Saturday, May 16, 2009

Einstein Never Used Flashcards

"What supports the growth of children's intelligence is recognition of the value of their childish ways of enjoying the world and helping them to play ball, enjoy a story, learn a song, build a sand castle" p. 135.

I randomly stumbled across the book, Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why they need to Play More and Memorize Less, by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff Ph.D., Kathy Hirsh-Pasek Ph.D., and Diane Eyer Ph.D., and it has turned out to be a paradigm shifter! I started reading it a little skeptically. Their main premise is the fact that play = learning and that children actually better develop skills they need to succeed in life through play rather than explicit instruction.

As a teacher in the No Child Left Behind Era, I know the standards that children are expected to learn and how much there is to master in so little time. Therefore, I was used to focusing on structured and sequential learning tasks. However, my experience is with elementary age kids, where most students are at a developmental level to be able to soak up knowledge in that fashion. This book focused on early childhood from birth to 6 years old. And, after reading the research and explanations of these developmental psychologists, I am on board. The limited training I have in early childhood education completely aligns with what I have read here. And, I am thrilled to be able to have some encouragement for what seems most natural as a parent.

Here are some of the key points:
- You are not the shaper of your child's IQ. Through play and natural adult interaction preschool kids develop all of the skills they need to be able to succeed in school and later in life. There is no need for flashcards or gimmicky educational toys or drilling our children. Learning in context and actually trusting the child's natural desire to learn and explore in pre-elementary years will create more avid problem solvers and more creative thinkers. Pushing them will cause anxiety.

- Focusing less on the mechanics of reading (letter identification, word memorization, etc.) and more on the pure enjoyment of and broadness of exposure to books will better prepare students to learn to read in first grade. Read to them as much as possible...and make it fun!

- We need to ensure that our children have plenty of unscheduled free play time (no need to hurry them on to be busy adults in this class and that!) Young children are best able to cultivate creativity, problem solving, generating new ideas, attention span, reading readiness, thinking symbolically, and social and emotional development during imaginative, free, and make-believe play. This is perfect because they love to do this!

- Emotional Intelligence is potentially more important than IQ. When children are emotionally intelligent they are persistent, have self-control, are self-motivators, can read their own and others' emotions, and can empathize. Through playing make-believe alone or with adults or peers, children learn vital skills to help them be ready to learn in elementary school and beyond. We can encourage empathy and ability to deal with their own emotions by helping them to recognize their feelings, deal with them positively, and to recognize others' emotions. It is great to have lots of dialogue about any and everything in daily life (especially things they are curious about and emotions), thus fostering linguistic and emotional development.

- Praise effort and process, not achievement and product. This will create risk-takers rather than kids who fear failure.

In this past week, I have so enjoyed watching my kids come up with their own imaginative and free play games! I appreciate it so much more after reading this book. Under the kitchen table is now permanently their house, and the coffee table makes a great counter for their "Kelly's Hardware Store." In fact, we went to the aquarium on Wednesday with some fun friends and had an amazing time. The kids loved exploring there and in the grassy area by the harbor after. Once we got home, the kids laid on the coffee table on their bellies to pretend they were observing dolphins in a touch tank!

The next day they had play time at our friends' house and we took advantage of the beginning of summer by making our own ice cream by shaking milk, sugar, and vanilla in plastic bags surrounds by ice and rock salt. (I can give you the recipe if you would like it!) It actually tasted pretty good, but I must say that my hands were frozen after it, because I was left to do most of the shaking!

The following day, daddy took the day off and we used our gift cards to Build-a-Bear (Thanks, Nana and Papa!) B excitedly made a Hello Kitty who got dressed in a flowered dress and sparkly pink flip flops. T rebelled against accessories for his Zebra, who he loves and snuggles quite a lot. He calls it "Bebra," though when we asked him, he said his name was "2." Very cutting edge. These two animals have already been the focal point of much fun play and many pretend grocery shopping trips. b is very busy organizing every activity for them all. Can't wait to see what they think of next!


  1. Interesting! I fully support this theory! Kids need to use the imaginations to get the creative juices flowing! No pushing! always a good thing!

  2. Girl- I have a masters degree in early childhood education and I am so glad books like this are hitting the mainstream! The "flashcard frenzy" is one of the reasons I left my job teaching kindergarten. Aren't our little people amazing?