A few years ago I stopped assigning homework in both my lower and upper elementary Montessori classrooms. (You can read about my experience here: Homework in the Montessori Classroom: Does it Actually Help Students?) You see, I had spent two years photocopying worksheets for both follow up work and homework. It was so time consuming and frustrating because no matter how hard I tried, nothing really aligned with the Montessori curriculum and materials. I also made the decision early on that I would not assign work that requires abstract thought, while students are still using concrete materials to learn concepts in the Montessori curriculum. Consequently, that ruled out almost every math book around.
Recently, a NAMC upper elementary graduate called to discuss school culture that requires assigning math homework. There are different views and philosophies about assigning homework, and this can vary among individuals and schools. Math is certainly one of the elementary-level subjects that comes into question time and time again with respect to assigning homework.
Assigning Montessori Appropriate Math Homework to Montessori Elementary StudentsI explained how, in my experience with assisting students in the math curriculum, I had discovered the “Keys to …” series (Keys to Fractions, Keys to Decimals, Keys to Percents, Keys to Algebra, Keys to Measurement, Keys to Geometry) from Key Curriculum Press. They are ideal! It is as if a Montessorian had written workbooks for the Montessori curriculum. These workbooks use Montessori principles and correspond directly with the presentations in Montessori teaching albums. On top of that, they are very inexpensive; much cheaper than buying math texts and workbooks. They even include short pre-tests that can be used to assess what concepts and skills students need to practice and learn, and post tests that can be used to check for mastery.
However, the best thing is, my Montessori students LOVE them! After giving a Montessori upper elementary math lesson, I assign pages for follow up work and inevitably students ask for more or just do more spontaneously. Students who tell me in the beginning of the year how much they hate math start asking for more math lessons once I introduce these books to them. This phenomenon has happened with my Montessori elementary students at three different schools.
I have also used this series for private tutoring. Montessori parents have been impressed by the change in attitude and aptitude of their children. When my son was 12, we used the Keys to Algebra series over the summer. At first, he thought I was crazy and told me he was not going to do any math over the summer (his preference is reading and writing). But when he began to review the books he soon came to me, excited. He thought he was going to like algebra after all and asked when we could start!
In my opinion, children need time to be children and time spent outside playing after a long day at school is more important than sitting doing more work. I personally do not advocate assigning homework until 7th grade, but realize that sometimes circumstances dictate otherwise. I have had to assign homework at some schools. But at the schools where I have not assigned homework, I have not noticed a difference in retention of skills or information. In fact, I have noticed that the children are less stressed when the pressure of completing homework is absent.
Homework also can create stress at home. For example, if a child needs help with math homework, parents may show “shortcuts” that they have learned which can undermine the work achieved in the classroom. Students can become confused and frustrated by this, and parents may wonder why their children aren't being taught “the right way”. The last thing I want for my Montessori students, or any student, is to be frustrated and start to dread math. In my experience, encouraging students to come to me with their questions rather than assigning homework has been very effective.
Not assigning homework may also translate into less stress for the Montessori teacher. I thoroughly disliked having to “get after” children who had not completed their homework. Often their after-school schedules were so busy that they didn't have time to do the assignments. Having their teacher upset as a result only made the situation worse for the student. Homework came to be viewed as a punishment, which I happily gave up when I was no longer required to assign it.
The NAMC Upper Elementary manuals provide the full three-year curriculum for teaching students aged 9-12 years.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.