Homeschooling: Do Workbooks Work?

Confidence. That’s what parent teachers need, more than anything. Diaphanous, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Last week, in Affordable Homeschooling, we touched on how to save money when it comes to buying homeschool curriculum, with the major piece of advice being, go easy on it.

Many homeschooling parents, especially when they start out, rely heavily upon workbooks and entire curriculum packets, with the idea that they won’t “miss” anything this way, because it’s all neatly and conveniently packaged into a slip-cased box.

Falling into this way of thinking is is tempting. One of the commonalities in the homeschooling community is that many parent teachers operate under a sense of insecurity. Even though these parents have made a conscious decision to wrest their children’s education from the “experts,” they always feel vulnerable, somehow, when those experts label them as untrained amateurs, ignorant housewives, unprofessional wannabees. I mean, where’s the degree?

And so, they turn to another “expert” — a publishing house or curriculum package that promises to do the work for them, and all they have to do is provide the desks where their children can sit while filling out workbook pages.

Homeschooling is a challenge, and when we meet life’s challenges with an upbeat attitude, we conquer. Laugh at Life’s Challenges poster available at Steve Henderson Fine Art.

This is reality: workbooks have a tendency to be boring, and while young children — especially girls (and I know that sounds sexist), enjoy the process of filling in lines and answering questions and drawing pictures where they are told to — eventually the limitations of the product show up.

The child scrawls his way through the day’s lessons. He procrastinates. She takes an hour to do a task that should take 10 minutes. When this behavior shows up, many parents ascribe it to rebelliousness on the part of the child, disobedience, an inability to stay true to the task — but it could just be boredom. Very few parents actually talk to their children about the problem, asking questions and listening to the answers to find out why it’s happening

But this is where your homeschooling book purchases can actually start: talk to your children. Discuss with them the various ways that you can approach specific academic subjects, and listen to their feedback on the materials you are using. They may say things like this:

  • There are too many math problems. They repeat the same things over and over again, and I get bored.
  • I am not interested in any of the questions that the book is asking me to write about: I don’t want to write about my best friend, last year’s birthday party, or my favorite animal. I would really like to write a story about magical Jack o’Lanterns that fly.
  • I want to learn about Egypt, not the Founding Fathers. Can we do Egypt this year and American History next year?
Maybe your child wants to study the Nez Perce Indians. Why not let her? Peace, by Steve Henderson, showing the summer grounds of the Nez Perce. Original painting at Steve Henderson Fine Art

You get the idea. The older your child gets, the more of an opinion he will have about the educational resources you are using. If you have multiple children, be aware that something that works well for one child will not necessarily interest the next child. We have seen this repeatedly in families where the first child delightedly fills out workbook page after workbook page (often because she has figured out that, if she does it fast enough, she will be done for the day), and the second child balks, doodles, gets up to use the bathroom, and always offers to let the cat out.

This second child is frequently labeled a troublemaker, maybe with Attention Deficit Disorder, in comparison with her perfect older sibling. She is disobedient, lazy, and unfocused.

But it could be something else: she could be highly intelligent, unchallenged by the daily work set before her. Believe me, she will have plenty of time as an adult to learn about dealing with boredom and useless tasks, but if you wisely use this time in her childhood to encourage her to creatively and imaginatively learn, maybe she won’t be stuck in a boring, mindless job. And if she is, she’ll know how to get through the day.

Workbooks can work — on a limited basis, depending upon the child, and in accordance with the child’s age — but for the longterm, think about how you learn a new task or subject. If you wanted to learn about King Henry VIII and his eight wives, would your first purchase be a workbook?

Fun, fast, easy, inexpensive. What’s not to like? At

If you have an older child, or want to teach writing to a younger child, I highly recommend my book, Grammar Despair, which costs $8.99 as a paperback, $5.99 digital at, and you won’t use it up by writing in it.

Learning how to write is not a matter of grammar sheets and answering questions in a workbook: it is communicating with words on paper or on the screen. Since most people speak decently and have an intuitive awareness of good writing from their reading, they are able to write, but frequently don’t because they are perplexed by basic, yet common issues: What is the difference between There/They’re/Their? Why does my essay sound choppy and stilted? And the biggie, When do I use him and me, and when do I use he and I?

Get a handle on this stuff, and you, and your kids, can progress rapidly in the skill of writing well. 

A happy purchaser says:  “I used to be afraid to write anything that would be read by others. I think it was all the red marks on my papers in high school and college. This book helped me understand what I did and didn’t know. Grammar Despair is definitely worth the time and money.”

This article is linked to The Chicken ChickAlderberry HillMopping the FloorMemories by the MileGrowing HomeHope in Every SeasonSimply Helping HimA Little R and RAdorned from Above, Walking RedeemedA Wise WomanDeep Roots at HomeRaising HomemakersThriving ThursdayLive Laugh Rowe, Thankful Thursday, Graced SimplicityEnchanted Homeschooling, Thrifty Thursday, Happy and Blessed Home, All Our DaysBible Love NotesThe Thriftiness Miss

9 Responses

  1. In purchasing materials for my homeschool – I tend not to buy workbooks – they’re usually expensive, and don’t teach what and how I want to teach.

    But, I have to say, when I was a kid, workbooks worked great for me! I used ACE curriculum for a year as a kid (ACE is not consistent with my doctrinal views, but I have great respect for their teaching methods) – and in that year, I really learned to be a self-motivated learner, to work ahead instead of waiting to be told what to do, to teach myself instead of waiting for someone else to teach me. Before ACE I was a B&C student, after I was an A student. To this day, I credit it with teaching me how to be a person who actively learns instead of a person who fails to take academic initiative. When I got to graduate school, the things I learned in ACE were *still* making a huge academic difference for me.

    Although they’re not for everyone, for some kids they work great : )

    1. Hi, Anna — I am familiar with ACE workbooks, and I have heard others who have loved them as well. I think this is great! The important thing is to find what works, and to customize one’s homeschooling experience to what you and your family want, not what others say, and not what catalogs pressure you into getting.

      I find it intriguing that you do not use workbooks much in homeschooling your own children — is ACE no longer available? I do agree with you, one of the major factors of a workbook is that you are limited to what somebody else wants your child to learn. I bought a FUN FUN workbook for our 4-year-old granddaughter because she wanted it so much — I think she was attracted to the bright colors, oh, and the stickers. Don’t forget the stickers.

      But she wasn’t remotely interested in doing any of the stuff she was told to do on the pages, some of which was so inane and I couldn’t believe it. “Draw this line. Now draw a pumpkin in the middle!” When I looked at the workbook the other day, she had plastered it all the way through with the stickers, and colored massive lines elsewhere. No pumpkin, though.

      I am glad that you discovered the love of learning. That’s what it’s all about, and learning is something that continues our entire lives. When we’re younger, it’s important to get the basics, but it’s even more important to grab onto that concept of how to teach ourselves! A happy homeschool year to you and yours. Carolyn

      1. Good question on why I don’t use it : )

        1 – I’m Greek Orthodox – ACE is more compatible with Fundamentalist Baptist.

        2- To me, homeschooling is about 3 things first & foremost – relationship with God, relationship between parent & child, and a better academic education. I’m okay with workbooks for academics -but not for relationships.

        3 – I feel ACE works best for kids older than mine

        4 – I want to be able to choose every single lesson & tailor it to my dd – not have a prepackaged approach (I agree with you 100% about parent/teachers needing to teach with confidence!)

        And, there are probably some other reasons why – but that’s what I can think of just now

        I DID like your article!

  2. Hi! Wow what a great & timely blog post as I begin homeschooling another year with my girl. I needed to read this because last year was a struggle to find what my daughter needs and will work best for her. Thank you for your wisdom at a time I needed it! I am stopping by from The Homemaking Blog Hop Party. I look forward to your visit at
    I am also looking forward to future blog posts of yours! I am now a follower!

    1. Susie — welcome to the site, and thank you for your kind words. I write about homeschooling related topics on Thursdays (financial health articles on Fridays, Contempo Christianity on Wednesdays, food on Tuesdays, and Start Your Week with Steve on Mondays) so please feel free to jump in and comment away.

      If you are looking for an art program for your children, we — my Norwegian Artist and I — have just launched Step by Step Art Success — Watercolor, which is a great resource for beginning or intermediate art students. The YouTube info video is at this link — Steve’s paintings figure prominently in my articles, and so many people have contacted him about lessons and workshops, that we decided to launch a digital workshop series. I know from my 20 years of homeschooling that art education is a definite, definite challenge — and I’m thinking that this is a very good solution.

      I’ll drop by and visit you at your link — thank you for sharing! — Carolyn

    1. Thank you, Jeannie — I write specifically on homeschooling Thursdays, and on financial health on Fridays.

      If your daughter is looking for a fun, easy art program, please let her know about Step by Step Art Success by Steve Henderson (my Norwegian Artist) —

      This is the YouTube movie with info on it —

  3. I agree… I rarely buy workbooks. I like to do things like read the kids a historical based story and then split out the activities. The little ones might draw a picture and tell me a sentence or two about what we learned (which I write down and they copy over while they learn to write) while the older ones might do a library hunt for more resources and put together a whole collection of projects.

    1. These are great ideas, Elisabeth, and they make beautiful memories at the same time they achieve the learning goals you have for your children. I smile when I look at the couch, because I remember sitting there for hours, through the years, with our children — reading books of all subjects and skill levels. All four of our children love to read.

      As an aside, if you have older children — 12 and above — who would like to learn art, but don’t have a resource available, may I suggest our newly launched Step by Step Art Success? It is a digital workshop in DVD or downloadable form, and the first in the series is Watercolor Success —

      You can preview what’s on the digital workshop at this YouTube video clip —

      Enjoy the upcoming school year with your beautiful, precious children! — Carolyn

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