It is getting to be late fall and most programs have gotten in the groove–the kids are settled and starting to explore and pursue their interests.
When it comes to early learning, children generally just need play, and just want play! Their play often forms around real-world scenarios–like pretending to be in school. For younger children, this play looks different from what one would think of as ‘school’. It’s based on their limited experience and knowledge about the whole idea of happens at this place called school.
As Peter Gray talks about, true play must always be voluntary, and the child must always be free to leave (Gray, 2013). But what happens when, as they grow older, their play looks more like classroom work? What if they get curious about worksheets? What if they want to challenge themselves to write down the answers to math questions? What if they want to read and follow the instructions?
Children who have not quite left early childhood at 6, 7, 8 or even 9 years of age are beginning to take ideas and concepts which they were once only able to manipulate outside of themselves (such as counting or adding with materials) and integrating these skills into their thinking (Gray, 2013). Essentially, they are able to play with these concepts in their working memory.
It can be useful for them at this time to have worksheets available to give them ideas, concepts, and questions to think through and answer.
So, what is the difference between using worksheets in a teacher directed setting and a child directed environment?
First of all, the worksheet topics are directed by the child’s interest, not a pre-planned curriculum.
Second, they are done in the spirit of play. The child has the ability to freely choose, direct, and freely leave the activity.
Worksheets should be approached like process art. Provide the materials and let kids own the process. Let them work out what they need to do to complete a worksheet, let them figure out when they’re done, allow them to be the boss of what they’re masterpiece of learning looks like in the end.
Kids understand what they need and when then need it. If they keep at the worksheet play, great we know it is working for them. If they do not, we can consider why they moved on. Was it too difficult? Were the concepts not exactly what they needed? Were they ready for something else? Did they work on what they needed to on that worksheet? Will they come back to that worksheet? Will they try a different one when they are ready?
The answers to questions like these will help us support their learning. We may change the available worksheets, put alternative-but-related resources into the environment, or simply do nothing.
As with all forms of self-directed learning, it is not about looking for a product at the end of a finished worksheet but about trusting the child and trusting the process to get what they need from the worksheet.