There are a plethora of workbooks out there, from the dollar store Ford Pinto, to the $50 Critical Thinking Company Rolls Royce of workbooks. They all pretty much do the same job: provide a lot of paper and pencil practice of basic concepts on a surface level. The reality is that if you are looking for materials to enhance and develop your child's critical thinking skills, workbooks are not the best route to take... in most cases. There are a few books out there that do a fairly decent job presenting academic concepts in addition to critical thinking, but you aren't likely to find them at the old dollar store.
Most workbooks are best as supplements to larger programs; they serve as practice material for more challenging concepts. However, some students thrive academically using workbooks exclusively, and many more do quite well using them as a supplement. While most workbooks look similar on the inside, the vary greatly in both content and quality.
Here are the top 5, all-inclusive stand alone workbooks best suited to homeschoolers according to our classroom and homeschooling students. They are not listed in any particular order, each one shines for different reasons that really boil down to personal preference. All are easy to use, require no preparation, and encourage independence.
1. Kid Zone Big Workbook Series (Pre-School - 3rd Grade) - All in one curricula solution, covering language arts, math, and science. Full of colorful pages and a variety fun, engaging activities. Advanced students may benefit from starting a year ahead.
2. Flash Kids Complete Curriculum (Gr. 1-6) - These are huge, and cover language arts, math and test prep. Like Big Workbooks, the Complete Curriculum series is colorful and engaging. However, Complete Curriculum is comprehensive, your student may not complete the entire book and that is ok. Like I said, it's huge. Some students simply don't need that much practice to master concepts.
3. Brain Quest (Pre-K - 6) - Brain Quest is colorful and engaging, but not your traditional looking workbook. It covers language arts, math, science, and social studies. Brain Quest expects students to write a bit more than in the other workbooks. If you have a writing challenged student, you may want to check out the other options before Brain Quest. Also, if you are close to a Costco, they tend to sell these cheaper than Amazon.
4. Critical Thinking Company's Mathematical Reasoning & Language Smarts (Preschool - Gr. 5) - Critical Thinking Company is by far the most expensive option on the list. It is colorful and engaging like the others, but the biggest difference is the emphasis on critical thinking that is incorporated. This feature may be worth the additional cost if that is important to you. The other big difference between the other workbooks so far, is that it is not all-inclusive. Math and language arts workbooks are sold separately.
Mathematical Reasoning Level B (Gr. 1)
Mathematical Reasoning, Level C: Developing Math & Thinking Skills (Gr. 2)
Mathematical Reasoning Level D (Gr. 3)
MATHEMATICAL REASONING:LEVEL E (Gr. 4)
Language Smarts™, Level B (Gr. 1)
Language Smarts Level C (Gr. 2)
Language Smarts, Level D (Gr. 3)
Language Smarts Level E (Gr. 4)
5. American Education Publishing's Total Math & Total Reading - (K - 5) - This series is similar to Big Workbooks, but Total Math and Total Reading have a more diverse activities. The other difference is that they are not all-inclusive. Total Math and Total Reading are sold separately and may be challenging to obtain. If unavailable on Amazon, Ebay and Rainbow Resource are likely to carry these.
Workbooks are changing. It used to be that you could easily find an all-inclusive workbook that was engaging and colorful, full of games and different academic activities. Books would include not just language arts and math, but science, social studies, and brain teasers. These days, more and more are moving to a test-prep format in support of Common Core. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. That format works for some, but it has been our experience that a more colorful, engaging, and interactive style is preferable among most students.
Putting a learning schedule together for a Workbook Kid
Having a workbook kid has its perks. One of them is that planning their learning schedule can be relatively easy compared to other learners. What I recommend is using the table of contents in your workbook. Most are fairly complete and consistent with the skills that are typically covered in a given grade. A course of study is a guide listing age and grade appropriate concepts in a given order of sequence. (They are also commonly known as Scope and Sequences). Using a course of study, simply plug in the lessons from the table of contents to the course of study. You can fill in with other activities, field trips, etc. as needed. Check out SpritelyMind's Year by Year Course of Study
So, what about Science and Social Studies? Most workbooks may have eliminated science and social studies from their curriculum, but there there are plenty of other options for your family to cover both subject. Unfortunately, the few workbooks on the market are not good enough to recommend.