Are printables the bane of childhood and a prop for lazy teachers, or a valuable asset in the toolbox of educators?
Just the word, worksheet, brings to mind tedious paperwork. I’m old enough to remember mimeographed dittos that reeked of mind-tingling ink the children eagerly sniffed as the teachers handed them out. Beyond these old tropes, I wanted to learn more about the development of a child’s mind and the appropriate introduction of printable activities into that progression.
Psychologists have been studying cognitive development in children for almost a century. And it is widely accepted by experts that by the age of 2 children can store images in their mind and recall them later: the ability to remember the fuzzy little ball that wiggles is a puppy. Shortly after, a child can understand the dual relationship between a representational object and the real thing: a snugly teddy bear is a representation of a real wild bear. This skill quickly evolves into the understanding of a symbol and what it represents: the letter B stands for the “bha” sound. This massive cognitive accomplishment takes place in the few short years between 3 and 6, paving the way for reading and other academic accomplishments.
During this important stage children learn quickly and effortlessly in engaging, interactive environments, actively using all their senses to experience the world. The goal is to stimulate the innately developing stages. The challenge is to find activities to encourage the child’s natural intellectual growth. A teacher once told me, “I can’t enrich my students with the same toys day after day, the point of enrichment is new experiences.”
On tight budgets and where some schools are situated with no outdoor space, an economic option can be freshly printed activities. Sorting and matching games stimulate the understanding of abstract concepts, like opposites and size, using representational images and the physical activity of moving the images around. Seek and finds reinforce shapes and symbols as forms of communication while searching the page. Story boards and puzzles develop the skill of assembling and problem-solving while physically constructing the finished product.
And of course, all these activities can be enhanced with creative, artistic, child-directed embellishment: bring on the sparkles and glue!
Appropriate printables are interactive, hands-on activities that encourage the understanding of symbols and anchors the symbols to concrete objects in a child’s world in an engaging, multi-sensory activity. Well designed printable activities enrich and stimulate the child’s cognitive development. There is a place for printables in early childhood education.
The critical component is finding the right printables that offer developmentally appropriate activities.