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!!


We Are VdM: Lucy Sappington

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 Lucy Sappington, assistant in the Lower Elementary Checkerboard classroom. We are thrilled Lucy joined our team this Fall! Her encouraging, peaceful presence and theatrical background contribute immensely to her students and the entire community.

How did you discover Montessori/How did you come to VdM?

I saw the job opening! I had some awareness of the Montessori method before applying, and I did some more research before my interview. I really loved the idea of allowing children more freedom and choice in their own education, which led me to apply.

What is something you love about Montessori?

I love that the children are encouraged to follow their interests. I love hearing a child express interest in a topic and then getting to say “Let’s find out more about it!”

What is your favorite thing to do on the weekend?

I always try to find time on the weekends to do some reading. It relaxes me like nothing else in the world! I also always try to find time to spend with my friends—I’m an extrovert and would suffer without my social interaction.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?

As a child one of my absolute favorite books was the Secret Garden. In fact, it’s still one of my favorite books. I’m a huge believer in the healing power of fresh air and nature!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a child I was totally convinced that I would become a famous actress some day! I still do community theatre so really…there’s still a chance, right?

What is a favorite memory/quote so far with one of your students?

I have gotten the chance to help “produce” two different student-written plays, which is SO fun. I love theatre and improv so I love helping students discover their own dramatic side.

Word on the street is she does the best dramatic readings for read aloud every day in her classroom! Thanks for all you do, Lucy! We’re so glad you’re here!



Montessori Theory: The Four Planes of Development

While we (shamelessly) love to show off our school and community in the Villa di Maria blog, we are also here to spread the word about Montessori beyond our campus—demystifying and celebrating the Montessori method of education in the hopes that more people will discover its benefits for children and families.

You’ve seen our recent posts from our 101 series, where we breakdown some of the terminology you might find in a Montessori school. This week, we’ll kick off another series, all about Montessori theory. In our Theory series, we’ll dive deep into the foundational principles of the Montessori method and take a look at how these theories come into practice in the school setting. We’ll start today with “The Four Planes of Development.” The work of the Montessori guide, the organization of the Montessori classroom, the design and function of Montessori materials—everything about the Montessori method—it all comes down to the four planes.

The four planes of development are 6-year stages of child development, from birth to adulthood. In her research and work with children, Dr. Maria Montessori observed that children and adolescents develop through natural stages which can be defined by specific characteristics and developmental needs: birth to age 6; ages 6 to 12; ages 12 to 18, and ages 18 to 24. Dr. Montessori believed it was crucial to serve the specific developmental characteristics and needs of children in each plane, to allow them to move with strength into each following plane and prepare them for adulthood.

If “the formation of man” [sic] becomes the basis of education, then the coordination of all schools from infancy to maturity, from nursery to university, arises as a first necessity: for man is a unity, an individuality that passes through interdependent phases of development. Each preceding phase prepares the one that follows, forms its base, nurtures the energies that urge towards the succeeding period of life.

-Dr. Maria Montessori

Montessori education is designed to follow children through these planes—through their natural patterns of development. Montessori classroom environments intentionally foster the natural characteristics of each plane. Montessori guides receive rigorous training to facilitate each child’s incredible journey through each plane by meeting and challenging their academic, social, and emotional needs.

Planes and Transitions

Before we dive into each plane, it is crucial to note that, while Dr. Montessori defines each plane by a six-year age span, the transitions from plane to plane do not occur at hard-and-fast dates. For instance, a child transitions from the first to the second plane around age 6, but not necessarily on the 6th birthday—there is no timer on a plane of development. Instead, the planes are used as a framework, and each child moves through the planes at their own individual pace. In fact, this individual progression is a hallmark of Montessori education.

The First Plane of Development: Infancy (birth – 6 years)

The first plane of development is defined by the construction of the individual—this is when young children begin to develop a sense of self. In a nurturing environment, children naturally build physical and biological independence as they learn to carry out progressively more complex activities independently. They learn to move, take care of their bodily needs, and communicate—all with very little formal instruction. A child is born with an innate faculty named by Dr. Montessori as “the absorbent mind.” The absorbent mind observes and takes in stimuli just like a camera—concretely, exactly as it is—and empowers the child to learn so much about the world without conscious effort. At Villa di Maria, children in this plane are served in the Young Children’s Community (ages 14 months – 3 years) and the Children’s House (ages 3 – 6). These environments take advantage of the absorbent mind by introducing the children to concrete concepts about self-care, language, geography, math, biology, and community care. The guides capitalize on the young child’s ability to learn through their absorbent mind by introducing vocabulary and facts about the world through their lessons and by modeling grace and courtesy in their communities. As they develop through the first plane, children in a Montessori environment are offered endless opportunities to gain knowledge of themselves, their communities, and the world—knowledge that will be used as the foundation for the upcoming second plane.

Second Plane of Development: Childhood (6 – 12 years)

In the second plane of development, the child acquires mental independence and a burgeoning social awareness. During this stage, there is a crucial transition from the “absorbent mind” to the “reasoning mind.” Second-plane children are capable of abstraction, of using imagination to visualize concepts not seen. Armed with a strong foundation of concrete knowledge gained in the first plane, second-plane children begin to ask why—they seek to understand the causes of things and become sensitive to questions of morality and justice. At Villa di Maria, children in the second plane are served in Lower Elementary (ages 6 – 9) and Upper Elementary (ages 9 – 12) environments. These classrooms foster the child’s impulse to explore abstract concepts in science, geography, history, math, language, music, and art, and to gain a deeper understanding about the world. The social development of the second-plane child is also supported in the Montessori elementary environment. In fact, it is central to the Montessori elementary education. Children enter their elementary years seeking to find their place in a community of their peers. At the onset of each school year, the Montessori elementary classroom establishes a set of rules for their community. The children collaborate and lead this process. Through healthy debate and the support of the guide, the children create a classroom constitution, a document that expresses their shared values as well as the actions and behaviors required to uphold those values. This social contract becomes a point of reference for all of the children throughout the school year—something to guide them as they navigate through social development.

Third Plane of Development: Adolescence (12 – 18 years old)

During the adolescent plane of development, students deepen their understanding of the world and their place in it. This is a time of immense social growth and developing independence. Similarly to the first plane, the third plane is a phase of dramatic physical, mental, and emotional change and can be a time of turbulence, insecurity, and creativity. On their way to adulthood, students in the third plane work to discover who they are and how they fit into different social groups, their families, their communities, and the world around them. They try on different masks and personalities and seek role models to emulate. Montessori middle and high schools offer adolescents a place for this development. They offer students opportunities to explore and deepen their academic interests, express themselves creatively and socially, and make meaningful contributions to their communities. Montessori education allows adolescents to see themselves as valuable participants in the global community.

Fourth Plane of Development: Maturity (18 – 24 years old)

Dr. Montessori described the fourth plane as a time of maturity and the final plane of development. As adolescents enter adulthood, they develop a sense of certainty—a stronger sense of self. It is during this plane that young adults develop spiritual and moral independence, integrate fully into their communities, and begin to contribute to the construction of a greater world.

Isn’t this what we want for our kids, to reach adulthood with the independence, security, and wholeness to make the world a better place? It’s what Dr. Montessori wanted and why she devoted her life to understanding child development and promoting better education for children. Because of her knowledge of the four planes, children at Villa di Maria get to experience the fullness and beauty of each plane in our classrooms from ages 14 months to 12 years and emerge from VdM in strength to enter adolescence and adulthood.

References: “From Childhood to Adolescence” by Dr. Maria Montessori

Assessment in the Montessori Classroom

How do we assess students without tests?

For most of us tests were a big part of the school experience. Whether we liked them or not, tests feel familiar to us—they were how we proved we knew something, how we passed classes and grades, how we qualified for the next higher level of education. Tests are also something that are noticeably absent from a Montessori school. So, it’s hard not to wonder: how are we assessing our students? Without tests, how do guides know when content has been mastered or when to give the next lesson? How do we know when a child is ready to move into the next program? How do our students compare to their age-matched peers across the country?

Montessori is grounded in two very important principles: the natural patterns of child development and child-led progress. Montessori believes each child progresses within general time frames (the Planes of Development), but at their own unique pace. From a Montessori perspective, formal test-taking does not give a complete picture of a child’s progression. A Montessori education is about more than what can be shown on a test. It is about leading each child toward the fulfillment of their highest potential in every aspect of their person, academically, socially, and emotionally—about giving each child a vision for life.

This calling goes beyond preparing children to simply memorize and regurgitate material for an exam. Instead, the Montessori approach measures progress (a.k.a. assesses children) consistently throughout their time in the classroom environment. Montessori guides use a variety of methods to help each child meet their developmental milestones and master the academic curriculum and social skills appropriate for their age group.

One way guides assess a student is through observation. In a Montessori classroom the guide carefully, deliberately, and objectively observes the children. This is an active, daily practice—they are watching and learning about each child as they practice their lessons every day. Allowing each child the time they need, the guide notices, listens—waits for indication that the child is progressing in the comprehension of, ease with, and precision in their work. Guides make themselves available for questions or requests for assistance and are ready to re-present a lesson (or a certain part of difficulty) as needed. And when a child has mastered a lesson, guides offer the next lesson in the sequence.

Assessment is also integrated into the lessons offered by the guide. For every child, at the start of a new lesson, the guide reviews the previous lesson content to “test” what students remember and to build upon that knowledge. Throughout the day, the guides might also unexpectedly join a student at work to ask them questions about their activity—a sort of Montessori pop quiz. “I see you working on the area of a circle. Do you remember what we call the outside edge of the circle?”

Observation and lesson-integrated assessment are skills employed by guides at every level. As children grow, new levels of assessment are layered in. In the Children’s House, guides begin to use the three-period lesson to offer language and crystalize a concept in a child’s mind. Three objects are chosen, such as a pentagon, hexagon, and square—objects familiar to the child after much sensorial exploration. In the first period of the three-period lesson, the child is given the names for the objects. In the second period, the longest of the three, the child is asked to identify the objects, but the guide says the names. In the third period, the guide points to the object and says, “What’s this?” The third period is the assessment stage of the three-period lesson, but only comes after ample time in the second period.

At the Elementary level, the weekly conference is introduced. Guides check children’s work and note if lessons have been revisited, and if so, whether they are doing so correctly. Guides note whether a child is avoiding certain lessons and make a plan with the child for completion. They also make children aware of the state and national standards society expects them to know by certain grade levels. Children are actively engaged in their own assessments and are motivated (or redirected) to focus their work where needed.

In the Upper Elementary we add in one more layer of assessment—the annual standardized test. The primary purpose of the test on our campus is to provide students the opportunity to develop the formal testing skills, as well as a test-taking comfort level they will almost certainly need as they grow older.

At Villa di Maria, we love that students are not limited to learning only what the state requires. State standards are the baseline, but most students go beyond and learn about anything they are interested in. The universe is the limit to their learning!