Why Good ECE Schools Don’t Use Worksheets

Worksheets are designed to give teachers a clear cut way to determine their students comprehension of the material that has been taught.  Questions are asked, the correct answers are given, and the teacher knows the student understands the material.  Directions are given, directions are followed, and the teacher can assess the student’s performance.  It’s all very concrete, and seems to be a valid way for teachers to assess their students. But good ECE schools hardly use them.

But why don’t good early childhood education (ECE) schools use worksheets?  Worksheets are fine assessments for older students, but there are several problems with introducing worksheets in an ECE classroom simply because they are not developmentally appropriate.

Good ECE Schools Understand Age Appropriate Activities

First and foremost, worksheets are mundane activities.  Completing a worksheet mostly consists of sitting at the table or desk, using a pencil to follow the directions, with no interaction with peers.  This doesn’t work for preschoolers.  If you have ever been around a preschooler you know that it is next to impossible to get them to sit down and complete a task without talking.

Kids of this age need to be social, they need to move and manipulate objects and interact with others.  To expect them to sit quietly and work is like expecting your dog to pick up his own waste; it’s simply expecting more than they are physically capable of.  In addition to worksheets being a challenge for a child’s gross motor control, they are also challenging for a child’s fine motor skills.

Young children need lots of practice with fat crayons, paint brushes and markers before they are physically able to hold a pencil correctly and make controlled markings.  If teachers, or parents, don’t understand that, then they may be too critical of a child’s attempt at writing.  This could ultimately dampen the child’s enthusiasm.  Teachers and parents should be encouraging children to succeed by setting appropriate goals for them.  However, worksheets just don’t support that.

Worksheets Can Be Cognitively Stifling

Worksheets can also be cognitively stifling for young minds.  Questions on worksheets typically will have just one correct answer; match the pictures with the letters they start with.  Directions on worksheets typically have only one way to complete the task; connect the dots to make the shape.  With worksheets, there is no room for abstract or critical thinking, or problem solving.

Kids are either right or wrong when it comes to worksheets.  If they’re right, it may have just been a lucky guess rather than a sign of understanding.  If they’re wrong, there is no way to learn from their mistakes.  So if worksheets are so inappropriate to use in ECE schools, then how do teachers assess their students’ knowledge and growth?

Good ECE Schools Use Play-Based Curriculims

Good ECE schools will have a play-based curriculum in place.  Play-based curriculums allow children to learn abstract and critical thinking skills though physical manipulation of real objects.  An example of this would be stringing beads to learn about patterns.  Play-based curriculums also allow for ample interaction between classmates. This, in turn, leads to ample opportunities for working on self-control and problem solving.

But how can the teachers assess their students of they are just playing?  Teachers who use play-based curriculums aren’t just sitting at their desks while the kids run amuck.  These teachers engage with the children, “play” with them, and guide them through lessons.  While the teachers are involved with the students, they observe, take notes, or mark a checklist of skills mastered and of those needing more development.

Concrete evidence can be found in work samples, such as a Science journal where children can draw their experiment observations.  Many ECE schools will have portfolios for each child that contains samples of their work throughout the year so parents, and teachers, can actually see the growth and progress the children have made.  In addition to portfolios, daily pictures and weekly, or monthly, newsletters are great ways to show parents what is being accomplished in the classroom, without sending home piles of completed worksheets.