By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. The worksheet debate rages on! Even with research and alternatives that are play-based and hands-on, their use is still being defended. The fact is worksheets are not developmentally appropriate for preschool and kindergarten. I hadn’t expected the last blog post I wrote on worksheets to be shared more widely than any other I have written. When I posted it on my Facebook page with the image below, it was shared many times and included many comments about the worksheet dilemma with thoughtful ways suggested to convince others to let this dubious practice go. I was shocked that there were also comments that supported the use of worksheets. I am finding the worksheet dilemma fascinating especially as I prepare for another term of visiting ECE students in field placements. Last year, I saw too many worksheets and not enough play. One particular time, I found one of my students at the photocopy machine making copies of a worksheet. She looked horrified when she saw me and nervously assured me that she was asked to make the copies by her placement teacher. I thought then, as I think now, what a waste of paper and potential; my student’s potential and the potential of the children that were to receive the worksheets.
Most worksheets I see are focused on numeracy or literacy. In Ontario, Canada, the early years pedagogy, How Does Learning Happen? is organized around four foundational conditions that are important for children to grow and flourish: Belonging, Well-Being, Engagement, and Expression. Worksheets do not support any of these foundational conditions especially expression. When children express themselves “through their bodies, words, and use of materials, children develop capacities for increasingly complex communication. Opportunities to explore materials support creativity, problem solving, and mathematical behaviours. Language-rich environments support growing communication skills, which are foundational for literacy” (How Does Learning Happen?, p. 8).
Worksheets are DIP (developmentally inappropriate practice) and do not support children to be expressive. Children learn when they are engaged with materials. Worksheets are the status quo for some and it is difficult to let go of practices that have become ingrained. They choose to erect the wall that Malaguzzi (2001) calls the wall of the “finite” (p. 6). When responses to curriculum become habituated and when they are left unquestioned, the result is the continuation of dubious practice and a limited view of what is beyond the wall. However, we can now see beyond the wall because of the infinite possibilities of social media. At our fingertips you will find research that supports the discontinuation of worksheets and resources that can help transform practices with ideas on how to move from DIP to DAP. I recently came upon a newsletter entitled: Where is the PLAY in worksheets, colouring‑in, art templates, phonics programs, sight words and early readers? and applaud the author’s courage to address these practices because yes, as I have discovered, some will be offended and become defensive. Really, are worksheets worth the paper they are printed on? In my experience, worksheets are most often used to assess math or literacy outcomes. Neither, are, in my opinion, and the opinion of many others, effective. Young children are meant to play to learn. They do not need worksheets to develop language and literacy skills. Children should be invited to engage and express in a hundred languages and a hundred more. Worksheets in contrast to Reggio inspired literacy invitations are boring, one dimensional, and most often black and white.
How do children develop language and literacy skills? Play and life experiences, including social skills and family interactions, add to the opportunities that children have for language and literacy skills to evolve (Dietze & Kashin, 2012). There are ways to create a community culture for language and literacy.
Worksheets are a solitary task and do not offer many opportunities for sharing. Vygotsky believed that language as a social construct needed to be learned through social interaction. There are many ways to invite children to play with letters with their peers. In this way, children learn language and develop literacy. Print rich environments that provide children with daily opportunities to play with letters, write letters and interact with letters are the answer. Worksheets are not. Educators who use pedagogical documentation will be able to gather evidence that makes literacy learning visible. Documentation as assessment supports children’s expression and engagement and therefore their well-being and sense of belonging. Worksheets are not necessary to meet outcomes.
Make It Meaningful! Emergent Literacy in the Kindergarten Years follows the work of educators exploring how one can foster an environment that supports emergent literacy development in a Reggio Emilia-inspired kindergarten classroom. There are many ways that the teachers inspired children to engage in meaningful projects that supported their development of literacy. “Emergent literacy is based on the idea that children learn literacy as they come to it, rather than as it comes to them” (Bardige and Segal, 2005). The environment acts as the third teacher, providing authentic experiences for children to play, learn and develop. Within the environment are materials. Materials are a way for children to enter the written world. The The Enchantment of Writing is a wonderful resource that connects inquiry, play and emerging literacy.
Is the early learning community ready to let go of worksheets? Clearly, I am not the only one that thinks so. Play = Learning.
Yes, it is true that parents may see worksheets as important but you can share this brochure from the Association for Childhood Education International which designed to share with families. There is help out there for those of you committed to stepping away from the photocopiers!
When my Facebook page shows that almost 14,000 people have been reached and close to 100 shares from a post about worksheets, clearly this topic is hitting a nerve. Can we say no to worksheets?
I say that we can. Let’s stop the use of worksheets in preschool and kindergarten and let children play, learn and develop in ways that are more authentic and meaningful #nomoreworksheets!