When I was a baby, my parents did flash cards with me – tons of flash cards, hundreds a day, for several years. They started this with me when I was 2 months old, and continued on until my younger brother was born. Though many baby experts suggest avoiding flash cards, or at least timing their use to match various stages of development, my parents followed the often-criticized Doman method: newborn children have a genius potential and should be stimulated from the very start. (My parents will be happy to tell and re-tell… all of the amazing stuff I did as a baby.)
In their first few months, babies learn how to see, hear, feel, digest, move their limbs, get attention by crying, gain a sense of balance, control various reflexes, etc… At no point in life will you ever ingest so much new material. The baby brain is designed and capable of learning a significant amount. Per Doman’s method, anything we as parents can do to accelerate a baby’s learning at this time is capitalizing on the baby’s ability to learn at a pace unparalleled to what we as adults can experience. Doman’s books suggest showing the baby pictures (“bits of knowledge”), words, numbers, taking the baby out into the world, encouraging early tummy time, and all sorts of other stuff that ultimately help the baby to create more early neural connections.
If you poke around YouTube, you can find videos of very young infants doing stuff babies don’t often do, such as swimming, running, playing the piano and violin, reading, and doing math or even complex math. I’ve heard countless stories from my own parents about the impressive stuff I did as a baby and toddler, and, despite the numerous criticisms of Doman, my personal experience definitely lends credibility to the method. I also can rationalize the approach as long as it’s balanced and tempered (as some of Doman’s activities get fairly extreme). Unfortunately, Doman’s Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential provides no hard data backing up flash cards as a tool – and I can completely understand why: with a baby, there’s barely time to do the flash cards, let alone to keep a log of everything! Only time will tell, but in the meanwhile, the cards and accompanying activities provide meaningful things to do with our baby rather than just watching her sit in a swing for countless hours.
For a very high level overview of the first few stages of Doman’s program, check out these checklists.