Letter to Parents about Homework, October 2013

We are well into the routine of going to school and we have learned the classroom, what is expected of us in the classroom, how to come to a lesson, work assigned, how to find work, when to ask for help, and the like.

It’s now time to address becoming a student.

For our youngest children, it’s never too early to start establishing good habits of mind. At home they should have a quiet place to reflect, read, research and do work. Their work might be to color a picture, write a note to a friend or relative, or look at a book. It should be as free from distractions as possible. Distractions include, but are not limited to: siblings, T.V., computers, and the general goings on of a busy family. This sends a powerful message to your child that “I respect you and the work you do”. They should be read to each night for 30 minutes. I wouldn’t put the pressure of them reading to you each evening but wait for the magic moment when they ask to read to you! Reading selections can be good children’s literature, History Books, National Geographic, and the like.

Children past their first year in Elementary can be expected to read to themselves for 30 minutes (or more) each night. It would be great to have a conversation with them to find out what they’re reading, who are the characters, where is it taking place, what is their favorite part, why they like it etc.: This helps recall, inference, and other higher order thinking apps (to put it in familiar terms).

Upper Elementary – and this is why I am writing this piece – should be into the homework habit! They should already have their study-space carved in stone in your house. They should already be using it to complete the homework that has been assigned over the past year. And most importantly, they should be ready for the homework they will be receiving.

Upper Elementary Homework

You can hear teachers and parents, as I have, on both sides of the aisle argue for and against homework. It’s true, your children do an awful lot of work while they are with us for six hours out of their day. I use that argument for them not to be subjected to outside tutoring (unless they need it and it is recommended by their teacher). So it seems inconsistent that I expect elders to accomplish a small amount of homework each evening. The reason is this: If we are modeling good work habits, citizenship, and developing them in our youngest members, then we have to continue the process and have accountability and responsibility ramp up in the second half of this level.

A child in the second half of the second plane of development can put harsh assessments out there on others and themselves! While they have a need to see a purpose in what they learn and do peers tremendously influence them and adults less so.

Therefore our vigilance in making our environment an emotionally safe one ever increases. They are sensitive to issues of fairness, justice, intolerance of what looks like hypocrisy from adults.  They are pre-pubescent and in some cases entering puberty.

So what does all of this have to do with homework? We are working with many more facets of childhood than we have in the past. The issues are complex. I want to be clear on the messages we are sending them:

  1. You are students FIRST. You will get into Harvard, play at the Olympic games, get a sport’s scholarship to college, compete on THE VOICE, and live out your parent’s dreams and hopes – if you are meant to. But you have to get through school first.
  2. You have RESPONSIBILITIES. In Upper Elementary – they have homework from Mr. Jim. Now they are also having homework from me.

I have asked three things of them nightly, to read for 30 minutes each evening and document it. They can bring in their form of documentation on Mondays. You can initial. They are to write 5 interesting sentences each evening using the 100 list sheets they have been given. They are to memorize the spelling of each of the words on the 100 words list.  In upper EL there will be 2 more word lists. We are starting small. No excuses will be accepted for incomplete homework. See #1.

A word about the sentences for UPPER Elementary: You need to ensure the words are spelled correctly and each sentence has proper punctuation. This does not mean do it for them. At their workspace –remember that? They are to have a dictionary. If a word is spelled incorrectly show them and ask them to look it up. They should correct it. IF they do not know how to use a dictionary, show them. This is not cheating. We are working on dictionary skills here at school as well. Some are “getting it”, some have “gotten it” and some are “working on it”. You are expected to help them. They should not present for homework a slapdash effort.

For All Elementary Students

The first 100-word list will be sent home with 1st through 3rd students as well. For them, please make flash cards and drill your students two ways:

  1. Write the words on the unlined side of the index cards. Show your child the word and ask them to read the words to you as you show them. (In effect “flash” them). If the child can’t read them gently read the word to the child. Then have the child repeat the correct word and spell it back to you WHILE LOOKING AT THE CARD.
  2.  When your child has a few under their belt, HOLD the card (word facing you) and say, e.g. “many”. Your child should say, “many, m-a-n-y”.

When all 100 are learned we will issue a second list. No homework sentences are required at this point.

I can’t emphasize enough the tremendous amount of work your children continue to complete. The youngest are, of course, only slowed down by their hand. WE will continue with correct letter formation as well as grammar and sentence writing. Ideating comes along later.

Elders are resisting tooth and nail the idea of HARD WORK. We must habituate them to accept this as a reality of life. It is a hallmark of success, however you define it.

WE, Montessori teachers, are tasked to light the fire of imagination in your child’s mind. WE are called “Enlightened generalists” (I think it sounds better than the proverbial “jack of all trades and master of none”). WE can and do ignite the flame of imagination. We need your help in keeping the flame lit and providing the oxygen to fan it. Please make yours a literate home, visit the library, listen to what excites them, and go to museums, out in nature. Look up answers to the questions they have and better yet, show them how to find the answers themselves, and then go to their quiet place and ponder the wonder of it all.