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Worksheet Worries

Whether parents choose to homeschool or enroll in institutional methods of education, the pressure to academically prepare for what’s next is increasing year to year.  Buzzwords such as “Kindergarten readiness” coupled with the Third-Grade Reading Law signed by Governor Snyder this past October surely have many parents wondering how to ready their young learners.  As an Early Childhood Advocate and toddler “Mama,” I follow various parenting blogs and Facebook groups where I often find parent’s desperate posts asking for recommendations of DVD’s, workbooks, and “learning toys” to help ready their young children for school.  I want to debunk the myth of “kindergarten readiness” meaning a child knowing their letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and how to read the latest leveled reading set.  I get it. We parents want what’s best, but let me share how and why the best way to help preschool age children be “ready” for school is to feed their appetite for knowledge through, brace yourselves, play.  You’ll be surprised at how many of the items in your pantry or left over from your latest Pinterest endeavor are all your family needs to ready one another for the school years ahead.

The “why.” It’s simple, children learn better by doing.  Well-meaning teachers and parents use worksheets  to prove children’s learning when in reality this could be pushing our littles further from our learning goals.  In her article, “The Worksheet Dilemma: Benefits of Play-Based Curricula,”  Susan Grossman shares two fundamental drawbacks to 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).”  If you’ve ever watched a child avoid sounding out a word aloud while reading, you can probably attribute their reluctance to early experiences of being “wrong.”  Grossman writes, “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).” Worksheets have right or wrong answers.  When a child is given a worksheet, they either know the answer, guess correctly or are wrong.  The “wrong children” learn to begin to view their attempts as failures and learning is no longer the exciting challenge it once was, but an evening homework battle for years to come(Katz & Chard, 1989). Children who can spend their time engaging in active learning with materials of interest to them are building a foundation of academic and career success!

The “how.”  A worksheet may mean to teach a child to trace each letter of the alphabet, but their little hands need first to exercise fine motor skills by manipulating materials they can master.  Children who love playing with play-doh can use their hands to string cheerios on uncooked spaghetti noodles, a prewriting activity that is seemingly disconnected from any pencil pushing.  Yet, as children work with these small, delicate, and engaging real materials they are building the pinching and grasping muscles to ready them for writing time.
You want your little to learn letters, you say?  Use your child’s love of play-doh to encourage letter recognition and writing skills.  Get out the play-doh one day and write yourself a letter.  Roll out the doh to make the shapes that build the letter such as big lines, small lines, big curves and small curves.    
Your curious little one will want to copy you with their own letter and wah-lah, we’re learning letters!

If your little loves to build, the same can be done with Legos, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, you name it!  Laminate your handmade letter cards for long-lasting fun.  Last, but not least, read with your children. Read to them, with them, in the car, near or far (see what I did there? We just read Green Eggs and Ham, so I’m a rhyming machine!) “Kindergarten readiness” is really about being ready to learn and ready to participate in a classroom community.  For more ideas on helping “ready” your littles for Kindergarten and beyond, keep checking back the Metro Detroit Mommy Blog.

Carissa Orr
Author: Carissa Orr

Early Childhood Professional, “Music with Ms. Carissa,” Mama, and now blogger thanks to MDM! Carissa works as an Early Childhood Consultant for Michigan’s state-funded Preschool Program, the Great Start Readiness Program.  In her spare time, she entertains children and families with live music as part of her Music with Ms. Carissa.  Most importantly, she is “Jack’s Mom” and loves adventuring with her young toddler all around Metro Detroit!