Singing in the Children’s House – Getting Ready For the Winter Concert!

Our Winter Concert is coming in two weeks and the Children’s House children are hard at work practicing. Each year the concert opens with our youngest students (almost 90 of them!), dressed in their most special holiday outfits and fired up with excitement, singing on stage. Each year the Winter Concert audience is delighted by their bow ties, sequined skirts, sparkly eyes and beautiful voices.

In the weeks before the magical event, the children and guides practice every day to memorize the lyrics, follow the tune and sing in unison.

This year the program will open with our Extended Day children singing “All I Want For Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey, complete with the high notes! Then the Children’s House Vocal Company (not an official name… yet 😉) will sing “Jingle Bells,” “Let it Snow!,” “Hanukkah,” “Step Into Christmas” by Elton John, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Happy New Year Song.”

There will be dancing, tambourine accompaniment, lots and lots of jazz hands and likely a shenanigan or two. We cannot wait for this year’s Winter Concert—in the meantime, enjoy these photos of some of our favorite young people during concert practice!

Sing, Sing a Song!

photo credit: Melinda Smith

Singing is a natural part of childhood. Most babies are surrounded by it, with parents and grandparents singing to them and music playing in our cars and homes. As children get older, they begin to play song games—they learn the alphabet and how to find their heads, shoulders, knees and toes. They begin to sing along at birthdays and holidays. They begin to make up songs, to dance and play with music. In school, they learn new songs and how to sing in groups. And as they grow into big kids, they ask you turn up the volume in the car for a Taylor Swift sing-along (if you’re lucky!).

photo credit: Melinda Smith

At Villa di Maria, singing is woven into our curriculum at every level—it is a common (and lovely) experience to hear songs coming from our classrooms. And while nothing beats the joyous sounds of children’s voices, the real value in singing is not something we can hear at all; the real value is what’s happening inside the brain.

When we sing, our brains are exercising the auditory and visual pathways, processing language, controlling our vocal cords for pitch, regulating our breathing, accessing memory, recognizing and using patterns, tapping into motor control structures for rhythm, expressing personality and creativity and releasing endorphins. All of these things are happening at the same time when we sing—it is a top-to-bottom workout for the brain.

Children especially benefit from this multitasking because their brains are growing and learning. In just a few songs, children learn new vocabulary and rhyming. They practice listening and following directions. They learn to enunciate and control the volume of their voices. They concentrate and memorize. They work together to sing in unison or in rounds. They exercise their imaginations and express themselves. Singing also offers the opportunity to practice posture and body-control.

And there’s something else: when children sing to perform, they build confidence. They learn that their voices can be powerful and beautiful. They learn to take take pride in themselves and their creativity. This benefits not only the children themselves, but also those of us who are lucky enough to be in their audience and in their lives.

photo credit: Melinda Smith

Here at VdM, we have two formal performances, our Winter and Spring Concerts. Tomorrow, we’ll peek in on our Children’s House singers as they prepare for the upcoming Winter Concert. Stay tuned!


Sources and suggested reading:

Music, Language, and the Brain by Aniruddh D. Patel

The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body by Steven Mithen

“Children’s brains develop faster with music training” by Emily Gersema

“How does the brain process rhythm?” by Elizabeth Kirkham

“The neural control of singing” by Jean Mary Zarate



Winterfest with a Special Guest (and I don’t just mean Santa!)

photo credit: Michelle Peltier

One of our families’ favorite community traditions is right around the corner—Winterfest! This coming Saturday, our families will gather to celebrate the winter holidays with festive decor, foods, activities and crafts. Formerly known as “Breakfast with Santa,” this event is one of VdM’s longest running family events, loved by both children and adults.

photo credit Shannon O’Connell

photo credit: Shannon O’Connell

photo credit: Michelle Peltier

photo credit: Michelle Peltier

For those of us who love to see Santa, he will be here! (Don’t forget, there’s another special guest… keep reading.) Many of our families use this event for their Santa photo-ops. They are offered to our families at no cost by the talented photographers among our parent community.

photo credit: Michelle Peltier

photo credit: Michelle Peltier

And this year, we are thrilled to have another special guest—Steph Plant!  Steph is an AMI Primary Guide and a former VdM Assistant. She is also an author and singer/songwriter. During Winterfest, Steph will sing songs from her nature-inspired children’s music album Moth Wings and Other Things. Copies of Steph’s album, as well as her children’s book The Slithering Snake, will be available to purchase at the event.

The songs I write are most often on the themes of nature, everyday life, and interesting questions children have and I love to watch how my music lights up a room when I play these songs on my guitar or banjo. My songs are soothing, sweet, and engaging with lots of fun rhyme schemes, interesting scales, and of course, always harking back to the child’s innate interests.Steph Plant

We cannot wait for Steph’s sing- and dance-along at this year’s extra special Winterfest!

We Are VdM: The Strongs

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 kick off the series by featuring the Strongs, Maya and her parents Pratistha and Charles. Maya is in her first year in Lower Elementary with Ms. Megan. This is the Strongs’ second year here at VdM.

Villa di Maria: Tell us a bit about you and your family.

Pratistha: We are three free spirits trying to figure life as we go along. I am Nepali, born in Kathmandu, but raised mostly in Texas. Charles is half-Dominican, half-Okie, with a dash of Chikasaw, born and bred in Texas. Maya is an amalgam of us—trilingual (she is even trying to learn French now), loves anything spicy, and she truly lives up to her name: Maya means love or illusion in Nepali.

VdM: Where are you from and what brought you to Villa di Maria?

Pratistha: Well, it is an interesting story. We were brought to Villa from a guide that Maya had in Jefferson City, MO. We were at a crossroads of where to go at the end of the school year a couple of years ago. Maya’s guide told us about this little school in Kirkwood that she thought would be a good fit for us. We were looking for AMI schools all over Texas, but decided to drive up for a weekend trip to St. Louis after the suggestion was made. After checking it out and meeting with Laura Ceretti-Michelman, we knew we could just up and move to Kirkwood without any fear! People think we are crazy, but we moved to Kirkwood because of Villa di Maria! It has been the best decision that we have made not only for Maya, but for us as parents too!

VdM: What do you do, career-wise?

Pratistha: I am a primary care physician and Charles is a pharmacist. We own and operate Kathmandu Clinic, my hometown namesake, that is located in Kirkwood. Please visit my website to learn more about what we do and offer. It is my attempt at making a “Montessori-style” medical practice. I think Dr. Montessori would approve. We are also artists! I write. Charles has his art, hence I call him a “Phartist”. Feel free to call him that if you see him walking around. Some of our work is on the website as well!

VdM: I know your family does quite a bit of traveling/exploring. What has been your favorite family vacation?

Pratistha: Our favorite place to visit is Kathmandu, Nepal. We call it home because it’s my hometown and Charles enjoys it more than his hometown in McAllen, Texas! Maya gets to give hugs to her grandparents and great-grandparents. We get to reinforce the Nepali language and culture.

VdM: What is your favorite close-to-home family activity?

Pratistha: We usually like to garden, whether it is in our own backyard or at Villa di Maria. We get really excited about growing food and medicine. We also enjoy hiking, going to museums, watching sci-fi, reading Harry Potter and finding fun places to eat around town.

VdM: A question specifically for Maya, what has been your favorite part of Lower Elementary so far?

Pratistha: Maya said she likes recess because she can now play all over the campus. She likes playing at the pavilion, in the field, and playing four square with the upper elementary kids. She also likes lunchtime! Her favorite new lesson is Animal Cards. She also likes the new variety of chores and added responsibility in the classroom.

Thank you, Pratistha, Charles and Maya. We are so happy to have you in the VdM family!

Photos courtesy of the Strongs, taken in Kathmandu in December 2018.