Maybe you’ve seen the glow of the greenhouse in the morning, maybe you’ve seen students running around with lettuce at carline, or maybe you are already a valued TCH Organics customer- at any rate, you may wonder, what is all this lettuce growing about? Is it botany? Soil science? Carbon footprint analysis? Business education? Yes! And so much more!
In From Childhood to Adolescence, Dr. Montessori stated, “The essential reform is this: to put the adolescent on the road to achieving economic independence. We might call it a ‘school of experience in the elements of social life.” She found that the real work of the adolescent is to achieve social and economic independence through refining their personality and identifying their role in the future of humanity. To support this process, Montessori put forth what she called the “Plan of Study and Work,” which is intended to be a guide to designing a “prepared environment” best suited to support the adolescent’s self-construction in their current time and place. The “Plan of Study and Work” consists of practical structures of the environment that provide opportunities for this work as well as connections to the academic curriculum. In the case of lettuce, two of these structures are at work; the “farm” and the “store.”
The role of the farm in the prepared environment is to provide real work that connects the head and hand, and integrates the personality. This “work in a social context” is referred to as “occupation.” Social work means work in a society, in this case a mini society; it is not to be confused with the work of catching up on the latest events, trending fashion, or TicToks, although that does seem to happen simultaneously. The role of the store is to demonstrate in real time and experience that all of humanity is dependent on each other to produce and exchange goods and services necessary for survival (a concept introduced in elementary). In the prepared environment, this societal work is scaled to a level appropriate for the adolescent, with scaffolding for success and friendliness with failure. It provides real life experience with resource management, understanding interdependency, division of labor, and moral decision making regarding resource use.
In short, through growing and selling lettuce, students are provided with a wide range of opportunities to share their own interests and skills. Art, music, science, organization, communication, writing, research, mathematics, public relations, and problem solving are just a few of the talents or specializations required to successfully grow and sell lettuce. Not everyone can or wants to play the same role in this microeconomy. Each person gets a chance to realize their own special role as a contributor, a necessary part of the whole. Through working together on real work, adolescents develop a true sense of community, social organization, and their own value as a part of it. And, as a bi-product, we get to enjoy fresh, green, organic lettuce in February!
This past week I received an email containing an article about banning homework nationwide from a popular teacher website. The article asked us to weigh in as lawmakers contemplate this controversial topic. Another article, shared by a colleague, discusses how homework time has increased dramatically, especially for teens, yet shows no benefits for elementary students and little benefit for middle and high school students. As parents, we all want what is best for our children, but to me the real question to think about is “does doing more equal being more”?
Having no homework has been a cornerstone of our Montessori philosophy for over a hundred years. Just as we don’t dictate the work the students do in class, we don’t do so at home either. Instead, we encourage using the hours outside of school to nurture interests and enjoy leisure time together as families. Home is a place to explore curiosities, and to share in the responsibilities of the household. Skills are naturally honed by cooking alongside a parent, writing a shopping list or playing a board game. Time spent curled up with a good book, or tackling a challenging jigsaw puzzle together is invaluable.
As children walk out the door the final day of school they often share with me the topics of future studies they are excited to pursue independently over the summer. Parents have sent pictures of their child’s cardboard creations held together rolls of tape, paint and glue. I hear tales of fantastic tree houses built, bread baked, trails hiked, books read and bike rides taken. To me this is real homework. Given the time and space, our children challenge themselves and investigate what is meaningful to them. This in turn develops happy, well-balanced human beings that we all are striving to become.