“Because the parents expect them,” is one of the most common answers we hear to explain why early educators continue to use worksheets. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. For most of us we don’t really remember our experiences in early education, so we don’t know what early learning should look like. But we know worksheets are a waste of time in preschool. So how might we satisfy what your parents are looking for, but in a developmentally appropriate way?
Worksheets as evidence of learning
Let’s first consider what worksheets signify for adults, and why. Adults likely remember worksheets from their elementary school days and not really question their validity in preschool. It’s a physical item a child can take home with them. It often has letters, numbers, or shapes– all things we tend to think kids must learn in preschool. If you don’t know how children learn, it’s easy to mistake worksheets for evidence of learning.
Your role as the professional
This is where your role as the early education professional comes in. They don’t always advertise this, but early education requires almost as much adult education as it does child education. It’s your role to help parents understand their child’s development, and how that fits into child development more broadly. You are the best person to help parents understand why worksheets aren’t developmentally appropriate for young children.
Parent communication as king
Parent communication might easily be the antidote to anything that goes on in your child care program or classroom. Just about anything can be solved with regular, proactive, open communication between educators and parents. The same is true for the learning happening in your program.
You don’t need to have a formal lesson for your parents on how children learn, but rather you can communicate it to them every day in the way you share updates about individual children and the group as a whole. It can be as simple as including the skills and learning domains children are learning in the various playful activities they engage in throughout the day.
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t let it. Think of it as a long game. You don’t need to show all of the learning all of the time. In fact, your parents probably won’t have time to absorb it. But repeat messaging and reminders about how kids spend their time outdoors and what they’re learning when they do that will help parents get it over time.
Tangible examples of learning
So your parents want tangible examples of learning. That’s not too hard– you have a lot of tools at your disposal to show parents their child’s growth and development!
Use an app for sharing photos and daily updates. You can include details about learning in the captions. Over time, a photo-sharing app becomes a sort of digital portfolio for your parents.
If digital sharing is not enough, create actual portfolios. You can use a three-ring binder to collect work samples (ie: drawings, writing samples, etc), organize printed photos, and document things the child has said. These portfolios can be the basis for conversations in parent teacher conferences, and at the end of the year parents can take them home.
Use a developmental assessment tool like the Ages & Stages Questionnaire or the DRDP. Complete for each child and share with parents to discuss areas of growth and areas of opportunity.
There are so many other, more meaningful ways to showcase the learning happening in your classroom each day than through worksheets. It might take time to implement, but you’ll see that with a little guidance, parents won’t even expect to see worksheets anymore.