A common question asked about the Montessori curriculum is why we do not assign homework or grades. While each guide might have a unique answer, there is a common theme at the heart of the reasoning against grades and homework. Rather than feeding into a culture of performance, the Montessori environment fosters a culture of service.
In their early years, children are drawn towards activities to support their individual needs, like putting on their own shoes. “Help me to do it myself,” is a theme for toddler and primary children as they build their independence. From the moment your child enters their classroom, they find everything sized appropriately for them.
In the Primary environment, they easily hang their coats on hooks in their cubby before settling into work at a low table with a child-sized chair. The Practical Life area has specific materials to build functional independence, such as practicing with a button frame or preparing a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice. As they continue into the other areas, they follow their interests. They take pride in learning how to put together their first puzzle map or count with the number rods. In these ways, the children nurture their interest and ability to serve themselves, physically and cognitively.
From Self Service to Serving the Environment
As children build their foundation through Practical Life work, they experience how to take care of their environment. Young children are eager to help and mimic what they see the older children and adults in their lives doing. You might witness children happily sweeping the floors, scrubbing a table, and washing their classmates’ empty snack containers. Rather than seeing these activities as chores, the children view this work as purposeful and important. They take pride in brushing crumbs from the lunch mats and straightening shelves to prepare for the next day. In these ways, the children cultivate a responsibility to serve their environment.
Ultimately, these acts of service to self and service to the environment culminate a deep interest and desire to serve. Children take pride in learning new skills and accomplishments, from zipping up their coat to writing their first story with the moveable alphabet. When children take pride in their own accomplishments, they naturally take pride in the work and accomplishments of others. They are also willing to share their knowledge.
Serving Their Community
The multi-age environment gives all of the children the opportunity to learn from one another. Young children often observe the older children work with more advanced materials with great interest. Older children are eager to help their youngest peers. They button their aprons or help them clean up their work for the next child to use. Children also navigate how to wait patiently for a material that may be in use by another classmate. When conflict arises, they practice recognizing and expressing their feelings to work towards a solution that makes everyone happy. In all of these ways, the children foster a desire to serve others.
Seeing children naturally grow and learn by serving themselves, their environments, and others gives us hope for the future. A future where we are valued for who we are and how we care for others rather than a high score on an exam. In the words of Dr. Maria Montessori, “the child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”
“The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. He has shown us the true process of construction of the human being. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them…. The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”Dr. Maria Montessori, Education and Peace