Flashing a deck of picture or word cards rapidly in front of our babies or toddlers has become one of the “signature” brain stimulation activities among Asian parents. Let’s examine how this has come about.
Believed to be invented in Japan in the 1980s, the rapid flash card technique has been touted to stimulate the right brains of our children, helping them achieve “lightning-speed processing” and photographic memory prowess. The inventors of this 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). Once the speed is slowed, 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.
Sounds compelling? To give our child a rapid-thinking brain and photographic memory abilities is no small matter.
Unfortunately things are not as simple as it looks.
Firstly, using modern advanced brain imaging scanners, scientists have increasing evidence that cognition and thinking results 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.
Secondly, and this is the point of greater concern, what we know from research on TV watching by children is that visualizing rapidly moving images is highly undesirable for young developing brains, as it disorganizes brain areas critical for paying attention.
“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 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 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.
My 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 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, 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 gaining more knowledge about the science of brain development, parents can make wiser choices and decisions concerning our children’s enrichment and education.
If you are want to learn more about what the science says regarding how we should be stimulating our children’s brains, attend our parent workshop to find out more!