On Peace…

Perhaps the most profound aspects of Montessori education are those that we do not see. Montessori nourishes our children’s very character. Our hope is that, well nourished, our children will develop a sense of justice and a true understanding of peace. In celebration of The International Day of Peace, Anna Schwind offers the following for Villa di Maria and all in the Montessori community.

Happy International Day of Peace!

“Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of education.” -Maria Montessori

The United Nations sets aside September 21 every year as The International Day of Peace.  This year, the theme of the International Day of Peace is a reflection on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for which article 26 declares every person has a right to an education which shall, “…be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is 70 years old, and is the most translated document in the world.

Many Montessori schools take advantage of this day to promote their peace education and to talk to children about the ideas of peace and the potential and need for achieving global peace.  Some schools gather and sing the Peace around the world.

However, peace practices are not a once a year event in Montessori schools.  In ways that are both big and small, Montessori education promotes peace at every turn.

Peace begins with the self, and there are many ways in which classrooms promote calm with oneself as the starting point for a peaceful mindset.  Some schools may have peace corners or labyrinths for children to use.  Others may have practices of yoga, meditation or mindfulness exercises that are practiced with the children to help them experience centeredness and calm.  Books about these subjects may be read to the children, or available for them to read to themselves. The classroom environments are prepared with materials that are soothing, promote serenity and enable focused work.  Once the child has experienced peace, they can find it again and again.  They can help others find it, too.

Peace is promoted through understanding others, which is why so much of the curriculum promotes knowledge and understanding of all the different places in our world and how other people come to meet the fundamental needs that all humans have.  In the elementary, there are specific lessons that focus on the interrelatedness of all things, both living and non-living.  We need others, and we need our planet and thus we must find harmonious ways to co-exist with all.

Peace is also promoted through years and years of modeling positive conflict resolution in peer interactions on a daily basis.  The idea that we can come to solutions by talking about the problem and taking positive collaborative actions is given over and over.  Children follow this process with guides and assistants as often as necessary.  Ultimately they become able to lead this process themselves.  Little is more rewarding than watching an older child step into the role of mediator, and watching a conflict dissolve as they patiently work through the details of it with each person involved.  This daily experience culminates when the oldest children from VdM participate in the Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN), which is a remarkable life experience meant to model cooperative problem solving and mediation on a national scale, country to country.  What they have practiced as individuals for so many years now comes into play on a much larger scale.  And once they have known that problems can be solved without violence or aggression, and that mutually beneficial solutions can almost always be found with persistence, then they are ready to go into the world and solve problems peacefully.

Spring 2018 MMUN: Sixth year students presenting in front of the General Assembly.

It bears saying one more time:  Happy International Day of Peace!

However, know that at VdM peace is the work of all the days of the year.

Photographic brilliance compliments of Melinda Smith.

Lunches (Part 2) … The Bridge to Independence

A child’s path to independence is neither straight nor necessarily expeditious. But with preparation, we can foster environments that provide support on this path.

Having covered the basics of lunches at school, let’s explore how to use this everyday activity to promote independence.  As with almost every skill children acquire, independent lunch-making is a gradual process.  We set up the space so that children can be successful, and as they gain skill we adjust the environment so that they have increasing autonomy.

The best place to start with lunches is the fridge. Try to set up your refrigerator so that your children can reach the things they need. This often involves a redesign of the entire fridge.

Yes, the fridge (or at least this portion of the fridge…) was cleaned prior to these photos being taken.

With a freezer on the bottom, all of the lunch packing things go on the lowest shelf of this refrigerator. The bottom shelf on the door also holds items the children are expected to get for themselves.

Lunch fixings are divided into small bins based on their food group. There’s a protein bin on the far left, then veggies and fruit and of course pickles and olives!  An additional bin can be found in the pantry with crackers, bread and the like.

Having a few options allows the child to make a choice. This buy-in often results in less food waste.

In the beginning lunch-making can start like this:

  • Invite your child to come and pack their lunch.  (Packing lunches the night before allows children more time hone their skills!)
  • At the table or counter – where the child can reach and see everything – place the bins from the fridge plus your basket of containers.
  • Invite your child to choose the designated number of things from each bin. “Which protein would you like today?” … “You may choose two vegetables.”

Then we bridge toward independence….

  • Children can take the bins in and out of the refrigerator themselves.
  • They can help sort and put away the groceries, placing their lunch things in the right spots.
  • Menu plan for lunches with your children including allowing them to write requested grocery items on the shopping list.
  • They can prepare items for the bins – hard boiling eggs or chopping veggies to fill their containers for the week.
  • Some families prepare items ahead of time. This might include buying items in bulk and dividing them into smaller containers for the entire week.
  • If your child is a fan of sandwiches these can be made in advance. Many sandwiches can be frozen, and your children can remove one every time they make their lunch.
  • Increasingly, they’ll be in take on more and more of the process until they take it over altogether.
Vegetable cutting is a favorite work at school. This skill can easily transition home and your child can prepare sliced foods for lunches!

Unfinished portions of lunch are sent home from the Children’s House. Use this information to adjust what the child packs for themselves. “I’ve noticed you’re eating half of an apple at lunch. Let’s cut the apple in two so it lasts for two lunches.”

With the increased independence in the elementary classrooms, children compost the remains of their lunch. It is worth taking the time to check in with your child about the amount they’re consuming and help them navigate adjusting their portions accordingly. Lower Elementary children also have the opportunity to pack a snack. Protein will give them the boost they need in the morning, remember this when they’re packing lunch. Let them listen to their body – they’ll know if they need a snack or not!

Finally, every child can be responsible for bringing their lunchbox into the house at the end of the day and emptying it! Storing lunchboxes in an accessible place permits children to take ownership of taking out and putting away their lunchbox.

Three lunches ready to go for the next morning!

Everyone’s set up will look different. If you take some time to think about where your children are and where you hope them to be in the future (do you want to pack lunches for your 20-year-old?), you can then reflect on how to gradually allow them more and more agency over their lunches.

Introducing Damia Smith…

Continuing the introduction of new members of our Villa di Maria community, we are so pleased to have you meet Damia Smith who joins Ms. Braud in P2!

Describe your educational background.

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art with a specialization in metalsmithing, a Bachelor of Science in Art Education and a Master of Fine Arts in metalsmithing.

How/when did you become interested in Montessori education?

I worked as a part time assistant at Raintree Montessori School in Lawrence, KS for a year and a half. I had no idea how Montessori worked before this.

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

I just love seeing the children do things on their own that society at large does not think children are capable of doing at that age. It’s wonderful and magical to see.

Damia with two of her siblings.

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

I enjoy hanging out with my dog, walking, running, hiking, etc. I also spend a lot of time making art, mostly via sewing lately.

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

I would go camping and hiking with my close friends and my dog.

What is something you look forward to this coming school year?

I look forward to getting to know all the children and staff and feeling like part of the family at Villa di Maria.

Damia’s dog Margot!

Your Favorite:

Color:  Green

Season:  Spring

Book:   Jane Eyre

Holiday:    None

Hobby:   Reading

Type of music:   Indie, folk

Song:   Too many, no way I can choose

Vacation:   Beach

Sport:  Yoga

Game:  Clue

Fruit:  Mango

Vegetable:  Garlic?

If you had to choose ONE:

Rain or Snow:   Rain

Coffee or Tea:   Tea

Morning or Night:   Morning

Ocean or Lake:   Ocean

Dog or Cat:   Dog

Talk or Listen:   Listen

Walk or Run:   Walk

Save or Spend:  Save

Bike or Swim:   Bike

Salt or Pepper:   Pepper

Realistic Fiction or Fantasy:  Fantasy

Summer or Winter:   Summer

New York or California:   California

Cook or Dine Out:  Cook

Damia and family break out of an escape room!


Introducing Beth Nazemi…

We are so happy to welcome Beth Nazemi into our Villa di Maria community!  Beth seamlessly joined Ms. Steinman in P3 this year, and it is as if she’s always been here.  Here’s a peek into Beth’s life outside of VdM!

Describe your educational background.

I have an Associate’s degree in Human Services (working with children).  I then promptly ran off to Europe and moved to Corsica where I was an organic farmer in the mountains with no electricity, phone, or running water (at first) for almost 11 years.  I built a campground with a small pavilion restaurant and did this for a few years, but alas I was called back to the States to be with my Father who was diagnosed with cancer.  I moved back home to Kirkwood just 4 blocks from Villa where I grew up.  My son wanted to stay with his American family, so after my Dad passed, I went back to school and received a Bachelor’s degree in French Literature from UMSL with a K-12 teaching certificate.  I taught French at Kirkwood and Webster Groves high school for 2 years.

How/when did you become interested in Montessori education?

I got married and moved to Chesterfield, Mo and had my second son.  When he was three, I started looking for a school, and found one just down the street.  Fell in love with the school and Montessori education.  After a year and half, I had an opportunity to teach French there part-time which then morphed into full-time shortly after. I worked there for almost 15 years. I went from teaching French in the afternoon to substituting in the mornings, almost 8 years as a primary assistant and finally toddler assistant this past year, while still teaching French to the elementary and Adolescent students in the afternoon.   My son graduated from there in 8th grade went on to SLUH and is now a freshman at Loyola University of Chicago.  He received an amazing education and is a wonderful human being, which I accredit to this wonderful education.

Beth with her son Manual

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

I think the best experiences is watching the primary students grow and move into elementary and witness the amazing changes.  Some of these children struggled in their early years, but eventually they discovered their potential, and this gives me comfort, faith and knowledge that this education can transform our children into confident young people who embrace the world of learning.

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

Being with my grandson, who will be one this month.

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

It would be a day in the mountains in a log cabin completely isolated from the world.

What is something you look forward to this coming school year?

I look forward to working with Heather and being back in the primary classroom.

Europe 2008


Color: Purple

Season:  Fall

Book: Lord of the Rings

Holiday: Christmas

Movie: Willow

Hobby: Cooking

Type of music:  Soft Rock

Song: “Here I am Lord”

Restaurant in St. Louis:  Ya Ya’s

Vacation:  France/Europe

Sport: Horseback riding

Game: French Tarot

Fruit: Apple

Vegetable: All except okra

If you had to choose ONE:

Rain or Snow:  Rain

Coffee or Tea:   Tea

Morning or Night:  Morning

Ocean or Lake:    Lake

Dog or Cat:      Cat

Talk or Listen:  Both

Walk or Run:    Walk

Save or Spend:  Spend

Bike or Swim:    Bike

Salt or Pepper:    Salt

Realistic Fiction or Fantasy:   Fantasy

Summer or Winter:           Summer in the mountains

New York or California:      California

Cook or Dine Out:             Cook

Europe 2008


Transition Time…

For many in our community, the joy of starting the school year comes with the challenge of adjusting to a new environments and new routines. The initial moment of transition – drop off – is often fraught with emotions both from parents and children.

Making drop off quick and consistent is the best way to support your child in their transition into school. Drop off procedures are purposefully designed for the benefit of the child – embrace the drive through!  When you pull into VdM, please stay in the car and allow our practiced greeters to help your child out of their seat and into their classroom.

Sometimes, children are upset leaving the house, during the drive to school or upon arrival. Adjusting to change can be difficult, and this is a normal reaction. When children are agitated, many of us make concessions both to ease our own discomfort and to temporarily appease our children. We offer to park and walk them to the door, or we spend an extended time giving extra hugs and saying goodbye. This may make the adult feel better and provide momentary calm, but it is not actually helpful to the child. To provide true comfort to our children, we must give them the predictability of routine. Providing a consistent and sustainable routine at drop off allows for a smooth transition into school.

Moreover, when we permit or encourage extended goodbyes we are inadvertently asking our child to go through a whole extra transition when it comes time to break this habit. By setting a sustainable routine as early in the year as possible, we are actually easing the burden on the child.

Here are a few suggestions for drop off:

  • If your drive is tricky and your child is requesting an extended goodbye or the like, put on a favorite song, an audio book or just look out the windshield and accompany your child through their emotions.
  • Make sure all of your child’s belongings (lunchboxes, rain gear, etc.) are gathered and ready to go with your child.
  • If needed, use VdM (or your child’s teacher) as the reason for a new drop off routine.
  • Put on a poker face and stay strong! This too shall pass.
  • Remember that there isn’t an ounce of judgement when you drop off a crying child. The whole community at VdM knows that everyone is doing their very best.

Please know, if your child is upset at drop off they are treated with appropriate care and concern and they quickly settle when they are in their classroom. Often adults hold on to the feeling of a tough morning for many hours.  Children are walking into a classroom prepared to meet their every need; they can move on much more quickly.

VdM has grown dramatically over the past decade. Maintaining the routines that make the school run both smoothly and safely, is vital. Furthermore, like everything else at Villa di Maria, the drop off routine has been carefully crafted to support you and to benefit the children! It allows for a drop off that is safe, logistically simple for the parent and provides routine for the child.

Send the message that you feel positive and confident about your child’s time at school. Embrace the drive through drop off!

Many thanks to Jade Venditte and Melinda Smith for the photos.