Inside: It’s time to stop doing worksheets with kids and turn our attention to better learning activities.
We need to put the brakes on worksheets and workbooks.
It doesn’t take long in a group of parents for someone to mention their child’s workbook.
“What’s their workbook like?” “What sort of worksheets are they doing?” “I wish school would send home more papers so I can see what they’re doing.”
Somewhere in the landscape of early childhood education, we (parents) have been fed an idea that worksheets and workbooks are solid learning, and that doing a page in a workbook is the epitome of education. Without this tangible thing, there is no proof a child is learning.
But that’s simply not true, and it’s actually damaging to our kids.
You don’t need worksheets to teach young children and we need to stop printing them. Here’s why.
I know worksheets are all the rage these days. We see worksheets everywhere.
Adorable worksheets on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Fancy workbooks lining the aisles of big box stores.
Preschool curriculum filled with daily pages to print out.
Here’s what I define as a worksheet – A piece of paper where a child is…
- Filling in the blank
- Connecting the dots / word searches
- Answering multiple choice questions
Play dough mats, record keepers, writing paper, and cutting pages are not worksheets in my opinion because they facilitate learning. The child is actively engaging with these tools.
RELATED: We need to stop worrying about toddlers and the ABCs – here’s why.
I understand the draw of worksheets with kids. It makes sense how we’ve bought into this idea.
Worksheets are tangible. We can touch them and see the learning our child is doing.
Worksheets are easy to print from home and tell us exactly what the objective is. Circle the flower with a red crayon, draw a square on the black hat.
We believe a worksheet/workbook makes a visual statement that my child knows that Aa and Apple go together. See the line they drew connecting the two? It’s proof of learning.
Without that worksheet, can we really prove to other parents that our child knows Aa is the initial sound in the word apple? (Yes, we can, and also no, we don’t need to prove anything to other parents, but I’ll get to that later.)
Worksheets can be fun. Don’t get me wrong! I, for one, have never met a word search I didn’t love or a dot-to-dot that I didn’t want to do.
Worksheets are great for keeping kids busy at restaurants – the children’s menu is basically a table-ready worksheet when you think about it.
Worksheets have their place as something simple to keep kids busy if you need that from time to time, but worksheets should not be the emphasis, basis, or most frequently used learning tool with a child, especially a young child (under the age of 6).
The truth is worksheets are a very one-dimensional way to learn, but we are NOT raising one-dimensional kids.
RELATED: Read a seasoned preschool experts opinion on worksheets in “No More Worksheets.”
What do worksheets do?
Worksheets and workbooks show our kids how to trace, copy, and mark up. They teach kids to find the right answer and move on.
Worksheets make our kids sit and work.
These are not the end-all-be-all skills that we want our children learning, least of all young children.
Worksheets don’t teach.
Worksheets let kids use skills they’ve already learned, but a worksheet / workbook in and of itself is not going to teach your child.
Our job as parents, as their first educators, is to create a love of learning so deep and passionate that it carries them to adulthood.
We want our children to explore, ask questions, seek information, take risks with their learning, imagine other solutions, and work tirelessly to master complex situations.
The reality is: we cannot teach these skills through a worksheet.
And by making worksheets the focus, we are taking away countless opportunities for our children to learn in a hands-on, play-based, and meaningful way.
We are taking away a chance for them to learn by doing. We take away the chance for the whole child to be engaged in the learning process. We limit a child’s ability to take risks and problem solve, because with a worksheet, there is only one answer: the “right one”.
What happens when a child does a worksheet?
A worksheet uses a very limited number of skills – mainly pre-writing or writing skills (to draw or trace) and rote memorization (the rapid recall of information).
Often, children are asked to do worksheets before their writing skills have fully formed.
This can have the unintended consequence of rushing a child to hold a pencil before they a ready, which forces them to create a “work around grip”, and to potentially need intervention later in school to undo this grip.
Kids learn pencil grip and handwriting on a predictable developmental track – rushing into worksheets won’t help them learn these skills faster or earlier.
We want kids thinking critically…not thinking for worksheets
Most of the worksheets and workbooks available for early childhood education are very low on Bloom’s Taxonomy (that’s a ranking scale for how difficult a question/problem is) meaning they don’t challenge our kids or stimulate their brains.
There’s a big difference between asking a young child: “What shape is a clock?” and “Why do you think a clock is round?”
When we focus our teaching solely on using these “low level” worksheets, our kids miss out on the chance to learn how to think, reason, and ask questions which they could be doing in a hands-on activity.
Worksheets cheapen our children’s education. Instead of actually doing the problem or seeing the activity, they’re left to circle, match, or trace lifeless pictures on a piece of paper. Childhood is about experiences – not about bubbling in the correct answer.
Here’s what we should do instead of worksheets…
We should teach our children in a hands-on way. Instead of connecting a line from Aa to Apple, let’s have our children search through a bin of objects for ones that begin with the A sound.
Right there, they just used critical thinking skills, tactile learning, and vocabulary skills to name objects. That’s a lot more than a worksheet can offer.
We should teach our children in a play-based way. Instead of asking them to circle all the pictures of animals, let’s have them play a game making groups of animal toys vs not animal toys.
Now they’ve had a chance to interact with the materials, to analyze information, collect data, and organize it. A worksheet can’t do that.
We should teach our children in a meaningful way. Instead of buying a workbook, let’s give them opportunities to learn and play that will resonate within them, that they will remember throughout their lives.
No adult remembers the awesome worksheet they did, but instead, we remember the amazing hands-on experiences we had that helped us learn and grow.
The truth about worksheets
Worksheets are a simple way to keep kids busy, but they aren’t how kids learn and they certainly aren’t going to teach our young children.
We don’t need worksheets in order to know our kids are learning and we certainly don’t need them to show that our kids are learning.
We can do so much better without them! And I assure you, some of the most powerful hands-on learning activities can be put together faster than you can print a worksheet.
- Make your child a sensory bin.
- Set up a science experiment.
- Play learning activities.
- Practice fine motor skills in a fun way.
Rather than color the flower red, use items at your house to make a color hunt.
Instead of connecting five dots on a hat, use stickers to demonstrate counting skills.
It’s easy to make your own activities – and ones that have way more learning than a printable can offer.
You are their first teacher.
Remember, you are the best teacher for your child and no workbook or worksheet can ever replicate what you can offer by simply playing, reading, and conversing with your child.
Let their skills grow naturally. Let them engage with the world around them. Teach them how to think!
What’s the bottom line on worksheets? Our kids don’t need them.