Can flashcards be used with preschoolers? If so, how?

I have worked successfully using flash cards with three and four-year-olds.  The children were learning the alphabet.  I used a deck of cards with all 26 letters printed on them, plus pictures of words which begin with each letter.  Here’s how you might use the cards:

Child holding a pile of flash cards that she's studied and now knows.

Click on the picture to enlarge.

  • Use flash cards to recognize the names of the A, B, C’s.  For very young children, start with just a few cards (such as the letters in family names, Mom and Dad).  Later increase the number of letters until all 26 could be identified.
  • Use flash cards to recognize the sounds of the A, B, C’s.  Start with a few cards whose sounds the child already knows and add more until all 26 letter sounds can be identified.
  • Use flash cards to pair letter names and sounds.  Once the child knows the names of the A, B, C’s and the sounds individual letters make, shuffle the cards and pull them one at a time for the child to identify both names and sounds.  Resist the urge to place all the cards face up on a table.  For some children, seeing all 26 cards at once is overwhelming even though they know the letters and sounds.  Showing one card at a time is not so intimidating.  Start small.
  • Use flash cards to order A, B, C’s.  Taking a handful of cards at a time (A to E, for example), place them face up in mixed order on a table.  Let the child arrange the cards in order.  Sing the ABC song slowly with the child if she hesitates.  Then add another set of cards (F to J, for example) until all the cards are in proper order.
  • Use flash cards to identify a letter and its sound with a word.  It’s important for the child to memorize a word which comes to mind immediately for each letter.  This will be useful when the child is beginning to sound out words.  When learning with vowels, choose words that begin with short vowel sounds.  For example, A is for apple, E is for egg, I is for igloo, O is for octopus and U is for umbrella.
  • Flash cards are also useful for learning sight words.  Not all tiny words follow the rules of phonics (the, as, of, is, was and they, for example).  Yet children need to be able to recognize these words to read.  In many kindergarten and first grade classrooms, teachers have lists of these words on the wall for students to use when writing.  Manufacturers sell boxed sets of commonly used sight words too.

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