Why Worksheets? What Now?

My thinking has changed a lot on many different educational topics over the years, but consistently, for at least the past five years, I’ve stayed firm in my position against worksheets. Now I realize all of the different reasons that parents, educators, and sometimes even children, like worksheets. 

  • They can be predictable.
  • They can provide quick data.
  • They usually require limited explanation — which, based on our current COVID-19 educational reality, can be beneficial. 
  • They can usually be done independently. 

Maybe there are more reasons to add to this list, but I think this sums up the majority. I know that many of our parents currently use worksheets in some capacity. During our daily Google Meet calls, we’ve had a number of children show us a worksheet or a workbook, and even had a few parents email us photographs of completed worksheets to add to our class blog. My teaching partner, Paula, and I talked about this a lot the other day. 

While we might not be providing worksheets as part of our home program plans, we can also understand why parents might use them. We don’t have young kids at home. While we might be problem solving our way through an Online Kindergarten Classroom Experience, we are also doing so without the added responsibility of supporting our own young children. Many of our parents are balancing their own work commitments with the educational commitments of their kids, and looking to also keep their children happy, active, and engaged during a whole day — day after day — when nobody can not go anywhere. Maybe if I was in the same position, a workbook would sound better to me than it does right now. 🙂

We now have a bit of a conundrum though, as Paula and I are both devoted to providing an interest-based, play-based, developmentally appropriate Kindergarten Program to our kids, but from a distance. There are many lines that I love in the Kindergarten Program Document, but even years ago when I first read it, this paragraph stood out to me. 

Now what? Knowing some of the reasons why worksheets might be used at home, how can we support learning beyond the worksheets? Recently, we’ve tried by offering comments to kids/families to apply this learning in a different way.

  • Maybe if a child learned about a science topic from a worksheet, he/she could think about how to share this learning with his/her friends. Could the child make a book about the topic? Record a video discussing the topic? Create a drawing or painting that highlights the key aspects of the topic? 
  • Maybe it’s about looking beyond the content on the worksheet. If the worksheet provides some background knowledge on a specific topic, kids could use it as a starting point. What else do they wonder? What other questions might they have? This could be a good opportunity to dig deeper into a topic of interest. 
  • Maybe it’s about taking the learning off the worksheet. In younger grades, worksheets are often used to teach letter and number formation. While in the classroom, we might attempt to do both in the context of play, it’s different at home. So if children are using worksheets or workbooks for this purpose, we make suggestions for moving beyond the blackline master. Maybe it’s creating signs for buildings, for labels, or even for bedroom doors. Maybe it’s creating an alphabet book or number book to help teach others about these concepts. Maybe it’s writing a list on any number of topics.

Teaching and learning look differently right now. While we might not be encouraging the use of worksheets, we’re not going to be naive enough to think that they don’t exist. Maybe our new thinking can be summed up in the following question: If a worksheet is first, then what comes next? 

Recently, I was interviewed by Stephen Hurley from VoicEd Radio on Distance Learning as part of this ECOO Podcast Series.

EP 01 Aviva Dunsiger

At the end of the interview, Stephen asked me for a word to sum up my current thinking around this online learning reality. My word? Possibility. Maybe this same word can be applied to my evolving thoughts around worksheets: the possibility that learning doesn’t end with them if/when they choose to be used. What are your thoughts on worksheets in your digital classroom space? Does it vary from your thoughts in your regular classroom space? I might not be selecting a worksheet anytime soon, but I’m becoming more understanding when others do.


14 thoughts on “Why Worksheets? What Now?

  1. Great conversation. I think though that Worksheet should never be first. It may be a good way to summarize, practice or record learning that has already happened but I don’t think it should ever be considered as a primary learning tool. Thx!

    • Thanks for adding to the conversation, Anne! I really like the discussion on Twitter around worksheets. If a worksheet shouldn’t ever be first, why share learning in this way? Curious why it might be a better option than other tools. I always appreciate hearing different perspectives.


  2. I always appreciate your thoughts around education as they are always deeply rooted in theory and in practice. I was having a discussion around worksheets just this week- one parent “confessed” (and I say it like that because that seemed to be the tone of her email) that she was using worksheets with her son because they seemed to help keep his focus on the activity better. At first, and as an educator firmly in the “no worksheet” camp (my own poor children never had colouring books, lol), I was a bit taken aback. This was the not the first email I had received from a parent highlighting their child’s learning via worksheets. But this is one where I replied, “If that is what O. needs right now for his learning, than that is what he needs.” What has changed my attitude (while still being planted firmly in the no worksheets camp)? I have years of practice and theory behind my educational beliefs. This is who I am, this is what I do. This is *not* who most parents are. Most parents are not educators, and most parents are doing the best that they can in these uncommon circumstances. It is my job, not only to work with my young learners, but also their parents, and their parents did not sign on to a crash course in emergent curriculum and education. Will I be providing parents access to *some* (emphasis on that word some) pdf’s that they can print off and use with their children? Yeah, I will. Part of my heart hurts over that, because of idealism. But the fact that these parents are doing their darndest not only to teach their children, while caring for their other children, while also trying to do their own jobs causes me to think of what is most important right now. This is not forever, but for now. And on my blog, I will mostly be giving examples of teaching without the worksheet, without technology. But I also view adding a pdf here and there as a chance to extend a little grace to families who are doing the best they can. Just as all of us are doing the best we can. Thank you, once again, for another thought provoking post. You always stretch my mind and my imagination, and cause me to think of possibilities! Hang in there- we will get through this together!

    • Thanks for your comment Carrie and the gentle push to think more about this. As I mentioned in this post, I can understand why some parents might choose worksheets right now (and there are probably many other reasons than the ones that I’ve highlighted). But I don’t think that I can supply worksheets for kindergarten … at least not on a mass basis. I worry about what we’re communicating to families, even unintentionally, if we post blackline masters. Are we saying this is what we want/value? Are we saying that this is what the program supports? In every email that Paula and I have sent out to parents (and we’ve sent many), we always welcome feedback. We encourage questions and comments. And if a family told us that they wanted a worksheet, I think we might ask a few questions to figure out why. Is there another option? Or if a worksheet might be the best option for this child for any number of reasons, can we suggest or support some ways to extend this learning? While I realize that not all parents are educators and this is the most unusual of circumstances, I also wonder if this provides the perfect opportunity to work with families on understanding the value of play. The value in extending what kids are already doing. And the value in responding to interests and connecting with academic expectations. This is not always going to work perfectly, but through our Google Meet conversations and the daily blog contributions (click “Older Posts” to see more) — https://oslerk.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/category/family-contributions/ — I still think there’s a lot that can be possible. Maybe that varies depending on students, families, grades, and situations, and this could be where knowing our kids and their circumstances might matter most of all. These are my evolving thoughts, but I welcome others that may be different. Just as with the Twitter conversation I had over this post this morning, we may not all see eye-to-eye, but I think there’s tremendous value in having these discussions and thinking even more about this topic. I know that your comment caused me to reflect more, and I appreciate that A LOT!!!


  3. Aviva, I think you answered the question in your opening. Parents of K-3 students in particular, who may be home with kids while doing their own work, are not teachers. They know what they did in primary – worksheets! They know it probably worked for them in the sense that they were easy to complete, everybody’s looked the same, and differentiation was non-existent.
    Worksheets also don’t require a primary child to work on a screen by themselves.

    My Grade 7 parents, I think, are a little baffled by the lack of worksheets, the lack of something that looks like the work they did. Where are the repetitive tasks? Where is the rote learning….

    So, I love your extensions. If a child offers a worksheet, here are some next steps – if you have the time/energy/ability to do them with your kids. Here are some things to talk about/think about/learn about.

    I also know that people are having totally different experiences with parent engagement. As an intermediate teacher with a group of students who, for the most part, don’t love school, I’m not hearing from many parents. At all. My colleagues who teach primary are hearing from parents all the time, at all hours, sometimes in desperation, because in some cases, what they really want is a worksheet.

    For me, one of the gaps this is exposing is our continued need to help parents understand that their children are learning in a way different from the one they experienced. It’s not an easy conversation to have sometimes, but I become more and more convinced of its necessity.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa, and from sharing your own experiences! My situation might be a little different, as through conversations and many blog posts on play-based learning, our parents have experienced this environment since September. Granted the experience now is totally different, as kids are at home and parents might be working at home at the same time as they are also supporting academic experiences. I also wonder if distance learning has to be all online learning. While we have regular Google Meet calls each day, and have had quite good attendance at these (usually 23-26/28 kids a day), we also offer suggestions for home learning that do not require the use of a device (https://oslerk.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/category/daily-shoot/). Most parents share learning with us through the class blog — https://oslerk.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/category/family-contributions/ (you can click on “Older Posts” to see more) — and as you can see, in almost every case, the learning is captured on a device, but does not take place on one. I realize that this might not be true for all grades, and depending on experiences before this Distance Learning began, I can see why there might be tons of different questions and concerns that come from different approaches. This is new for everyone, and we are all learning this together. Since parents submit student work to use via email, we do get quite a few emails, but really just with work. I know that this seems to vary educator to educator or grade to grade. But I think that there’s so much value in what you shared in your last paragraph, and in fact, this sums up a lot of my reply back to Carrie. This could provide an opportunity to share pedagogy with families, and support kids and parents in some different approaches. Knowing kids, families, and circumstances may change if/how/or when we have these discussions, but there could be a lot of value in having them. Thanks for continuing to push my thinking on this topic!


  4. Right now, our parents are in a really tough spot. They are doing an additional job that they never asked for while in many cases continuing to work full time while parenting multiple young children too. What I do right now is as much about reducing their stress load as it is to support their children. If I have families who have purchased workbooks or are downloading worksheets to keep their children busy, I need to respect, and not judge that. I am ensuring that the home learning I provide is providing alternate ways of thinking and learning that better align with my beliefs as an educator. Some families are dabbling with the work I am providing, and others are going the route that works for them and their situation. We are in a global pandemic right now and we need to be here to support one another. This isn’t a time to judge, but to support, even if what is being done isn’t something we believe in and know that it isn’t the best teaching (or even a good teaching practice) for children. Our job these days is as much about the children we service as it is to support the families that they live with. A family in crisis means a child in crisis. I want to support as best as I can to lessen the stress and reduce the pressures. We are in a time of crisis and more than ever we must be good to one another. This isn’t the time for judgment. It’s a time for support.

    • Thanks for your comment, Karen! If my post or replies came off as judging, then I apologize. I was only trying to share some of my thinking around worksheets, but also my evolving understanding around why parents might choose them (especially now). I might try to support other learning opportunities with them through some feedback questions, as Paula and I do with all other pieces of work shared with us. How kids or parents respond to these questions are totally up to them. If they send me another worksheet, we go with that. And again, as I said in some other replies here and on Twitter, I think that knowing our kids, parents, and family circumstances are important. What might be true for our families might vary from others. Everything we suggest to students is optional, and everyone is welcome to go in different directions or share different learning with us. As you said, we are in a pandemic right now. Mental health and well-being needs to come first. I might argue that this is also true even when we’re not in one, and based on what I’ve seen you share and know about you, I think we’d feel similarly around this point. My intention was never to judge, but maybe to question and to engage in some different conversations. Thanks for being part of that!


      • Yes, mental health and well being must always come first and it’s even more apparent right now. To me, I just find it hard to be having this type of conversation around worksheets our students’ parents are giving their children when people are just trying to make it through their days. Maybe it’s the timing of the post that has hit a sensitive nerve within me. I am grateful my parents are making an effort to find work that they can cope with and their kids are happy with. They are not trained educators but they also know their children in a different light then we do, and since their children are with them, and not us, we need to be grateful for what they are doing with them. I know for me I am grateful each of my students is in a loving home. Some of those homes are in crisis but there is also a lot of love. I am grateful to have parents working with their children (who happen to also be the children in my class) however that may look right now. They are doing what they can to keep things as “normal” as possible when we are in a time that is far from “normal”. Perhaps with all the things going on in the world right now, this post is out of place to me. It’s a conversation that might have been better left to a time when we weren’t in a global pandemic.

        • Karen, thanks for your reply! Your comment made me realize that maybe I didn’t highlight a couple of things in my original post, so I’ll do that now. Paula and I have not started a discussion around worksheets with any family right now. We are responsible for sharing activity ideas with all families, and we do so through our class blog. These suggestions aren’t worksheets … but we also don’t make them required work. The message is always do what you can do, do what works for you and your child, and if you want to reach out to us, we’re here for you. Part of what we provide for families is a daily Google Meet call. Really it’s two calls. The first part of the call is a large group one and the second part is a small group sharing. Kids are welcome to come to both, one, or none of these. While there can be tie ins to academics, especially in the small group sharing, where we might give some feedback or next step suggestions based on what kids share, this is not the purpose of these calls. It’s to connect. We largely don’t “teach” during these calls. We let children and families talk — often parents and siblings join in — and we’re there as part of this talk. It’s a little bit of wonderful as part of each day.

          This post came about because recently Paula and I noticed that during these calls, there was some sharing of workbooks and even parents emailing us completed worksheet pages to post to the blog. So we began to talk about why this might be, if we needed to be doing something different, and how we might extend the learning. Reading through Twitter lately, I’ve seen and even participated in conversations about if we, as educators, need to maybe vary from our beliefs and practices because of the current reality or if we can support this pedagogy at home. I’m thinking a lot here about a discussion I had with Laurel Fynes last week. Talking with families isn’t necessarily “conversations around worksheets or no worksheets,” but might just be in the questions we provide on the blog or in the Google Meet Room in follow-up to the worksheets shared. Much as we would to anything else that’s shared. If kids respond with something different or something more, great, and if they don’t, that’s fine.

          I’m really sorry that I hit a nerve. This was not the intention of the post. If you, or others, feel judged because of what I said or how I said it, I apologize. Why I wrote it though was, for example, the mom who commented on my Instagram sharing of the post. She spoke about how our other options reduce stress for her son and their family. Based on some of what she’s seen, she was beginning to “beat [herself] up” and wondering if she should be “offering [him] more worksheets” even though he “just doesn’t like them.” We want her to also know that she’s doing enough. Sometimes when ideas are shared in a more open forum — as they are through our blog and Google Meet — parents start to wonder about the impact of these ideas for them. Is this what they should be doing? Is this what we want? And so I wrote this post to try and explain more. If this isn’t the time for this post for you, I understand. Walk away from it. It’s okay. I hope that parents that feel the same way, do the same thing. And if it is the right time for some, I just hope it’s beneficial.


  5. Hi,
    Worksheets may be the go to for families at home right now. Parents might see it as quick busy work. Acknowledge that some chidlren might be eager to sit down with their parent’s purchased workbooks and their work. It is our job to find a way to extend their learning. I think some families felt online learning would be a ‘keep my child busy’ time. I feel it is our time as educators to provide rich tasks as we would in the classroom. We are mentoring and helping parents to see how learning really occurs in a play based classroom. We need to provide prompts for parents so they can see what their child is learning in the moment. We need to show how families can connect with each other in rich learning activities.

    Photos are a good piece of evidence that parents send us and we can provide feedback, ask questions and connect with our students around the photo and the learning that may or may not have happened. The way we respond is very important now as we are guiding both parents and chidren through their learning journey. Both educators respond and ask questions and push the learning further. That is easier to do if the original task is a rich one. A worksheet might fulfill the requirements of busy time so families can do their work, make a meal or have a quiet moment. We know as educators that the worksheet will not met every child’s needs. We also know that children at this time are desperately seeking a connection to our classrooms. We need to help our students by providing tasks that are similar to the ones in our rooms. We need to acknowledge that everyone is doing the best they can at home. We need parents to make the decisions they feel meet their child’s needs. But we also need to nudge and show them the way to extend their learning.

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Angie! I think that you summed things up here in a way that I couldn’t. I could not agree with you more, and in many ways, you highlight so many of the key points in the conversation that Paula and I had recently. Appreciate your feedback and you sharing some of your experiences.


  6. In a perfect world, students would be going to school and professional educators would be at the ready to use the various tools and techniques at their fingertips.

    We are not living in a perfect world right now. Regular classroom teachers have been thrown into the deep end. So many parents have been thrown in the deep end and have an anchor attached to them.

    There will come a time when students are back in classrooms and the professional will be back at the helm. Sighs of relief will be heard everywhere. We’re still a ways from that happening.

    I think that it’s important to keep in mind that teachers have had at least a year at a Faculty of Education after university, college, or work experience. In their classroom, they have many, many tools at their disposal. They know how to differentiate and reach students where they may happen to be. They know how to observe and see how activities address expectations.

    At home, it’s a different scenario. Parents don’t have the time or the background to use all of the skills and techniques that we take for granted in today’s classroom. They don’t have a year to get up to speed. In some cases, they may still be fortunate enough to be working either at home or outside the home. In some families, the parents or grandparents may not even be fluent in English or French as it is taught in the classroom.

    I applaud those teachers who are struggling to get a bit of skill teaching online. I applaud the parents that are going that extra mile to help extend the school to the home. I have one friend who estimates that only about 50% of her class have even checked in since all this started and parents aren’t returning phone calls.

    It’s a tough time for many and I know that there will be a time to sit back and reflect on what was done. I also know that parents and student are looking for successes and not frustrations. It might be that worksheets are an answer right now. As teachers, parents, and students get better at doing whatever they’re doing, I suspect that things may evolve.

    • Thanks for weighing in on this one, Doug! I totally understand and agree with so much of what you’re saying here. Maybe some of my thinking, which possibly wasn’t well explained or maybe was hidden amongst other thoughts, is that as educators, we’re responsible for providing kids/families with about 5 hours of work a week (in kindergarten). What that looks like can vary classroom to classroom, and may even vary student to student. As some kids and families began to share worksheets as some of this work, Paula and I began to talk about what we’re providing families. Do we need to change our approach? How might we support the worksheets and maybe go deeper with them? I don’t know that I have any answers here, and my thoughts vary somewhat depending on each situation. I can completely understand why parents might choose worksheets as an option now, just like I can understand why others might not. The question is, do we provide them as one of our suggestions to parents? We’re not there at this point. This is not the time for big discussions on pedagogy, but maybe a question or two back to kids — at the right time — might take a little of this worksheet work in a new direction. And with kindergarten students, who are also at an age where they tend to rely on adults for additional support, maybe these questions could allow them to explore these directions on their own, while parents have a little additional time for the many things that they have to do. Now I realize that this argument is likely to be different based on kids, ages, parents and teachers, and family circumstances. Once again, maybe relationships matter most here, as then we know if/when to make another suggestion and if/when not to. Thank you for making me think more about this!


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