Montessori Philosophy On Homework

The following article appeared in the December 9th issue of the Lake Forester. Follow this link to view the article on the Lake Forester website where you can comment, share, and find a “printer friendly” version.

December 9, 2010
By LISSA HEKTOR

Children in Montessori classrooms are granted many freedoms. They have the freedom to move about the classroom with purpose, to speak with each other, to choose their work, and to choose with whom they work. Lessons are given to the child, suggestions are made. The child has the responsibility to be working and to meet the expectations of society. Such expectations include the ability to read, write and do math. The teacher guides the child through observing his interests, preparing the environment, and following the Montessori curriculum in each subject area.

In addition to following the Montessori curriculum, emphasis is placed on practicing the interpersonal skills of compassion and respectful communication. Every minute of their school day students are exposed to lessons of grace and courtesy, and conflict resolution. Children 15 months “young” learn to use their words, rather than action. The students in the Primary classes discuss issues as they occur and make suggestions of how they could have resolved them better. Once the children are in the Elementary and Adolescent programs they have learned how to navigate many sticky situations that arise inside and outside of the classrooms, and they have learned to show kindness and respect to each other. The adults in a Montessori setting strive to set the example by being positive role models.

What does all this have to do with homework? Montessori Schools do not typically assign daily homework. Dr. Montessori believed that if we do not dictate the work of the child in class, then it does not make sense to dictate the work they choose at home. Therefore, traditional homework is kept to a minimum. Montessorians feel that children spend all day in the classroom learning and need their afternoons and evenings to pursue their personal interests, interact with their families and relax.

Parents know that we encourage activities which constructively direct a child’s pursuits during home hours, while nurturing their interests and building family bonds. A fundamental truth permeates Montessori’s work: children are desperate to learn. In a Montessori class, children are motivated to discover why and how things work. Therefore, homework, in a Montessori sense, is work that the child does at home, as an extension of his or her educational exploration.

Many activities may constitute homework, including household chores. Responsibilities at home help the child develop language skills and cultural awareness. Making math a real part of the home environment (pairing socks and counting by twos; dividing a pizza into equal pieces; shopping and making change) and giving the child a voice in family decisions are important to the child’s perception of math concepts and economic geography. Reading with and to your children every day will result in quality family time and confidence building.

The quality of education has become a charged topic of late, with several recent films and documentaries addressing the educational system. The question remains: Will more homework raise academic achievement and test scores? Much has been said about overly programmed after-school schedules; too much homework that steals family time; and an approach to learning that emphasizes memorization and test scores over real understanding and critical thinking. Let’s consider spending quality time with our children, inspiring their natural curiosity and love for learning.

Yes, I’m on to another controversial topic right after the last one; I’m having fun, actually, talking about these issues and I love to hear from you guys about them!

Sister Mary (my Montessori trainer) taught that homework shouldn’t be necessary for a child in a Montessori school. For starters, the child won’t usually have access to Montessori materials at home. Second, most homework consists of worksheets and workbooks, which we don’t use in Montessori [much] anyway. Third, the nature of Montessori learning (hands-on, interactive, child-directed) is so beneficial to the child that they don’t need homework to stay current with learning.

Of course, back then I thought there was some benefit to homework (hadn’t I always had to do it?), but kids in Montessori just didn’t need that benefit, whatever it was. Now, things are changing. Children in traditional schools are getting more homework than ever, but books are being written that argue that homework isn’t necessary or beneficial at all.

One book, The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, says that forcing homework on kids causes them to lose their creative spark and that homework is actually harmful to children – to their relationships and intellect. A similar book by Sarah Bennett & Nancy Kalish, The Case Against Homework, is along the lines of Kohn’s but is also a call to arms for parents, school boards, teachers, and even children to speak out against homework.

If you’re not interested in buying their books but would like to learn more, Sarah Bennett has a blog, and there are lots of articles and interviews with Alfie Kohn online – here’s one.

Personally, when I was a teacher I didn’t assign homework other than reading – a story each day or two from a grade-level reader. Many times I had parents ask me to give their children homework, which was strange. It seems more common to hear parents complain when their kids have too much homework, but some parents seemed to want it.

In those cases, I told the parents to have their child pick a book at the library, read it, and write a book report about it. Strangely, no families ever took me up on that. Possibly all they wanted for their kids was busywork – but not a project that would require effort on the part of the parents and child.

So, do any of you assign homework? If so, what? Do you give your kids homework if you are homeschooling? Do you see any benefit to it? Is there a specific kind of homework that seems more beneficial? I’d really like to know!

Posted by Lori Bourne
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