Using Worksheets in Preschool is Problematic

Using worksheets in preschool classrooms is problematic. I was teaching a class recently, and I noticed a common theme. As much as teachers have heard that using worksheets in preschool is not appropriate, they seem to have a hard time letting go of them. Some teachers believe that worksheets have value to children. Others think they aren’t teaching if they aren’t using worksheets. These ideas could not be further from the truth.

You never want to get on a plane where the pilot learned to fly from worksheets.

Todd Whitaker

So what’s wrong with using worksheets in preschool?

Worksheets reduce children’s beliefs in themselves.

  • Worksheets often have a “right” answer. Unfortunately, this also means they have a wrong answer. The wrong answer doesn’t help children learn. They now know what is wrong, but they may not understand why it is wrong. Or they may not know what the correct answer is. They have no way of using trial and error to find the correct answer. Children who see a lot of wrong answers may feel defeated in their ability. They may not see value in taking risks for fear of being wrong.
  • Worksheets have a single, correct way to be used. Because of this, children aren’t using higher-order thinking skills. Concrete materials, on the other hand, support higher-order thinking. As a result, children can use trial and error to discover new solutions.
  • Young children are concrete learners, which means they need tangible objects to learn a new concept. Worksheets are abstract. Young children’s brains are not able to create understanding from worksheets. Because of this, worksheets are not developmentally appropriate in preschool.
  • Since worksheets can’t teach children at such a young age, that means the only thing they can do is present, or test, a concept that children already know. And if children already know it, then why are we wasting our time on it?

Worksheets discourage socialization and creativity among children.

  • They don’t allow children to work together or collaborate on a project. At an age where social skills are critical and still forming, the activities in our classrooms should promote collaboration, not discourage it.
  • Worksheets in preschool do not allow for creativity, divergent thinking, or the opportunity to display learning differently. Children need opportunities to engage in STEM, the arts, motor activities, and more along with their peers.

Worksheets do not take into account preschoolers’ brain development.

  • They are task-oriented activities rather than learning activities. For example, when completing a worksheet, the goal becomes to finish the worksheet instead of understanding the specific concepts. Preschool should be about the process, not the product!
  • Most often, all of the children in the class are working on the same worksheet. However, having all children do the same thing simultaneously goes against common logic. We know that not all children will be at the same level of development.
  • Overly academic approaches may offer short-term success, such as children being able to recite alphabet letters or rote count, but this comes at a cost. For example, children from overly academic preschools schools may not have engaged in the types of higher-order thinking that create authentic learning. As a result, they don’t have a firm foundation for later success. They also have less time for social skills development and often show higher test anxiety levels than their peers from play-based schools.

Worksheets in preschool take away from meaningful learning opportunities.

  • Worksheets waste valuable time and focus on teaching only rote skills (Volante, 2004).
  • Teachers who use worksheets in preschool to portray a concept can achieve more meaningful learning through a hands-on, meaningful approach. 

“If they can do the worksheet, they don’t need it. If they can’t, it won’t help them.”

Marilyn Adams

Letting go of worksheets in preschool creates more time in your classroom to allow children to explore their interests in a meaningful way. And when you allow children to make choices, they become more motivated. Motivate children, and you cause a release of dopamine in the brain. Unlike other neurotransmitters, dopamine is spritzed on the brain. As a result, it reaches more extensive areas. Motivate children, and you increase learning.

There are numerous ways to engage children in meaningful literacy, math, and science concepts without using worksheets. What are your favorite play-based activities?

Need more ideas on what to do instead of worksheets? Check out our great literacy courses!

Creating Your Literacy Curriculum – 3 hours

Learn how to create a great literacy curriculum for your classroom!

Moving Beyond Letter of the Week – 3 hours

Learn how to teach letters and sounds through a holistic approach.

Creating Neural Pathways for Literacy – 2.5 hours

Learn how to activate the letter-box region. You will leave with ideas for activities that create neural pathways for literacy.

Number Sense Activities: Math Made Fun

Math, especially number sense, is one of my favorite areas to plan for in the preschool classroom. Sometimes teachers focus so much on the counting sequence that they forget about the other number sense activities.

What is Number Sense?

Number sense for preschoolers is a group of related math abilities that are key predictors of children’s math achievement. In essence, they are the skills that children need in order to work with numbers in a variety of ways. These skills include the ability to:

  • Understand quantities, such as knowing how many are in a given group of objects.
  • Compare amounts of items using terms such as more, less, equal, larger, and smaller.
  • Recognize the relationships between individual items and groups of things. (i.e., when the child says “3,” it means all items, not just that individual item that was named “3”).
  • Understand the symbols that we use to represent quantities. (i.e., numerals).
  • Order a group of objects. (i.e., 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or largest to smallest).
  • Add and subtract with concrete objects. (i.e., having a group of three bears, adding one to it, and understanding that you now have four bears).
  • Problem-solve. (i.e., how many paintbrushes are needed for the children at an activity).

Number Sense Activities

As you can see…these skills beyond being able to recite the counting sequence! So, what are some specific activities that you can implement in your classroom to promote these skills?

Frogs on Lily Pads Promote 1:1 Correspondence

Lily Pad Sensory Table Activity

In this sensory table activity, children have 12 coasters and 12 frogs. As they practice putting one frog on each “lily pad,” they are practicing the skill of 1:1 correspondence.

Make Numerals Easier to Learn

Numerals

Numerals are such an abstract concept for young children. While they may recognize the numeral and name it, they also need to know how many it represents. Unfortunately, many activities that work with numerals offer no support for helping children understand this association. I like to add “quantity dots” to my numerals as children begin to match up the numeral to a quantity. The dots allow children to check their work to ensure that they are choosing the correct numeral.

Frog and Pond Activity Builds Number Sense by Connecting Numerals with Quantities

Turtles in the Pond

In this fun activity, children match the number of shapes on the turtles back to the numerals on the pond. The turtles have a clothespin on the back so that the child can clip it on the correct pond. The dots on the numerals help children know if they are choosing the correct numeral.

Sink the Boat Sensory Activity Builds Number Sense Through Comparison of Quantities

Sink the Boat

This sensory table activity includes a variety of marbles and boats. Children attempt to predict how many marbles it will take to “sink the boat.” (Not intended for children under age 3).

Math Manipulatives Promote Counting, 1:1 Correspondence, and Creating Equal Sets

Ice Cream Math Manipulative

In this math manipulative, children roll the die and take the corresponding number of ice cream sundaes to put on their tray. The gameplay continues until both children have filled their trays. Sometimes, children continue rolling the die to remove the ice cream cones from their trays and return them to the basket.

Teddy Bear Math Manipulative

In this game, children choose a card with dots from the deck and then take the appropriate number of bears to match the card. They can even put the bears right on top of the dots if they are still in the beginning stages of quantification.

Path Games Build Number Sense Through Counting, Comparison, and Creating Equal Sets

Short Path Game

In this short path game, children roll the die and move their game piece to the town. Since this game is designed for younger children, we’ve given each child his own game board to eliminate confusion and conflict.

Long Path Game

This long path game gives them a longer path and a shared board for children who are ready for a little more. In addition, the “bonus spaces” throughout the game allow children to customize the rules of the game.

5 & 10 Frames Are Great for Older Preschoolers

I also love these activities on using 10 frames and 5 frames from Pre-kpages.com:  https://www.pre-kpages.com/developing-number-sense-in-preschool/.

Interested in Learning More? We have several classes to help you!

Count Me In: Encouraging Number Sense in Preschool – 1 hour

Adding math activities to your classroom in fun and inviting ways can be a challenge. This course will cover the mathematical area of number sense and offer many activities that encourage number sense for preschool children. Filled with pictures of materials and descriptions of the activities, you’ll walk away with great ideas on how to create materials in your classroom on a budget. As a bonus, you’ll have access to a few downloadable games that you can print out for use in your classroom.

Creating Your Preschool Math Curriculum – 3 hours

Math is something that children do naturally. However, it can be a struggle to know what types of activities to provide for children to prepare them for Kindergarten. This workshop will give you a background in the kinds of math experiences preschoolers should access in an early care program. This introductory level workshop will cover the big ideas of mathematics, including number sense, algebra, geometry, measurement, and data analysis.

Math & Science for Infants and Toddlers – 2.5 hours

Infants and toddlers naturally engage in both math and science activities. Our job, as their caregivers, is to enhance the environment so that opportunities for math and science play abound! While we can plan for these activities, much of math and science for this age group revolves around our communication with children, so we’ll spend some time exploring this concept and activities. We’ll begin by looking at some foundations for cognitive development and math/science.