articles / Frugal living / Homeschooling

Learning can happen without worksheets and wasting money

One of the reasons I decided to develop my own curriculum stuff, especially for the younger grades, is because a lot of the curriculums that I’ve found are heavy on worksheets and pretty light on hands-on activities. When there are hands-on activities, normally they involve gathering and using supplies that you typically wouldn’t have on hand and are made to be more difficult than they have to be.

Because we have one main income (I make a little bit freelance writing, but basically is goes to keeping the classroom stocked and field trips) and because I’m naturally frugal, I’m not going to spend the money to buy a curriculum and then spend my time trying to orchestrate these outlandish experiments when simpler experiments can be found online or made up on your own using household items.

Back to the worksheet thing…one of the biggest complaints I’ve had about public school (and one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard) is that elementary age children, specifically those K-2nd grade, are being sent home with tons and tons of worksheets that they did at school and more to do for homework.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again — I am not against worksheets. I think that they should be used for the purpose of reviewing and assessing. Worksheets can be put in a portfolio to keep track of progress. However, I do not think that they should be used as the primary way of teaching something. Using a lot of worksheets creates the possible problem of the child only memorizing the concept and then once they’ve been assessed (I prefer this word to ‘test’) they forget before they’ve moved onto the next concept. I want to know that Josiah completely understands the concept and knows it rather than just being able to regurgitate from something he did on a worksheet.

With Josiah we are finishing up learning preschool concepts and slowly moving into Kindergarten concepts (after all the first part of Kindergarten is reviewing and making sure all the kids are on the same level), we are reviewing all the numbers and letters before moving on. I am also teaching science and social studies.

Here are a few things that I do when we’re working on letters (Language) instead of just using worksheets:

  • Letter pancakes — This is easy and self-explanatory. For some of the letters we’re working on I’ve made pancakes in the shape of that letter. It’s easy and Josiah thinks it’s funny. It’s killing two birds with one stone too, because after all, kids have to eat!

    Letter pancakes

    Letter pancakes

  • We go to the library once a week and I encourage him to look for a book that has the letter we’re working on in the title. Last week when we were working on ‘I’ he got the book “Superman saves Smallville.”
  • Magazine cutouts — I’d already thought of something similar, but I also found it on Pintrest. You cut out a big block letter using construction paper and then have the child search through magazines and cut out pictures of things that start with that letter. This not only helps with cutting and gluing (fine motor skills), but it also helps with learning the letter and the initial sound (which is something that gets covered in phonics later on).
  • Scavenger hunt — If it were warmer we’d do this on walks, but sometimes I have Josiah go on a hunt around the house to find things that start with the particular letter we’re working.

I don’t use all of these every time and sometimes we get through the letter within a day because Josiah catches on quickly. If he seems to be struggling with a letter then I’ll do more in-depth stuff like what I listed above. However, going over the letters is more review than learning in order to prepare for phonics and reading.

Here are a few things that I’ve done or will do with numbers and counting and basic addition and subtraction:

  • Popsicle sticks — These are cheap and they’re a great way to help them count. What I normally do is have the number written out and then have Josiah count it out and place the sticks (or whatever manipulative he’s using) so that way he sees the correlation between the number and the quantity.
  • Playing cards — One of the things I’ve done is separate out the numbers from a deck of cards and then have Josiah review his numbers by counting out whatever manipulative he’s using and place it on the correct card. This once again reinforces the idea of the correlation between the number and the quantity.
  • Dice — Dice can be used for basic addition and subtraction by having them add or subtract the amount of dots that they roll (so it’s more of a game). For number recognition, it can be used the opposite of the manipulatives and when they roll the die they have to write out what number they’re dots add up to.
Josiah using his poker chip counters and cards to practice his numbers.

Josiah using his poker chip counters and cards to practice his numbers.

I have a few different things I use for manipulatives for counting — Popsicle sticks, pennies, and poker chips. The counters that public schools use that you can buy at education supply stores are typically $5 for a bag of 100 foam counters. Pennies are something that we all have laying around without a purpose and they can also eventually be used when teaching about money. Poker chips, if you don’t already have them for the occasional card game, are really cheap and can typically be bought at yard sales or thrift stores in large quantities and in different colors (meaning you can also use them for patterns and color recognition). Popsicle sticks can also be used for counting and for forming several uppercase letters of the alphabet, so once again, they have a duel purpose.

I have a few goals for teaching at home. First, I want to ensure that Josiah is learning the material and we’re not just rushing through. Second, I want him to learn through experience and hands-on activities as much as I possibly can orchestrate (even if it takes a little bit more time and work because I believe they’ll learn it quicker and hold on to the knowledge longer that way). Third, I want to be able to homeschool without breaking the bank to do it.

Homeschooling is just as much about being creative as it is about actually teaching. If I want to be an effective teacher for Josiah, I have to learn how to stretch my money to give him more opportunities to experience new things and I have to allow him to learn outside of worksheets.


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