There is a really easy trap to fall into as a homeschool parent. It will sneak up and grab you without you even realizing it, and when you do, you can feel like it’s too late to escape! You may think this trap is the only way to evaluate understanding of a subject…..
What trap am I talking about?
It’s the worksheet trap! When you started imagining your homeschool days, they didn’t include sitting a child in a desk for hours of their day to simply fill out worksheets. You probably thought about doing science projects, playing with math manipulatives, and spending glorious afternoons at the park. I will confess, I have been caught by the worksheet trap many times. It’s simply because it can feel easier to finish a page and check the box off. Some worksheets are almost inevitable in homeschooling, but they don’t have to be the only way to practice and evaluate understanding.
Our family’s escape from the worksheet trap was forced upon us. I ended up with a child who has several diagnoses and who for several years simply couldn’t use worksheets. My child’s issues forced us to change the path we were on and find different avenues for evaluation and practice. Now, our whole family is benefitting from the change. We still use worksheets and Notebooking. However, there is a much better balance in our home now that we include other techniques in our day.
Here are 15 ideas to help your family escape the worksheet trap:
1. Have your child build a scene from a reading selection with LEGOs. Reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe? Allow your child to build the White Witch’s castle or the Stone Table.
2. Have a conversation with your child. Many children struggle with the idea of writing words on a page. For heaven’s sake, even many adults will tell you how scary the idea of a blank page can be! Remove fear from the equation and simply have a conversation with your child about what they have read. You will see more details and ideas that they understand when they are not having to write them down each time they read.
3. Want to evaluate the child’s comprehension of a passage with no pictures? Allow them to create the scene with building blocks. My child was reading Curious George, and I wanted to make sure she understood the words she was reading. I told her to recreate the scene from the page, and could see she understood what was happening. Even better? I asked her to explain what she had done. She picked up on the tiny details and had to figure out a way to show them with blocks.
4. Graphic organizers like the Venn diagram and comic strips can be very helpful. They can also look very boring on a page in front of a child. Why not allow your child to create the graphic organizer on the white board? My daughter will fight me all day long on writing out a lot of text on paper, but if I put a marker in her hand I see complete transformation!
5. Do you have a child who loves to play pretend? Why not teach your child the idea of a monologue, and allow them to demonstrate a character study in this method? The child that stands in front of the fire place dressed in a robe and delivering a monologue about saving the city from invaders will never forget the name of the historic individual they are portraying.
6. Drawing ideas and concepts is freeing for the artistic child. When it comes to reading comprehension, many questions can be changed to allow the child to illustrate the passage. The best part of drawing is that, when you allow your child to frequently create art based on their reading, they are also creating a portfolio that reinforces their talents and their self-confidence.
7. Bullet Journaling is an easy way to allow your child to digest, investigate, and report what they are learning, without making it feel like a dry page. Bullet journaling can be used for almost any subject. Some ideas include: Making a list of characters in a story, listing 4 hypothesis in a science lesson, describing a character’s day in a literature selection, listing plot points in a story, and many more ideas. (By the way, want your own copy of this Literature Bullet Journal Book Overview? Click here to download it now!)
8. Learning about the idea of a setting in reading, or a location in history? Let your child go wild in Minecraft and create the setting or location to evaluate understanding. Last year, my oldest built the entire island from Island of the Blue Dolphins in Minecraft as her final project. It was amazing to see all the small details she picked up on and translated to the pixelated world.
9. Want to evaluate your child’s understanding of an assignment or discussion question? Simply hand them your phone set to video mode, and allow them to create a video describing the idea or concept. Almost all kids love playing with phones, and the idea of doing school on the phone is a delight! Even better: Watch the video with them, and continue the conversation about the subject.
10. Break out the recycling bin! Cereal boxes and paper towel tubes, with some glue and construction paper thrown in, can become anything from Nag’s Head Lighthouse to a hurricane diagram. A child will both show greater understanding of a 3-D model and will learn more while creating the model than they ever will simply drawing the idea on paper or labeling a worksheet! We now have twin models of the lighthouse of Alexandria standing on our schoolroom shelves, and the kids can tell me much more about how the lighthouse was designed and where it was located than anything else we studied in the unit on ancient Egypt.
11. We’ve all heard about the edible cell project, and it’s a ton of fun! Cells are not the only concept that can be edible. Let your child create a skeleton out of pasta, a pirate ship from pretzel sticks and nut butter, or a fort from crackers. My kids love to play with food, and they light up with smiles when I tell them to create something from their studies.
12. Edible projects are not just for models. Cooking skills are part of homeschooling, and they can help a child show understanding. Whether you are learning about a historic time period, a story setting, or a geographic location, making a dish or meal based on that location can help a child demonstrate understanding. The best times to use cooking are when there is not a recipe published in the relevant text. The child must research to find a recipe accurately related to the time period or location. The research and subsequent cooking will help solidify the concepts for the child.
13. Writing a letter to a grandparent or family friend can demonstrate great understanding of a concept. Writing to someone that you share a close connection with is much easier and more personable than filling out a paper, and can accomplish the same demonstration of understanding. This method also adds the benefits of practice at the life skill of letter writing and showing the grandparents/family friend some of what the child is learning.
14. Have your child create their own book about the subject. You can use this method to evaluate understanding for any age, and for any subject. In literature, the child can retell the story, or tell a minor character’s side of the adventure. When learning about science, the child could write a book about a character interacting with the science concept. In history, your child could create their own work of historical fiction. The possibilities are endless, and you are left with a wonderful keepsake of their homeschool years.
15. Create a project board about the subject. We are all familiar with the tri-fold project boards for science projects, but they don’t have to be only for science! You can create a board about a character in a story, a historic event, a location or country, and many more ideas. Some project board assignment ideas:
A) Create a display comparing the Iroquois and Cherokee Nations. Please include examples of their foods, housing, religious beliefs, family units, and territories. Please use at least three drawings and four photos.
B) Create a display showing the lives of Union and Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. Please include army camp descriptions, food rations, drill descriptions, and prison descriptions. Please include one paragraph about what army you would prefer to be a part of. Base this decision only on how the soldiers lived.
Escaping the worksheet trap takes a little bit of creativity, a little bit of planning time, and a few supplies, but your family’s experience with homeschooling will reap huge benefits by opening the world beyond worksheets to your children. Remember, in homeschooling it is not about how much work is done. It’s about how much the child is learning and growing in their understanding of the subject matter. In a classroom, worksheets are the fallback simply because there are too many kids to sit down with for a conversation. Remind yourself that you are not in the classroom! You have the thrill of only one, maybe two children studying a topic at a time. You can sit down for the conversations or projects. Let go of the idea that it all has to be documented on a flat sheet of paper, and let the learning adventure flow!
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