Written by Shawna Wingert of Not The Former Things.
I have a confession to make.
This may sound a little crazy, but when I was in school, I actually enjoyed completing worksheets. It didn’t matter the subject, whether it was fill-in-the-blank or circle-the-correct -answer, I loved them.
There was something about the promise, as I would write my name in the upper left hand corner (because, of course), that this worksheet would be complete — all the lines filled in, the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed – this worksheet would show how much I “knew.”
Fast-forward about 25 years to when I started homeschooling my own two sons, and not much had changed. I still loved the worksheets. I wanted my sons to love the worksheets.
I wanted them to see the ease and brilliance of just following the directions, and then moving on with your day.
But they didn’t see the brilliance. And the ease? For both of my children, worksheets are suffocating and tedious at best, and a reminder of how difficult some of their special needs are at worst.
I wish I could say I learned my lesson quickly. I wish I could say that I was easily able to walk away from all those check-for-understandings and fill-in-the-blanks, but I didn’t. In fact, to this day, I find myself inexplicably drawn to the section in Barnes and Noble that has all the workbooks by subject and by grade — Every. Single. Time.
The reality that I have come to accept, and have even learned to enjoy sometimes, is that the way I learn, is dramatically different than the way my children learn.
And, the way my oldest son learns (who was reading at 3 ½ without me doing a thing – don’t be jealous or roll your eyes yet …), is dramatically different than the way my youngest son (who is approaching 9, has been diagnosed with profound dyslexia and a processing disorder, and still sometimes forgets how to form the letters in his own name) learns.
So, what does our educational life beyond worksheets look like these days?
Maybe I am just a slow learner, but it took me more than a year to actually start intentionally incorporating a more active, hands-on approach to our learning.
It all seemed so overwhelming at first. Let’s be real here – completing a worksheet about fractions is a lot less time consuming (and messy!) than baking a pie with two children under 10.
At first, I had to force myself to schedule one activity a week. Then, I saw the impact. They were engaged. They weren’t arguing with me about “doing school.”
They actually learned the fractions!
At this point, especially with my youngest, we do very little learning that does not involve something tactile. Even his ability to read has improved with the introduction of 3-D wooden letters that we use to complete most phonics and spelling lessons.
Although I was intimidated at first, I wish I would’ve listened to all those homeschool moms and blogs and tried this sooner!
Regular field trips
We have always liked getting out of the house. Even when my oldest was still in public school, we would often use the weekends to visit museums and take hikes together.
But for the first couple of years learning at home, I didn’t “count” these trips as “school” unless we went with a larger homeschool group.
Even worse, I often printed up worksheets (I know you are not surprised!) from the websites of the places we visited. I required my children to fill them out as part of “getting credit” for the trip.
After a while, I realized the more I pushed to make the field trips formal, the less anyone learned.
Now, we visit museums, botanical gardens, the aquarium, and science center at least once a month. We typically go alone, or with only one other family, so that my boys can take their time and learn as much as they want at any given exhibit.
I do not print up study materials but instead, have discussions in the car on the way there about what they want to see, and on the way home about what they learned. I also take tons of pictures so I feel like I have some level of documented learning.
My youngest loves to move his body. He is a natural athlete and very rarely sits still.
After seeing the success of incorporating hands-on activities, I was motivated to be more intentional about also using movement as part of his learning.
For example, when he was learning the different continents, I purchased an inexpensive rug that had a world map printed on it. I put it down in his room, and when it was time for Geography, he would jump from continent to continent as I called out their names.
We also do this to practice math facts. Instead of doing memory worksheets for basic addition and subtraction facts, I line the inside of our trampoline with the numbers 10-20. I then call out various addition or subtraction problems and he has to jump to the answer.
In both instances, I found he learned and has retained the information faster and with much more engagement.
The results have encouraged me to try and come up with an activity with movement involved for every subject, at least once a week.
This is by far the most impactful, and the most difficult step I have taken to move our education into true learning.
The truth is, I still like worksheets. I still like the idea of having a neat pile of paperwork that shows how much we have accomplished in our learning. It’s a nice idea, but I have had to let it go, because that never was our family’s reality.
For my children, worksheets actually slowed our learning and disengaged my learners.
Once I let go of my own learning style and need for written “proof” of our productivity, my children actually became productive, active learners.
Although it took me a little while to figure it out, it finally dawned on me that if this is how they learn, this is how I need to teach!
Let me be perfectly clear, this is not an indictment of workbooks and worksheets. In fact, if you are homeschooling a child who is anything like I was as a child, I would suggest you print many of those free worksheets off the internet and get out of the way.
Worksheets have a place in learning, and can work brilliantly for some children.
For mine however, this just simply is not the case.
The beauty of homeschooling is that we can tailor our approaches to the unique children we have been given.
It may be difficult at first, especially if your learning style is the opposite of your child’s, but my experience has been that it is always worth it.
What alternatives to worksheets do you use in your home?