I did my student teaching in a rural school district with a teacher who hadn’t updated his teaching style since the Vietnam War. In the beginning of my student teaching experience, he handed me a pile of worksheets- at least 6 inches high- and my job was to hand them out all day long. As the teaching responsibility shifted more towards me, that pile got smaller and smaller. My mentor teacher did not like this at all. He told me that people expected me to give worksheets, and that was how students learned. Fortunately, the program supervisor, the school’s principal, and other teachers knew that this wasn’t true.
My creepster font in my graphic might be a little dramatic, but my student teaching experience sparked my huge disdain for worksheets. Filling in blanks, tracing letters, and matching vocabulary words with their definitions don’t create meaningful learning opportunities. This is why my switch to an Ambleside School was so perfect for me: I only used meaningful workbooks, and the lessons were based on texts that I loved reading.
I should say that I don’t believe all worksheets are awful. When they are used as assessment, or when they offer information (like a number chart), they can be very helpful. But relying solely on worksheets to teach a child will lead to quick burnout and a lack of joy in learning.
With a little outside of the box thinking, you can trade in the worksheets for more meaningful experiences.
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Instead of using counting or alphabet worksheets, use counting chips (or even just beans!) and magnetic letters for practice in these areas. For older children, math manipulatives like hundreds cubes or math wrap-ups are helpful for learning math facts without having to drill-and-kill with worksheets.
Not every Charlotte Mason homeschool is okay with using technology, but there are lots of apps out there that teach math skills without being overtly silly (translated: twaddle!)
A small white board is probably my favorite worksheet alternative. The main benefit of giving children worksheets is that they can be used as a quick assessment- and white boards can be used this way, too. You can get an immediate response and determine if your student understands. This is especially great if you’re homeschooling multiple students, or if you have content on a worksheet that you don’t want to miss. Simply have your children “fill in the blanks” on the whiteboard instead of on the worksheet.
Some worksheets do have valuable reference information on them. The problem with these is that it’s difficult to encourage children to keep them organized. Trying to dig out the right worksheet took precious time away from our lessons. Instead, try making an anchor chart. An anchor chart contains information that a child can look at for quick reference. While there are adorable anchor chart ideas available on Pinterest, a Charlotte Mason homeschooling mama will want to limit theirs to just the necessary information.
There’s so much buzz about different types of learners that I think sometimes we assume that children can’t learn any other way than they’re predisposed to. Today, 90 percent of learners fall into the category of kinesthetic (hands on) and visual learners, so I think that’s why we feel we have to put paper in front of a child for them to interact with. Understandable. But there’s something to be said for orally stating math problems, vocabulary words, etc.
The habit of rapid mental effort, (which Charlotte Mason describes in Home Education,) is something that can easily be developed through giving answers to math problems or other questions aloud.
“Aim steadily at securing quickness of apprehension and execution, and that goes far towards getting it.” Charlotte Mason, Home Education, page 149
It’s amazing how quickly technology changes, because when I first started teaching 11ish years ago, I had to drag out a big old projector and have a prepared slide if I wanted to share visual information on the board with my students. A few years later, it was a smaller projector that I could connect my computer to with a dongle (still such a funny word to me!). Now, there are itty bitty smart phone projectors, and I think this would make an amazing homeschool tool! We don’t have this, but this one has good reviews and it’s under $100.
Projecting images, either on a smart phone projector or one the size of a small car allows you to look at images, information, or solve problems all together. It is definitely more engaging than a worksheet!
How do you feel about worksheets? Do you use any of these approaches as worksheet alternatives?