By: Sandy Churchill
Baby and toddler education can be a hazy and even controversial topic for moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, and other folks navigating the tricky terrain of parenting and raising small people in stressed-out times.
Between pandemics and politics, an economy in recession, and global unrest fill many of us with so much worry and stress that we may not have any resources left to tackle more in our daily schedules. In short, you might be thinking, “What? Now you are hinting I am not doing enough to pre-pre-pre-load my child’s education, years before preschool?” Or, you might object with, “Don’t our kids need to have a childhood and LESS stress before they are swept into the public school whirlwind with all the trimmings of homework, report cards, and rigid expectations?”
Both of these are valid points of view, and we are all in different shoes, so to speak. But we have discovered something in the Nana and Papa experience that has turned out to be great fun for our 21 month-old grandson, Henry: flashcards. Homemade flashcards to be exact…
I know the word “flashcards” may stir some stressful images about deadlines and exams, study panic, and memorization road blocks. But for baby Henry, these are a delight and often the first request of the day when he visits. I like to draw, so I decided to recreate a childhood memory with his mama (when I created a set for her as a baby). The ABC set features a colorful letter of the alphabet on one side, and a cute animal or object beginning with the respective letter on the reverse side. Early on, Henry gravitated to the cute “piggy” on one card, artsy violin on another, or lively ball on a third. He was just a few months old when he would sit on Papa’s or Nana’s lap, wide-eyed, looking at colorful renditions of a moon, owl, apple, or strawberry.
This process has been, and continues to be, engaging on so many levels. Initially, it was a wonderful pre-story introduction to the wonder of letters and pictures. Each card held new interest and curiosity for baby Henry. Second, the cards introduced vocabulary to learn about each picture and identify the requisite objects. Third, my husband had fun teaching and quizzing Henry on the phonics, or sounds each letter made. Henry loved mimicking sounds as he learned about each letter. Fun, interactive mini-quizzes ensued, with introductions such as “Can you find the letter that makes a ‘huh’ sound?” or “Can you find the card with a cookie on it?”
Soon Henry started quizzing himself by spreading out the cards and asking one of us to quiz him by saying “find…” His knowledge seemed to expand daily, and quickly he has learned colors, shapes, animal names, and more.
Through all of this flashcard frenzy came some wonderful results. First, he learned his alphabet and his vocabulary expanded exponentially.
Second, this has been, and continues to be a lovely bonding experience, similar to sharing a story before nap time or bedtime. He has the full attention of Papa, Nana, or Uncle Tim at our house or Mom or Dad at home.
Third, the bonding time is so cozy and fun that it fills the learning experience with all the fuzzy feelings of teamwork, engagement, curiosity and discovery. Not only the “aha” moment of letter identification success, but the process of learning together makes Henry happy and focused.
Fourth, he loves the praise of, “Good job, Henry,” and the accompanying cheers or applause so much, that he started saying “good job!” to himself when he identified a card or carried a bunch around with him. “Yay, yay, YAY!” became his favorite new cheer. This spirit was wonderfully contagious. He began cheering us as well. Whether we located an alphabet flashcard, tossed an item in the trash, or poured him some water in a cup, baby Henry was quick to clap and cheer. And, at the end of the day, who doesn’t want the zeal and joy of a “yay, yay, YAY!”