Summer Reading…

A quick summer hello from Villa di Maria! As we just pass the mark of being one month out of school, we wanted to offer some thoughts for this special time of year. Read on to hear what our fabulous Reading Specialist, Melissa Fox, suggests to keep reading and working memory going over the summer!

Happy Summer! When I dream of summer, I think of a less hectic lifestyle, enjoying a book under a tree, and sleeping in a bit later each day. If your family is similar to my family, we savor each day of summer break. I am a realist however and also understand that summer also leads to more distractions and screen time, quite a few arguments with my children, and I also worry about the “summer slide” in my children’s academic progress.

Following are a few tips that help me as a parent as I attempt to combat academic loss in the area of literacy that can happen over the summer.

1) Make reading enjoyable and part of your everyday routine. Days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months. To not let time slip away, make reading something you do 15 minutes every day. 15 minutes of reading a day is a magical number according to the latest studies.

2) LISTEN to books! Listening to literature is one of the TOP ways to increase overall literacy skills for ALL age levels. Increased reading levels, fluency, comprehension, visualization, and vocabulary ALL increase with listening to books. If you can’t fit in the 15 minutes of reading regularly, this is a super substitution. No, you don’t have to follow along with the book to reap the benefits. You can get audiobooks from the library, there are many online sources, and has a few free titles. If audiobooks are new to you, give it a try! It takes at least 30 minutes of listening to get accustomed. Start with fun, short texts.

• One of my favorites for toddlers is The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders by Jack Prelutsky.• For early elementary school children, My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett was a home run for all three of my children. The Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby series are also good places to start.

• For upper elementary children, the lists are endless! Find a genre your child enjoys. Is there a series your child would like to read but the books are too long? This could be a great place to start.

4) Keep the working memory active over the summer months. Reading requires A LOT of working memory skills. A reader must tie sight words, phonetic skills, language structure, and visualization together. Learning chess is one of the most trusted ways of improving the working memory! If you haven’t checked out the St. Louis Chess Club, I highly suggest you do.

5) Put a timer on screens. I am the first to admit, I get all of my newspapers online, I keep up with bills, and much of my communication is done in front of a blue screen. To help combat this, we use timers. An old fashion kitchen timer works. My family also invested in a Disney Circle about 3 years ago. We have the first generation devise that currently sells for $23.00 and plugs into your home router. It has time limits, age screening, and will even turn your child’s screens off until they do their chores for the day.

Thank you Melissa for keeping us focused during the summer! All best to all of you!

One More Look…

Posting twice a week, it’s impossible to share all of the beauty of this past academic year. The year has been full of big work, friendship, learning and lots of community. There have been points of shining brilliance and points that showed us where we needed to grow. It’s been a beautiful year. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Here are some Melinda’s fantastic photographs that just haven’t made it into blog posts this year. Enjoy one more peek inside the Villa di Maria environments!


Happy summer and here’s to 2019-2020!

Easel Painting

For all you parents who take home bunches and bunches of rolled up easel paintings… For those who adore them… For those who wonder what to do with a giant sheet of paper with random blue lines on it…

Rest assured, Easel Painting is not presented as painting a picture and producing a picture is not the point of the lesson. This is a lesson that pulls together many of the skills from Practical Life work (think: pouring, folding, scrubbing). Painting is appealing to children and pulls them into practicing all of these wonderful practical life skills.

Young children are undeniably tactile learners, and paint is so appealing.

Easel Painting is an engaging and attractive gross motor activity. Children often start by making lines or swirls, some fill every inch of the paper. The big cross body movements that can be done while painting on a large easel engage both hemispheres of the brain.

Assistant Head of School, Robyn Milos shares, “for children it’s always about the process, not the product. After the painting is hung up to dry, the child often forgets about it, because that’s when they start the detailed work of cleaning up. The process of setting up the clean-up work, washing the easel, going on a hunt for all the drips of paint, and then pouring out, rinsing the bowl, cleaning the basin….”

She continues, “The bulk of the benefit for the child comes in the clean-up process. Some children clean the easel with the same motions used for scrubbing a table. Some do it as a science experiment, watching how the water dries on the easel and writing on the dry easel with a wet sponge. You often see the true concentration happening during clean-up.”

So, when your child’s guide hands you that bunch of easel paintings at the end of the year, smile and think of the work and concentration represented in these crunchy, sometimes difficult to unroll paintings.

Melinda, these pictures paint a picture themselves. Thank you! Robyn, thank you for sharing your insights and experience!


Our thanks to Elementary Guide, Anna Schwind, from the Montessori Lab School at Grand Center who shared the below words. Last week she brought her third year children to join Villa di Maria’s in a cross-classroom, multi-school, squid dissection.

It is almost summer time.  Children feel the warmth in the air, note that daylight lasts longer and longer (but somehow their bedtime doesn’t shift), and sense the culmination of their school year.  They are excited and a little distractible.  It is, of course, the perfect time for a particularly compelling lesson.  It is the perfect time for the third years to dissect squids.

There is not a wrong or right time of the year for this work.  It is not obligatory to do dissection in elementary at all, though it is instructive.  However, as the year comes to a close and children become a bit restless, the perfect opportunity to extend their attention and compel their observation presents itself: dissection.

Dissection begins like all of the work in biology, and like much of the work in the elementary classroom.  We speak of the phylum and class of the creature we will dissect.  We place it within its larger context.  We examine and observe the whole being, discussing where it lives and how it lives.

Each part is analyzed with the function in mind.  The children are asked questions: “What are the longer arms for?”  “What does it mean that this creature has such large eyes compared to its body size?” “What is this sack at the base of the mantle for?”  (That one stumped them, until one child excitedly shouted, “It’s their jet propulsion thing!”) Indeed.  The siphon is their jet propulsion thing.

 Then we begin to cut it open.  To examine the parts.  When the children find something interesting they invite one another over to look.  They ask questions.  They touch, poke and prod.  They make faces.  They are one hundred percent engaged in observing the squid.  They are making their own discoveries the Montessori way, through physical impressions with their senses.  I encourage them not to wear gloves, to feel the slight bumps of the chromatophores, the soft squishy give of the gonads, the slick toughness of the beak.

The exploration is guided at first, but then becomes more open ended.  Some remove arms and examine the suckers, noting the tiny teeth-like ridges along their rim.  Some slice open the livers and peruse the mess the organ makes in their pan.  They become attached to their discoveries, and ask if they can take pieces home with them.  (We tell them you do not want random squid parts in your home – you’re welcome).

Then it comes time to close the cycle of activity.  To clean up our work.  The children are ebullient as they wash their tools, chattering, sharing their discoveries.  They will have something to tell you about when they get home.  And summer is one day closer.

Yes, it is the perfect time of year for this.

Melinda, you’re pictures are perfect all year long! Your squid dissection photos perfectly pair with Anna’s words. My thanks to both of you.

The Summer Reboot

Summer is on its way! Whether your child is headed to a summer at Camp Pegnita, days and days at home, or a combination of the two, life will work a little differently over the next few months.

One way to frame the upcoming shift to summer is to think of a summer reboot. The idea is simple; use this change of routine as an excuse to work on (some of) the things in the life of your family that need a little love and attention.

Take some time in this week before summer break to think about what is frustrating, what’s just not working, or where growth is needed. Here are a few examples…. If table manners are driving you crazy make them your goal for the summer. If you’re wanting your child to take on laundry or making their own breakfast, change the expectations for summer. Maybe it’s time to share the task of doing dishes?

Then go ahead and stop worrying about these things for the last week of school. The end of the year is hectic enough, let things slide knowing that you’ll be working on them soon enough.

A short guide to making a go of the summer reboot:

1) Be conscientious about how much you choose to work on over the summer. Depending on what your summer projects are one or two might be plenty. If you’re choosing smaller things (putting away your shoes, washing your hands *every* time you use the bathroom), you might be able to do three.

2) Make a manageable plan of how you’re going to address these over the summer. For example, if you want to address table manners perhaps pick one meal to focus on. If you’re working on laundry independence, take some time to make sure your set up allows for success.

3) When you’ve made a plan – or just sketched out ideas – hold a family meeting. Gather everyone together and talk about the summer. Perhaps you’ll take time to make a summer bucket list – going to the art museum, swimming, etc. Goals such as everyone doing their own laundry fit nicely into these types of conversations and lend to the understanding that summer brings many different things. Then give your children the chance to come up with tools or strategies to make the summer goals successful.

4) Over the summer remember that what you’re working on is what you’re working on. You can’t adjust everything at once. Keep focused on your goals and give your child – and yourself – the time to be successful.

The reboot doesn’t have to be relegated to summer. There’s the new school year reboot, the birthday reboot (“Well, when you turn (fill in the blank age) next week you’ll be old enough to unload the dishwasher!”), the half-birthday reboot…

Good luck!

Melinda, your photos need no rebooting! They perfectly capture the lives of these beautiful children.