We Are VdM: Shannon O’Connell

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people. Today, we’ll meet Shannon O’Connell, afternoon assistant in the P1 Children’s House classroom. We are delighted Shannon re-joined our team this Fall! Shannon first worked at VdM as a floater and late stay staff, where she fell in love with the Montessori approach and consequently pursued AMI certification for Primary (ages 3-6 years). She returns to campus with diploma in hand and is a welcome addition to the P1 community!

How did you discover Montessori?

I actually did not know anything about Montessori when I first started working at Villa. I previously was working at School of Rock in Kirkwood where, coincidentally, a lot of VdM families were attending. I have a background in Entertainment and Media Business. I have always worked with children in some capacity as a nanny, swim coach, and working at School of Rock. I wanted to move away from music business and more into working directly with younger children because they make my heart happy. So, I found Villa in 2017 and when I started, I saw a bunch of familiar faces from School of Rock. I started out as a floater and was the lead for Primary/Children’s House late stay. I was subbing for someone who was doing their student teaching for the AMI primary training in P3. While spending time in P3 and seeing Heather/Mrs. Steinman give lessons and seeing the children being so independent made me interested in not only Montessori but doing the AMI training myself. Back in 2019 I attended Silent Journey as a staff member and I was blown away by experiencing the materials the way the children do. I recall telling Robyn that I was applying for AMI training the second I returned home and here I am!
Shannon at the Montessori Training Center in St. Louis.

What is something you love about the Montessori approach?

There are so many things I love about the Montessori approach, but the main thing is that I love that Montessori isn’t only about the academics, it’s about the whole child. As they say in training, we are giving them the keys to the world. It amazes me every single day seeing children achieve functional independence and observing them work on developing their will. I love that Montessori offers grace and courtesy (Grace and Courtesy presentation may include how to greet, how to introduce, how to get the guide’s attention, how to walk around a rug, how to give and receive a present, how to ask someone to observe their work, how to have a polite mealtime conversation etc.). Together, Grace and Courtesy create a human who is socially conscious.

Shannon at the St. Louis Art Museum

What is your favorite thing to do on the weekend?

My absolute favorite thing to do on the weekend is have a picnic on Art Hill and maybe read a book and then go visit my favorite pieces of art at the Art Museum.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

I was gifted the complete collections of Winnie The Pooh by A. A. Milne as a child and those were my favorites. I loved the adventures that they all went on, looking for Heffalumps or finding replacements for Eeyore’s tail. Eeyore has always been my favorite character of that bunch.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to produce television (the next Aaron Spelling) or produce movies. Although I didn’t quite make it to Hollywood, I have become the “go to” person for any video needs from anyone in my family, including my nephew.

Shannon in P1 making bouquets with children

What is a favorite memory/quote from the classroom?

I was lucky enough to do my student teaching in P1 in the Spring. I gave multiple children lessons on word problems and seeing them go back and take them out by themselves was so beautiful. A favorite quote from my student teaching in P1 was “You’re going to make a wonderful teacher someday!” So far, this school year, a child had asked me if they could practice the bow frame and I asked if Mrs. Milos had given them a lesson on it yet and the child replied with “No! You did, Silly!” I thought that was quite hilarious, as I did not remember this moment from student teaching, but I’m glad I’m known for the bow frame as it is definitely my favorite material.
Thanks for letting us get to know you better, Shannon! We are so glad to have you back at VdM!!

Montessori Theory: The Human Tendencies

Today we pick up the thread of our Montessori Theory series we began last spring. In our Theory series, we dive deep into the foundational principles of the Montessori method and look at how these principles are put into practice at school . Today we’ll unpack Montessori’s “Human Tendencies”, why they are important and how they are addressed in the pedagogy.

Montessori education is more than just a philosophy of education. It is preparation for life.

Dr. Maria Montessori sought to understand how to cultivate the greatest potential in human beings. Through extensive observations, Dr. Montessori  noticed that all people possess shared tendencies. What is a tendency? It is a natural urge, an impulse, an inclination that leads without reason or conscious design. We are not always aware of our tendencies but much of human behavior originates as a result of these tendencies. Humans exhibit certain tendencies: order, communication, orientation, exploration, repetition, abstraction, manipulation, work, activity, and exactness. These human tendencies operate within the child to guide her self-construction. These universal human tendencies form a foundation for Montessori’s method of education. An environment and pedagogy that meets these universal needs provides the fertile soil in which a child (or any human!) can flourish.

Let’s explore several of these human tendencies in light of Dr. Montessori’s “vision for life.”

Order

Humans prefer order to chaos. Montessori classrooms create a well-organized, predictable and structured environment to bring order to the child’s mind. A young child, before the age of six, especially thrives in an externally ordered environment. As she seeks to place herself in relationship to the world she needs to find stability, order and continuity. After six-years-old, the child internalizes this order in her mind and needs less external order. The elementary child, rather, seeks foremost to order his mind.

Communication

Humans need to communicate with one another in order to survive. It is critical for the development of the child that the guide allows communication in the classroom. In a Montessori environment, children are provided opportunities to develop their communication skills and ultimately they are encouraged to express their thoughts and share what is on their mind with others. Mastery of communication skills is empowering and important. Montessori environments are alive with the natural buzz of language as children collaborate with each other in their work. Montessori environments do not demand silence during a work period because guides recognize the critical importance of communication for a thriving learning community.

Orientation and Exploration

Humans like to know how we fit into our respective world and the various environments in which we find ourselves. Our senses are the key to helping us situate and orient to any space or place. Humans are naturally, endlessly curious beings and desire to explore beyond their borders of land and space. Montessori guides consider this dynamic when new children enter the classroom constantly thinking about how to best aid a child on her quest to adapt and orient to a new environment

Repetition

Children have an innate drive to repeat activities until they feel satisfied in their mastery. The youngest children repeat tasks over and over without tiring. The elementary child (6-12 years old) continues to need repetition, but she needs variety in her repetition. The elementary environment caters to this need by offering multiple materials that teach a single concept. For example, children use the checkerboard, the flat bead frame, and the large bead frame to practice long multiplication.

Abstraction

Abstraction is the ability to understand a concept without the aid of physical or  concrete materials. Dr. Montessori observed that humans create what first only exists in their minds. As a result, the Montessori method first exposes children to concepts with the aid of a concrete material, allowing them to explore the concept sensorially before moving to more symbolic representations and, ultimately, abstraction. Moving from concrete to abstract produces a fuller and deeper understanding of a given concept.

Manipulation

Humans are driven to activity which is aided by physical manipulation of our natural environment. Dr. Montessori recognized that the hand and the mind are linked in the pursuit of understanding. Humans possess a proclivity towards work, and we use our hands to achieve our mental and physical ends.

Exactness

Through manipulation with our hands, humans tend towards exactness, the final human tendency, which can also be described as “self-perfection”. Humans possess the natural desire for precision in their work and we find tremendous satisfaction in giving maximum effort for a worthy product. Guides, aware of  this tendency, frequently ask elementary children if they are doing their best work.

As you consider these universal human tendencies, which ones do you notice most in yourself  and your child? As you become aware of the tendencies operating in your daily life, how can you set up your own environment and schedule to facilitate their expression for you and your child?

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that educators have the responsibility to understand universal human tendencies in order to best guide the child’s self-construction. When we embrace these tendencies in our own environments, we promote the flourishing of each child and help them realize their fullest potential in the world.

5 Montessori Myths

At Villa di Maria, we’re not hiding the fact that we love Montessori and all the good things it offers children. We get to see the method in action every day and the joy it brings each student. Sometimes families come to us with misconceptions about the Montessori approach. They’ve heard things that don’t sit well with them or prompt skepticism. We love when people bring their questions to us because we know Montessori is up to the task and we relish an opportunity to discuss our favorite topic, Montessori education!

In this post we’ll address some of the myths people encounter about Montessori schools and students. We hope that it leads you to look again and consider all that this unique approach has to offer. Everyone is welcome, whether you know alot about Montessori or nothing at all!

1. Montessori is only for the wealthy.

Though the majority of Montessori schools in the U.S. are privately funded, the roots of Montessori present a different perspective. Dr. Maria Montessori started her first school in an Italian slum caring for children whose parents worked all day outside the home. Today more and more Montessorians seek to make Montessori education more accessible to a wider group of children in the world and the U.S. Today, there are more than 500 publicly funded Montessori schools in the United States. The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (see their website here: https://www.public-montessori.org/montessori/) strives to bring Montessori education to more publicly funded schools in the U.S. Villa di Maria desires to offer a Montessori education to as many children as possible regardless of income or economic status. We believe the gift of Montessori should be accessible to families that are deeply committed to providing this educational experience for their child despite financial barriers. Through our generous donors, VdM offers tuition discounts and financial aid to many families in our community.

2. Montessori fails to adequately prepare children for high school and college.

Many parents share the concern, “Will my child be ready for school after VdM, if they transition to a non-Montessori school?” A true Montessori education prepares the child for life, including life outside the context of Montessori. Guides ensure students have all the lessons and skills the state requires for each grade level. Students at VdM start taking yearly standardized tests at grade 4 to prepare them for test taking in “the real world”. Guides practice test taking skills with these students so they will be adequately prepared. As for how Montessori students compare to children in a traditional education setting, several studies have been done that show Montessori students outperform non-Montessori students on standardized tests on some measures. You can check out the latest study here:

https://www.montessoripublic.org/2021/02/montessori-outperforms-on-standardized-tests/

What about homework?

Though Montessori doesn’t usually assign homework, through the development of self-management skills in the classroom (choosing their own work, etc.), students have no trouble managing homework in high school or college. Montessori students are used to arriving at their own understanding through manipulation of concrete materials and thus are better prepared to learn in any context throughout their lives. VdM has heard from many of our alums that they found it quite easy to transition to a traditional school experience, though they miss the Montessori setting! In the months to come, we’ll hear from some of these former students on the blog to learn how Montessori prepared them for life after VdM.

3. Montessori allows unrestricted freedom to the child.

Many folks know that Montessori allows for freedom of movement and work choices in the classroom. They fear that means children have complete freedom to do whatever they want without any accountability. It is true that in a Montessori classroom children choose their activity, where they work, and with whom they work, but this does not result in disorder or unbalanced work choices. Montessori offers freedom to children based on their ability to responsibly manage it. Some children may need more support and scaffolding in the classroom than others. For some children choosing work from the whole classroom can be overwhelming. For those children, the guide might offer two choices, “Would you like to do a bead chain or metal inset next?” Other children may work best when situated near an adult. The guide might position herself or the assistant nearby for quick help.

In Elementary, guides utilize tools such as the work journal and the weekly conference to hold students accountable for their use of work time. Elementary students record their work choices and the duration spent on each activity throughout the work periods (morning and afternoon) in their work journals. The guide and student then meet each week to review the work in their journals and reflect together on the use of the work periods to cover all subject areas of the classroom. They also set goals for the following week and make plans for improvement and growth.

4. Montessori is a type of prep-school concerned primarily with getting students into elite higher-education programs.

Montessori cares about developing the whole child–the social, academic, emotional, and physical aspects of the child. The Montessori approach allows students to progress at their own pace and many exceed the curriculum and standards set by the state for their grade level. As shown above, Montessori students tend to perform well on standardized tests when compared to their peers. The high performance of many Montessori students might lead some to think that is the sole aim of Montessori philosophy–simply to pump out academically “smart” kids. While Montessorians do care about developing and sharpening students’ intellectual capabilities and we know they will go on to do great things, we equally value keeping their curiosities alive and giving them opportunities to develop the social and emotional skills they will need to thrive in their lives.

5. Montessori is only for “gifted” students or for children with learning differences.

Montessori can benefit any child, whether categorized by society as “gifted”, “normal” or with learning differences. Montessori applied her child-centered approach in schools with intellectually challenged children to great success. She also saw benefit when applying her philosophy in schools with children without so-called “learning disabilities”. Many families seek out a Montessori program because the traditional school model is not working for their child–the lack of movement, adult-led and frequent transitions between subject areas/tasks, less opportunity to advance at their child’s unique learning pace. The many benefits of a Montessori classroom, including freedom of movement, hands-on learning, and ample access to the outdoors, can be helpful to children who have specific learning differences or are classified as “gifted”. While VdM does not offer an explicit Special Education program during the school day, there are opportunities to connect to Special School District for support outside the classroom. The strength of Montessori is that it allows each child to move at their own unique pace of learning and to become life-long learners with the skills necessary to thrive in a complex world.

We hope addressing these commonly heard Montessori myths prompts you to further explore your own questions about how best to achieve a holistic, child-centered approach to education. We believe Montessori best fits the developmental needs of the child at each age and stage of development and we’d love to talk to you more about how! Reach out to our staff to talk more or peruse our rich resource of blog posts. Here’s a good place to start:

http://www.montessori-blog.org/2020/09/21/the-expectation-effect-montessori-and-batman/

http://www.montessori-blog.org/2018/12/05/on-choice-part-3-choice-community-and-the-montessori-classroom/

 

 

Congratulations to our 2022 Graduates!

We could not be more proud of our sixth years and all the work they’ve accomplished to arrive at graduation! The sixth-year graduation ceremony is always a mix of joy and tears as we celebrate the beautiful students who have called Villa di Maria their home for years, while also saying goodbye to these special folks we’ve come to love. Today we’ll share a glimpse into this most special event at VdM, the honoring and celebration of our graduates as they move on to their next stage of learning and development.

 

Traditionally, graduation opens with an address by their guide, Ms. Rebecca. This year Rebecca framed the event in terms of “superpowers” the students possessed. She shared how each individual used their special powers for the good of VdM to improve our community during their time here. She called on them to continue to develop and carry these superpowers into their next endeavors.

The highlight of the ceremony is the presentation of the students’ speeches. Upper Elementary guides offer editing assistance during the writing process, but the words and ideas come authentically from the students. Each sixth year is asked to describe their journey at VdM in terms of the metaphor that best frames their experience and describes their unique strengths and weaknesses during their time at VdM. This year students chose metaphors such as video gaming, the journey of the hero in a novel, cooking, and many more!

It is a treat to hear the unique style and expression in each speech, revealing the personality of the speaker. Many students shared about the challenges the pandemic brought into their lives, as they had to learn from home for a portion of their career at VdM. As the VdM community takes in these speeches, we bask in amazement at how far each child has come in their self-awareness, emotional intelligence, writing ability and confidence to speak with such poise in front of a large crowd. Each sixth-year student spoke with an eloquence and calm beyond their years!

Next come the fifth-year dedications—fifth-year students share their own short speeches about the graduates. Many of the fifth- and sixth-year students have long and meaningful friendships that go back to their shared time in the Children’s House. During the dedication speeches, the fifth years share their memories about their older classmates with humor, fondness and admiration.

 

After speeches comes the photo slideshow of each graduate from infancy to present day. Many “awws” were heard as the crowd enjoyed cute baby photos of the now-12-year-olds standing before them.

 

Finally, diplomas are awarded by the Head of School. Handshakes, hugs and high fives are shared by their teachers and fellow graduates as tears and applause flow from the audience.

 

 

As we say goodbye to some of our favorite people, we do so with great joy and pride, knowing they will carry their unique superpowers and growing self-assuredness into the world with them to make it a better place. Thank you, graduates, for how you have shaped and led our community at VdM this year. We look forward to seeing your faces again and hearing of new adventures when you come back to visit!!