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Worksheet Woes: Why Worksheets Don't Work in a Preschool Curriculum

Learn why worksheets don’t work in an early education setting and what you can use instead.

Worksheet Woes: Why Worksheets Don't Work in a Preschool Curriculum

Why Worksheets Don't Work in a Preschool Curriculum

We all remember getting worksheets when we were in school. These lesson aids were positioned as informative, fun, and necessary for us as students to retain the curriculum. But, in modern pedagogy, instructors are rethinking the utility of worksheets, especially in early childhood education. In fact, worksheets may be developmentally inappropriate and work against children learning their preschool curriculum effectively.

In this article, we’ll discuss why preschool worksheets don’t work 100% of the time, and developmentally appropriate activities preschool teachers can use to set the foundation for their children’s future learning instead.

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What are preschool worksheets?

Preschool worksheets are lesson aids meant to help young children dive deeper into their curriculum. There are a variety of worksheet styles teachers use, but the most common are those that allow children to trace or write a letter repeatedly, draw lines from pictures to numbers or letters, or mark letters to differentiate between uppercase and lowercase letters. 

On the surface, preschool worksheets seem to be beneficial for children to learn and grow the foundation of their knowledge, but in reality, many believe that worksheets aren’t developmentally appropriate for preschool-aged children.

Why are worksheets not developmentally appropriate?

From two to seven, children are firmly in the preoperational stage of brain development. One of the major pillars of this developmental stage is that children begin to think symbolically and rely on their intuition, rather than logic, to understand the world around them. They’ll need to fully move into the next developmental stage, concrete operational, to start understanding logical reasoning.

Worksheets require logical reasoning to understand and complete, mainly because they often have a “right” answer. At this stage of brain development, children are much more focused on performing make-believe, working on their language and attention span, and working out how the world around them works. So, giving them a lesson aid that doesn’t play to their strengths can work against their long-term development.

Below are some other reasons why worksheets aren’t developmentally appropriate.

Worksheets do not accommodate all learners

Another thing to consider is that worksheets don’t accommodate all learners. They don’t consider that even though every preschooler is technically in the same development stage, not all of them will be at the same level within it. Children progress at different rates and learn in different ways—which is perfectly normal—but because every child has the same worksheet, these nuances can’t be considered.

Worksheets focus on short-term success

Worksheets aren’t developmentally appropriate because these lesson aids typically focus on short-term success rather than long-term understanding. Worksheets are generally given to help drill down a concept, but what they can fail to do is help children understand the core meaning behind it. For example, a worksheet can help children memorize their ABCs, but without context, they won’t understand that letters are the building blocks of all the words they say and read. Preschool should be about the process, not the product, but worksheets focus on the product.

Worksheets discourage socialization 

Children aren’t able to form rational connections based on logic at this stage, and they aren’t able to work together to help each other complete their tasks. At this age, children are still learning social skills. Worksheets are naturally solitary activities, so children are missing out on vital opportunities to develop further, which could cause them to disengage from learning moving forward.

Worksheets can lessen a child’s confidence in themselves

Because worksheets are designed to have a “right” answer, they also have a wrong answer. Worksheets are abstract, meaning there is a set logic for getting to an answer. At this young age, children use tangible reasoning, as well as trial and error, to help them understand the world around them. So, because they can’t use these methods to complete a worksheet, they can easily get discouraged if they don’t know the answer.

Worksheets can take away from more meaningful learning opportunities

Preschoolers thrive in environments where they can play and engage with their classmates and teachers. Worksheets take away from this environment because they’re naturally solitary activities. So, teachers should use hands-on methods instead of worksheets to teach preschoolers.

So, why use worksheets in the classroom?

At their core, worksheets can help reinforce a concept so children can better understand what they’ve just learned. And while worksheets aren’t developmentally or academically appropriate for preschool classrooms, they can be effective teaching aids for older children in a completely different stage of brain development to learn their curriculum.

In later stages of childhood development, children can apply logical reasoning to get to a specific answer. Worksheets work well here because children in later stages of development can work independently or in groups to figure out the answer. Then, once they’ve completed the worksheet, their work can be assessed and corrected to ensure the concept sticks.

How to teach without worksheets

Moving away from using worksheets in a preschool classroom is easy. You’ll need to build lesson plans that prioritize developmentally appropriate and hands-on activities that engage your class. Here are some alternatives to worksheets.

Developmentally appropriate practice

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) considers a child’s individual needs and their social and cultural contexts to create an engaging learning experience. With this method, teachers can learn about each child’s strengths, needs, and interests and leverage their child development knowledge to determine the best ways to teach their children. For example, teachers may personalize lessons and activities and set classroom expectations that reflect diverse values and cultures. Developmentally appropriate practice encourages teachers to create a learning environment where children are emotionally supported and motivated to attempt challenging skills. Through observation, teachers can track their children’s progress toward mastering new skills and encourage them to use their skills to complete new tasks. 

Play-based learning

Another alternative to worksheets is incorporating play-based learning. Play-based learning is an approach that uses play as a context for learning. As children play, they engage their imagination, take risks, and learn problem-solving to support their development. It’s an unstructured, process-oriented system that helps children create context around the concepts they’ve learned while also helping aid their social and cognitive development. So, instead of using worksheets to reinforce concepts and memorize content, activities like pretend cooking, singing and acting, or roleplaying can help children achieve similar results in a more hands-on and developmentally appropriate way.

Inquiry-based learning

Inquiry-based learning is a teaching practice that encourages children to use critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills to solve a problem. Challenging your children to think critically and solve problems based on their own experiences will create a more well-rounded learning experience than worksheets can provide. This is because inquiry-based learning allows children to use their intuition to come up with a solution to a problem. With this type of learning, there’s not necessarily a “right” way to get to an answer; instead, each individual can use their knowledge and experience to devise their own solution.

Download our free daily lesson plan template and customize it to suit your teaching style and children's needs.

Daily Lesson Plan Template - brightwheel-1

Download our free daily lesson plan template!

The bottom line

There are many reasons why preschool worksheets aren’t the best teaching resource in an early education setting, and teachers should fully understand them before building a curriculum around these resources. Instead of worksheets, teachers should use hands-on, engaging methods that incorporate play, developmentally appropriate activities, and child-led exploration and experimentation. In a classroom without worksheets, preschoolers will be in a learning environment that supports their individual strengths and needs where they can fully thrive.

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