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(NO) Homework, textbooks, and grades…. OH MY!

(NO) Homework, textbooks, and grades…. OH MY!

Have you ever been scrolling through your Facebook News Feed and see a friend post a ridiculous homework assignment that their child had? A few weeks ago, I saw this one:

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The child received a score of 4/5 for this assignment with letter b) being marked wrong. That means the child received an 80% on this assignment, a “C” letter grade. But, the child didn’t answer the question wrong, and mom had to call to argue about the directions, which say “change each decimal to ‘a’ fraction” – not the lowest fraction, not the most simplified fraction, not a proportionate fraction for the decimal – but “a” fraction.

Or what about your second grader coming home from their first day of school for the year with a mountain of paperwork that says your child needs to complete 3 math worksheets with 15 problems every  night, 20 minutes of reading, and complete one “project” every other week? That in and of itself is a lot, but then you figure in the fact that apparently math is different than it was when we went to school, reading has to be from certain approved lists which means you have to go pick up new books, and the “project” really is disguised as parental torture, requiring poster board, six different colors of construction paper, rote memorization of your entire family tree to drop onto said poster board, and takes about 2915 hours to complete. Oh, and there’s probably glitter somewhere on there too.

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Homework

Whether we like it or  not, Kindergarten is the new second grade and our children our being innundated with homework from the very moment they begin grade school. National standards, while having good intentions, are forcing teachers to teach to the test rather than inspire a lifelong love of learning. It’s unfair that teachers are forced to standardize the way they do what they do, when what makes teachers so great is the unique way they do their work. And it is the work of God, that’s for sure. I am so grateful for teachers of young children in any school environment.

All this is simply to say, when people find out that the Montessori method is generally free from homework, I always get a ton of questions and certainly there is a huge amount of curiosity. Let’s start with the source, Maria Montessori herself:

We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child’s spontaneity when he is just beginning  to be active. We may even suffocate life itself. That humanity which is revealed in all its’ intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child open up himself to life.”

The very foundational principle of the Montessori Method- follow the child- is the reason that homework in the traditional sense does not exist within the program. Just like in the classroom, where children have freedom within boundaries — i.e., you have three hours to complete “work” but you can choose which work you want to do — there is no mandate for the child at home either when it comes to home “work.”

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules or that children should do whatever they feel like. It means that they should have freedom within the otherwise established boundaries of home.

While my children (I hope) are too young for homework, there are plenty of activities that are available to them when they get home. They have more play based work available, of course, but they also take part in folding the laundry (more separating at this point but there’s some folding in there too), setting the table, clearing the table, sweeping,polishing or cleaning furniture, and dusting. This is not “homework,” per se, but because they’re infants and toddlers, and practical life is a part of their school curriculum, it’s a natural extension to the classroom experience.

Textbooks

I believe one of the reasons I am a great business attorney is because I love problem solving. It’s really fun for me to work with difficult people, deal with difficult customers or suppliers, work on the complicated commercial claims, or clean up corporate messes. I love solutioning.

Montessori teaches independence, problem solving, and how to figure out answers and information for yourself. I wasn’t a Montessori kid, but because this is such a big part of who I am personally and professionally, it’s something that is important for me to impart on my children.

We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit. -Maria Montessori

The Montessori Method generally finds textbooks to be limiting and an interruption to the natural desire of a child to discover an answer for themselves. The Montessori method looks beyond books; that’s not to say books aren’t used, just that they are only one educational tool in the toolbox. Montessori uses movement, object manipulation, information gathering, hands-on and one-on-one lessons to teach children how to think. When children learn how to think, there is a natural reward when they figure out the answer or solve a problem. And a love of learning is born, serving them for their entire lives and not just for purposes of the next test.

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Grades

Yale Law School and Harvard Law School are both famous for many reasons, but one of the big ones is that they don’t have traditional grades. Yale has no grades whatsoever- telling students and employers that if you are smart or good enough to get in, that should be enough. Harvard is slightly different, but generally follows a “no grades” approach as well.

The Montessori Method similarly does not have traditional grading. The Montessori Method works through the idea of mastering subjects and concepts, from the abstract to the very narrow and concrete.

This, of course, is contrasted with teaching to a test where you memorize something in the short term only to forget it shortly after the exam. Instead of obtaining any real substantive knowledge, it was just an exercise of what you can remember for a period of time and doesn’t necessarily have a lasting impact. Montessori, at least in aim, prefers to instil a love of learning, enjoying the process and the knowledge transfer that takes place during. By removing the forced nature of learning for test taking purposes, Montessori believed that students would be more joyful in their lifelong pursuit of learning.

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No homework, no textbooks, no grades – how do Montessori students function in the real world?

A study of South Carolina students on public Montessori schools versus non-Montessori schools showed that Montessori students outperformed their non-Montessori counterparts on standardized tests and a variety of social and emotional metrics. A separate student of preschool students in Connecticut found that public Montessori schools helped close the achievement gap between higher and lower income students and that Montessori students performed better academically.

None of this is to say Montessori is “better” or traditional approaches to schooling are unsuccessful, just that despite not having homework, not having textbook based learning, and not having grades, Montessori students still succeed by traditional testing metrics.

And, you know, there’s a plethora of Montessori educated success stories – Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, are Montessori graduates. Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon, is a Montessori graduate. Bezos actually is giving away $2B of his money to develop a Montessori preschool program in underserved communities around the United States. Prince William and Prince Harry were both Montessori educated as well, showing the Royal Family’s belief in the method.

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What are your thoughts on homework and grade free learning, whether under the Montessori method or otherwise?

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By 3under3andme

Krista is an attorney residing in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, son Nico, daughters Gabriella and Milana, and their au pair, Chloe!

8 Comments

  • For the life of me, I can’t understand how the schools are teaching our children these days. I can’t understand my children’s math homework at all because they are learning a totally different way than I did and it seems like it’s so much more work!

  • I home-schooled my children and I think the curriculum these days are much more complex than when we went to school. I agree that the younger grades are so much more advanced. I think homeschooling is mix of both the traditional and Montessori method..I think that first encouraging curiosity at a young age is the key to ensuring our children advance in learning with a mix of love and ambition.

  • I really dislike the fact that any school would make a child fill in a family tree. I never knew my biological father because he walked out on my mom when I was a baby. Me not understanding this as a 2nd grader would have had me all kinds of confused when I’m asked to put this on a poster board as a project. Kids come from all sorts of families they don’t know the backgrounds of.

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