Published at Saturday, May 04th 2019. by Nathaly Marchal in Worksheet.
Welcome to the Child Led Environments Series where we are exploring how to set up and cultivate an environment conducive to child-led learning. As a parent and educator, when I walk into an environment with early learners, whether that be in a home school 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.
It was three o’clock and preschool was over for the day. Four-year-old Jamaica, her arms full of papers, called out to her mom. Jamaica’s mother smiled and asked, ”What’s all this? Your school work?” Jamaica nodded and handed the papers to her mother. Jamaica had spent a large part of the afternoon in her seat, pencil in hand, filling out worksheets. On one she had drawn lines from the letter ”A” to the picture of an apple; from the letter ”P” to the pear; and from the letter ”O” to the orange. On another sheet she made her pencil go from the dot on the top line to the dot on the bottom line, thus making the lower-case letter ”l.” Jamaica’s lines were a bit shaky, and her teacher had written, ”You can do better” on the page. Jamaica’s mother was concerned when she saw the comment and worried that her daughter was not performing well. In truth, Jamaica’s work was fine. Her teacher’s expectations were the problem. In many preschools, child care centers, and kindergartens, young children spend their time on worksheet paper and pencil tasks. Teachers who use worksheets believe they are demonstrating children’s learning progress to parents. Unfortunately for Jamaica and the other children in her class, worksheet activities are not developmentally appropriate and can cause many problems.
Before a child can hold a pencil and make an accurate mark on paper, he must have a great deal of small motor control. He needs practice with various materials and objects that require grasping, holding, pinching, and squeezing. He must have ample opportunity to make his own marks with objects such as paint brushes, chalk, fat crayons, and felt-tip markers. Only later, when he has achieved the necessary finger and hand control, should he be asked to write words or numerals with a pencil. The timing of this accomplishment will vary among children. Some four-year-olds and most five-year-olds are ready to write a few things, notably their own names. But, we must remember that each child develops on his or her own schedule, and some six-year-olds may be just starting this task. If they are encouraged, rather than criticized, they will continue to learn and grow and feel confident.
Problem solving involves an element of risk. If we want children to learn to solve problems we must create safe environments in which they feel confident taking risks, making mistakes, learning from them, and trying again (Fordham & Anderson, 1992). In a play-based curriculum, each day provides opportunities to learn about reading, writing, and math through real, meaningful situations. For instance, children set the table for snack so each child has one napkin, one straw, and one box of milk. Children string beads to match the pattern on a card or wait their turn because there is room for only four children at the art table. Through these meaningful experiences children begin to understand number, quantity, size, and other mathematical concepts.
Conclusion, There are two fundamental problems with worksheets. First, young children do not learn from them what teachers and parents believe they do (Kostelnik, Soderman, & Whiren, 1993). Second, children’s time should be spent in more beneficial endeavors (Willis, 1995). The use of abstract numerals and letters, rather than concrete materials, puts too many young children at risk of school failure. This has implications for years to come. Worksheets and workbooks should be used in schools only when children are older and developmentally ready to profit from them (Bredekamp, S. & Rosegrant, T., 1992). Our challenge is to convince parents and others that in a play-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum children are learning important knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will help them be successful in school and later life.
Children are born with a need to move (Kostelnik, Soderman, & Whiren, 1993). They wiggle, toddle, run, and climb as naturally as they breathe. When we insist that children sit still and do what for them may be a meaningless task, such as completing a workbook page, we force children into a situation incompatible with their developmental needs and abilities. When children cannot or will not do such a task, we may label them ”immature” or ”hyperactive.” We may complain about their short attention span, or as in Jamaica’s case, criticize her efforts. On the other hand, if we allow children to choose their own task from among appropriate offerings, we may see children as young as three and four years old spend 30 to 45 minutes completely engrossed in building with unit blocks, painting at the easel, or listening to stories. When we plan developmentally appropriate activities for children, they will attend to them, work hard, and learn (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992).
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