September 23, 2015

NO Busywork, Worksheets or Workbooks? (Reading)

This post is the first in a series of three on the  3 Rs without Busywork, Worksheets, and Workbooks. I will be posting about 'Riting (writing) on Friday and 'Rithmetic (Arithmetic) on Monday.

I say, "NO," to busywork, worksheets, and workbooks. I consider them cheating. They cheat the mom into thinking that the worksheets and workbooks are filling in gaps or teaching their child better than they, as a parent can. They cheat the child by leading the child to think that filling in worksheets is a quality education and that education is just a task check off list. Workbooks and worksheets also cheat the child by implying all children a certain age (and therefore grade) should be at the same developmental level. Science shows us otherwise! If the child struggles because they are not ready for the work, they may wrongly believe they are stupid. The worksheet and workbook approach cheats the father by implying that his child is learning what he needs to know.

Much of early childhood education in America is filled with busy work. Is busywork really needful? Parents can be under the wrong impression and think their child needs busywork to learn. Actually, the schoolteacher needs student to have busy work so she can be available to other students who need her most. Busy work is a classroom management tool. A child who understands what he is learning does not need the busy work. A child who is not developmentally ready, does not benefit from it.

If we do not use busy work, worksheets, and workbooks, what do we do? How do we know if our child is learning? How do we demonstrate to our spouse or in some states, to government officials that our child is learning? In this post (and the two posts that follow), I will share ways to teach the rudimentary tools of learning — the 3 Rs of Reading, 'Riting, and "Rithmetic, without relying on busywork, worksheets, or workbooks.


Reading aloud builds a context for reading and enriches the vocabulary of your child, whether your child is a small child or a teen. Yes, even read aloud to your child who already knows how to read. Sure, let him read on his own, but he still needs to be read aloud to. When he is a reader, let him follow in his own copy. Chances are he skips words he does not know when he is reading to himself. Reading aloud with him can help him learn the words rather than skipping them. This method helps him build a larger vocabulary. Continue reading to your child from early childhood and through his teen years. Get the most out of your read aloud time:

  • Read to your child from unabridged books. The language is richer in unabridged books and will help your child learn more.
  • Choose to read to your child from living books, not just twaddle.
  • Discuss what you are reading as you go.
  • Stop and define words he may not know. Begin by asking what he thinks it means.
  • Encourage your spouse to ask the child to update him on what happened in the book when your spouse was not there.

What if your child has difficulty paying attention to reading aloud?

  • Get your child outside more, to climb, swing, run, jump, balance, slide, brachiate, spin, and crawl. This builds both the brain and the body's central core strength.
  • Read to him in shorter spurts at first.
  • Busy his hands. Consider teaching him to hat loom for the needy. His hands can be busy while you read and he will have the pleasure of knowing that someone needy will be warmer this winter. I have seen children as young as three learn to hat loom.
  • For a time, read right before quiet time or bedtime. If they do not pay attention, close the book, give them a hug and turn out the light. They may just be over stimulated by the day and need quiet time or to go to bed.

Learning to read strategies:

  • Lap read the Bible with non-readers and early readers. Run your finger under the words as you read. Let them read the words they know. Children have been learning to read from the Bible for centuries. Why? Because it works!
  • Rather than only teaching him the names of a letter a week, also teach him the letter sounds and combinations. Power of an Hour is grab and go, all-in-one, and includes the Spelling Rule of the Week. They learn the spelling rule and the pattern of that rule found in a list of words using that rule.
  • If your preschool aged child is not initiating wanting to read, take it as a clue that he is not yet ready and this is NOT a developmental delay! This is normal! Continue reading aloud to him while he continues to develop. Know that many children are not developmentally ready to read before first grade.
  • Beginning readers need the Three Reads every day.
  1. To read aloud.
  2. To read silently to self.
  3. To be read aloud to.

Reading aloud, building attention span and the Three Reads can help your child learn to read well and enjoy reading.

A resource I used to teach the basics of reading, along with the above activities, was–Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I found this resource to be a good manual. I limited this to when they wanted to do it and I did not feel obligated to do a whole lesson in one session. There is no rush, this does go to the third grade level. Remember, beginning readers often have short attention spans. As soon as they appeared to pull back, I would finish that subsection and lightly mark in the margin with a pencil, the child's name add the date. This way I know exactly how old each child was when they completed the book. I did 100 Easy Lessons along with scripture study and the "Three Reads" all of my children became proficient readers and learned to love reading. I used this same 100 Easy Lessons book to tutor a neighbor. However, she was not getting the daily scripture reading, read alouds, or "Three Reads" when she went home. While she learned to read, she did not learn to be proficient. So, one thing is great, but doing the other things listed yields a better result.

What methods have you found helpful in teaching reading without reliance on busywork, worksheets, and workbooks?

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