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Book Review: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards

Book Review
Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children REALLY Learn - And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff with Diane Eyer (Rodale, 2003).


Wow, that's a title I can get behind. Many parents instinctively like to see their kids play, but wonder if they can afford the "luxury." Einstein Never Used Flash Cards debunks a lot of overblown scientific reports that have been used to sell "educational" programs and toys.  See if any of these revelations surprise you.

  • It is not true that playing Mozart for infants improves their IQ.
  • It is not true that successful readers are those whose parents spent the most time drilling them on letters, either during infancy or preschool
  • It is not true that the window of opportunity for music learning, foreign language learning, or much of anything closes after age three, age six, or any age.
  • It is not true that even young toddlers have adult-like, sophisticated mathematical abilities, which we waste by not developing with formal education.

There now, don't you feel better? The authors go on to explain why, and how we know that:

  • Children are wired to learn from situations, not flashcards.
  • Complex abilities like early mathematical reasoning develop through a combination of everyday experiences and natural maturation.
  • Attempts to teach rote facts to young children, without understanding, are hopelessly ineffective oversimplifications of human learning.
  • A learning child must always be viewed as a whole person, with emotional content of any situation being as important as the intellectual content.

These are powerful ideas that you can use to support your kids' development without making them into nervous wrecks. The authors give you the intellectual ammo you need to feel good about letting your children play dress-up games instead of going to soccer-for-tots, or for that matter letting them lie on the couch appearing to do nothing at all.

Einstein Never Used Flash Cards is less successful in its "Bringing the Lessons Home" sections that try to tell you how to use a particular idea or finding to support your child's development. They ring a little false; after spending so much time telling us how complex and wondrous learning is, we're supposed to try asking our child to imagine what an ant sees in the grass?

Although much of the book addresses early childhood learning, most of the ideas extrapolate well to later learning. You'll even find yourself thinking differently about your own learning.

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