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How to Teach Reading by Creating and Using Custom Digital Flash Cards

written by: Ellis Scott • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 4/4/2013

My five-year-old has no problem adapting to new technology. You can teach your child to recognize words with digital flash cards. Learn how to make your own here.

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    Create Your Own Digital Flash Cards Chances are your child loves to be engaged with technology. I have a three-year old and a five-year old. Neither one of them have any fear of technology. Between the television and wanting to be on the iPad, I believe they could spend every minute on those devices if I didn’t stop it.

    The best thing about new technology is that even though your children are eager to play on it, you can force learning on them by controlling what they do with the technology. There are a myriad of apps and games that can help your child learn different skills and concepts. But recently I stumbled upon a great way to help teach sight word recognition while at the same time building your relationship with your child… digital flash cards. All you need is a digital camera (or smart phone) and some flash cards that you have bought or created yourself. Then, you will turn those cards into digital flash cards.

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    Make Your Own Digital Flash Cards

    My daughter is five and has learned all her letters and sounds. She is excited to be starting kindergarten next year and since she knows a few words, she is constantly asking us to teach her to read. We broke down this weekend and bought a pack of flash cards. I quickly realized two things. First, there is a huge difference between knowing all the sounds a letter makes and stringing those sounds together in order to figure out what a word is. “Sounding out” a word is not as easy to a five year old as I remember it being when I learned it. Secondly, I learned I don’t like teaching small children (even my own) to read… apparently I don’t have the patience.

    At any rate, my daughter was not figuring out the words as fast as I would have liked. When she did figure one out, she forgot it by the time we went back to it a few words later. So I immediately tried to figure out a way to make this activity fun for me. I went through the stack of cards and pulled out 15-20 words that could be represented by things around the house such as colors, numbers, and other nouns. Then I got out my phone. I would tell my daughter a word, such as “cat” and she would go get something to represent cat. We would then take a picture of the cat and the word together.

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    I even did some videos. For example, for “run”, she ran across the room right toward me holding up the card in front of her. She stopped when she got to me, held the card up to the camera, and said “run”. It was fun. Then it was over. Good times. I wasn’t sure she learned anything but we had fun doing it. So after we were done, I tested her on the cards. There was no change. She knew the word “sun”. She knew the word “sun” before we started. So much for that idea.

    At this point I threw in the towel. I gave her my phone so she could “review” the words on her own (I needed a break). Ten minutes later she comes back over to me and wants to go through the pictures on my phone with me – ahhhhh! Just when I’m about to send her to review them with her mother, she starts sliding through my pictures naming all the words. She got them all on the first try. Now I’m intrigued.

    I’m such a pessimist. I must admit that my first thought was that she was just looking at the pictures. Anybody can look at a picture of a cat and say “cat”, even a five year old. Regardless, I reviewed them with her a few times since she was obviously enjoying it and it wasn’t too bad for me since she was getting them all right (even if there was a picture to go with each one).

    Later that night, after a lapse in time of an hour or so, I decided to test her with just the flash cards to see if any real connections with the pictures were made. We went through the cards again (I would give hints when needed) and she began to get them correct. We went through just the cards the next day and she got a majority of them on the first try. By the fourth day, she was ready to add more words. It’s important I note here that going through the cards to me is just that… going through the cards one time. So day four would be the fourth time we went through the cards. You could increase the speed of this by reviewing the cards more often than once a day.

    Interactive Learning

    The best thing about this activity is that it not only helps your child learn, but it is parent-child interactive. You aren’t just downloading an app and letting them play. You’re also building a relationship with them while using technology and teaching them at the same time. In addition, when she wants something to do during a car ride or sitting in a doctor’s office, I can pull up the pictures on my phone and know she’ll be learning something while reminiscing about when we made our custom digital flash cards.

    Have you tried using an iPad to teach your young children? What has worked for you?