Worksheets don’t grow dendrites.

There is a book Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites, edited by Tate, that has 20 instructional strategies that aren’t based around worksheets, but instead are based around learning. The main premise of the book is that worksheets don’t instruct.

I tend to agree with this approach. Worksheets do not do the instruction part. For learning addition, nothing can substitue for actually placing one thing with one other thing and making two things. We do M&M math or jelly bean math at our house – a lot. We take groups of M&Ms (or jelly beans) and practice basic addition, splitting groups in half, or splitting groups into 3 even groups. We also do subtraction and some really easy multiplication (2×2 = 4; 2 groups of 2 jelly beans each means how many jelly beans?). This is active learning and is how my son learns best.

But then we also do worksheets. I make up my own math worksheets based on what we have covered each day. He sits there and watches me write them out, sometimes he wants to write out the math problems himself (and I let him if he does). Then he solves them and writes the answer. These worksheets help tie the concepts together – the actual physical math and the symbol math using numbers. He learns and learns when doing worksheets that reinforce things we have already worked on learning. It is simply another form of practice.

Just like, when learning to count, he liked to do the dot-to-dot number drawings. He would count from 1 to 10 and connect the dots and make shapes. He thought this was great. It reinforced the idea of number sequencing.

Worksheets have their place – practice and reinforcement. They are not the best way to learn, but they do present the information in another form for some one who is an active learner. On the other hand, if your child is a visual learner, maybe worksheets do a better job teaching than our hands-on math.

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