worksheets-are-not-appropriateOverview: Worksheets, workbooks, and printables. Is there a place for them in the early childhood setting? Today I’m explaining why I think worksheets are not appropriate for young children.

Welcome to the #ChildLedEnvironments Series where we are exploring how to set up and cultivate an environment conducive to child-led learning.

  1. How to Cultivate a Love of Learning
  2. Toy Rotation: Why It’s Beneficial for You and Your Child
  3. How to Incorporate an Encouraging Home Preschool Environment
  4. 9 Reasons Why Worksheets Are Inappropriate for Young Children
  5. 4 Aspects of the Adult’s Role in a Child-Led Approach

As a parent and educator, when I walk into an environment with early learners, whether that be in a homeschool setting or preschool setting, I want to see those kids engaged in their learning. Young children should be manipulating materials, testing hypothesis, and exploring the world around them.

No matter where I look, I should not see a child doing a workbook. Worksheets are not appropriate for young children for many reasons. Let me start off by explaining what a worksheet means to me.

What is a Worksheet?

A worksheet is paper and pencil. There are no other materials used in conjunction with the worksheet. These include handwriting practice sheets and coloring pages. Sometimes parents like to pull out manipulatives for math worksheets to help the child “build” the answer. I still count these as worksheets. You really only need the manipulatives anyway, and the child will get far more out of the lesson if he writes his own equations rather than writing an answer down on a worksheet.

A worksheet is not a printable that is used to enhance a hands on activity. Do you see the difference here?

When we use a hands on material like unifix cubes to help solve problems on a worksheets, it’s not okay. But if the worksheet (or printable) is used to enhance the activity such as counting mats, it’s okay. The worksheet should be an afterthought, not the reason for the manipulatives.

With that in mind, lets talk about why worksheets should not be in the early childhood setting.

9 Reasons Why Worksheets Are Not Appropriate for Young Children

1. Worksheets Do Not Teach

A worksheet does not teach, no matter how hard you believe they do, they just don’t. Children, young children especially, need time to explore concepts and manipulate materials in order to learn. A cut and paste worksheet on the life cycle of a butterfly is really just giving them cutting practice, not teaching them about the life cycle. But the simple manipulation of life cycle models or watching the life cycle happen in front of them is much more meaningful and appealing. Hands on learning benefits all learning styles, even those kids who love to write.

2. Worksheets Do Not Challenge Kids

Really all worksheets do is test rote memory, a way for children to just spit back information to you. In the end, do we want a child to memorize concepts, or do we want them to understand them and apply them to different situations? I bet it’s the latter.

By using a hands on approach to learning, we give kids the opportunity to test the concepts in different situations, so they can understand how this concept can be applied to different areas of their life. Hands on learning gives children the opportunity to use and refine their problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills.

3. Worksheets Do Not Allow for Higher Level Thinking

Again, worksheets are there for spitting out information. Where is the thinking in that?

Hands on manipulation of objects, gives children the opportunity to create hypothesis, test them out, and use their problem solving and critical thinking skills to completely understand how it works.

4. Worksheets May Be “Teaching” What a Child is Not Ready For or Interested In

This is more towards workbooks, especially if you follow the workbook page by page. Just because the workbook says it’s for 3 year olds, does not mean your child is ready for it.

Related: What to Teach My Preschooler and When to Teach It

It’s best to teach your child based on their interests and signs of readiness. A workbook does not allow room for every child’s unique growth and development sequence.

5. Worksheets Leave No Room to Challenge The Norm

This is a huge one for me. When I taught in the public schools, we were told to get kids to think for themselves and defend their answers. But, their answers and evidence must match the teacher’s guide and test answer key.

Really? How is it possible to get a child to think for themselves and defend their position, but also be correct 100% of the time according to an answer key?

It’s just not possible! I look at it this way, if a child can defend their answer to any question using evidence then it’s correct whether the answer key says so or not. In 20 years, do we want people running this country who only know how to give one answer, or do we want people who can be creative and think outside the box?

6. Worksheets Do Not Provide Real, Meaningful Experiences

I go into a lot of detail about meaningful experiences in this post. Basically, a child needs to have a reason for learning the concept. Completing a worksheet is not a good enough reason for a child.

Providing activities that connect to real life gives children a reason to learn it. If you present a worksheet to a child and say “Read this so you can answer these questions.” Are they going to be motivated? Most likely not!

But if a child is trying to learn how to build a sturdy fort, but must read the directions to learn how to do so, then that gives them a reason to learn.

7. Worksheets Take Away the Love of Learning

I see parents all the time in different Facebook groups mention something like this…

I’m at a lost. My 2 year old is frustrating me with learning her letters. I have tried everything, we do a worksheet a day, but I feel like I’m beating a dead horse.

Well that should be a clue right there! If you are frustrated and your child is frustrated when worksheets are being used, then it’s not an effective learning tool.

I know what you’re thinking! But what if my child loves doing worksheets?

I’m not going to tell you that a young child isn’t going to love worksheets because I was the type of child that loved worksheets. I would sit for an hour and complete a whole workbook. My mom couldn’t buy enough workbooks to keep me satisfied, so I know that some kids do love them.

I’m not saying you should never use a worksheet, especially with those kids who LOVE them. Really you should only be using them with the kids that love them. If your child doesn’t love worksheets, you should be finding a new way to learn.

Now that doesn’t mean you give them worksheets everyday, all day. Think of it this way, what if your child loved candy as much as they loved doing worksheets and they wanted to eat candy all day long? Would you let them? Most likely not. Just like candy, worksheets should be used in moderation with the ones who love doing them.

8. Worksheets are Too Abstract

Young children are still in Piaget’s Preoperational Stage, which means they need symbols to represent objects. These young children cannot think abstractly. For example, they need a ball in their hands to understand what a ball is. Seeing the word ball on a worksheet or sometimes even just a picture of a ball, means nothing to them. That’s why hands on learning is best because it gives the child a symbol for their thinking.

Related: Cognitive Development

9. Writing on Lines is Not Appropriate

A very popular type of worksheet for this age group is handwriting sheets where the child is expected to trace the letter. These are not developmentally appropriate for young children. Even though huge letters that take up the whole page may be annoying to most adults, it’s normal for a child to write this way. Their fine motor skills are not refined enough to focus on tracing small letters.

I know worksheets are the easy way to give a child something to do and easy to plan, but sometimes the best things in life are not easy.

Happy Learning!

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