Today I gave my oldest son a page in a workbook to do while I made pumpkin pie. He looked at the page, read it through, said it wasn’t worth anything and he didn’t want to do it. I asked what he meant about not being worth anything. He said it was too easy. I said, why not have some easy work for a change? He said it wouldn’t teach him anything. He was right, so I found him something else to do.
I have a collection of workbooks I’ve gathered up over the last couple of years but we don’t often use them. Too often language arts worksheets go from being too hard to too easy with no real value in between. Too often they don’t teach, they just drill or test, and I suppose if your child needs the drill they might be useful, but my son doesn’t.
We use worksheets if they look at applying rules in different ways and help us explore the limits of the rules. We like Sentence Island, by Michael Clay Thompson, for that reason. It is a grammar book where the child has to analyze a sentence in four different ways, looking at the parts of speech, the parts of sentences, the phrases and the clauses. It’s useful because it takes the basic information (how to analyze sentences) and applies it to different sentences. The different sentences bring up different issues in how to apply the ideas, so the student isn’t just redoing the same thing over and over but learning new things along the way.
Math we do use a workbook sometimes, because for math I do feel drill is important. I want him to learn to do his math questions quickly. However even then I’m picky about the math worksheets we use, wanting to make sure they are ones that force my child to use the strategies I’m trying to teach.
I find playing games is a good alternative to worksheets, though time consuming. Games can be flexible, becoming easier or harder to respond to the child’s ability. They can go beyond what would be written on a workbook. My sons often alter the rules of the games or choose to add complications. Allowing them to do that lets them feel less like I’m bossing them around and more in control of their own work. As long as the games still cover the skills I’m wanting them to practice, I’m perfectly fine with that.