Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Homeschooling and Worksheets

Worksheets get a bum rap.

There, I said it. Even though it is universally known that ‘proper’ homeschoolers all loathe and despise them and that they are not featured in ‘real’ homeschooling…. I kinda like them. So that’s what this post is about. It may alternately be titled, “In Defense of Worksheets in Homeschooling: A Perspective”.

To make things easier, I am going to use the term ‘worksheet’ to mean either worksheets or workbooks (which are essentially bound volumes of worksheets). Before you get your nose out of joint, I need to explain to you what I mean when I say ‘use worksheets’. You may have noticed that when I talk about worksheets, I say that we don’t ‘do’ them. In fact, I say that fairly often – not necessarily here, but certainly in forums and such. I should clarify – we don’t ‘do’ them, but we do use them. Often. That may seem to be a contradiction, but it’s quite a difference in definition in my book.  The word ‘do’ is almost always in quotations when I say that; that’s because my version of ‘do’ is not the same as what ‘do’ means in the classroom.

For starters, I’ll agree with those who say that worksheets are just repetition, or that they’re disengaging, or that they’re boring and so on and so forth… yeah, yeah, yeah, I get all that. But the information contained on or in the worksheet is (sometimes) useful. I say sometimes because I’m not talking about just any ol’ worksheet; I’m talking about well-planned, leveled worksheets; worksheets that go along with lessons as a review or to solidify concepts through practice – not busy work. When I say ‘use’, I don’t mean handing your kids a worksheet, sending them to their desk and expecting them to do 30 of the same thing over and over again. I mean using the worksheet the same way that you might use any other tool – to help with a task; in this case, cementing information or concepts in the mind.

Many of the worksheets that my kids ‘do’ come from a workbook (though I do print them from different places online; SuperTeacherWorksheets is a favorite but we use it primarily when I am looking for something specific). Even though we utilize the pages, our use of them comes mainly in the form of discussing what is on the page and then using the actual page to record anything they want to remember about the information. They may actually work some of the problems or answer the questions as repetition, but rarely do they just go ‘do a worksheet’.  Much of the material is covered on the chalkboard (yes, we have an old-school style chalkboard in our school room. Two, actually. {wink}) or orally. Many times, the worksheet is in front of ME and the kids are bouncing around answering questions that I toss at them. We also use videos to kick off new concepts (like homophones). Simple, but effective for my kids (YMMV).

So, you may ask, ‘why use worksheets? Aren’t there other ways of doing that?’ Well yes, of course there are other ways of accomplishing this same thing, and I am not dismissing those methods at all. In fact, one method that we will be using quite a bit in coming years is notebooking – essentially writing everything instead of going over the material on the workbook pages. We don’t use it right now because my boys are not yet strong writers or strong spellers. I suppose I could answer, “Mom, how do you spell” 6,000 times a day, or I could allow each lesson to take 2 hours because they need to look each work up in the dictionary… but I’d rather not do that. So we’re taking baby steps to get to the point where tons of writing is feasible (having said that, whether that style will work for my kids remains to be seen and is another matter entirely) – mainly, starting with copywork* and a word bank. We’re working on an index card style version, which is basically a dictionary that they write on index cards and file at their desks that is made up of words they have learned or are learning to spell.

This year we used an all-in-one curriculum workbook as a guide for the kids work. Since we don’t use a boxed curriculum, I found that this is a really good way to keep us moving through the lessons. I have a tendency to get bogged down in the lessons – where one thing can be learned, there are 7 more that can enhance it! Using the workbooks as a guide keeps me on-track and moving so we’re not lost in one thing for weeks on end (like our US Constitution lapbook – we spent 4 weeks on that almost a year ago and didn’t finish it, but I am STILL burned out on it). Some things, like grammar concepts, they’ll cover over and over every year, so even though they may not have mastered homophones just yet, we can safely move on because we’ll cover it again in a few months.

And then there are some worksheets that I do give them with the expectation that they will take to their desks and work independently. You may have noted our struggles with working independently in the past and this summer, much of the math work they’ll be doing will be a review of already-known concepts. Since this is a review, I do expect them to know it and to work independently. But that doesn’t mean that they are required to do exactly as the worksheet directs. I often give alternate directions, or allow them to come up with their own version of what to do. I sometimes wonder if that’s not doing them a disservice – teaching them, or allowing them to think that things are negotiable, but I tend to feel that most things are negotiable, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.

This is really all I have to say about it; I just wanted to offer a different perspective to that of the vocal majority of worksheet-hating homeschoolers. Carry on!



*copywork: this article is on the value of copying a painting and is directed at student artists, but I think it’s an excellent article and can be extended, for many of the same reasons, to the printed word. Copying sentences, phrases, paragraphs, quotes, poems – all of this and more can be used to reinforce ideals, expose new ideas, improve penmanship, reinforce grammar and spelling, teach prose… the benefits are myriad. For more on copywork, check out:

Counter Cultural School,  Homeschool Jungle and this thread from the Well Trained Mind forums.


2 responses

  1. We use worksheets in several of our school subjects. There are just somethings that we find are better, and easier taught using them.

    September 14, 2011 at 7:31 am

    • I agree – they definitely have their use and place! Thanks for commenting, Angela 🙂

      September 15, 2011 at 10:43 am

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