind of work to the schools.  

Why you might not want to bother using flashcards

Free time together is limited, and flashcard time could be better spent on the couch having a cozy and fun book-reading time together. When reading with an adult, a child can build up knowledge and vocabulary plus have opportunities for lots of other skill building, including conversations about sight words or spelling patterns, or opportunities to point out words/have a child find words in a text. Flashcards won’t get at all the learning that can happen while reading and talking together; plus, setting up a formal teaching time with a child across the table and flashcards in hand sounds painful to me, and isn’t necessary at this stage of the reading game — especially at home.

Net, net: Reading together should be prioritized for all kinds of reasons (read more here). And the big risk with using “teacher tools” such as flashcards is that children could start to associate reading with work/negative experiences — and that you want to avoid at all costs.

What should I use instead of flashcards?

Here’s an example of the kinds of skills you can build while reading even a silly book together:
Bedtime is Canceled by Meng & Neyret:**

Note: You probably won’t want to try all of the ideas below at the same time or on the first reading  — you don’t want to ruin the story ): Make sure the whole experience feels natural and comfortable so your child sees it as the two of you sharing of the book, and not a quiz…

What to talk about: (front cover) See the word “Bedtime” in the title? What’s the last sound in the word “bed”? Do you know what letter makes that sound? Can you find the word “bed” in there?
What skills this builds:Phonological awareness, letter/sound knowledge, morphological awareness.

What to talk about: (front cover) Bedtime — That’s one word made up of two words – that’s called a compound word (discuss other examples, e.g., bedroom, bathtub).
What skills this builds: Vocabulary knowledge & morphology — how words work.

What to talk about: (page 2) Why do you think “Maggie thought of it and her brother wrote it”?
What skills this builds: Making inferences.

What to talk about: (page 7) Read aloud the street signs and shop signs. Introduce new words and ideas: e.g., insomnia, sandman, counting sheep..
What skills this builds:Vocabulary knowledge; talking about how texts work — in this case, how writers and illustrators work together to advance the story.

What to talk about: (page 11) I don’t think I would have believed that bedtime was canceled! Would you? Why?
What skills this builds:Articulating a personal response to text; making a personal connection.

What to talk about: (page 27) Hmmm…What do you think happened in-between pages 26 and 27?? So many details seem to be missing. Would you have written it this way?
What skills this builds: Critical thinking skills; close analysis of text.

**We include the link so you can see the book for yourself and read more about it. We aren’t paid to market this book or any other book — all the Abound information you get is free from advertising influences!

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