Flashcards: do they seem a little old school to you in this day of online learning games and apps? It might be time to reconsider your perspective, because according to Michael Nielsen, a scientist who researches deep learning and neural networks, flashcards are a quick but powerful way to master subjects, even complex ones.
Nielsen says it took him two years to memorize 9,000 flashcards while spending 20 minutes a day reviewing them.
Even if you aren’t interested in memorizing tens of thousands of tidbits of information, Nielsen’s story demonstrates that flashcards can be a very useful tool to help you and your child learn and remember information. Flashcards can allow your child to master a new subject and/or reinforce their current knowledge.
- Because repetition interspersed with periods of brain rest (known as “spaced repetition”) is one of the best ways to learn. The repetition helps your brain retain the information, while the rest helps your brain absorb it.
- Because trying to remember the answer before you look at it is called “active recall” and is also one of the most powerful tools for learning.
According to Nielsen, “(Using flashcards) makes memory a choice.”
So how can you practically put this technique to work to help your child learn and remember important concepts?
Here’s an example: if you’re using our USA Flashcards to teach your child the names of the presidents, cover up the name while showing your child the picture to help them learn who is who. This engages active recall, and helps your child consider the extent of her knowledge each time you review (this is also known as metacognition, or thinking about thinking).
Start with just a few minutes a day, and make separate piles for cards your child gets right and wrong. Encourage them as the “right” pile starts growing each time they practice. Be consistent and keep review sessions brief and upbeat.
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