Over 25 years ago, in an early childhood center where I worked, the Director chose curriculum that used worksheets with our three- and four-year-old students. It was part of a popular curriculum that will remain nameless. The Early Learning Coalition (ELC) decided that this curriculum was not developmentally appropriate years later. I was thrilled that this curriculum would not be supported by ELC any longer. Let me tell you what I saw when the students were using these curriculum-based worksheets.
First, each week we had a letter of the week. This was our primary focus for our students. The curriculum focused on the vowel sounds for the first month or so. The students were supposed to use Elmer’s school glue to trace the dotted line on top of the letter of the week. Then, they were to follow the line of glue with rice or beans to form the letter. I do not know if you have ever been in a classroom of threes and fours that were using liquid glue, but the line ends up being a glob of glue and the rice and beans end up being a congealed mess instead of a beautifully formed letter in the alphabet.
There are at least ten good reasons that I can think of why children in the early learning years should not be exposed to worksheets of any kind. If you are a firm believer in worksheets, I am not trying to offend you but what I am trying to do is help you see the reasons and benefits for using hands-on activities in place of worksheets and dittos.
We all know that communication, language, literacy, and writing are critical to a child’s ability to work, learn, and play. Language and literacy are an important aspect to a child’s development in many ways children learn to use gestures, sounds, and eventually when they are older, they learn to read and write. Children learn language and literacy through the interactions with adults and their peers. These valuable interactions happen through the process of play-based activities not through worksheet practice. In the Florida Early Learning and Developmental Standards and Professional Competencies, the standard addresses a child’s ability to show motivation to engage in written expression. (1. Begins to show motivation to engage in written expression and appropriate knowledge of forms and functions of written composition).
Benchmark a. Intentionally uses scribbles/writing to convey meaning (e.g., signing artwork, captioning, labeling, creating lists, making notes)
In the early learning classroom, this benchmark is one of the easiest to meet. Using small clip boards with copy paper attached and placing them in all the learning centers students will engage during the play process to create list and make notes. They build off their schema or past experiences. For instance, if their mother makes a grocery list before she goes to the store. The children will mimic that behavior. It could be the letter or letters that have meaning to them. So, if their name is Sarah, they will begin to write the letters on their lists that are from their name.
When the students are in the art center, the teacher can encourage them to sign their artwork. A teacher can ask the student about their artwork. On a separate sheet of paper, the teacher can dictate the sentence that the student tells them. For example, “This is my cat.” The teacher can then encourage the child to write the sentence using the teachers modeling and example of sentence structure. For the labeling part of the benchmark. The students can label their drawings with one word. If the student drew a picture of their dog they may write the word, “dog” next to the drawing of their dog. These are simple ways to use a benchmark and as you can see no worksheet was needed.
Benchmark b. Uses letter-like shapes or letters to write words or parts of words
For this benchmark, I like using these letter-like shapes for children to form letters or words. They are not that costly, and children love to construct letters that have meaning to them.
Benchmark c. Writes own name (e.g., first name, last name, or nickname), not necessarily with full correct spelling or well-formed letters
The letters that children are drawn to in the writing process are the letters in their name. For this benchmark I write all student’s names on a sentence strip. I laminate their names and I have them trace their name with a dry erase marker at first. This helps them feel the movement of the letters. Next, I place the laminated names in the writing center with paper and pencils, crayons, and markers. The students can print their name through a method called rainbow writing. They may choose as many colors as they would like to build their name.
Reason #7 Play-Based Learning
Children learn better through play-based experiences. Play-based learning helps a child develop holistically through social-emotional learning, developing confidence and motivation, and practicing cognitive skills (Wonderschool, 2020). When teachers use worksheets and or dittos, they become focused on these papers being perfected. This can lead to social-emotional damage to the students. I have heard of teachers prolonging worksheet lessons until children reach the perfection that only an adult can achieve, consider this scenario, John is struggling holding his pencil correctly. The teacher is upset by the letters on John’s worksheet because they were not formed correctly. She scolds John in front of his peers and erases his errors and makes him do it again, and again, and again until she feels that it is correct. John has learned an important lesson today. No matter how long and hard he tries to be perfect he will not be good enough unless someone else deems that the work he has completed is worthy. He can not celebrate his accomplishments because of all the failures that he has had right in front of his peers.
Piaget is a well-know theorist that early childhood educators look to for educational theories and practices. He believed that the ages two years through seven years old were the preoperational thinking stage. The first intelligence test was developed by Alfred Binet in 1905. In this test, 4-, 5-, and 6-year old’s should be exposed to a variety of opportunities to help them succeed. These activities were as follows talk to children about what they are doing, ask children open-ended questions throughout the play experiences (these are questions that require more than a yes or no answer), educators should ask a child’s views about what they are doing, include children in clean-up task, talk to children when you are traveling or going places, help children understand the world around them through experiments. Notice that there is no evidence that says that students should complete a worksheet to be successful in school prior to the age of seven years of age. We as educators must be careful to instruct our students in developmentally appropriate ways.
Children learn that objects and words can be symbols.
Children learn through fantasy, creative and dramatic play.
Children continue to view the world in terms of themselves. They are self-centered.
Children find it difficult to focus on more than one thing at a time.
Reason #2 Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)
Preschool children learn best when they have positive and caring relationships with adults and other children; when they receive carefully planned, intentional guidance and assistance; and when they can safely encounter and explore many interesting things in their environment (Retrieved October 10, 2021, from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/dap/preschoolers). This in turn leads students to make important cognitive gains which invites them to represent their world in pretend play through symbols, objects, drawings, and words and they will show astonishing growth in language skills. Again, no worksheet or ditto needed to develop a growth in language skills.
In dramatic play, have the students use the clip boards to take down the orders from their peers. They can write on premade list or use words from a word wall. Students should print their name at the top of the list that they have written to share with parents when they come in for parent teacher conferences. These items are stored in the student’s portfolio to show measured growth.
Reason #1 Worksheets are Age-Inappropriate
When working with preschool students it is not hard to determine that worksheets are age inappropriate. The definition of age-inappropriate is any personal action that reveals unintentionally an embarrassing and revelatory way, the emotional, intellectual, or physical immaturity of a person. If we look at John again. John struggles to hold his pencil correctly. John must redo his letters several times for his paper to be considered completed by his teacher. Due to the teacher erasing his paper repeatedly, John is more likely to be teased or bullied due to him being unable to complete his writing task appropriately the first time around. We have learned that there are better ways to allow John to learn to write. We as teachers should allowing students like John the opportunity to choose the activity, duration, and time that they spend on writing by allowing them to be successful when it is age-appropriate for them to be so.
Mini Clipboards, 6 x 9 Inches Small Hardboard Clipboard, Pack of 15
Style: 6x9 inch (15 pack)
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