In Montessori we do not use flash cards in a flash card kind of way. Although I have seen a parent use cards as flash cards in a Montessori environment, flash cards are not Montessori at all. Quickly showing a child a card and expecting them to memorise it, then recall it - isn't really learning.
However my children are both currently using flash cards and I thought it would be interesting to show how. Otis (4yrs) is currently using the Flash of Brilliance Dinosaur Flashcards and Caspar (7yrs) and Otis have been using the Flash of Brilliance Space Flashcards (they have been doing lots of space/solar system work together). The cards are really nice and thick, they have great images on one side and facts in dot point form on the reverse side. The topics of dinosaurs and space are also really interesting as both use imagination, some level of abstraction, we cannot show children a real dinosaur or real planets (although we have seen real space suits, real images of planets etc).
Because the images are so nice and clear (minimal background) and they are the perfect size, these flash cards are good to use as matching cards. In the top image Otis is matching dinosaurs and above is our planet matching tray. The facts on the back of the cards can be really useful if the child wants more information on the topic, "is this dinosaur a herbivore?". With both of these activities we have only used a selection of cards, those that are most relevant or that we have materials for matching. Typically for toddlers the writing or a label on a card can be seen as a distraction and not desirable. However for the prereader/early reader stage that Otis is now in the writing - dinosaur or planet name is really useful.
Above Caspar is using his solar system book to put the planets in order from the sun. This is really useful - both boys are doing lots of solar system work and this type of activity reinforces his previous knowledge. It's good that Caspar can use his knowledge to teach and explain this to Otis. This is why multiage classrooms work so well.
The cards I have pulled out here are pretty basic but there are more complex ones. Flash cards can work very well as vocabulary cards. Again with Otis being in the prereader/early reader stage these work wonderfully on a couple of levels. We read (and both say) the name, discuss the topic and lay them on the mat. Maybe stopping to discuss further or going back to other cards or going off on all sorts of tangents.
Although we don't have any up at the moment - I think good quality flash cards like these would work well as a display. For a child interested in dinosaurs for example - dinosaur flashcards can be hung on a line (with little pegs) or displayed other ways would be really nice. While we wouldn't see this in a Montessori classroom, I think it would make a sweet personal touch to a home learning environment.
What do you think, do you use flash cards in your Montessori environment?