The value (or not) of the workbook

Do you ever feel like school work is pointless? I do, and as a homeschooling mom, this is completely unacceptable. I have no one to blame but myself.

I’m not suggesting I should feel guilty that I’m bored with school work. To the contrary, if the school work isn’t interesting me, then it’s not good enough. ‘Cause I’m amazing and demand the best! Humph.

Even though we are reserved in our use of workbooks (and school-ish requirements in general), each child still has one or two that they work through. Most of them are useful, teaching valuable skills. But lately I’ve noticed that Yo-Yo’s workbooks are feeling more like busy work—suffixes, prefixes, vocabulary words, plurals, syllables, etc., over and over and over.

Children learn best by reading. I’ve always known that. But just last week I came across this quote: The number one predictor of good writing skills is reading aloud to children in huge quantity at a high level. ~ Andrew Pudewa

The proverbial light bulb flicked on. Why not scrap the workbooks and just read?

Seriously, why not?

Here’s my idea: I choose a book and Yo-Yo chooses a book. Every day he reads for an hour from each. We talk about them. And … that’s it. After a month, we reevaluate and make adjustments. He would probably still have piano and math, and he might write a story every other day or so; but the bulk of his studies would be reading for fun. Doesn’t that sound like a blast?

I realize my pretty plan ignores one of the key words in the quote: “aloud.” However, I already read aloud to my children—science, history, Bible, novels, etc.—so for our purposes I’m broadening the number one predictor to include reading in general. I’m the teacher so I can do that.

I’m not ready to jump into this new plan just yet. We’re finishing up a few things (er, workbooks [old school marm-y ways die hard]), and we might not even get around to implementing this plan till the fall. And then, when the new school year rolls around, I might decide the whole idea is irrelevant any way. But for now, I think it sounds pretty fun.

Weigh in on the matter, please. Have any of you done this before, in some form or another? Will my children shrivel up and die without their grammar workbooks? What reading material do you recommend? (Yo-Yo loves action-packed drama, though as he matures and his reading ability advances, he’s developing patience and perseverance.) Maybe two hours of quiet reading time (and it wouldn’t include reading that he does in the regular afternoon quiet time) isn’t sufficient. Maybe I should make him read till his eyes fall out.

Maybe I shouldn’t wait till the fall. Maybe we should shelve all the workbooks tonight and start tomorrow fresh. It’s tempting, that’s for sure.

About one year ago: Chocolate-covered peanut butter eggs.


  • Cheryl B.

    I'm not surprised to hear this from you. As long as I've known you I've always admired your wisdom and the thought you put into your children's education. Along with not getting caught up in having to do it like the schools do just because…

    Last spring I was thinking the same thoughts and met a lady who teaches almost that way. So I decided to do school differently for the past year with both my girls. The way your thinking is very much a Charlotte Mason way of thinking. I have a friend here in TX who has used this method with her 4 children. Their ages are 16, 14, 11, 7. They are remarkable children! Talking to them convinced me to dump the workbooks. But writing still does take place. And the books we read both together and independently are fascinating and awesome. I, being the teacher, LOVE SCHOOL and have learned so much. Who would have though school could be fun and we could learn so much. When I say learn I mean not just tuck facts away in our head, but learn to think for ourselves, and be encouraged to grow in character and morals like the people in the books we read about, so one day we can be responsible, educated citizens, who can think for ourselves.

    With that said I should explain what we do. We read unabridged classic literature from Greek mythology, American history, World history, living books. You probably already know that living books are books written on subjects by authors who LOVE the content their teaching and it shows in the book – you and the children pick up their enthusiasm and remember the story.

    But after we read the children narrate, or tell back what was read, as much like the author wrote it as they can. Eventually added to verbal narrations are written narrations (which can be done many ways), or acting out the narrations, and so on. We mostly do verbal narrations and my oldest daughter does 2 written narrations a week.

    To learn grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. the Charlotte Mason theory (which I've seen works amazingly with my own eyes – otherwise the school teacher in me would have never believed it could) is to have them to copywork of various books, scriptures, poetry, etc. Also with the children being exposed to such rich literature they can SEE proper grammar, spelling, and sentence structure every day. Then they naturally start writing that way. I'm amazed at the vocabulary they are just naturally learning. My 5 year old even begs to narrate when he listens to a story – and it's so cute when he does. He even remembers what we read! With this method the children love to learn and love to read and almost self educate themselves up through the 12th grade.

    One more important part of this method is you do small time periods for each subject (15-20 min. max), including copy work.

    There's more to all this and if you're interested in it you can check out my friends blog – she has a free Charlotte Mason curriculum for kindergarten through the 12th grade. She's been using it for 12 years and for many years has been helping others get started. The results are truly amazing — and school is a lot of fun – along with a little work.

    Her website is Check it out! Hope this helps you decide. We love it!

  • Mountaineer

    In seventh grade I loved diagramming sentences.

    At least two aspects are at work here: the enjoyment of (written)words expressing thoughts and having the exquisite tools to encode thoughts in words.

  • Anonymous

    The way to learn to write is to write. Reading stimulates the imagination, but no one studies the sentence structure while reading–unless they are a writer.

    My high school remedial English class wrote every day. Everyone moaned and groaned in the beginning. By the end of the course, the writing time was the favorite part of the class period.

    I set a kitchen timer and the students wrote until the timer dinged. During the timed period, writing could not stop, even for a moment. Gazing out the window was not acceptable; neither was pausing to form another thought. Punctuation, grammar, and spelling were not issues. Each sentence must be the writer’s thought at that moment. "I don’t know what to write. This crazy, old teacher gives stupid work. It’s for the birds. I'd like to be a bird. Birds are free. They don't have to go to school and do stupid work. Writing is work and work isn't fun. Fun is relaxing. Fun is hanging out with my friends and…" and on and on.

    Gradually, the writing time increased. A blank sheet of paper wasn’t so daunting any more. The students learned that writing is logical thought progression. Later, workbooks added structure and light bulbs flashed above thirty heads. Grammar rules make effective writing. Classroom fun was hearing other students’ written thoughts and realizing how different everyone is. Yet, all had commonalities. A degree of camaraderie developed every time.

    Yo-Yo is not too young. Start him on a 5-minute timer and see what happens. Don’t let him write imaginary tales all the time. Encourage him to express his right-then feelings about something. If you have to, give him a topic such as, frogs.

    If you haven’t diagramed scripture verses, give it a shot. It’s absolutely mind blowing sometimes to realize what word or phrase actually modifies another word or phrase.

  • Anonymous

    … and diagramming is super fun times! We do speed drills to see who can diagram a sentence first. 'Course, we also watch superconductor experiments and Na explosions on YouTube for fun, so. House of Geekdom, right here.

  • tiney little bother

    i'm sure that reading is great, but I want to point out two things.

    First, in my current work environment, a huge deal is made about the difference between a "predictor" and a "cause." The fact that many/most successful writers read a great deal at an advanced level at an early level has almost nothing to do with the question of whether reading a lot can turn someone into a successful writer, at least not without "controlling" for other factors, which is not easy.

    Second, I know that for some things like math, reading without doing is like faith without works: dead. I don't know if this applies well in this context, but I look back on sentence diagramming with fond memories.

  • Anonymous

    Reading works pretty well. Though I've had college students who could handle reading Rushdie and Nabokov but had serious trouble writing. Learning to compress a complex idea into a simple sentence is the hardest and most important writing skill to master; everything else is gravy. But that sort of grammar literacy has nothing to do with a lot of workbook grammar (knowing what a participle is, etc.).

    David Foster Wallace's mother used to start dramatically choking at the table when one of her children committed a grammatical atrocity. I aspire to this sort of passion. Wallace himself once wrote "I hate you" on a student's paper after having corrected the same error (mistaking "farther" for "further") twice previously. That student never repeated the offense and treasures the memory. All this to say: definitely do it your way. It's more likely to stick.

    (And perhaps show the kids some of the fun websites devoted to grammatical fascism, like "The Apostrophe Protection Society.")

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    I was just reading this past week (of course I can't remember where) about how reading is good for writing. Exposing children to how ideas and words are put together in logical and thoughtful ways is supposed to make it easier for them to put ideas and words together in logical and thoughtful ways. It makes sense to me.

    At the same time, I wish someone had spent more time teaching me some of the building blocks of writing- grammar and spelling, for example. I'm glad I'm homeschooling so I can learn it all again. I think those building blocks are important, too.

    It must be this time of year because I'm pretty bored with a lot of what we're doing, too. Thankfully, Sam hasn't noticed it's kind of boring, so he's plugging right along. If he can do it, I can do it. For now. Next year we're switching things up a bit, too:-).

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