Getting the most out of free kid-friendly content on the Internet

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I love being a stay-at-home parent. It means I am around to witness every “first” and help my children as they learn, grow, and discover.

It also means I am responsible for keeping my children engaged throughout the day.

I do not like my children to watch too much television or play video games for hours at a time.

I would much prefer they develop gross motor skills while climbing, jumping, sliding and running at a playground, visit a local museum, or work on fun and educational activities in the home.

A fantastic resource available to all parents looking to engage their children in a productive way at home are free printable worksheets on the internet.

A simple search through any online search engine will produce tons of free printable worksheets. With these worksheet, for only the cost of printer paper and ink, you can have customized worksheet pages tailored to meet your child's exact skill level and ability.

The challenge is finding the good worksheets, which can feel like hunting for a needle in a haystack.

For example, lots of worksheets seem educational at first glance, especially with headlines that sound educational like “Listening Skills” or “Fine Motor Practice.” However, once you look at them, you will discover they are more like coloring pages than true learning worksheets.

If you were looking for simple coloring pages, then the online search would have been a success. But if you were looking for educational worksheets to do with your child, these results will be highly irrelevant.

When looking for educational activities to do with your child, start with narrowly tailored searches. For example, the search “free worksheets” will return thousands of results. However, 90% will be totally irrelevant for you, either because they are geared towards children older or younger than your child or because they focus on a topic that you are not interested in working on with your child.

For example, instead of searching for “free worksheets,” try searching for “visual discrimination worksheets for kindergarten.” The more you are able to tailor your search, the more relevant the results will be for you and your family.

Once you have the results, browse the pages before you start printing any worksheets. Children are most captivated by brightly colored, engaging illustrations. So unless a particular worksheet really grabs your attention because you love the subject, worksheets with simply black-and-white line drawings may not be the most engaging for your child.

Also, try to complete a few worksheets yourself and make sure they test the skill set you were interested in working on.

Lastly, scan the page to make sure it has ample white space and easy-to-follow instructions so that your child will be positioned to succeed. When a worksheet page is too cluttered or the instructions are too complicated, you will be setting your child up to become overwhelmed and frustrated.

Particularly for young children, one simple activity per page is appropriate, with older children (six and up) able to manage two or three activities on a single page.

Lastly, once you have found a website with appropriate content, bookmark it or email yourself a link to the website. If you enjoyed a few worksheets on that website, chances are high that they have lots of other content you will also enjoy.

The author is a retired kindergarten and preschool teacher who recently launched Schoolsparks. Schoolsparks is a totally free resource of information and tools to help parents prepare their children to start preschool and kindergarten ready to succeed.

There's a free kindergarten readiness test parents can take to see if their kids are ready to start preschool or kindergarten and free printable kindergarten worksheets to help children develop critical skills.

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