In thinking about the upcoming Spring Break and what I might plan to do with my own child, I was reminded of an essay that I read recently in John Snyder’s book, Tending the Light, on the topic of homework. A question that I have been asked often is “What should I do to support my child’s development at home?” And some of you may think from time to time, ‘Is there something missing from my children’s learning if they are not doing homework?’ Well, John Snyder’s essay provided the perfect explanation of what “homework” should be, along with a practical list of ideas of what to do at home. I would like to share some of these with you.
In this resource, Snyder replaces the traditional definition of homework with a definition that embodies and supports the Montessori goal of life-long learning. When most of us think of homework, we think of assignments, worksheets, papers, deadlines, et cetera. And perhaps with a tinge of dread, for these were tasks that we did not choose to do. Homework for a Montessori child is something that promotes “learning as a way of life.” (Snyder, 2014, p.257) Learning is not something that stops when you get home from school. Ultimately, children will be introduced to concepts and keys in the classroom and will want to continue pursuing them at home or will learn something at home and will bring this new interest or knowledge to the classroom. This sort of learning is dynamic and makes a much more lasting impression than assignments. Snyder explains that homework for a Montessori child “should consist mostly of the child’s active involvement with the practical, intellectual, and artistic life of the family and of the child’s own projects in areas they are drawn to pursue.” (Snyder, 2014, p.257)
He points out that being a parent of a Montessori student takes significant involvement and resourcefulness. Learning cannot end when school is over. We want children to gain the impression that “ meaningful work is always available and…learning is something that happens all the time and everywhere, not just at school.” (Snyder, 2014, p.256) As parents, we must be active in creating an environment full of resources and opportunities.
A former upper elementary teacher and administrator at Austin Montessori School, Snyder offers guidelines for homework. One is: “The child should spend at least three hours per day on Montessori homework. Three hours a day of homework allows the child to spend time each day on a wide variety of activities, including physical exercise, service, intellectual activity, household responsibilities and the arts.” (Snyder, 2014, 257) It was noted that at least thirty minutes of that time should be spent reading. How do the children have time for three hours of homework each day? Snyder suggests that the absence of screens on school nights would certainly help. I agree.
Finally, Snyder emphasizes the presence of choice in learning. He states that “the negative emotion that accompanies being coerced to ‘learn’ is likely to remain permanently attached to the subject of ‘learning’ and may obstruct all future attempts to learn that subject.” (Snyder, 2014, p.255) This can lead to passivity and negative self image with regard to a person’s capabilities of learning a broad range of subject matter and skills. This is the main reason why we do not assign homework in the traditional sense at the elementary level.
Some examples of homework from the Appendix in Snyder’s book (note the excellent preface):
The Most Important Things You Can Do to Get Stronger and Smarter
-Whenever you feel like turning on the TV or playing computer games, first come get this list of ideas and pick something to do from it to do before you spend any time in front of a screen. Then, if you still want to sit in front of a screen, set a timer for thirty minutes and make yourself turn off the electronics when the timer goes off. Be sure to limit yourself to no more than one hour of combined screen time per day.
-If you really want to get smarter and stronger, turn off the TV and computer for a month. Yes, you can do it. You won’t die. I promise. After the initial shock, most people find that they even like it.
-If you do use a computer, use it as a tool for making yourself smarter and stronger: Write with it, do math with it, do art with it or explore enchantedlearning.com with your mom or dad. So far nobody has ever gotten smarter or stronger playing computer or video games, and you’re probably not going to be the first.
Creative Arts / Construction
- Knit, crochet, spin, weave, sew, quilt, hook rugs, embroider, tie-dye, bead, paint, sculpt
- Make pottery at a local studio
- Learn new art projects by reading in books or taking an art class. Prepare an art project to teach to the class.
- Get a copy of Curve Stitching by Jon Millington and work your way from front to back. You’ll be ready to invent your own curve stitching designs before you know it!
- Take weaving classes or painting classes.
- Work with a knowledgeable adult to build a fence, a doghouse, a bike ramp, a bookcase, a bench, et cetera.
- Find an adult who has lots of tools and likes to build or repair things. Learn the names of all the tools the adult has. Learn to write the names as well as say them. Learn what each tool is used for.
- Learn photography- how to take a really good picture.
- Learn how to operate a video camera. Make your own movies. Document a week in the life of your family using a camcorder or camera. Write a paragraph about each family member and what they will be doing for the summer. Mail the package to your grandparents or some other relative or friend who would like to receive the update.
- Practice your musical instrument or learn new songs to sing. If possible, take private lessons on your musical instrument.
- Learn a new song to teach the class in the fall. Bring a copy of the words when you teach it to us.
- Learn to dance.
- Visit one of the art museums in town. Visit the gift shop after you’ve toured the museum. Buy postcards of your favorite works and try to copy them at home with colored pencils or watercolors
Language / Words / Literature
- Schedule a weekly trip to the library. Plan to spend at least an hour looking through books, looking up things in the catalog, reading magazines, etc.
- Take regular trips to bookstores. Make a list of all the good bookstores in town and try to visit each one at least once so you can learn what sorts of books each store offers.
- Keep a list of the books you read and the number of pages you read in each.
- Write a description of a friend, a friend’s house, a pet, a favorite place, a vacation spot, et cetera.
- Interview your family and relatives. Start a family newsletter.
- Have a family reading time. Everybody reads whatever they want in the same room. Start small: perhaps fifteen minutes after dinner. Gradually increase the time.
- Play board games such as Scrabble, UpWords, Boggle, or Word Thief.
- Put on some calming music and practice making the most beautiful cursive letters you can.
Math / Numbers / Geometry
- Comparison shopping: figuring price per pound, calling various stores, et cetera. When you shop at the grocery story, take along a pad and pencil; keep a running total of the cost of items you buy. Check your answer against the cash register receipt you get when you pay for your items.
- Measure things around the house and calculate their surface area and volume. Take trips to the park, et cetera to measure things there.
- Work on memorizing all of your multiplication, division, addition and subtraction facts, if you haven’t already done so. Once you’ve mastered your math facts, work on speed.
- Make up math problems for yourself to work. Consider making a “Math Workout” for yourself once a week.
Nature / Plants / Animals
- Before you travel to another part of the country or to a different country, read about the biomes there. Read about their climate, animals and plants. While you’re there, look for things you read about.
- Go camping with your family or friends.
- Make a botany map of your backyard. Place each plant in its place on the map and label each plant with its common name and scientific name. (You might need some help from a library book or a knowledgeable adult gardener.)
- Go berry picking on a local farm.
Wow, and these are only some of the examples on the list! What a great resource! Snyder’s list is much longer and includes examples in the categories of: Science, History/ Geography, Sports / Exercise, Community Service / Activism, and Household Service. I am working on making a list of homework for the children in my class and my own child.
Snyder, John R. “Montessori Homework for the Upper Elementary.” Tending the Light, Essays on Montessori Education, United States, North American Montessori Teachers’ Association, 2014.
Snyder, John R. “Appendix: Montessori Homework Ideas for the Upper Elementary.” Tending the Light, Essays on Montessori Education, United States, North American Montessori Teachers’ Association, 2014.
By: Erin Salter
Elementary Lead Teacher