Getting Ready for the Winter Concert in Upper Elementary, or The Art of the Student-Run Play

Over the past few days we’ve looked into the Children’s Houses and the Lower Elementary as they’ve been preparing for the Winter Concert. The excitement is mounting as we are two days away from the big event! Today we’ll round out our winter-concert-sneak-peekery with the Upper Elementary.

Each year, in the weeks before Winter Concert, our Upper Elementary transforms into a performance arts academy of sorts as the students write, direct, produce, design and manage an original musical play based on a historical event or period. Guides Rebecca Callander and Katie Nelson, along with UE Assistant Justin Shepard and PE Specialist Diana Barrios, offer guidance throughout the process with editing, musical instruction, help with procuring materials and much more, but make no mistake—the Upper Elementary Play comes from the creativity, intelligence, practice and hard work of the UE students.

Over the course of the fall semester, ideas for the play begin to percolate among the UE students as they are inspired to delve deeper into historical topics they’re learning in the classroom and through their own independent research. The guides and assistants work with them to narrow down the choices—there are so many!—and come to a consensus.

Then the fun starts! Students sign up to be writers, directors, costumers, props masters, set designers, dancers and musicians, and auditions are held to cast the play. Most students take on multiple roles, and their days begin to fill with construction, crafting, sewing, painting, memorizing lines, learning dance steps, band practice and rehearsals.

photo credit: Katie Nelson

The best part of the UE play is that our students are given opportunities to showcase their individual talents and to explore new interests, while at the same time coming together in cooperation and collaboration. They work hard, push themselves toward a goal and have fun doing it.

This year’s UE play will time-hop through history in a most excellent way (that’s a hint!). We can’t wait to see it on Saturday!

Cultivating Gratitude and Generosity in the Children’s House

photo credit: Melinda Smith

This time of year many of us find ourselves struggling to keep a hold of gratitude and generosity; they slip so easily out of our daily lives when things get hectic. The holidays give us the opportunity to renew these virtues by actively practicing them with our families and friends. We voice what we’re grateful for and remind our children to say their pleases and thank-yous. We send cards or letters, give and receive gifts and keep our people in our thoughts. We exercise the gratitude and generosity muscles with the ultimate goal that they stay with us always.

For our youngest children, the concepts—the abstract ideas—of gratitude and generosity are still out of reach because they are concrete, literal thinkers. So, how do we teach them? In the Villa di Maria Children’s Houses, our guides lay the groundwork for gratitude and generosity through grace and courtesy.

It is not necessary for them to possess the ability to consider abstract concepts. The child begins at birth to become a citizen. They are working to become human beings of the community. It is our responsibility to offer them the best example of being good citizens of the world.

Reghan McAuley, P1 Children’s House Guide

Guide Reghan McAuley from our P1 Children’s House explains, “The young child, 0 – 6, is observing, absorbing and self-constructing continuously. This is their work in the first plane of development. The child simply absorbs all aspects of their environment without bias, discrimination or ability to filter. They absorb and take in how to be among others in a group through the amazing powers of the mind. The child learns This is how we do here. Therefore, it is essential that we, the adults in their lives, always model optimal grace-and-courtesies of the child’s culture. The child 100% absorbs these grace-and-courtesies. It is not necessary for them to possess the ability to consider abstract concepts. The child begins at birth to become a citizen. They are working to become human beings of the community. It is our responsibility to offer them the best example of being good citizens of the world.”

Exercises in grace and courtesy are part of the Montessori practical life curriculum. These are lessons to help children become aware of the other people in their surroundings. They learn how to greet someone with a handshake and eye contact, how to ask for a turn with a material that’s being used, what to say and do when they have accidentally (or otherwise) hurt a friend, and how to introduce themselves. These lessons give young children tools they need to interact respectfully with the people in their lives.

And since we want our children to not just exercise behaviors of grace and courtesy, but to learn how to live with these virtues in their lives, our Children’s House guides and assistants also consistently model kind, gracious, courteous and respectful behaviors. In fact, all of the adults at VdM strive to treat all of the children with respect and kindness. Mind you, this is not a difficult thing to do—these children are interesting, funny, thoughtful, serious, kind, loud, quiet… they are amazing children on their way to becoming amazing grown-ups. We have genuine affection and respect for each of them.

photo credit: Melinda Smith
photo credit: Melinda Smith

By simply being kind and respectful to each other and our children—by practicing grace and courtesy ourselves—we are modeling what it means to be kind and respectful people. For the youngest child, the absorbed, learned behaviors might just start as imitation; the child says “thank you” because she hears us say it. But over time, the behaviors become a practice, a way of relating to people in her world.

Then, as children get older and begin to ask why, they begin to link the behaviors of grace and courtesy to the abstract concepts. They begin to reason out the significance of showing respect to the people in their lives. They learn empathy and understanding. Grace and courtesy, gratitude and generosity, become things they can feel and experience, a part of their social and emotional development as they move toward adulthood. The solid groundwork of grace and courtesy they’ve received in the Children’s House strengthens this development, gives children a sort of muscle memory for kind and respectful behaviors, so they can concentrate on the hard work of internalizing the concepts.

photo credit: Shannon O’Connell

At Villa di Maria. we are fortunate to watch the evolution of grace and courtesy in our children as they move from the earliest years in the Children’s House toward Elementary, from the first to the second plane of development. As they grow, they instinctively begin to take on the role of modeling kindness and respect for their younger classmates. It is a virtuous cycle and a beautiful thing to see.

Getting Ready for the Winter Concert in Lower Elementary

Last week we took a peek into the Children’s House as they practiced their songs for the Winter Concert. We are less than a week away from the concert, and the excitement (and rehearsal schedule) is ramping up! 

The Lower Elementary children have also been hard at work on their part of the program. As a group they will sing three songs on the theme of friendship and cooperation: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman, “I’d Do Anything” adapted from the musical Oliver! and “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.

Several Lower Elementary students have also chosen to do solo or small-group acts: songs, poems, stories and musical performances. Some of these works are originals, written by the children themselves, including (but certainly not limited too) songs “So Many Countries, States and Cities” and “Beyblade Infinity Burst;” stories “The Man and the Dog” and “The Leprechaun and the Rainbow,” and a poem entitled “New York City Rhythm.”

We cannot wait to see and hear the fruits of Lower Elementary’s hard work at the Winter Concert this weekend!

The Fund for Villa di Maria

Throughout our 50+ years, Villa di Maria has relied on the continued support of our community to close the gap between our tuition income and our operating costs. The generosity of our families, staff and trustees has been astounding—it has allowed us to maintain and update our original buildings; to add a new, beautiful building to accommodate our growing population; to maintain and improve our outdoor spaces with a new pavilion, garden and playground; and to prepare for the next phase of construction. We have been able to enhance our core offerings by adding a reading specialist to the team and to enrich the Upper Elementary experience with additional faculty members. In short, we could not have become the school we are today without our community’s continued financial support.

photo credit: Lauren Knight

As 2019 comes to an end, we kindly ask that you make as generous a contribution as you can to The Fund for Villa di Maria. This fundraising effort is vital to our school and our community. Without your gifts, we would not be able to continue to take on the challenge of providing a world-class, authentic Montessori experience while keeping tuition relatively low. Our mission is to meet the academic and social needs of your children in the very best environments with the very best people. Your contributions to the Fund are unrestricted and directly support our day-to-day operations so that we can continue to outfit our classrooms with purposeful, quality, enriching materials and provide ongoing professional development opportunities for the entire VdM team.

Villa di Maria wouldn’t be where it is today, or where it will be tomorrow, without you. Thank you for all that you do to make the children’s VdM experience exceptional. We are truly grateful for you.