Lower Elementary Overnight…

After weeks of thoughtful planning, last weekend the night finally arrived for the Lower Elementary Overnight.

The planning work for this event cannot be understated. The children took on every aspect of preparation. Based on self-identified interests, they were divided into committees: Communications, Games, Breakfast, Campfire, Music, Story Telling, Tent Assembly and Random Tent Distribution.

Music committee practiced songs to lead as part of the evening entertainment.
Breakfast committee planned and prepared a healthy breakfast for the morning after the Overnight.
Pumpkin muffins!

From Lower Elementary Guide Ms. Megan’s description of committee meetings, it’s easy to see how many social (read: life!) skills the children gain from this experience.  She shares, “If you were to sit and observe a committee meeting, you would see charts, maps, surveys and graphs. You would not only hear the children’s thoughts and ideas, but persuasive arguments, disputes, negotiations and compromises. You would get a sense of how deeply responsible the children feel about their individual tasks and how eager they are to contribute to their small society. Watching the community come together through this activity is inspiring!”

Planning the Overnight gives the children a greater sense of ownership over the entire event.  It is no wonder that the excitement was palpable as the children arrived for their adventure!
Children brought sleeping bags and backpacks (filled with the items from the packing list that the Communications committee sent home!).
Flashlight tag is a perennial favorite at the Overnight.
Time with friends, building community outside of the classroom, the conversations that only happen by the light of a lantern… This is the Overnight.
Magical, right?

Thank you Melinda for the photos!

Executive Functions… (Part 1: Introduction)

Montessori offers such a full and complete education to children. One prime example of what Montessori offers children can be seen in that the pedagogy naturally supports the development of executive functions. In this post, we’ll take a look at executive functions, touching lightly on some of the ways Montessori classrooms support their development. More to come on executive functions and the classroom as well as how you can bolster the development of executive functions at home.

Executive function is generally thought of as being comprised of three core functions: inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility.

Take a moment to notice the child on the left. This child is watching, waiting, not interrupting the classmate who is doing vegetable cutting. There is only one of (almost!) every material in the classroom. This intentional limiting supports the development of self-control.

Inhibitory control can be broken down into self-control and selective attention. Self-control is a person’s ability to intentionally refrain from doing something. Selective attention is the ability to choose to focus on one thing (e.g., talking to one person at a party without being distracted by the other conversations around you).

In a classroom where children are free to move and work either individually or in small groups, selective attention is inherently fostered. The children above are focusing on their work while their classmates are engaged in different work in other parts of the classroom.
Montessori classrooms are full of materials which are attractive to children. Working with materials that are attractive and interesting opens the door to repetition and concentration. Think: selective attention!

Working memory refers to holding information in your mind and doing something with it. This ability is vital for understanding change over time, following direction, reading and doing mental math.

In this child’s work with an Object Box, she reads the words on each slip of paper and matches it to the object it names. In order to read the child must know the sounds of the letters, match the symbol with the sound and remember each sound that came before. This extrapolates into reading sentences and whole stories as well. Reading both requires and builds working memory!

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to switch from task to task or to take in new information and reformulate your thinking based on the integration of new information (e.g., admit to making mistakes or to being mistaken!).  What a great skill to have as an adult! And how we long for our children to have this ability.

A lesson on the Snap Frame will translate into this child’s ability to care for himself. Most snaps he encounters will not be presented as the ones on this frame are. However, by isolating the task on the dressing frame, the child is given the basic skill of snapping. He will then adapt this skill to snapping a jacket, a bag, a friend’s bracelet. By providing the basic information, we allow for the opportunity of cognitive flexibility.
In an Elementary class meeting there is ample opportunity to listen to classmates and problem solve as a group. Yep, they’re exercising (and strengthening!) their cognitive flexibility.

From these three core functions grow the more complex functions of problem solving, reasoning and planning. It’s easy to see why executive functions are so important not just for success in school but also in life. More to come…

Bibliography: Diamond, Adele. (2014). Executive Functions: Insights into Ways to Help More Children Thrive. Zero to Three Journal, 35(2), 9-17.

Thanks as always to Melinda Smith for sharing her photographic brilliance.


If you haven’t already come up with your favorite way to answer those questions about what Montessori is and what makes Montessori unique, here’s a great way to answer: observation.

Dr. Montessori did not impose a method which happened to work. Rather, her pedagogy arose from her continued observation of children. She noticed which materials the children were drawn to and what type of work they wanted to do. The brilliance she gifted us with is a result of her skilled observation.

Observation remains the foundational piece of implementing Montessori in the classroom. Through observation the guide gets to know the child and determines how best to link them with the environment. Through purposeful and conscientious noticing, the guide is able to offer the right lesson at just the right time. This in turn leads to repetition, concentration, and true learning.

As the school year progresses and the children are settling into their environments, parents are invited to get in on the magic by observing in the classroom. This opportunity is an essential part of parent education and a great avenue toward understanding your child’s classroom experience. Observing is also the best way to prepare yourself for parent-teacher conferences!

Here are some things to look for and/or keep in mind when you observe:

  • Notice the class at large. How does it function? What is the noise level?
  • Are the children working together or separately? How do they interact with each other?
  • Sometimes to get a feel for how the classroom functions, it helps to spend part of your time observing a child other than your own.
  • Observe the role of the teacher, not as the focal point of the classroom, but as a link between the children and their environment with its carefully designed materials.
  • Bring a pen and take some notes. Guides are not available to talk during or immediately after observations, so jot down your thoughts and questions to share at a later point.
  • Take it with a grain of salt. Especially for younger children, having an extra person in the classroom (particularly their own parent!) can disrupt their normal morning flow. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t observe, just know that if something doesn’t look quite the right, there’s probably a reason. (We have all had guests over and wanted to say to them, “I’m so glad you came, but I want you to know that life isn’t exactly like the little snippet you just witnessed.”)

Observation is what allows Montessori to come alive. Please come and join us in the classroom!

(Isn’t Melinda Smith just amazing with her camera? Thank you Melinda!)

Introducing Stefan Baiocchi…

While not a new face to the Villa di Maria community, Stefan Baiocchi has taken on a new role this year as VdM’s Facilities Manager. Stefan is super responsive and highly organized as well as being a creative problem solver. The staff could not be happier to have him on the team!

Describe your educational background.

BS in Management Information Systems and BS in Nursing.  I worked in the IT industry and decided to go back to school and become a Registered Nurse. I worked for Cardinal Glennon in the PICU and on the Neonatal/Pediatric Transport Team.  My last position was with Mid-America Transplant working on the donor side of organ transplants.

How/when did you become interested in Montessori education?

I was not aware of Montessori until my wife Sarah introduced me to it. Sarah had been in a Primary class while growing up and when our oldest son needed to start school while I was working on my RN degree, he started at Villa.

What has been the BEST part of your Montessori experience so far?

I will answer this from the parent perspective.  The thing that I like best is that my boys have always enjoyed/wanted to go to school each day and on top of that they have a desire to learn.  This desire to learn is something that I did not have when I was growing up, so it is exciting to see what they will be able to do with that foundation.

What do you enjoy doing outside of your time at VdM?

I enjoy watching movies and generally just spending time doing mindless tasks, like mowing the lawn, so that I can listen to podcasts. I have recently started getting my oldest son to run long distances with me and it is a good time for us to be together.

If you were to plan a most perfect, relaxing weekend day, what would it entail?

Reading a book on the couch with the family while watching a sporting event in the fall/winter with a fire going.

What is something you look forward to this school year?

I will enjoy getting to see the differences in the children.  I have always noticed changes in my own children but getting to see what the school is doing for multiple/all the children will be exciting.

2012, Michigan Shores, IN

Your Favorite:

Color:   Orange

Season:   Fall

Book:   Ready Player One

Holiday:   Thanksgiving  (everything great without strings)

Movie:   Dune

Hobby:   Hockey

Type of music:   Currently listening to the Apple Chill station

Song:   “September” by Earth Wind and Fire

Restaurant in St. Louis:   The Tavern

Vacation:   Grand Teton National Park

Sport:   Hockey

Game:   7 wonders

Fruit:   Apple (Pink Lady)

Vegetable:   Carrot

If you had to choose ONE:

Rain or Snow:   Snow

Coffee or Tea:   Tea (never liked coffee)

Morning or Night:   Night

Ocean or Lake:   Ocean

Dog or Cat:   Dog (the bigger the better)

Talk or Listen:   Talk (trying to work on this)

Walk or Run:   Run

Save or Spend:   Save

Bike or Swim:   Bike

Salt or Pepper:   Salt

Realistic Fiction or Fantasy:   Fantasy

Summer or Winter:   Winter

New York or California:   California, it has every climate in less than 100 miles

Cook or Dine Out:   Dine out which contradicts the save mentality

2016, Stefan’s boys at Grand Teton National Park

A Peek at Concentration…

“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.”

-Maria Montessori

Whether figuring out how to grasp a rattle, pull up, write or read, concentration is central to learning. While coming naturally to children, concentration is also a skill which we cultivate by providing the right environment. How lucky that we have the opportunity to foster our children’s ability to concentrate!

This 3-month-old was fascinated by the hanging ball. He looked and kicked at the ball for an extended period of time. Yes, babies can concentrate!

Montessori environments inherently bolster the development of concentration. The three-hour work period affords extended time without interruption which is vital for concentration to thrive. Further, the materials themselves are attractive to the children, inviting repetition which in turn leads to concentration.

As is true at school, when your child is concentrating on meaningful work at home, please do not interrupt them unless absolutely necessary. Their work may not seem meaningful to adult eyes, but balancing playing cards, tying and untying bows, lining up all the shoes in the house… This is all meaningful work.

The sight of a child concentrating can transport us. We sense the feeling of deep calm and focus we too experience when we are allowed to fully lose ourselves to a productive task. Concentration is a beautiful thing to witness. Here we are witnesses to the moment of learning, the acquisition of knowledge.

Many thanks to Melinda Smith for sharing her splendid photography.