Believe it or not: workbooks are an important tool in homeschooling. If you choose workbooks wisely and have clear goals for why you are using them, they can really help your students meet their academic goals. Don’t get me wrong–workbooks should never be the only way to measure your students’ knowledge and thinking. Workbooks are not the only way to help your child practice a new skill. Discussion, oral reports, real objects (e.g., for math), novels, picture books, writing assignments, carefully selected movies or documentaries, carefully selected field trip, audiobooks, science experiments, art projects, and many other tools are also important tools for education. In this post, I will talk about why I value workbooks as one important tool and why setting clear goals can guide you to using workbooks well.
Let me explain. I think it is common for homeschool educators to want to break free from all of the boring, busy work they had to do as students. For those of us who were in public school, Monday-Friday, year in and year out, our teachers sometimes needed to give us “busy work” because they had to keep us orderly and occupied in a room, even if they covered all of their lessons with us and even if we all mastered content. I think public and private school teachers do a phenomenal job taking care of many students in a classroom day in and day out. They are quite remarkable! Thinking back on my education, when my teachers gave us a “fun day” to do cross word puzzles relating to a holiday, watch movies, or do yet another very simple craft, I am glad they did. Mentally, the teachers probably needed a break from teaching, especially when students would have a harder time wanting to learn because their minds were “checked out” and bouncing off the walls. During elementary school, right before a three-day weekend, or a long vacation (e.g., Christmas vacation or summber break), I remember many days of easy, busy work during elementary school.
Is there ever a place for “busy work” in our homeschool? That is a whole new topic. Briefly, I should explain that occasionally, there is a place for “easy” worksheets which might appear to be “busy work.” If you are teaching a child learning habits, it can be useful to give them easy work to allow them to improve their overall habits and increase in virtue. For example, when my children are doing preschool and kindergarten work, they are at a stage where they don’t necessarily know how to sit still and learn. By 2nd grade, I want them to work pretty independently. That is a reasonable goal if my students know how to sit still and focus, read, and write.
I might give my preschooler a coloring page or a tracing worksheet, and have her work on it for about 5-minutes. The next time we have school, I might give her two tracing worksheets, and that will take her 10-minutes. Then I migth gradually increase the difficulty of a page (e.g., more difficult tracing), but keep the time the same. This is a whole other topic, too–how to set goals.
Briefly, I choose what my goal is and I set my children up for success. I change the variables over time to help them become more and more independent, accurate, and diligent. I do not set goals unless they are reasonable and attainable. I do not ask my students to do tasks during school where they will be successful 60% of the time (or less). I want them to be above the “frustration level” of achievement; I want them to feel encouraged to learn, and not discouraged. I try to give my students adequate instruction and tasks where they are successful 75-100% of the time.
I have learned this from my work in speech-langauge pathology where I write goals for many patients and students. As a speech pathologist, if you frustrate your student who is working on making an /s/ sound, he will not want to participate in therapy and will not improve. He will shut down emotionally, and no useful progress will be made. As a speech pathologist, if you adjust your goal for how much support you give for teaching how to make the /s/ sound and set-up the learning environment for sucess, the student will impove and be encouraged. He will want to try hard to improve; reducing frustration, anxiety, and a sense of defeat, and instead building on success and instrinsic motivation to try hard and learn does wonders. Over time, speech pathologists gradually “up the ante” on how comlplicated a goal and task is, and fade supports, and the student will gradually improve and become more independent. It is truly amazing to see it happen again and again. Now, you are probably not a speech pathologist, but this is where I am coming from with my experiences. If you have a child in speech therapy, you might see how goals like that can be similar to academic goals in your homeschool. I should really post separately about this topic! Goal setting and using workbooks go hand in hand if you choose, as the educator, to use workbooks in specific ways to meet your students’ education goals.
I generally find it helpful to have workbooks for:
- learning how to write neatly for printing and cursive
- learning grammar
- improving reading comprehension abilities
- practicing specific math skills (usually after manipulatives and visual aids have been used to explain concepts)
- for preschool, tracing skills, cutting, and pasting skills; the goal is improving fine motor skills (to be used for writing letters in the future) and good learning skills of sitting still and focusing
As one of many aspects of my students’ education, workbooks are a useful tool, especially for teaching reading, writing, and math.
This should go without saying, but workbooks save me a ton of time. Just think about the home educators from the 1970’s and 1980’s who did not have very many options for materials to use at home. They had to create a lot on their own, and make do with materials even if they were not a great fit for their students. Flash forward to now, and we are blessed with a ton of options. We can go online to websites and “see inside” books before buying them. We can find workbooks that are very specific for our students’s academic goals and abilities. If one of our students is having a hard time learning a new concept today, and our current materials are not working, we can go to Teachers Pay Teachers or similar sites and instantly download worksheets. We don’t have to make things from scratch; there are so many good quality resources out there!
As an educator who is in charge of guiding my students’ education that will help them grow into good citizens and–most important to me and my husband–Christians who want to do God’s will, I want to make sure they are learning at a steady pace. I value having some concrete places where I can say, “My student learned _______ and this workbook page demonstrates it.” Although my state does not require home educators to keep a portfolio of student achievement, I find value in having it. It keeps me accountable, and it’s a treasure to look back and see what my children have accomplished. Honestly, my kids like having pages to complete and being able to show me what they did. They like having a definite start and stop to part of their school day. They like being able to show their Papa when he gets home from work what they did at school. I like being able to proudly display some of their schoolwork on the fridge or a bulletin board.
Whether you use workbooks all the time, or only occasionally, I hope this post has given you some things to consider as you develop the story of your precious family!