Far too many schools have transformed the process of learning and discovery, which comes naturally to children at birth, into a stressful and often unpleasant experience. We tend to think about schools from a business perspective. We talk incessantly about high standards, competition, and holding children accountable. Somewhere along the way we forgot that schools are meant to nurture children’s natural development, not manufacture a product.
Montessori schools are obviously different from traditional education. But the use of hands-on materials and multi-age classes are just some of the most obvious surface differences. What really sets Montessori apart from conventional education is the outcome that we seek in our children.
Montessori’s goal is to prepare students for life, not just for admission to college. All over the world, our schools work to empower, liberate, and encourage young people to become self-confident people who think for themselves, creatively solve problems, and who possess the emotional and spiritual balance, interpersonal skills, compassion and moral courage that will prepare them to lead lives filled with purpose, meaning, and joy.
Children learn at their own pace and they learn in different ways. Learning to read, write, and use mathematics is not a race!
In general, the more we, as parents or educators, push children to do things against their will, the more likely it is that many will learn to quietly or openly resist.
"An interesting piece of work that has been freely chosen, has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue and adds to children's energies and mental capacities, and leads them to self-mastery."
“… children must be free to choose their own occupations, just as they must never be interrupted in their spontaneous activities. No work may be imposed; no threats, no rewards, and no punishments used."
Today it has become common to find parents who feel the need to help their children to excel. They seem to fear that if they do not provide this external ‘push’, their children will not succeed.
Montessori demonstrates that children are normally born intelligent, curious, and creative. Without the need for external structure or encouragement, they will learn and explore whatever captures their attention. Keep in mind, though, that they want to learn what they find interesting, not what their parents or teachers choose for them.
Without realizing it, when parents and teachers put pressure on children to perform to adults standards they are showing them great disrespect. By using external rewards and pressure in an attempt to get them to do things that they are clearly not yet interested in enough to choose them for themselves.
But if a child ends up quietly resentful of lessons, tutors, workbooks, and tests, what have we really accomplished?
Montessori urges parents to allow children to develop at their own pace, within a home environment that sets a good example and provides all the right stimulation and support. In an atmosphere that truly respects children as people, we have to allow them to master new skills when they are ready, not when it says they should in a curriculum guide. Some children may begin to show interest at a very early age, others will not show the slightest interest until they are older. But with the right approach, we can increase the odds that, when they are ready, our children will want to learn with natural enthusiasm.
As a result, Montessori schools traditionally do not assign homework until the upper elementary grades or middle school, and even then, it rarely looks like the homework many parents remember from their own school years.
Why don’t we assign homework like everyone else? Don’t we want children to get into good colleges?
The answer is of course we do, but we ask a simple questions: why do we believe that assigning hours of homework to children after a long school day is the right way to go about it.
“My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certificate from the secondary schools to the University, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolutions of the individual.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
School is only one part of a child's day. Children work hard in school, just as their parents do at the office. All of the usual arguments that parents and mainstream teachers use to justify homework miss the point. Homework does not teach children responsibility, time management skills, self-discipline, or more of what they should be learning during the day. What it teaches is how to put up with a job that they dislike. Many teachers seem to think that they can help their students become better educated by requiring them to do tasks that few would ever do voluntarily. Gifted teachers get the job done in a normal school day by inspiring a sense of interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm among their students.
“The secret of good teaching is to regard the child's intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim is not only to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core. We do not want complacent pupils, but eager ones. We seek to sow life in children, rather than theories, to help them in their intellectual, emotional, and physical growth, and for that we must offer them grand and lofty ideas to explore.”
Our goal in Montessori is to inspire in children a sense of purpose in their lives, a sense of their own individual minds. We want them to pursue things that interest them, pursuing information, skills, and insights on their own, not waiting to be spoon fed by adults.
“We both went to Montessori school and I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, being self-motivated, questioning what's going on in the world, and doing things a little bit different, that contributed to our success.”
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Co-Founders of Google.com
After school, children should have time to follow their own interests and play with family and friends.
Homework can easily become a power struggle between children and adults. And the sad thing is that there is no need if schools instill a love of learning, rather than a sense of obligation and fear. Whenever children voluntarily decide to learn something, they tend to engage in their work with a passion and attention that few students will ever invest in tasks that have been assigned. Our goal is to inspire joyful thinking, not compliance.
Even though most Montessori schools do not require homework, many ask children to read and write daily. Reading is usually established as a suggested time to set aside for reading whatever children find interesting, and writing is commonly either in a journal or involves freely chosen creative or expository writing exercises.
Some schools send home a packet of suggested projects that children might want to work on at home. Here are just a few examples that students and families have found to be both interesting and challenging:
- Perform an act of charity or extraordinary kindness.
- Plan and prepare dinner for your family with little or no help from your folks.
- Plan and prepare a dinner for your family typical of what the ancient Greeks might have eaten.
- Read together books that touch the soul and fire the imagination. Discuss the books that the children are reading in class on Fridays.
- Visit a church or synagogue of a different faith than yours. Meet the rabbi, priest, or minister and learn as much as you can about this other faith.
- Go to a boatyard and learn what you can about different kinds of boats, their purpose, cost, advantages and disadvantages.
- Buy some stock and follow its course over time. Pretend that you have a thousand dollars to invest, ten thousand, a million.
- How many square feet of carpet would it take to cover your entire house? Convert this number into square yards. Call two carpet dealers. What kinds of carpet do they offer and what would it cost to carpet your house.
- Build a square model of the floor plan of your house out of cardboard, one floor at a time. Be as careful and exact as you can.
- Develop a pen pal in a Montessori school across the USA or in another country.
- Prepare a list of all the things that you would like to do with your life: career, cities to visit, mountains to climb, things you want to learn, etc.
- Teach your dog a new trick.
- Build a model of the Parthenon, an aqueduct, or some other historical structure.
- Plant a garden, tree, some bulbs around your house.
- Write a play and perform it with some friends for your class.
- Make puppets with your folks, build a puppet theater and put on a performance.
- Learn about magic and master a new trick.
- Build a bridge out of popsicle sticks held together with carpenter's glue that will span a three-foot chasm and support several bricks.
- Interview your grandparents about their childhood. Write a biography or share what you learn.
- Using one of the better books on children's science projects, select an experiment or project, carry it out, and prepare a report that documents what you did.
- Build a model sailboat using different types of sail plans. Race them on a pond with your class.
- Select a city somewhere in the world where you have never traveled. Find out everything that you can.
- Learn something new and teach it to someone in your class.
- Meet a real artist and visit her studio.
- Learn first aid.
- Prepare a timeline of the Presidents of the United States, along with picture cards, name tags, and fact cards. Study until you can complete the timeline on your own.
- Make your own set of constructive triangle, golden beads, or some other familiar Montessori material.
- Using 1 cm as a unit, build out of clay, wood, or cardboard pieces to make up units, tens, hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, hundred thousands, millions. up to one billion.
- Prepare a scale model of the solar system in which the distance from the sun to Pluto will be two miles. Prepare carefully measured models of the planets and sun and calculate the distance that each will need to be placed on the scale away from the sun.
Reprinted with the permission of the Montessori Foundation. © 2007 The Montessori Foundation. All Rights Reserved.