There’s an unspoken rule in the schooling world that the more written work a student produces, the more he has learned. I just don’t agree.
Granted, kids in a traditional public school setting might have reams of completed worksheets. When a teacher sits down with parents for a conference, they need evidence of “learning” and work that has been completed by the student. And if students are to be quiet and productive for 6 hours a day in a classroom, the most logical method for a teacher to assess the learning of twenty kids at a time is written work.
This mindset has mistakenly made its way into many homeschools. This is not to say that all written work is negative, or that your students should never complete a worksheet. But is it the best method for learning or assessing learning in a home environment?
Here’s the truth: homeschooling provides the most effective learning available, which is a one-on-one tutoring approach.
This is the method that public schools try to replicate when they assign aides to students with IEP’s. These students do need the extra attention of an adult throughout their school day. But public school teachers are not humanly capable of meeting the one-on-one needs of every single student in their classroom. I know, I used to be a public school teacher. We do the best we can.
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(In this post, I am using the terms printable and worksheet interchangeably.)
So what’s a homeschool mom to do? Printables serve the purpose of keeping kids busy, adding fodder to the dreaded homeschool portfolio, and basically proving to your mother-in-law that, yes, the kids are “doing school.” And they’re essential for assessing whether or not your kids know their stuff. Or are they?
There are other ways to assess your students’ progress without relying on worksheets. Here are just a few.
10 strategies to use that work much better than printables
I confess that I used too many printables in some of our early homeschool years for certain subjects. I purchased an elementary geography “curriculum” from a homeschool blogger and was impressed with the volume of worksheets. Surely my boys would be experts in world geography when we were done. Wrong! I should have grabbed a globe and snuggled on the couch with them while we read tales of far-away lands, stopping to check the location.
Notebooking can be as simple as grabbing a spiral notebook and having your kids artfully, creatively, thoughtfully, and personally interacting with the subject matter. Are you studying birds? Maybe your child will research (depending on their age) the local birds and make lists of information, then add a sketch. If you’re studying world history, your kids might draw some maps showing the region being studied, then add pertinent dates and names and stories in the margins. Notebooking really becomes a personal learning journal.
Lapbooks can have a similar flavour to notebooking, but are usually smaller in scope. You could use one spiral notebook for a whole year of science studies, while a lap book might last for just one unit. We have used lap books in the lower elementary years when reading certain books out loud, like The Chronicles of Narnia. We have also done lap books for subjects in science and history. You can use them for anything – even to keep track of parts of speech in a fun and memorable way. Are you familiar with lap books made from manilla file folders? Here’s a great post about getting started with lapbooks.
Reading is always a better option than filling out worksheets or printables. Sure, your child could do a crossword puzzle about George Washington, but won’t he remember much more if you read a book together about his life? Resist the urge to fill out worksheets and head to the library to get piles of interesting books for the whole family to binge on.
Instead of filling in a book report printable, or a template with the basics of plot structure, why not have your child compose his own story to show what he knows? Or instead of another boring science worksheet, have her write a make-believe journey through the respiratory system. There’s a reason that the Magic Schoolbus is so popular. Mrs. Frizzle takes the kids on adventures. You never see her class filling in blanks on printables, do you?
Student-produced outlines or fact sheets
If you feel like you must get some cold hard facts in writing, have your kids do the work. They will retain much more when they are doing the thinking! It doesn’t take much effort to fill in the blanks of a worksheet. But, if they need to read about the science topic and decide which information is important, they are using higher level thinking skills as they analyze, synthesize, and create their own notes.
Student-produced collages of information
Kids love to show what they know. Give your child a topic, and instead of giving them a mindless printable to fill out, give them a big piece of empty poster board. They can study the topic, read about it, research it, cut out or create illustrations, and assemble a great showcase of learning. This is a fun activity!
This just might be the simplest yet most profound assessment technique – narration. After your child has read or studied a topic, have them tell back to you what they have learned in complete sentences. This requires them to analyze and synthesize information as they decide what to tell you and in what order. Is there cause and effect? Even five year olds can be taught this technique. I learned about narration from The Well-Trained Mind. You can read Susan Wise Bauer’s tips for narration here.
Discussion can sound a bit like narration, but instead of a retelling, it can be a back and forth between two or more people. This is a fun way to assess whether or not your children understand their history or science topic. Play the devil’s advocate and push them a bit to see how much they know. You just might be surprised.
Oral questions and answers
Some worksheets are essentially written questions demanding a droll answer. When you take this assessment to an oral presentation, you are helping your student to think on his feet and formulate complete thoughts. This is similar to narration and discussion, but once again, you can go deeper into a topic based on the answers you receive and the student gets immediate feedback.
Printables cause more busy work than actual work. And they cause mom a whole lot of effort with printing, organizing, grading, and storing. Who has time for that? Instead, grab a book, head outside on a nature walk, learn about history by reading a biography and visiting a historical site. Talk together. Have conversations with your kids about what they are learning.
Every once in a while, a worksheet might be needed. But for most of the time, take the authentic relational approach to education that homeschooling was made for! It can’t be replicated in a public school. So embrace that one-on-one approach and leave the printables behind. You’ll be glad you did.
Thank you for sharing this! I am just getting started with homeschooling in the fall and this definitely gives me a new perspective. I was kind of worried about worksheets and lesson plans, this was the perfect reminder of why we are homeschooling.
Great to hear! Remember, if mom is working harder than the kids, re-evaluate 🙂
I love this! I started homeschooling 3 weeks ago. Probably not the greatest idea taking them out the last 2 months of school, however I did. I just couldn’t understand why I would continue to send them if it was not helping. I felt great the first week. The second week a bit more secretly stressed wondering if I was doing enough. I have to remind myself this is WHY I am homeschooling. It doesn’t have to be all worksheets just to show our families that Yes we are in fact homeschooling and look at us! Week three I really wondered what I was doing. One computer broke so I couldn’t have both kids (twins) work at the same time on Time4learning.com. I found I really loved this program however I still wanted something better, different. I needed this reminder with your blog to show me that climbing the tree yesterday while doing yard work was in fact a great way to show them about the beauty of TREES and how cool it is to climb one. We have the best climbing tree for younger kids! One has sensory challenges so this was a wonderful opportunity for him to touch the tree and learn about why it has the texture it does while the big white tree in our front has a smooth white bark. Thank you for your message on homeschooling.
You’re doing a great job! Don’t forget that it’s okay to “deschool” for a bit after pulling kids out. You all need the time to re-orient yourselves to a new learning environment and style. You’ve got this 🙂
I read many blogs VIA Pinterest &never comment, but coming across this article brought me to tears of relief that I wasn’t alone so I HAD to comment &thank you. As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, I find myself struggling more often than not. If it weren’t for the fact that I hoarded my school supplies from middle school &high school I would be in a world of trouble. We can only afford printer ink a couple times a year so I have to be extremely frugal on what worksheets to print out. I feel like I spend more time proving to people that homeschooling is beyond doing worksheets than I do actually teaching .. at the same time people are blown away at how intelligent my children are. I’m not sure how much sense any of this makes due to being over-exhausted, but I just want you to know how much this article helped me, &I’m sure many others. Thank you so much, Abby. <3
So glad it encouraged you! Thanks for letting me know. Keep up the good work – you’ve got this 🙂