Despite what we know about how children learn (hands-on, through play, through the use of their senses), worksheets are something that have persisted in our early learning world. At best this is a waste of time, and at worst, this has the potential to teach kids the wrong lesson about learning– that it’s not fun.
Worksheets have one use
Research shows that fewer toys make kids smarter, which might initially seem counterintuitive. But fewer toys encourage children to be more creative. Fewer toys encourage children to engage in imaginative play where they allow one object to stand in for another object. This type of play helps develop symbolic thinking. Symbolic thinking allows children to be more creative and to be more effective communicators.
Worksheets are a single use item. There is one thing to do with the worksheet, and one thing only. This hardly inspires creativity or higher levels of thinking.
Worksheets have a “right” answer
Typical worksheet activities (tracing lines, circling the right letter, drawing an arrow between matching objects) all have a right or wrong answer. A child may quickly learn to be fearful of finding the right answer because the risk of being wrong is too high emotionally. Learning is about taking risks– asking questions, problem solving, testing out new ideas. Worksheets do not foster this kind of learning because worksheets are about right answers.
Worksheets happen in isolation
An important measure of learning is transfer, meaning can an idea learned in one context be transferred to another. For example, you might see a child transferring knowledge about color mixing with paints to color mixing with markers. They are testing out what they learned in one context and applying it to another situation. Worksheets are divorced from any context, making learning transfer difficult. Doing worksheets is going to make kids good at worksheets, not good at other things. Where else is a child going to trace lines between the letter A and an apple?
Worksheets are too abstract for most young children
As children develop they move from the concrete to the abstract. The process of learning letters and numbers means connecting an abstract symbol to a concrete thing. For example, the symbol of the number 5 and the word “five” are abstract things that both have concrete meaning. A worksheet stays in the abstract space, and doesn’t make it clear if a child has actually made the mental connections between the concrete and the abstract.
Worksheets mean you’re not doing something else
Children need to move, talk, explore. Time spent sitting at a table filling out a worksheet is time taken away from other, more important learning activities.
Many people justify the use of worksheets as something that needs to be done for kindergarten readiness. The reality of child development, though, is that earlier does not mean better. The brain develops in such a way (bottom up, back to front), that means asking a child to do something before they’re ready is a waste of time. So yes, kids may be faced with worksheets when they get to kindergarten, but introducing them to worksheets earlier is doing them a disservice. Let them continue to learn through hands-on and exploratory play activities. They’ll be just as ready for whatever kindergarten throws their way.
Looking for ideas to implement instead of worksheets? Check out our guide here.