Flashing a deck of pictures or word cards rapidly in front of toddlers or babies has become one of the “signature” brain stimulation activities among Asian parents. Before we examine how flash cards have come about, let us first dive into how the brain functions and how right brain training can benefit your toddler.
What is Right Brain Training?
A child’s brain is divided into the left hemisphere and right hemisphere. The left brain focuses on linguistic functions, analytical thoughts, numeracy and processes information slowly. The right brain, on the other hand, takes care of visual imagery, intuition, arts and processes information at a faster rate as compared to the left brain.
A strong right brain enables a child to think more efficiently and acquire skills such as photographic memory, speed reading and prodigious musical talents. An efficient right brain helps a child sponge up information quickly, improving academic performance, focus and attention span.
This is especially important in Singapore as the education system has a high emphasis on left brain competencies – exams, competitions and critical thinking capabilities.
Why Flash Cards do not help with Right Brain Training?
Believed to be invented in Japan in the 1980s, the rapid flash card technique is a form of right brain training for toddlers. Although many have claimed that this spaced repetition technique helps a child achieve “lightning-speed processing” and photographic memory prowess, I beg to differ and will state why I disagree with this brain training technique.
1. Both sides of The Brain are Equally Important
First and foremost, the left brain right brain theory has been debunked by many researchers. Using modern advanced brain imaging scanners, neuroscientists have increasing evidence that cognition and thinking result from the dynamic interactions of multiple brain areas. There are few, if any, cognitive activities that involve a single brain area or single side of the brain.
According to Jeff Anderson, lead author and professor of neuroradiology at the University of Utah, he stated that:
“The neuroscience community has never accepted the idea of ‘left-dominant’ or ‘right-dominant’ personality types. It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain, but it would be highly inefficient for one half of the brain to consistently be more active than the other.”
2. Flash Cards Do Not Aid In Brain Development
We know from many years of research that children watching visualizing rapidly moving images on TV is highly undesirable for young developing brains. Similar to flash card activities, these activities disorganise the toddler’s brain areas which are critical for concentration and attention span.
Furthermore, using flash cards as a brain training method is passive in nature and does not require any engagement from your child. Flash cards only show an image of an object or a word and your toddler may not be able to associate the image to a real-life object.
Often, memorising is mistaken for learning. Flash cards promote memorisation rather than communication, language and literacy skills, which are core skills a child needs in his future academic endeavours.
Flash cards can also overwhelm your toddler’s brain as too much information is competing for synaptic connections in the brain. For example, think of a time when you received multiple emails, calls and messages all together at the same time. Your start to blank out as your brain tries to process all the information. Children experience the same thing as well during flash card activities. Without relation and application, these right brain training activities will not be effective.
“The problem with watching short bursts of images on the television screen is that the synapses in the brain are trying to tie this information together. Televised images are in constant movement preventing the baby from being able to stare at the image and take it in fully. This can cause confusion in the way the brain organizes information. This rapid change in images inhibits baby’s ability to develop an attention span and causes the processes of the brain to be in the hyper drive which is why children have a hard time focusing, paying attention, sitting still and being able to control themselves.”
It is for this reason that the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement in 1999 to paediatricians to urge all parents to avoid television watching for all children under the age of 2 years, and this statement was again affirmed by the AAP in 2013.
3. Flashcards Take Context Out of Learning
When toddlers are only taught to recognise information on flashcards, they may still be unable to use that information. This is because your kid can recite “3+3=6” but he may not actually be able to apply this into context.
For example, when he is given 3 sweets, he may not be able to compute the number required to make 6. Hence, flashcards tend to separate solutions to a real-life problem with the memory work acquired from flash cards. Without being to apply what was learnt, your child will not be able to internalise and wholly understand the concepts in context.
4. More Effective Brain Training Methods
There are superior brain training methods compared to flash cards. Whole-brain training methods involve interaction, application and sensory development which provides a strong cognitive foundation for your toddler. It is a scientifically-proven method to acquire speech, language, memory and critical thinking skills.
Here at BrainFit Studio, our whole-brain training methodology involves 3 proven methods – Physical Training, Cognitive Training and Emotional Training to support growth and connectivity of new brain cells. This form of brain training targets all 5 core “brain pillars” – Vision, Auditory, Sensory-Motor, Focus and Emotional processing, improving your toddler’s cognitive development holistically.
Why are Flashcards so Popular?
The inventors of this right brain training technique believe that the left brain is a slow-processing, analytical brain that delves into details while the right brain is a fast-responding organ that is the seat of rapid intuition, creativity and “having the big picture”. To stimulate this fast-responding right brain, it is essential for flashing of cards to be done at an extremely fast pace (0.5sec/card or less). If the speed is slowed down, the left brain will be activated as the child starts studying the details of the image and this will defeat the purpose of the activity.
- Longer Attention Span & Concentration
- Photographic Memory (eidetic memory)
- Creative & Vivid Imagination
- Musical & Artistic Talents
- Positive Emotions & Behaviour
- Spatial Recognition
Sounds compelling? To help our children achieve rapid-thinking brain and photographic memory abilities is no small matter and things are, unfortunately, not as simple as it seems.
Our Recommendation to Parents?
If you have already prepared or purchased flash cards, you can still use them with your child by talking about the images or words on the cards. If you have pairs of similar cards, you can convert them into a fun memory game!
Whatever you do, I highly recommend that you skip the rapid flashing or any flashing at all! Visualising fast-moving images is simply not natural for our baby’s and children’s brains and it is just not worth the risk of disorganizing their developing attention brain networks. A large amount of research supports this finding so it is time parents take this seriously.
To conclude, we as parents will try anything in our quest to give our precious children a head start in life. As a parent of two young girls, I fully understand this desire. However, it is important that parents keep themselves updated with the science of brain development so that we can separate the wheat from the chaff in this noisy and cluttered marketplace.
“Follow the science…”, as I often tell my friends and the parents I meet. I believe that by acquiring more knowledge on the science of brain development, parents can make wiser decisions about our children’s enrichment and education.
Instead of right brain training methods, BrainFit Studio focuses on whole-brain training programmes to build your toddler’s critical brain fitness and intelligence pathways for improved complete cognitive performance.