The Montessori approach to homework

26 Mar 2019

When entering their children into a Montessori programme, parents often ask questions about homework. The topic is at times controversial and often misunderstood. As parents, you want to offer the maximum benefit of learning and participate in your child’s education. As teachers, we want to provide quality and meaningful learning opportunities, as well as considering critical benchmarks in academic and personal development. Many after-school programmes capitalise on the fears and concerns surrounding skill development that can actually be detrimental to a student’s work in the classroom. So where does homework fit in all of this?

Most authentic Montessori schools do not give homework and there are many reasons why. During the day, Montessori students are deeply engaged in lessons and activities in the classroom environment. They participate in concentrated learning during three-hour work cycles.

Children spend much of their day in deep work in Montessori classrooms.

Montessori students work in a self-directed manner, based on their interests in the classroom, and assigning homework may be disempowering and frustrating.

Many students need to have downtime at the end of a long day. It is also important to have time with friends and family, enjoy activities, and relax. This time allows for reflection and consolidation of concepts that they have explored during the school day.

Montessori materials are the central focus of learning, especially at the preschool and primary levels, and these are not available at home. To teach concepts abstractly may cause confusion for the student.

Handouts are not sent home, as students do not typically use worksheets in the classroom. In fact, completing handouts in a mindless, rote manner is “make work” and has been proven through research to have little to no effect on academic outcomes.

Materials that students use in the classroom are not always available at home.

There are some exceptions. Students may be inspired and motivated to work at home, of their own initiative, as a complement or extension of their in-class learning but not a replacement. A student may require additional support due to learning needs or to preparing for higher levels of education. As with everything in Montessori, we consider each student and their unique learning profile, based on their individual interests and needs.

Today, an increasing amount of educational research validates Dr Maria Montessori’s approach in a quantifiable way.

In The Homework Myth (2006), author Alfie Kohn challenges the benefits of homework, noting “that current research shows homework provides no benefits to younger children, may not even help older children, and in contrast to popular belief, does not reinforce what students learn in school. Rather than automatically assign homework, Kohn argues, teachers only should give homework when it is truly necessary, and when assignments can be crafted to meet different students needs. Spending less time on homework, according to Kohn, gives children more time to learn outside of school.”

The Case Against Homework (Benett and Kalish, 2007) argues that homework provides no viable purpose for consolidating information acquired from learning in the classroom, in fact it may be detrimental and at very least, discouraging to students.

Some scholars argue that homework can even be detrimental to children’s academic progress.

A large body of peer-reviewed scholarly research comes to a similar conclusion.

“Many countries with the highest scoring students on achievement tests, such as Japan, Denmark, and the Czech Republic, have teachers who assign little homework. Meanwhile, countries such as Greece, Thailand, and Iran, where students have some of the worst average scores, have teachers who assign a lot of homework. American students do as much homework as their peers in other countries—if not more—but still manage only to score around the international average.” (National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling by David P. Baker and Gerald K. LeTendre, 2005)

The emphasis on working and learning during quality three-hour work cycles proves how ahead of the times Montessori was. Trusting in this process and allowing student’s learning to unfold at their own pace yields results. Cultivating happy, engaged learners who exhibit passion and a love of learning is far more meaningful than ones who simply complete assignments with no internal drive.

As a parent, there are many ways that you may still be involved in your child’s education. In the case of homework, more is not necessarily more.

Here are some things that students might do as “homework”:

  • Taking care of one’s self: Looking after personal effects, preparing lunches, setting out items for school;
  • Taking part in physical activity;
  • Enjoying family time;
  • Doing chores: Helping out around the home in age-appropriate ways that are not linked to an allowance or special privileges;
  • Reading;
  • Playing games and engaging in activities that encourage skills such as creativity, critical thinking, logic and strategy.

Further reading

by Natalie Colosimo

Categories: News