Well, hello there! Welcome back to an article talking about worksheets. These are things that are widely used, both in teaching children in the home and at school.
When you look at the Google search volume for “Phonic worksheets” for example, you will see a whole load of people searching for that!
I can understand why people (and even some teachers) think that worksheets are a good idea. But, when working with young children, there is always a better way.
What’s wrong with worksheets?
From an adults point of view, worksheets can often seem like a great tool to teach children or help them practise what they have learned.
A worksheet is such a neat and concise thing for an adult to look at!
But, for young children, there are several BIG problems.
They are too Abstract!
The reason that a modern early years educator will always talk about the importance of “hands on learning”, is because of the following.
Most young children learn best when actually doing a physical action with real items. You may find some exceptions, but on the whole this is the case.
I will give you an example. You want a child to practice some simple math skills, let’s say adding and subtraction (a key element of preschool math). So, you give them a math worksheet that has a picture of a bus. There are children on the bus and others waiting to get on.
The question goes something like “There are two children on the bus, and two children waiting to get on the bus. When those two children get on the bus, how many will be on the bus all together?”
Compare this with actually having a toy bus, with actual figures. When I have done this, I usually build a Lego bus with Lego figures.
Here, the children can see and interact with a physical bus and physical figures that they can use for this Math problem.
Which version will provide deep learning for the child? Which version is easier to understand? Which one shows how to make math fun?
If you try something similar at home, you will find most children learn better with the latter approach.
Adults don’t always realise that, when you put something on paper, it can be too abstract for a young child.
Hands on activities are a far better way to help your kids with math!
Lack of Flexibility
In most cases, these math or phonic worksheets have been downloaded from the internet or copied out of a book. They are not tailored to your child’s ability. Maybe they are too easy or too hard for your child.
When doing a hands on activity, it’s really easy and fast to adapt that activity to the ability of your child. With the bus example above, you can quickly use more or less child figures as needed.
This lack of flexibility also means that a worksheet might not interest your child. It’s much easier to change up a real activity to suit your child and thus get them more interested.
In the bus example above, maybe your child is not interested in buses! Maybe, they love everything related to space. It is easy to change that activity into a space ship with astronauts. A worksheet is much harder to achieve this with.
They are NOT FUN!
Let me ask you a simple question.
If you were to work in an office and your company were releasing a new product. They ask you to fill in a form to help them brainstorm the best name for this product. A picture of the product and all its features are on the form.
Do you think…Yippee… I love filling in forms, lets go!!
As adults, we usually don’t get excited by anything on paper!
How would that feeling change if your boss came in with the actual product. And asked you to do the same process being able to interact with the real thing! Would you feel better or worse about this?
Most of us would surely be much more interested in the task in the latter example, where we have the real product to handle and play with.
If this is as an adult, how do you think this feels for children?
With some exceptions, most children will find it far more fun and engaging to do a real activity, rather than a worksheet.
When a child is having fun, they are a willing learner.
Some Real Examples
After discussing why worksheets are not good for young children, I want to do something interesting.
I want to take some worksheets randomly from the internet and show you how to make a much better hands on alternative activity.
If you think you can do this well already, feel free to skip the rest of this article.
The worksheets I will use are from Kidzone.ws.
This particular example is under the preschool math section. The idea of this is to help your kids with math. Specifically, with counting objects.
The idea is for the child to count the objects and circle the correct number.
Is this helping your kids with math?
This is a good example of why worksheets are too abstract for a lot of children. There are a lot of things on the page, which are put there out of necessity, but probably don’t make sense to some children.
Why is there a barn? Why are there animals? Are we supposed to put the animals in the barn? Why are we counting the animals? Do donkeys go in barns?
The other thing I don’t like about this, is the fact that the objects are too close together. This may confuse some children when counting.
Young children often miscount when asked to count objects. Being able to physically touch or move an object whilst counting helps with this a lot.
Also, you are given 3 choices of answers for each question. The only reason for this, is to fit it nicely on the page, not for any educational reasons!
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
This is actually a simple one to make a hands on activity for. You could have a toy barn with toy animals. You could role play a situation where you are a farmer and you are counting to make sure you have the right amount of animals.
You could put the first set of animals in the barn and ask your “farmer” child to help you count them. You could put a number card for the answer face down, and your child could use this to check their answer.
Which activity do you think your child would be more interested in? Which activity is showing how to make math fun?
The worksheet version is just something the child is doing for no real reason.
The hands on activity, they are able to role play with toy animals. They are also able to help you, by counting the animals on your “farm”.
You will find these factors make a lot of children far more willing to complete the activity.
If your children don’t like animals, which activity would work better?
If your child find these numbers too easy or hard, which one is easier to adapt?
Of course, the hands on activity can be quickly changed up for anything that interests your child. You can swiftly change out the number of objects to make the activity harder or easier on the fly as well.
Preschool math should be fun and and engaging. This is how to make math fun for young children.
Phonic worksheets are very common and plastered all over the internet. These phonic resources are promoted to help your child recognise letters, their sounds and (in this case) the difference between capital and regular letters.
Is this fun with phonics?
The idea of this phonic worksheet, is to ask your child to colour the “C” with one colour and the “c” with another.
When looking at this phonic resource, some problems appear.
Yes, it is too abstract! Why are there letters all over the page? Why do I need to sort them? Why is there a giant “O” or “0” in the middle?
I know we like to encourage thinking skills for kids, but this is more confusing than anything!
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?
I would set up a role play situation.
Tell your child you both work for a letter factory making letters for schools all over the world!!
But, oh no, our letter making machine has broken and has spat out all the “C” and “c” letters all over the place.
You can use old cereal boxes to make your machine, including boxes/containers for the “C” and “c” letters. Ask your child to help collect these letters, making sure to put them into the correct box. Children love to role play and most will love the idea of being a factory worker. If not, a hands on activity is easy to adapt to whatever your child likes.
You could hide these letters around the room, have them spit into a tray of sand….you get the idea, right!
I don’t think I need to explain again, you should see now how the hands on activity would be a much better activity for most children.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be less likely to just turn on your computer and download the latest phonic worksheets for your child.
It is a misconception that worksheets are easier and faster than hands on activities too. In the time it takes to turn on your computer, download the phonic resources and print them. You could already have quickly grabbed some resources from your home and done something hands on and fun.
Preschool math and phonics should be fun. It should be hands on. It should be releavant and challenging to your child. With so many different children out there, hands on activities will fit these requirements much better.
I understand that you want to help your kids with math or phonics.
Now you know a better and more age appropriate way.
Worksheets are often associated with specific taught skills such as recognising numbers. Even these skills can be transformed into hands on and fun activities.
If you are really strapped for time, and are looking for a quick fix for your child to have fun with phonics (for example). Technology gives a far better interactive experience than worksheets. Go look at some of the online phonic resources I have reviewed on this site, such as Teach Your Monster to read! This can’t replace hands on activities, but can give your child a 5-10 minute daily quick fix which is better than worksheets. I give the example of phonic resources here, but you will find similar for other areas of learning.
What’s your view? We would love to know down below!
Do you help your kids with math? Do you use phonic worksheets?