Should Preschoolers be doing Worksheets?
Putting the words preschooler and worksheet in the same sentence can sometimes bring up some big feelings from early educators. It seems that there are many views on the worksheet or no worksheet stance in preschool. Some educators think worksheets are helpful. Some use worksheets sparingly and others use no worksheets at all. But before we dive into this topic, let's define worksheet for the sake of this conversation. For me, a worksheet is a piece of paper with a skill to practice that has a specific objective that is copied and then given to children to complete. So the big question here is, should preschoolers be doing worksheets?
Let's look at both sides of this issue to help us see the bigger picture. To be clear here, I am definitely a no worksheets kind of girl. But I also know how important it is to look at things holistically so that we can make sure that we are making the best decisions for our children as possible.
No Worksheets In Preschool
The reasons behind not wanting to introduce any sort of worksheet into your classroom might be because it's not individualized. If the same worksheet is being given to all the students, then it is not differentiated, it is not individualized to what each student is learning and where they are in their learning journeys. This can obviously be differentiated by changing the type of worksheet for each child and their needs. Another reason that you may be in the no worksheets camp is because it requires some fine motor skills that not all children have built up. They may not have the muscles in their hands to be doing a lot of writing (or maybe even cutting and pasting). There are some requirements of different worksheets that they may not be ready for, maybe even coloring in specific areas on a worksheet. This also becomes hard when they don't have enough motor control to stay within those lines. So that's another reason why no worksheets might be best for young children.
Another reason is that it requires completion. So when we ask children to complete a worksheet in full, it might be too difficult. It may take way too much time and our children just may lose interest. They may think, well, this is not fun. This is not what I like to be doing. Then, they lose interest, and they want to say goodbye to it all together. Now, one way to combat this is to cut worksheets down to help with the attention of tasks. This happens a lot in the elementary setting where we cut a worksheet in half, or maybe even into thirds to accommodate that attention and that completion of a task. But that is another reason why worksheets may not be best for our young children.
The last reason that I find the most compelling is that research doesn't necessarily support worksheets, as we're defining them here. Research for young children supports hands on, meaningful, and engaging activities for our young learners. We have to ask ourselves - are the worksheets we're using doing this? CAN the worksheets we're using do this?
Just a quick review on the no worksheets side of the argument. First, worksheets are not necessarily individualized to our students and their needs. Also, sometimes they require more fine motor skills than our children have built up at this time. Some worksheets require completion, a done finished product, which may be too difficult or may take too much time for our children. Finally, the fact that research supports hands on meaningful and engaging activities.
Worksheets In Preschool
Now, let's take some time to look at the flip side and look at the FOR worksheets stance. If you are for worksheets, you might argue that kindergarten will have worksheets and so in order to get them ready for that next step, having worksheets available and having them practice them is an important step. Now, I would like to encourage you to remember that our children aren't quite kindergarteners yet. They don't have all of the fine motor and cognitive skills that our kindergarteners do. So when we take this stance for worksheets, we have to respect where children are. Are we meeting children where they are at? Another for worksheet stance might be that worksheets help children learn to follow directions. And that may be the case right? You may be able to walk them through. But it's also important to remember that our children can't read yet, and so following directions on a worksheet will not work. They can however, follow oral directions for worksheets, just like they can follow oral directions given throughout the day, and other activities in the classroom.
The last reason or argument for worksheets involves stamina. When we have this worksheet, it definitely has an end goal, it's to complete it. So building that stamina for attention to task is something that worksheets might be able to help our children with. And while this might be important, we do also have to look at what this might do to a child's idea of learning. If hey are required to do a worksheet in full, but they get bored, and then in turn they start having this feeling of dread when it's time to quote "learn". We want to take into account that yes... sitting, stamina, building attention to task is incredibly important, but we also need to make sure that we're doing it in a way that isn't making them hate this idea around sitting and learning. So can we maybe build stamina in other ways?
To review, those who argue for worksheets might argue that we are getting children ready for kindergarten where worksheets will be present. Or maybe it helps children learn how to follow directions. Or maybe worksheets help build stamina for attention to task.
Alternatives To Worksheets In Preschool Settings
There is some middle ground here, we can have a place where children see the idea of organizing their thoughts and their ideas and their learning on paper, because understanding that thoughts can be written and organized is important. But this doesn't always have to look like a traditional worksheet. Instead, it might look more like an organizer. These are what I like to call recording sheets. This is kind of my middle of the road.
Recording Sheets vs. Worksheets
So how are recording sheets and worksheets different? Is it just a different name? Well, to me, how they're different is basically within the structure, how they're used, and what you do with them after - along with some differentiation differences. So let's dive a little bit deeper into how worksheets and recording sheets are definitely different. Let's first start with the structure of the sheet. Worksheets are for completion. One correct answer is the right answer, especially when we have young children who are obviously not going to be writing essays or things that can maybe be more open ended. The structure of a worksheet is pretty clear. It's right or wrong.
Recording sheets are more open ended, they could have many ways to use them, and they don't require completion. Another difference here is how they're used. Typically, worksheets are given to children to complete and usually there is not much choice behind this. This might look like a letter tracing worksheet where we have them tracing the letters on a page, or this might look like a rhyming cut and paste activity where they cut out pieces at the bottom of the page and glue them next to a rhyming pair. This might even look like a coloring by number activity where all the number ones they color a certain color. So that is typically what we think of when we use a worksheet, something with a very end goal in mind and it has a specific task.
Recording sheets, on the other hand, can accompany other activities and they serve as a place for children to record ideas, their thoughts, or maybe to organize manipulatives. There can be a choice in how to use the recording sheet.
How to use Recording Sheets
-A four part sorting mat to sort manipulatives. Maybe you have a set of manipulatives out and they can use the mat to organize the manipulatives. Again, they can or cannot use it, it's up to them.
-A hunt the room activity, we love to do these mid year, and they get them out of the Writing Center. It's a choice they could do in the Writing Center and they have a clipboard. On the cipboard is the checklist of things to hunt the room. Maybe its shapes and they hunt the room for different shapes that are hidden around. They use a page protector and a dry erase marker. So the activity is actually hunting and searching for shapes and then they're recording what they found on the recording sheet.
-This might also look like order forms for the drama center, maybe you have a cafe, and you have a list of items they can order. Maybe this is a doctor's office, and they have a checklist of things they need to check their patients for as the doctor. It's very open ended, very much their choice as to how they use it.
-A rolling graph game, we like to do these and place them in our math center, where basically they are using a recording sheet to graph the results of rolls they've made. So maybe the dice has colors on it and if they get a red, they color in one square on the graph under red to see which one wins. Again, they're using this as an aid to the game that they're playing.
Worksheets vs. Recording Sheets Continued...
Another way to differentiate between a recording sheet and a worksheet is by looking at what you do with them after they're used. With a worksheet, many times we send them home to show parents progress and things that the children are learning. But with a recording sheet, we generally reuse them over and over again in a center or as a small group activity, or they can also be sent home. If a recording sheet is being sent home, there is a difference there too, because some dialogue about what the child did on the page has to be had. It is not as evident as it is with a worksheet with what exactly they were doing and what exactly they were learning. Sometimes this may come from you or sometimes they may ask their child.
The last way we can tell the difference between a worksheet and recording sheet is the differentiation differences. With a worksheet, some children may approach this idea of a worksheet with excitement and like that feeling of completion. They feel proud of it, and it's something that drives them, that they like to do. But other children that may not be the case, they may hate the restriction. They may wish they had more choice. So the children who are ready for more structure and their learning can choose to use these recording sheets and use them more in depth, while others may slowly warm up to the idea. They can do that in a way that there's no pressure and no expectation.
To recap, now that we've taken a broad look at preschoolers and worksheets...it's easier to make the best decision for the children we serve at the place they are in developmentally. As we know, each year classes can be so different in their needs. It's important to understand that not every class in every place around the world is going to look the same - and it shouldn't. Hopefully, this has given you some things to think about as you decide what is best for the learners in your class in regard to the use of worksheets or recording sheets in your classroom.
If you love having discussions like these, I encourage you to come on over to the Lovely Preschool Teachers Facebook group, because there are some fantastic educators that you can connect with over there in a safe and loving space. So come on over, join the group! We would love to have you.
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