One of the things parents of gifted kids get accused of a lot is forcing flashcards on their children. In reality, that doesn’t happen a whole lot. Gifted kids tend to learn to read and count without flashcards. Many of them learn basic arithmetic and other facts just through repetition in day to day school stuff.
However, flashcards do have their place.
DC1 is ready to move on from 2nd grade math to 3rd grade. There’s all sorts of neat new things to learn. Unfortunately we started hitting perfectionist melt-down road-blocks. DH finally figured out that these melt-downs were happening when multiplication was involved. Coincidentally, DC1′s end of the year report-card came with a note to practice DC1′s multiplication facts over the summer. (She also sent a reading fluency workbook that ze loved so much ze’s finished it, links to suggested booklists, and some handwriting practice.)
So I sat down and had a chat with DC1 about maybe learning hir times tables this summer. At first ze was resistant, but I explained that when I was in 2nd or maybe 3rd grade, I had trouble with my times tables too and my mom had to eventually sit me down and drill me with them until I got them. (And then I became the fastest in the class, sometimes tying with but usually beating another kid named Ahmed at Around the World, but I didn’t tell DC1 that. Competition is out these days.) I’ve also helped tons of people learn their times tables with flash cards, including DC1′s aunt. So grudgingly ze agreed to try, and I promised ze’d know the times tables by the end of the summer, which was 2 months off. Ze figured that was a good goal and was a little excited by it.
Day 1 went smoothly with DC1 giggling at already knowing all the times 0s. Day 2 with the times 1s went similarly. We had a few hiccups with times 2s on day 3, especially with 12. Anytime ze didn’t know one, we’d stop and figure out how to get the answer. Then I would put it back in the pack randomly. If ze didn’t get it a second time, I’d put it back in the pack one card away so ze would see it again almost immediately. We’d go through the entire deck once, removing cards ze got immediately and repeating cards ze got wrong or took time to get until the entire deck was gone through correctly and immediately. The cards that ze didn’t know right away would show up the next day too as review.
On the times 3s, we had to take a break, but got through. Ze started being able to figure out how to get 3*6 if ze already knew 3*5 using the techniques we’d used for times twos.
On the times 4s, we had a full blown melt-down. Tears, daddy-intervention cuddles time, not knowing, snack breaks, the whole thing. Horrible. But when cajoled back, I showed hir 7*4 (a sticking point), and ze said immediately “28, but I’m just guessing”, and then 4*4 was “16 but I’m just guessing” and we explained that that’s how memorization works. It was truly a lightbulb moment for DC1 and ze flipped through the times 4s as if ze had always known them. Suddenly they were easy. Ze ran off to get quizzed by DH, who was appropriately impressed. “I’m just guessing and I get the answer,” DC1 explained.
Next day times 5s, which ze mostly knew and could easily figure out on hir own via skip counting. A couple of the times 4s still giving trouble, but nothing major– more like 4*3 = 16 no? 12.
Times 6s were mostly unfamiliar (starting with 6*6, but reviewing 0-5*6), but we got through them without any fussing. DC1 had gone through a mindset change, the likes of which ze probably hasn’t done since learning to ride a bike or finally being able to swim. (Both of which happened long enough ago ze may not really remember.) Ze realized that ze could do the seemingly impossible if ze just worked at it and practiced enough.
Next day we took a break from new numbers in order to clear out all the legacy times that could use more review. To my surprise, after the first go-round only 6*6 remained. DC1 was very proud of hirself and eager to do the times 7s the next day. We also spent two days on the times 7s, with only one remaining.
And so on until we got through the times 12s. (Honesty compels me to admit another small meltdown on the times 8s, though not as bad as the 4s.) Then general review through all the cards, keeping the ones ze didn’t know automatically. Then the pages of multiplication tables the teacher sent home, 5 minutes a day.
And now we can go onto more interesting math stuff.
So… flashcards. Much maligned, but useful. Even rote memorization can sometimes teach a real lesson about persistence and growth.
Do you have strong feelings about flash cards one way or another?