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West Valley Christian Preschool is a hands-on, play-based philosophy. Ninety percent of a child's brain is developed before the age of five, so we focus on activities that children can touch, manipulate, and explore. Academic worksheets are not meaningful to a preschool aged child. Research has shown that academics taught too early can actually be harmful to children who have not yet developed the requisite motivational, and intellectual foundations. The early years should be spent playing, exploring, and developing the intellectual foundations that will allow children to acquire academic skills much easier in subsequent years. (


There are two fundamental problems with worksheets. First, young children do not learn from them what teachers and parents believe they do (Kostelnik, Soderman, & Whiren, 1993). Second, children's time should be spent in more beneficial endeavors (Willis, 1995). The use of abstract numerals and letters, rather than concrete materials, puts too many young children at risk of school failure. This has implications for years to come. Worksheets and workbooks should be used in schools only when children are older and developmentally ready to profit from them (Bredekamp, S. & Rosegrant, T., 1992). Our challenge is to convince parents and others that in a play-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum children are learning important knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will help them be successful in school and later life. (Sue Grossman, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of early childhood teacher education at Eastern. Michigan University)
If we cannot demonstrate children's progress with worksheets, how do we provide evidence of learning? Here are several ways:
  • Portfolios – A portfolio is a collection of a child's work. Portfolios can include the following:
  • Work Samples: Keep samples of each child's drawings and writing, including invented spelling. Photographs of creations of clay, wood, and other materials can also be included. Children should have a say in what is included in their own portfolio. Date each piece so that progress throughout the school year can be noted.
  • Observations: Keep observational records of what children do in the class. There are many efficient methods of recording children's behavior.  Occasional anecdotal notes also help.
  • Checklists: Record children's skill development on checklists. Progress in beginning letter recognition, name writing, and self-help skills, for example, can be listed and checked off as children master them. We do two assessments each year and provide parents with one formal conference in October and offer one optional conference at the end of the year.
  • Appropriate worksheets: For example, children experimenting with objects to discover if they sink or float can record their observations on paper divided into a float column and a sink column. This shows that they are doing actual scientific experimentation and recording the data.
  • Parent Newsletters: Teachers can send home periodic parent newsletters which explain the activities children are doing at school and the teacher's goals and objectives. When parents understand the value of developmentally appropriate activities they will feel confident that their children are learning and growing, not "just playing."
  • Center Labels: Signs in the classroom describing what children learn in the various learning centers help adults understand the value of children's work in that area. In the block corner, for example, children learn about weight, length, balance, volume, and shape, as well as problem solving, social role playing, and cooperation. At the art center children learn to express themselves on paper and with other media, to solve problems, and to communicate with others. Signs help see what is really happening as children work at play.
  • Photographs: Photographs of daily activities in the classroom can be displayed around the room and in hallways. They provide graphic evidence to parents, administrators, and other teachers of children working and learning in a rich, exciting atmosphere. We post pictures of our students during activities on our FaceBook page for parents to see.