Enhanced learning . . . or busy work?

This is a tale of two moms.

Cheryl’s son has motivational issues, so she likes to help him approach a concept in many different ways. “If one activity doesn’t cement the idea, another will,” she says. She loves when a curriculum appeals to different learning styles by offering activities that appeal to her hands-on, kinesthetic child.

Jennifer looks for books and materials that just teach writing. She doesn’t want pre-writing activities, games, craft projects, or other “bells and whistles.” To Jennifer, these things are busy work. “I just want to teach my kids how to write,” she says. “I’ll play games another time.”

What Is Busy Work?

bu · sy work n. useless tasks or assignments that appear productive, but merely occupy students.

I remember busy work—inane worksheets my teachers passed out as a dubious reward for those of us who followed directions and finished our in-class assignments on time.

We didn’t get to read a book or play a quiet game in the back of the room. No, our promptness and diligence were punished, in essence, with silly coloring pages and fill-in-the-blank worksheets that kept us quiet while everyone else slogged along.

Sadly, Jennifer lumps word games and craft-based publishing ideas with busy work. She thinks they’re unnecessary and time-consuming.

But my own experience with real busy work reminds me that pushing a pencil around a worksheet is worlds apart from using educational games and other creative activities to enhance learning.

Enhanced Learning

Are you, like Jennifer, tempted to think of such activities as busy work? If so, consider their importance in light of the way most young children learn.

Pre-writing Activities

Manipulatives and pre-writing activities are vital, engaging learning aids, unlike those tedious workbooks meant to keep children out of your hair for an hour.

Educational methods such as spelling or vocabulary games help a child’s brain remember new concepts. They teach him about important story elements and help him discover fresh new ways to practice writing skills. Such activities especially benefit young—and usually kinesthetic—learners.

Learning games can teach a child skills such as:

  • Adding description
  • Developing voice
  • Planning a mystery
  • Adding details to a story
  • Expanding writing vocabulary
  • Thinking about story elements such as setting and character
  • Summarizing a book

Crafty Publishing Projects

One of the most encouraging and rewarding experiences for any author is to see his work published. Most children love publishing their stories through a fun, imaginative activity.

Not only does this enhance the writing experience, but they end up with a really creative final draft they’re eager to share with others.

Your child can publish his writing project in many ways. For example, he can:

  • Create a Top Secret File for his mystery story.
  • Make a travel poster or paper “suitcase” for his adventure story.
  • Present his report on a three-panel display board.
  • Make a decorative invitation or thank-you letter.
  • Design a lift-the-flap book or trivia game for an informative report.

The Craft Caveat

Like most young children, Cheryl’s son loves to combine writing and art to create his own “published work.” Your child, however, may not like craft projects as much. Or perhaps you’re not a crafty person and would rather bypass the hands-on activities because they’re not your style.

Either way, it’s still important to encourage your child to produce a final draft because it reinforces the concept of editing and revising. So whether your child creates a crafty masterpiece or simply rewrites his final draft on fresh paper in his best penmanship, remember that the final draft is as much a part of the writing process as brainstorming and writing.

The quickest, easiest way to display your child’s story is to affix it to a slightly larger sheet of colored construction paper. The construction paper forms a simple mat that gives the final draft a polished, published look and reminds your student that he did his best.

Writing = Fun!

You want your child to associate writing with fun, and you want his brain to be stimulated in as many ways as possible through tactile and sensory experiences. So if your writing program offers crafty or game-focused writing activities, take the time to make the suggested props, even if it feels like busy work to you. Most children love using them—and they don’t even realize they’re learning!

. . . . .

WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior use creative, hands-on activities to teach and review elementary-age writing skills.

WriteShop Primary is currently available in three levels: Book A, Book B, and Book C. WriteShop Junior Book D will be published in Spring 2011. To be among the first to get the scoop about the book’s release, join our mailing list by visiting www.writeshop.com and looking for the newsletter sign-up box

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10 comments ↓

#1 JoJo Tabares on 01.13.11 at 1:54 pm

I couldn’t agree more! Busy work is boring stuff that is not useful to learning. Creative and fun activities are what make learning fun and help solidify concepts. That’s why Art of Eloquence teaches communication skills using creative and fun lessons they’ll remember. It also makes subjects like speech communication and WRITING less intimidating.

#2 Jimmie on 01.13.11 at 3:21 pm

This is a great explanation of how creative writing projects are not busy work. Thanks! (Tweeted; yes, I joined Twitter.)

#3 Kim on 01.13.11 at 3:31 pm

Thanks, ladies!

And Jimmie, you humble me. :)

#4 Carletta on 01.13.11 at 7:26 pm

Found this article through Jimmie’s twitter link! :)

I’ve always been more of a “Jennifer.” Thank you for providing another perspective!

#5 Kim on 01.13.11 at 10:11 pm

So glad you dropped by, Carletta!

#6 Melissa Telling on 01.14.11 at 5:50 am

I agree totally. We have a friend who works in special education. Last time she was over, she taught my kids how to play the game “Sparkle.” Now they sit around and practice their spelling for fun. My oldest son has a “pencil allergy,” and yet he spent HOURS creating a catalog with detailed product descriptions and drawings. It just shows that if you can find a way to make learning enjoyable, kids will spend their free time doing things you couldn’t force them to do otherwise.

#7 Kim on 01.14.11 at 8:12 am

Melissa: I’ve compiled many comments like yours from moms who have seen this play out in their own homeschools. Several have even found the need to put time limits on certain pre-writing games, as their kids would have never stopped on their own.

“Sparkle”! What a fun game. Sadly, it wouldn’t have worked too well at my house. I only had three children, and their spelling levels were worlds apart. And I love your “pencil-allergic” son’s creativity with his catalog. It’s always encouraging to see our children learning, growing, and having fun all at once.

Thanks for stopping by!

#8 Tweets that mention Enhanced learning . . . or busy work? — In Our Write Minds -- Topsy.com on 01.14.11 at 3:03 pm

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carletta Sanders. Carletta Sanders said: RT @JimmiesCollage: Fantastic article — Enhanced learning . . . or busy work? http://bit.ly/f4L6Yb #homeschooling [...]

#9 Janet on 01.17.11 at 4:19 pm

Kim, thank you SO much for this article! Many of the kids I tutor professionally have struggled in class because of only learning through pencil-and-paper work. Once concepts are taught to them through a variety of concrete activities that help their young minds “get it”, they begin to make great strides in reading and writing. Thanks for reaffirming my personal educational philosophy!

#10 Kim on 01.17.11 at 5:44 pm

Janet, you’re always so kind and encouraging.

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