Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Anatomy of Great Math Flashcards

During my time as an aide in preschool and kindergarten classrooms, a preschool teacher, and as a mom I've had more than a little experience helping kids learn numbers with flashcards.

And while I know that there are some out there who think using flashcards with kids means that you're some crazy mom bent on having a genius child, I've found in my own experience that kids love flashcards--especially little kids--and that they work.  

Kids like to see one thing at a time, hear you tell them what it is, and practice their knowledge of it at their own pace.  They love the one-on-one time they get when they sit across from you or in your lap and have you focus just on them and what they're capable of.  And it's fun both for you as a parent (or teacher) and for your child when they get it right.  Learning is such a wonderful accomplishment!  And it's fun to celebrate in that rewarding experience together.

But the quality of the experience and the learning that goes on can have a lot to do with the materials you're using.  Over the years I've come across some not-so-great materials and I've really become quite picky about what kind of educational materials I like and which ones I think are useful.

When I went in search of some good math flashcards for Olivia recently, I had a hard time finding any that I really liked.  So I thought I'd introduce you to the ones I made and walk you through what I think makes a good set of math flashcards.  I'll talk about the common problems I've seen in a lot of the ones available and give you my own solutions to those problems.

Okay, let's begin, shall we?

Problem: The design is too complex
There are too many distracting shapes and other objects that distract from actually learning about numbers.  I know the "One house, Two kittens, Three bears..." stuff is cute, but when there's other cool stuff to look at, that's all the kid wants to talk about.   

Solution: Clear, simple design
These flashcards feature a fun, but simple design.  They're classic and colorful, but not busy.  The numbers are bold and printed in a plain font, not some cutesy design that's hard to read.  When my daughter looks at these flashcards she sees the numbers and wants to learn about them.  Ahhh, mission accomplished.

Problem: Many number flashcards only teach the numbers 1-10
Learning the numbers 1-10 is a good start, but it's not enough.  

Solution: These flashcards teach the numbers 0-20
Zero is certainly important.  And the teens can be tricky to learn.  Kids need more.

Problem: The number holds no meaning as a value
Because kids are so used to learning the names and sounds of letters, I've come across several kids that confuse numbers as being the same sort of thing.  But numbers are different.  They don't mean a sound, they mean an amount 

Solution: Dots show value
For each number, there are dots below it to show the value of that number and to facilitate in counting.

Problem: Sixes and Nines easily get mixed up
Even adults occasionally mix up sixes and nines.  They look the same upside down!  Many educational materials for teaching numbers combat this problem by putting a line underneath the six or the nine, but often they go overboard and put a line under both... which totally defeats the purpose.  And maybe this is just me thinking too much about it after lots of number flashcard time with little kids, but aren't they likely to get confused about thinking that sixes or nines always having a line underneath (i.e. thinking that the line is part of the number)? 

Solution: Dots below numbers show which way is "up"
The dots below each number not only help kids conceptualize the value of numbers and offer practice in counting, but since there are dots on the bottom of each card, they also make it obvious which way is "up" without having to deal with that pesky little line underneath.  Talk about two birds with one stone...

Problem: The flashcards are only good as flashcards
Just having a set of numbers isn't going to take you very far.  It's nice to have a set that'll work well for several math activities as your kids learn and grow. 

Solution: These flashcards come with symbols for building equations
Not only do these flashcards come with the numbers 0-20, but they also come with the symbols used in simple equations (equals sign, plus sign, minus sign, multiplication sign, division sign).

NOTE: The PDF for these flashcards actually comes with two sets--a LARGE set and a MINI set.  All of the numbers and symbols are included in both sets, but the minis are probably more functional for building equations.

Problem: Store-bought flashcards only come with one of each number
What if you want to add 1+1?  Or have more than one of each number for any other reason?  You're out of luck. 

Solution: Print as many as you like
Because these flashcards come as a PDF, you can print off as many as you need.  Baby destroys one?  The number 4 goes missing?  Two kids want to work on numbers at the same time?  No problem!  Just print off the extras you'd like.  This freedom gives you even more versatility in the activities and learning you can accomplish with your child--playing memory games, go fish, etc.

Problem: The nice stuff costs too much
Most high-quality, well-designed educational materials cost way too much for me.  And of course your kid's education is important, but it's hard to justify spending so much on something that seems so simple. 

Solution: These flashcards are affordable!
While I do feel that these flashcards hold a lot of value as a great and long-lasting educational tool, I know what it's like to live on a tiny budget.  So these flashcards are much cheaper than the nice stuff you'd find in department stores.

If you'd like a set, you can find 
them in THE SHOP.

I hope you found some of this information helpful and didn't just feel like it was one big infomercial.  :)  I really am passionate about child education and I've learned from experience that good design and good quality in materials can really make a difference.

Best of luck in your own search for what 
works best for you and your kiddos!


Find more fun and easy preschool ideas on the Preschool page.  You can also find them by clicking on the Preschool button in the header.  Enjoy!   


Nancy said...

Love these! How much would you charge for a printed cut out laminated set?

the momma said...

aw - come on now; you can't go through all that and not have a whole slew in your shop ;-)

very cute!!!

Elizabeth said...

I just ordered these from your Etsy shop. Such a great idea, and my 15 month old will love to look at (and bite, and chew, etc.) them! I am a teacher and I agree with your assessment of why these are good flashcards. Can't wait to print them up for my little girl. Thanks!

the momma said...

thanks for adding more :-)

I think the laminated would last MUCH longer, but I don't have access to inexpensive laminating so I think I'll try printing a set on photo paper and see how they last. My youngest is 2 - so we don't really have issues w/ putting stuff in mouths anymore....

Thanks so much for offering these up!!(and adding more so quickly!) You're a sweetie!!

Katie Lewis said...

Two quick things I wanted to say in response to some of your nice comments...

1. If you go to The Shop to buy some and don't see any there, it's probably because I haven't been fast enough to keep updating them. If this happens, please check back soon! I'm aware of the problem now and I've added another listing to help with the problem. But if I'm still not ahead of my game enough, please check back soon! Or send me an e-mail or a convo on etsy letting me know you want to buy a set and I'll let you know when they're available in the shop.

2. At this time I won't be offering a pre-made laminated set. Sorry! If you're just totally heartbroken about that and you REALLY want a pre-made laminated set, send me an e-mail and maybe you'll be able to talk me into setting up a special order for you. Maybe.

Whew! That felt wordy. The end. :)

Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

These are awesome, Katie!! I can't wait to try them out.

Unknown said...

These are fantastic!! I've never been happy with the generic flashcards we've had...These are definitely going on my wish list!!!

Lisa Lou said...

Holy moly! These are awesome!

teacherspet04 said...

I really like these - and you are very sweet and thoughtful with your offerings.


Maida Khan said...

Hi I'm desperately trying to order these, I have been looking for something similar for so long, I tried to order them from the shop but the link is dead, please refresh the link.
Promptly waiting for a response