10 Surprising Benefits to Using Workbooks


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Standing in the homeschool section of our local used bookstore, I once told my husband that all the dry, dusty workbooks made me feel as though I were going to physically break out in hives. I couldn’t imagine a more boring way to do school.

Then, a little over a year ago, my teens started using workbooks.

Let me pause to allow you to get a visual image of the disgust on my face. Ick. Workbooks. How boring!

The suggestion to try workbooks was born of frustration on my part. I really thought my kids would quickly see how boring they were compared to my amazing, hands-on homeschooling style.

In my mental image, my bored, repentant teens came crawling back to me, begging me to resume teaching them with fun, hands-on activities.

I didn’t think they’d actually like workbooks. I was even more surprised to discover several benefits to using workbooks.

10 Surprising Benefits to Using Workbooks

Note: To be clear, by workbooks I mean textbook style books where students read the text and answer questions. There are often writing assignments and science experiments, but the day-to-day is read, fill-in-the-blanks, multiple choice, and essay questions.

Kids can work independently.

Being able to work independently was the impetus for our foray into workbooks. Prior to that, Josh and Megan, who are only 21 months apart, did most subjects together. We did lots of hands-on learning, reading aloud, games, etc.

Because they have a very different approach to school – Josh just wants to get it done while Megan enjoys taking rabbit trails – they often became frustrated with each other. Workbooks allow each of the kids to work at their own pace at the times that work best for them. (Megan likes to do her schoolwork late at night.)

Bonus for parents: You may just rediscover that almost-forgotten thing known as free time. You might even start to daydream about – or even take steps toward – pursuing your dreams.

They spark some interesting discussion.

Believe it or not, those workbooks can spark some interesting discussion – especially history. It’s my favorite, so there is frequently extra discussion there.

Workbooks can provide a solid education (even when you don’t always agree with them).

People often ask me what curriculum we’re using and I’m always hesitant to mention it because I feel like I have to offer several caveats, the biggest being that what we use can be so evangelical in nature – and we’re a Christian family. I appreciate a text written from a Christian worldview; what I don’t care for is when doctrinal differences become evident.

That being said, I feel as though the curriculum we’re using, Landmark Freedom Baptist curriculum, does provide a solid education, even when the interesting discussion it sparks is how we don’t quite agree with a particular viewpoint.

I’m sure that other homeschooling families have found this to be true with other curriculum – workbook-style or not – and because I have teens, I think the discussion about things we don’t agree with 100% can actually be a healthy, educational opportunity itself.

They’re not completely boring.

I have to confess that workbooks aren’t as boring as I thought they’d be. The kids have covered some pretty interesting topics and there have been some fun science experiments.

10 Surprising Benefits to Using Workbooks

Workbooks can teach critical thinking skills.

No, I never would have thought that of a workbook, but there are plenty of short-answer and essay questions that are worded quite differently than the text, so they make the kids think about what’s being asked and what they learned. The questions in each lesson are not complete regurgitation of the day’s reading like I expected.

They can fill in educational gaps.

Yeah, okay, so maybe workbooks teach some things that I wouldn’t have thought to teach. Maybe they even teach some things I don’t recall ever learning in school. I can admit when I’m wrong. Although they aren’t the most exciting way to study a topic, workbooks can fill in learning gaps. Are you happy?

They are some kids’ preferred method of learning.

Guess what? Some kids actually prefer using workbooks. Shortly after we made the switch to workbooks last year, I was grumbling talking about it with the homeschool graduate daughter of a friend. The daughter said that she actually preferred using workbooks when she was in school. They were a good fit for her learning style.

The fact is, if we’re going to tout a customized education, we need to let kids work in the way they learn best – even if it doesn’t appeal to Mom or Dad.

They make lesson planning a breeze.

Okay, y’all, I’m not even going to lie (because, you know, I don’t), lesson planning with workbooks is so simple. When the kids were younger, I’d spend all day on a Saturday once every two or three weeks, surrounded by piles of books, writing out lesson plans for the next few weeks.

With workbooks, the kids can write their own lesson plans in their planners or I can type out a quick assignment sheet if they prefer. Or, if our printer dies and I can’t print out sheets for a couple of weeks, I can just say, “Get out your workbooks. You know what to do.”

This does not make me sad.

They make sick days easier to deal with.

Because kids are able to work on their own, workbooks can make sick days or outside classes much easier to deal with. A few weeks ago, Josh was sick. Megan was able to keep working without it throwing my whole schedule out of whack. Josh just picked back up when he was feeling better.

The same would be true if I was the one who was sick – the kids could just keep working because they’re able to do their workbooks independently of each other and me.

Workbooks can make it possible for some families to homeschool.

No matter how you feel about workbooks – love ‘em or hate ‘em – there’s no denying that they make it possible for some families to homeschool. Dual-income homeschooling families may depend upon the benefits of workbooks – self-instructional with minimal planning – to be able to successfully homeschool. If workbooks are making it possible for a kid to be homeschooled, it’s hard to dislike them too much.

I never thought ours would be a workbook-style homeschool, but we have discovered some surprising benefits to using workbooks. And, I haven’t even broken out in hives yet.

Do you use workbooks? What benefits do you enjoy?

Monarch online homeschool curriculum from AOP

This post is linked to Top Ten Tuesday and the Hip Homeschool Hop.

images courtesy of depositphotos

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27 Comments

  1. We also use them. The younger kids use them for spelling/phonics, grammar, and math, although if we will we covering one of those subjects during our unit study we do skip that workbook for the day. And since we also use LOF, the math workbooks are only used every other day. My older kids also use them for either vocabulary, grammar, or math (Lifepac for two of the kids. They don’t all use workbooks for the same subjects.). Another benefit for us is that they provide nice samples for our portfolio required by the state. Easy peasy!

  2. My oldest started out with workbooks then we ran far away from them after a couple of years. In the last few years they have came back. One or two new ones each year it seems. Like you, I have discovered so many of these benefits. We still do some subjects not in a workbook style but I have found that the mix has been really good for my boys. They are learning what they need to know and (espcially with the LFBC) they are very easy to plan for. To my surprise it really IS what fits them on many things. Even if I thought we shouldn’t ever buy another one. LOL

  3. We have very occasionally tried using a workbook over the years, but they never seem to last in our house….either a dog decides they look like a snack while we’re out of the room, or we misplace them when we get distracted by shiny things. I fully agree with you about using them if they fit one’s child’s child’s learning style, though!

  4. Hi Kris! Huge fan of your site even though I don’t have kids yet and probably wouldn’t homeschool them if I had them. You just make homeschooling so interesting to read about! I did have a question about something in this post. Do you still homeschool your oldest daughter even though she’s already graduated? Thanks and keep on being awesome!

    1. No, my oldest is still living at home, but she’s not homeschooling. Just curious, what made you wonder? I didn’t mention her in this post, so your comment made me wonder.

      1. Oh gosh, I feel like a stupid jerk now. I got your two daughters’ names confused. I thought Megan was the oldest. Sorry about that.

  5. Our son uses a workbook for Math and it helps TREMENDOUSLY! We’re new to homeschooling (since last November), so we pretty much are unschooling right now.

  6. Free time? What is this free time you speak of? JK. Great information. I appreciate your insight. I try to keep an open mind with homeschooling ideas.

  7. We have not used workbooks yet…but I am considering some type of workbook for math for next year as the kids are getting older. I worry that we may not cover everything they need to know and I just want something that will fill in those blanks. We have done a lot of hands on learning so far, but surprisingly as I was flipping through a fellow homeschooler’s math workbook and trying to decide if I liked it, my son got all excited by it.

    You bring up lots of good points — looking forward to trying our first set of workbooks next year.

  8. Yes, we use quite a lot of workbooks, though we do a fair amount of hands-on learning as well as unit studies too. I find the biggest benefit being, that they teach a lot of things that I would never think to teach. Thanks for sharing the benefits that you have seen. I don’t have high schoolers, but this was a good read.

  9. We began our home schooling journey this year when we pulled my daughter 11 year old out of school (at her request, long story). I worked so hard at not re-creating the school day at home. I planned hands-on activities and lessons, we read books together, went on fieldtrips and to workshops and I waited for her enthusiasm to blossom. She just kept shrugging and saying, “This just isn’t what I thought homeschooling would be.” A few weeks ago after yet another disagreement about her lack of effort and commitment to her lessons, she asked me why we didn’t have workbooks. Workbooks? I thought. Why would we have workbooks? Turns that is what she wants, what she needs right now to, in her words, “not feel overwhelmed.” Why didn’t you tell me that, I said. Why didn’t you ask? she answered. Sigh. Reading your post made me smile. Workbooks are not what I would have chosen, but we are not homeschooling to meet my needs. And, as you stated, there are some perks!

    1. “Workbooks are not what I would have chosen, but we are not homeschooling to meet my needs.” That right there. That’s it. And, yes, workbooks do have their benefits. I hope you and your daughter are having a wonderful first year!

  10. I had to laugh when I read your initial thoughts on workbooks. I have always been anti-workbook but my 6 year old loves them and I have to admit it is so nice to have her pick up her workbook and complete a few pages without needing my undivided attention. If only her older siblings could follow her lead occassionally……

  11. We’ve really only started using regular workbooks this year and I have to admit that they fill me with dread but even though my boys are only 8, 10 &12 they ENJOY them! They like seeing the piles on the table and knowing that with just page or two done in each book they can finish up school. They can work at their own pace and in whatever order they’d like. I still throw in plenty of hands on and fun lessons too but I am glad they finally convinced me to give workbooks a shot.

  12. As a full-time, work outside the home mom, we couldn’t survive without workbooks. Between those and video based learning, we are having a successful first year homeschooling our middle school child.

  13. I admit, I’m intrigued now. We have avoided workbooks in favor of living books learning. We do use a textbook for science. I know my son doesn’t like workbooks but I think my daughter might do well with it! I don’t like having to do 2 separate things for each kid though, but maybe I should. Any recommendations for an inexpensive workbook we could try out for history or language arts, that maybe just covers a few months rather than a whole year curriculum?

    1. I don’t have any great recommendations because my kids were the deciding factor on what we used since I still wasn’t crazy about the idea. We used Landmark Freedom Baptist curriculum. A couple of friends used it all the way through high school, so I knew it was solid and it did get the job done, but it was very evangelical in nature even for us and we’re a Christian family. When we were trying to decide, I asked for recommendations on my Facebook page. You might be interested in reading through those. You can find the discussion here.

  14. Does your curriculum provide the work books or do you get them separate? If so where?what? Do you also teach outside the workbook topic? Do you use a textbook too? I do use worksheets and also computer lessons as well as books to teach reading. I’m feeling overwhelmed again and looking for alternatives. He loves worksheets + computer, not so much books unless they’re way below his level. It’s a daily frustration.

    1. We have moved to a more interest-led style of learning and aren’t using workbooks at this time, but the curriculum we used did include them. They were basically consumable textbooks with a Q&A section at the end of each lesson. Have you considered Monarch? It’s basically an interactive online textbook option. There’s a button in my sidebar that will take you to a free 30-day trial. It might be worth checking out.

      1. Thanks, I will check out Monarch. I have to watch traditional curriculum and usually make my own cause depending on subject he’s at varying grades. I’m sure once he’s middle school we’ll do more interest based too.

  15. Call me crazy (lazy lol), but we LOVE workbooks!! I find, first of all that they offer me a sense of security. I know that I am covering all of the bases and when working with each child, I get a good idea of what they need supplemental teaching on if they are struggling with a concept. If I’m not familiar enough with whatever it is, I will turn to a fun teacher produced fantastic YouTube video explaining it and it gets them over that speed bump very well. Usually the workbook pages, depending on grade level, are pretty simple, but it gives me something to go on. For example if we are working on a grammar workbook page about verbs, I can teach and we can discuss or watch a video more about verbs. I find this gives me the flexibility needed for each child’s learning and understanding style. We usually just use simple Brain Quest workbooks. Yep. Cheap, easy and they are thorough *IF* you take it upon yourself to elaborate on the page at least a little. This year we will be adding a spelling and Math workbook because these workbooks lack the practice needed without having to go print off a bunch of sheets on the computer, which usually takes me a couple of hrs to just find the ones i want, so I will just follow a workbook. Unless there is something specific and unique I really want, I actually don’t like finding free stuff online to print. its just messy and time consuming, when you can have it neatly laid out in a pre organized cheap little workbook. Don’t have to buy binders or anything else that way and saves space. I find we all thrive a lot more on simplicity.

    I don’t mind that they are secular. We have wonderful devotionals we use in the morning and/or at night before bed, and we use daily life to enforce biblical spiritual teachings. I don’t find it necessary to have those principals tied into the ”curriculum” in order to teach your kids to walk with Christ. That works for us anyway.

    We don’t spend hrs and hrs doing this. Maybe a couple in the morning. The rest of the day is more interest based learning, exploring, trips, life learning, and independent reading. We are loving this and my biggest challenge is to not be hard on myself or think I have to make it more complicated. Workbooks save my sanity and help me be sure they are being exposed to and learning at least ”standard” stuff so that the rest of the time we can do whatever we want without me having to worry about gaps.

    1. Oh and just to mention, this year we are adding a few fun Charlotte Mason ”living book” style books for science and history and I do believe these do add a little bit of a biblical worldview. Although her style totally overwhelms all of us, we LOVE supplementing with her style living books.

  16. I feel guilty admitting that *I* prefer workbooks; we have younger kids in K-2nd. While I enjoy reading the picture books and discussions, I really enjoy a hands-off approach. One child does really well with workbooks and loves collecting them, my K likes feeling “big” with workbooks. Regardless of the various methods, and the homeschool mom guilt that ensues, I just don’t enjoy the popular Charlotte Mason method. There, I said it.

    1. Haha! I used to feel guilty myself, but I’ve realized it’s ok! Each of us learns and enjoys learning in different ways.

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