Saturday, July 25, 2009

Montessori Schools and Homework

I asked my mom recently why she sent me and my 3 siblings to Montessori as early as the 1970s when it seemed like very few knew about the Montessori method. She said, "we read about it and heard that it was a great way for kids to learn." I was thinking, "wow, my parents were so cool when they were younger," but then she added, "and we heard there was no homework." She defended herself by saying that because both she and my dad had full-time jobs and so they knew they would not be able to tutor us after long days of work.

I'm sure to this day there are some parents who send their children to Montessori schools for that reason, but I think most will say that it's child stress that they're avoiding (well, I'm sure they're glad they don't have to spend hours on homework either!). What is widely misunderstood, however, is that there is ABSOLUTELY no homework in Montessori schools.

In the preschool level (called Casa), children do not have homework at all. Their days are full of discovery and absorption through Montessori materials that are tailored to develop the necessary skills for their age group (3-6 years old). It is therefore not customary for teachers to ask Casa students to bring home homework. Personally, I think doing so will lead to premature child stress.

My 2 1/2 year old son, Ton, working in his Casa class.

In the lower elementary levels (Grades 1 to 3 in traditional schools), homework is given to students who need extra work to master skills necessary for their grade level. For example, in my daughter's class, everyone had to bring home their Filipino workbook for summer because all the kids in the class were not able to finish answering questions in the book. Usually, too, the homework given is so "everyday" that as a parent you will wonder why it's called "homework." When my daughter spent her summer vacation in the US, the teacher asked her to do "homework." She wasn't given tons of worksheets but was asked to prepare a "picture journal" for her to share with the class when she gets back.

My (then 6 year old) daughter, Gabby, measuring her foot

In the upper elementary levels (typically Grades 4 to 6), homework is given more frequently mainly to teach Montessori children to adapt to increasing school demands. Homework is never in the traditional form of "read 6 chapters tonight and answer the questions from pages 1-240 and finish your science project today and write an essay for the school newspaper (or else you will kneel on mongo beans)." (My friend was actually asked to kneel on mongo beans in the 1970s at an all-girls Catholic school.) In the upper grades homework is usually in the form of real-life tasks and activities such as, "watch The Chronicles of Narnia" (in preparation for a book report to be done in school) or "visit Ayala Museum's exhibit of artwork by Romeo Tabuena" (for a future discussion on modern Filipino art, for example). Sometimes, the teacher feels that reinforcement is needed for a particular lesson and therefore gives some worksheets for supplementary practice.

One of the biggest criticisms about Montessori and the (apparent) lack of homework is that it will not teach the child how to handle the stresses of school life in high school and college. Some say this eventually leads to frequent procrastination even in the Montessori adult. I will not object violently because I have my moments of procrastination but I am also a great planner. I love party planning and scheduling and executing according to my timeframe. I believe that the procrastination is not exclusive to the Montessori high schooler, college student or adult. It's random.

As a high school student at Manila Science High School, I would prepare for exams early by typing out reviewers (left side in red ink containing the answers, right side in black ink containing the description or question). In college I went more "high tech" by preparing audio reviewers for myself a week or so before my exams. (Hey, the walkman was still pretty high-tech back then!... I hear my daughter asking, "what's a walkman?") Of course I wasn't perfect because there would be days when that reviewer would be typed the day before the test and I would be forced to stay up until 4am to review. But heck, even when the reviewer was prepared days in advance I would not relax until I was confident I would do well... even if it meant sleeping at 2 am.

I always look back at my Montessori years and remember so many fond and happy memories. I never dreaded school, I didn't like being absent, I always wanted to challenge myself by asking the teacher for homework even if I didn't need it. For me, homework was like a treat. And I looked forward to answering the questions and bringing it back the next day.

I would not say the same for my high school life. There would be days when the stress would weigh me down. There would be days when admittedly (Hi, Mama, don't get mad) I would fake an illness just to be begged by my mom to stay home ("Hahaha, it worked! Now time to wipe off that fake slime off my nose...")

Now that my daughter is in a Montessori school- do I worry that she will not be able to handle the stresses of high school life? YES (all parents, Montessori or not, worry). Do I think she will survive? DEFINITELY. Because in the end that is what Montessori has taught me to do- to trust in the intelligence of my child. Many parents have done so and many have not been disappointed.

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