Regardless of our efforts to postpone the inevitable, our children eventually aged out of their beloved Montessori school, and with heavy hearts we had to leave Montessori—but Montessori never left us.
As our children transitioned into the conventional school system and on into middle school, we experimented with ways to incorporate principles of the Montessori method into our parenting practices.
Disappointed that the school system fostered dependence, we quietly offered our children independence. Where the school system demanded regimentation, we offered them choice. When the school system’s tendency was to extend its reach into the home, we made our home environment ours alone and created our own family routines.
Of the many principles and practices we’ve incorporated into our family life relating to bedtimes, meals, exercise, screen time, reading, etc., here are three surprisingly successful practices that relate directly to school. These have been wildly successful.
Parents, you’ve gotta give them a try!
No Standardized Tests
First, we opt out of standardized tests (and we haven’t been jailed yet for it!). This is not to say that our children have never taken a standardized test. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. It’s their choice. We sat our children down, explaining to them our discomfort with the standardization of the classroom, the pressure to “keep up” and “wait up,” and the negative unintended consequences for students and teachers of a hyper-focus on test scores.
Simply offering the choice to opt out breaks the power of the standardized system. Our children know they can stay home on test day (and again on make-up test day), or they can go to school and take the test, or they can draw silly patterns on their answer sheets! Opting out fundamentally transforms the power relationship between school and student. The student is now in charge and can view the education system from the outside as an owner, evaluating what works and doesn’t work for him/her instead of viewing himself/herself as acting merely for the sake of the system.
Second, we have made a point to never mention homework. We don’t say, “It’s time to do your homework.” We don’t say, “Have you done your homework?” Nothing. Zip. Nada. It’s fantastic! Sometimes we see them doing homework, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes my children ask me for help, which I happily agree to give. My wife and I have no idea who has homework or who doesn’t. It’s not our problem. What a relief! We just talk about interesting things instead. We have important things to do as a family. We have games to play, meals to cook, conversations to have, adventures to go on. If my children would like to do schoolwork at home, they will have to find a way to fit it in, and it can’t be during important family time. It is with shock and secret joy that I have found myself saying from time to time, “No you can’t do your homework now; you’ll have to find some other time.” I’ve jokingly threatened my children that I was going to send familywork to school with them: empty the trash cans, or play Monopoly, or play tennis with Grandma during class.
No Report Cards
Third, without opening it, we delete the monthly email from the school with their report card grades. And we tell our children not to tell us what grades they received, ever. We honestly have no idea what grade they have received on any test or report card in two years. They manage themselves. It’s awesome! We talk about school stuff all the time, just not homework or grades. We are clear with them that what we value is not the grade; what we value is the subject matter. We find mathematics and history and science and sports and family games important. They are all valuable to us and all interesting and worthy of discussion, study, and enjoyment. If our children would like a specific grade on a specific test or report card, they have full control over it and can choose to figure out what it takes to receive that grade or not.
So why do I say that these practices have been successful? Because my teenage children appear happy and engaged, enjoy spending time with us, easily transition between independent activities and family time, and manage themselves and their daily routines with no help from us other than transportation. More importantly, we haven’t fallen into the confrontational routine many families find themselves trapped in, with nightly battles over homework and grades. We’re on the same team, not fighting against each other. And finally, these practices are healthy to my wife and me. A huge weight is lifted off our shoulders when we choose to no longer worry about being the school’s nightly task enforcer. We are free to concentrate on creating a healthy home environment and spend our energies living our own independent lives to the fullest.
About the Author
Trevor Eissler is a Montessori advocate in the parenting community and author of Montessori Madness: A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education.