Flashcards can be a great way to learn, and contrary to some of the stereotypes they don’t have to be used to hot house children but rather they can be an ideal tool for very relaxed learning through play. We have quite a collection of flashcards in our playroom for a range of uses from speech sounds, to visual support, to vocabulary, early numeracy and lots more.
We were sent some new packs to try out from Miles Kelly this week, and my younger boys were very interested as soon as they saw the packets. Flashcards are a simple tool, but they really like them especially when they are so bright and inviting. They offer so many possibilities for playing and learning!
We have ABC and ‘Colours and Shapes’
There are countless ways in which the flashcards can be used. They are a very open ended and flexible tool, which is something I love about them! At first the boys just wanted to take the cards and look through them all, exploring the pictures that they could see. There’s plenty of benefit in that. Anything which keeps Mr R’s sustained attention is a winner for me, it’s helping to develop his attention span and concentration. Even when exploring the cards on their own, this is giving a child passive exposure to written language in the same way that leaving through a board or picture book would.
There are also plenty more structured games and activities that you can play with the cards.
Colour and shapes activities
- Identify the colour or shape on each card
- Choose a card and think of more things that are the same colour or shape for example trees and grass for green, steering wheel for circle
- Have a selection of crayons or counters nearby and match the colours on to the cards
- Talk about mixing colours. Show two card and guess what colour they would make when those colours mix.
- Count how many sides a shape has
- Group shapes by straight or curved lines
- Draw shapes in different colours – a green circle, or a pink square
- Talk about favourite colours and shapes
- Talk about which shapes and colours are similar to each other, and group them together
- Talk about the colours of the items in the pictures, whether those things can come in different colours or are always the same colour
- Use the overview card to find and point to matching shapes and colours on the individual cards (Mr R loved this!)
- Sound out each letter
- Use the letter cards to practise letter sounds with cued articulation. Mr T focuses on certain letters at a time because of his speech disorder. Right now we are working on C, and we have just finished F.
- Pick a card, say the sound and say the word – emphasising the beginning sound so that they can really grasp how beginning sounds work. This is phonological awareness, and can be a tricky skill for little ones to grasp. This needs to be very firmly in place before children can start blending and reading, so it’s important to support it. ZZZZZZ-Zebra or DDDDDDDD-Digger can help to reinforce the sound and the word.
- Put the cards into alphabetical order
- Pick a card and think of a word starting with that letter, or even lot and lots of words! With a slightly older child you can use categories like “think of an animal” “think of a name” or “think of another word connected to the picture on the card”
- Collect together things around you that begin with that letter. You could display them in a basket along with that letter flashcard for the day
- Practise drawing the shape of each letter in different materials – in the air, in the sand, on a blackboard, on a paper, in a salt tray, in shaving foam, or whatever you fancy!
- Point to a letter on the alphabet card and find the matching card
- Talk about upper and lower case letters looking at both forms of letter on the card
- Sort the letters by curvy lines or straight lines
- Use lines and curves to build letters of your own, using the same techniques shown here for the pre-writing shapes
- Say a letter out loud, and ask your child to find the matching letter. This is only suitable if they are quite confident with the letters, you wouldn’t want to make them feel “tested” if they don’t have that ability yet, but if they do then it’s a good auditory processing activity
- Place two cards on the table which make up the end of a three letter word (eg ‘ig’ or ‘ag’) then work together to discuss which letters could go in front to make good words – Pig, or Wig, Bag or Rag etc
- Let your child search for all the letters needed to make their name and then spell it out using the cards. (This will only work if your child has no letter repetition in their name). You can do the same activity with other short words too.
- Looking at the pictures on the cards, say the word and describe the picture together. The more advanced / older your child is, the more detail they could describe
- Look at the pictures, say the word and sign the word. If you are teaching any form of sign language in your home this is a good way to help reinforce that sign vocabulary. We do use Signalong for Mr T and Mr R, although we rely on this less now than we did 6-12 months back when Mr T had no language at all and very poor hearing, it’s still a really important skill to have and something most children find fun to learn!
- Look at the pictures and find things with similarities – “things you wear” “things you eat” This helps with categorisation which is an important language skill. Mr T came up with this game himself, by quickly grabbing the car picture and the steering wheel picture and showing that they go together.
Most of the activities above, I’m more likely to carry out one to one with the children so that I can make sure that each boy sustains their joint attention and remains engaged with the activity and I only do a short session at a time. Depending on the level and stage the children are at, many of the above could also be used as group games.
You can use the flashcards to encourage team work and turn taking among younger children by involving two children together in the activity. It’s a good low pressure turn taking exercise for children who are only just getting to grips with taking turns because there are plenty of cards to go around, and it doesn’t take long for each person to pick a card and show what they have.
Controlled turn taking activities like this have been very helpful for my younger two boys. You would place all the cards over the table and then take turns to pick a card, verbally reinforcing the turn taking at every single turn “Mr R’s turn” “Mr T’s Turn” “Mum’s turn” when this is done with quick turns, it helps a lot for children to grasp the concept more easily. Turn taking is not only an important social skill, but it also helps with speech and language as children need to follow the pattern of turn taking, speaking and listening in conversation.
- Flashcard treasure hunt. Hide a card and ask the children to run around the house or garden to find it. You could give clues, leave a trail, or hide each card somewhere that’s linked to the word – eg the spoon card in the spoon drawer in the kitchen
- Memory game. Take a tray and lay out several cards, ask the children to look at the pictures and memorise, then take one or two away and see who can remember what they were
- Describing and guessing game. Split into two teams – one child or team will pick a card and describe the picture to the other team or child, who then has to guess what it is
There are so many more games that you could play, and ways that children can learn with flashcards! If you have some favourites that I haven’t mentioned, please share them with me in the comments.
Anna Marikar, mum of four and seasoned blogger, has spent over a decade sharing her parenting journey and passion for kid-friendly crafts and free printables.
Her easy-to-follow craft ideas and practical parenting advice have transformed In The Playroom into a cherished resource for parents.