We are VdM (at a distance): The Mottl Family

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of and something to hold onto during our school’s COVID-19 closure. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people—and we’ll stay connected!

Today, we’ll meet a family that has been with VdM for over a decade: Meg, Rich, Kellen and Beacan Mottl, and the newest member of their family, Celeste Williams. Kellen and Beacan are VdM alumni, who both currently attend Clayton High School. Celeste is one of the newest VdM students—she joined Mrs. Steinman’s Children’s House just this spring.

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

Rich: The Mottls are lean-in-to-it-ers and doers. We don’t back away. We work to figure things out.

Meg: We are basically a cast of characters… BOOK CHARACTERS!

Rich is the sole Hogwarts Hufflepuff in our family—full on Cedric Diggory. He seeks those in need of assistance EVERYWHERE WE GO, enthusiastically connects with people EVERYWHERE WE GO, and empathizes with every breathing creature EVERYWHERE WE GO.

Kellen’s spirit character is Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web: gentle, kindhearted, wicked smart, agile, fiercely loyal. Toss in a heaping spoonful of “smart-funny,” and that is Kellen.

Beacan is a blend of Encyclopedia Brown and Curious George—confident, interested in everything, athletic, passionate, independent, witty, and quick thinking. B has always been in perpetual motion with his brain and his body.

Celeste is the spirited and spunky Inge Maria Jensen from When Mischief Came to Town. This gal’s heart is bigger than her body, and her boundless energy is contagious. She wonders, imagines, questions, and loves with her whole being.

As for Meg, Rich once said she reminds him of Olive Kitteridge. Not the most flattering comparison, but I can’t argue…

Kellen: We’re weird.

Beacan: We are crazy. Wack.

Celeste: I love my family.

VdM: How did you find Montessori and what brought you to VdM?

The Mottls: The two-word version: Kathy Thames.

The lots-of-words version: From age two-and-a-half to three, Kellen questioned her daily existence at the play-based preschool she attended way back when. Examples: “I have a play kitchen at home. Why do I come here? I have swings at home. Why do I come here? I do crafts at home. Why do I come here? I have friends at home. Why do I come here?”

Throughout that year, I serendipitously kept running into a former parent from my elementary-classroom teaching days (Kathy Thames) who nudged me to beeline myself over to Villa di Maria Montessori School, convinced that was the place for our family. 

Kathy spoke the words, “Villa di Maria Montessori” enough times that we finally scheduled a tour.

All things Villa di Maria Montessori School sparked and amazed and intrigued.

We were ALL IN.

Our oldest stepped foot in Mrs. Milos’s classroom in the fall of 2007 and was thrilled on a cellular level to be in the Children’s House. Beacan clamored after her and joined the VdM community in the fall of 2008. We are currently pinching ourselves daily that Celeste is living the dream at VdM, soaking in all the wonderfulness the Primary Montessori experience has to offer. 

VdM: What do you and your spouse do, career-wise?

The Mottls: Rich has been successfully leading the charges at United Surgical Partners for over 13 years as a Vice President of Business Development. The company is based in Dallas and owns over 400 hospitals and surgery centers across the country. Husband Rich travels part of each week, which appeals to his need for constant stimulation and nonstop interaction with a variety of people across all branches of the company. 

Meg’s curvy career path has circled back to where it started. She taught 3rd through 7th grades back in the day, then stayed home for 3 years when Kellen and Beacan were tiny, owned a small business for several years, worked at VdM in Admissions for a bit, and is currently gearing up to return to full time classroom teaching this fall.

VdM: Tell us about your typical weekend.

The Mottls: We thrive on a full agenda of activity. Bring on the overscheduling of sports and lessons and “forced family fun”! Swim practices, meets, soccer practices, games, music lessons, gymnastics lessons, mountain biking, brisk walks with the dogs, playground shenanigans, scootering, shooting hoops.

As an entity, our family also struggles with a Starbucks addiction. We frequent said establishments multiple times a day. It’s a problem…

Other than that, individually…

Rich enjoys vino and sinking into the couch at night.

Meg deep dives into books. 

Kellen never tires of socializing with friends with any spare minutes.

Beacan alternates between creating music and athletic endeavors.

Celeste imagines, dances, and sings… Rewind. Repeat.

VdM: Tell us something your family is doing to make the most of this extended break?

The Mottls: We’ve been plotting and planning a large vegetable garden to plant this spring and nourish our family through the summer. 

We’ve honed our culinary skills in the kitchen, experimenting with new recipes from the New York Times food section.

We’ve spent hours each day painting and creating acrylic masterpieces.

We formed a family book club and engaged in thought-provoking weekly discussions. 

We’ve each chosen a new language to master, using Duolingo.

Full disclaimer: each statement above is entirely false.

The real scoop:

  1. Rich has been grounded from work travel. Biggest perk of this break is that Husband Rich is HOME for an extended period of time!
  2. The scooters, trikes, bikes, and skateboards are logging lots of minutes around the neighborhood and wearing tracks in the sidewalks.
  3. Hours of crafting with beads, water colors, crayons and clay is a plus.
  4. The older Mottl crowd has binged on episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine. We just need to laugh—loudly and often—these days.
  5. Across-the-street-yelling-while-keeping-social-distance conversations with our neighbors are much needed for sanity and all kinds of hysterical. 

VdM: A question specifically for Celeste: Which do you like more, ponies or puppies? And why?

Celeste: What did you say? No. I like ponies AND puppies. They’re so cute; they’re so fun to play with. I like real ponies like Prince and pretend ponies like Pinky Pie. I have my own two puppies, Mabes and Otto. Mabes is crabby. Otto is my favorite.

Thank you, Meg, Rich, Kellen, Beacan and Celeste. We can’t imagine Villa di Maria without you and we are so happy your growing family is still a part of our community.

Photos courtesy of the Mottl family.

Outside is Open! Ideas for Outdoor Work and Recess During Distance Learning

While our school has temporarily closed in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, our community has jumped back in to what we do best—learning! Villa di Maria guides are working in collaboration with parents and students every day to keep our children connected and inspired to keep learning.

In today’s post, we’ll share some ideas for an essential part of the day—getting outside. Spending time outdoors is a great way to get moving, reduce stress and improve your overall health. At VdM students move freely between their indoor and outdoor work spaces. It is part of their routine and an easy thing to replicate at home during this time of distance learning.

Below we’ve got ideas for outdoor work, jobs (care for the environment), and recess—or anytime you and your family need a dose of fresh air and vitamin D.

Outdoor Work & Jobs

  • Word collection walk: Take a walk and “collect” all the words for the things you see. This is a great way for younger children to build on their spoken vocabulary. Older children will carry a notebook to record their word collection as they walk. Add challenges to find adjectives or synonyms for the words they find.
  • Observe/collect leaves or flowers: All children can collect flowers and leafy plants to bring inside for arrangements or art projects. Older children can also use flowers and leaves for botany identification and experiments.
  • Build a bird, bug or bat house: Research the needs of a particular species of bird, bug or bat and build a shelter for them. Be sure to measure, draw plans, and offer the right amount of assistance needed depending on your child’s stage of development. This website has great ideas for building shelters for bugs and other minibeasts.
  • Bird, bug or wildlife watching: Look for and identify birds, bugs, squirrels and chipmunks in your yard or neighborhood. Use binoculars or magnifying glasses if you have them. Children can vocalize, draw or write their observations.

  • Planting seeds or seedlings: Younger children can help get the garden up and running with your direction, and older children can measure the plot, space the seeds, research the plant’s needs and tend to the growing seedlings. You could even double down on this project with older children—they can experiment with seed growth under various conditions and dissect seeds and seedlings.
  • Compost: If you don’t have a backyard compost bin and have always wanted one, this is a great time to start—your children can do the research, take the measurements and help build one! Then, children can collect the kitchen scraps and turn the compost on a daily basis.
  • Pet care: Walk, wash or play with the dog. Care for the backyard chickens and collect the eggs. When it’s warm enough, and if you have the appropriate enclosure, bring rabbits, guinea pigs, turtles or other small pets outside for a bit of fresh air.
  • Reading, writing, painting and more: If your child is feeling restless but it’s not the right time for “official” outdoor work, move the reading, writing, painting or other tasks outside for a change of scenery.


VdM students are outside, in nearly every kind of weather, for about an hour each and every school day. This is a crucial part of the work day because it provides socialization, movement, fresh air, exercise and relaxation. While socialization is currently limited during distance learning, we can still reap the other benefits at home. Read below for some recess-at-home inspiration.

  • Walking and jogging… and skipping, hopping, and galloping. Travel through the sidewalks of your neighborhood with whichever silly combination of movement your child can dream up.
  • Yard games: Tag, hide and seek, hopscotch, Simon says, red light, green light—get these all back into the rotation for classic, timeless fun. Click here for a great list of outdoor games.
  • Go for a ride: Explore the neighborhood or the path through your local park on bikes, skateboards, roller-blades or scooters.
  • Play ball: Dribble the basketball, toss the football, play a game of old-fashioned catch or come up with a new game-ball-mash-up, complete with a set of child-designed rules.
  • Free time in the yard: On days when the priority is relaxation (and there will many of these), your children should feel free to just be outside. They might want to read, kick a ball around, or just lie on their backs in the sun. This might also be an opportunity to take the laptop to the patio and connect with friends on a video call. The important thing is they have the chance to take advantage of being outdoors.

We hope these ideas inspire you to embrace the outdoors during distance learning. You and your child will learn more, feel more relaxed and have more fun. Happy spring from VdM to you!

Thank you to the Andre Zheng, Dosanjh, Smith and Thrall families for the photos.


Getting Ready for Distance Learning – Independence, Structure and Consistency

While Villa di Maria, the school, is temporarily closed in the collaborative effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Villa di Maria, the community, is just coming off Spring Break and ready to jump back in to what we do best—learning!

Our incredible and dedicated guides have been working to create distance-learning plans for each of our levels—the Children’s House, Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary—to keep our children connected to VdM and inspired to keep learning. Each level’s plan is designed to meet the particular developmental needs of its children (in true Montessori fashion!) but they all share a common framework—independence within structure and consistency.

In today’s post, we’ll share some ideas for getting your home and your family ready to take on the challenge of the upcoming weeks—to get ready for distance learning.

Model calmness, while being both patient and flexible… this transition is new to the children. Children will need help orienting to the new structure and routine, and it will take time for all to adjust.Lower Elementary Guide Megan Eilers

Independence-Inspiring Spaces

As Montessori children, our kids thrive on independence and self-direction. From their first day at our school they have learned that they are capable of working at and mastering even the most challenging of tasks, all by themselves. As we head into this extended break with our children (with them every minute of the day), it is important to remember that they are, by their very nature, capable of working independently. And not just capable—they are motivated by their curiosity and rewarded by their own competence. Working independently boosts their confidence and inspires them to continue to learn.

Of course, they might need to be reminded of this. This past week (a week that feels like a year) has been constant change. There’s been a huge disruption to our daily lives plus the uncertainty about what comes next. This is anxiety-inducing for everyone, and especially so for children. What came naturally to them in their classrooms just a couple of weeks ago might feel impossibly out of reach right now.

To facilitate their confidence-boosting sense of independence with a few modifications to your home environment. Have your children help prepare their work- and play-spaces by tidying them up, organizing the materials they might need for work, and setting those items out for your children to easily access. For younger children, these items might include  scissors, paints, pencils, paper, picture books, and flowers; and for older children: books, work journals, lined and graph paper, rulers and protractors, clay, yarn, flowers and leafy plants, and laptops/tablets.

So that’s step one—create a space to inspire and facilitate independent learning for children while they’re learning from home. Which brings us to step two…

Structure and Consistency

It is a common misconception that independent learning is a free-for-all, that children are let loose in the Montessori classroom to just “do what they want.” In fact, their competence as independent learners comes from the overarching structure that their guides and assistants provide. Children rely on structure and consistency—on routine—to feel secure. When they feel secure, their bodies and brains are at their best; they are able to tap into their natural love of learning.

Ideally, we at home would all be able to create rock-solid routines that we can replicate every Monday through Friday during this extended break from school. In reality, many of us will need to manage our own work-from-home schedules with the learn-from-home schedules of our children. Use the ideas below to help create the best routine for your family.

  • Waking up and morning jobs – Start the day at the same time every day and with consistent jobs (make bed, make breakfast, wash breakfast dishes, etc.).
  • Morning work cycle – Try, if you can, to replicate the uninterrupted three-hour work cycle at home. Set aside the three hours before lunch for your child to do school work independently. Once distance learning begins, VdM guides will be supporting their classroom families to help facilitate this. For now, the important first step is to carve out that time in your family’s schedule.
  • Lunch – Whether you’re making lunch for your children, they’re making it for you or you’re making it together, try to eat lunch at the same time, together, every day.
  • Recess/Free time – Get your children outside every day for an hour or so after lunch to play, exercise and relax. It is crucial to their (and your!) physical and mental health. On days when the weather does not cooperate, do yoga, a dance video or play games inside.
  • Afternoon work – At VdM students work for two hours after recess. Much of this work is independent and some of it is guided with more structure. For Elementary students, this time often includes special projects, foreign languages, art, music, etc.
  • Afternoon jobs – At school, children in the classroom end each day by caring for the environment with specific jobs. Some examples are sweeping, collecting the recycling, dusting, straightening… anything related to their work space.
  • After-school activities – If your child had been going to after-school activities one or two nights a week, try to replicate these at home. If she was going to basketball, have her practice/play with the basketball in the backyard on the same day/time as her class. If the class cannot be replicated, find a substitute activity that your child can do at home.
  • Evening – Try to return to family time on weekdays at the same time you did before the break. Maintain your family’s routines around dinner, screen-time, and getting ready for bed.
  • Bedtime – It really is so important to get to sleep at the same time every night. Consistent sleep is crucial to a healthy, happy, less anxious child.
  • Last but not least, weekends – This is going to be a challenge for many of us. Working from home can make it very difficult to clock out for two days. But as much as we can, let’s try to set aside the weekend for family time. With the exception of assigned reading in Upper Elementary, children should feel free to ignore their work spaces on Saturdays and Sundays. Reserve the weekends for home-related chores, family games, movies on the couch, long walks in the neighborhood, and virtual social time with friends.

At Villa di Maria, we take pride in our community. We are absolutely dedicated to working with and supporting each one of our families as we power through these uncertain times. We can do it, as long as we stick together. In the coming weeks, the blog will offer ideas to help cope with the extended break, as well as feature more of our fantastic families. Stay tuned!


Spring Break! 8 Great Podcasts to Entertain (and Educate) Your Family

Next week Villa di Maria is on Spring Break! For some of us that means catching up on projects around the house and for others that means hitting the road. Whatever your plans, we hope you have some time to relax and have fun as a family. And we’ve got some great podcast recommendations to help!

There are so many great kid-friendly podcasts out there—smart, funny, entertaining and great for grown-ups too. The list below is in alphabetical order, and we’ve included a few key words at the beginning of the description for quick reference. Enjoy!


Brains On. Science, humor, conversational. This is a great podcast full of information. The topics are driven by questions from children and range anywhere from “Why do dogs howl?” to “Why are some things considered gross?” The answers come from experts from all over the world. It is a truly fun way to learn.


Buttons & Figs. Love of words, kid-powered, creativity. This podcast is pure nonsense, in the best way. In the tradition of Lewis Carroll or Shel Silverstein, kids work with the host to play with words and the rules of language to create smart and playful stories, poems and songs. This is the most fun and silly way to encourage a true love of language and expression.


But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids. Kids’ questions about any and every topic. Each episode answers several questions (on the same theme) submitted by kids. The topics range from small to big, easy to complicated. The answers are given straightforwardly and with honesty.


Eleanor Amplified. Fiction, adventure, powerful girls. In the style of old-time radio shows, this is a radio adventure show complete with fun character voices and sound effects. Eleanor is a world-famous radio reporter after her big story. She outsmarts bad guys and travels around the globe, into space and out to sea, all while staying true to the values of honest journalism.


Ear Snacks. Science, art, music, fun. Children’s music duo Andrew & Polly tackle all kinds of topics—from pajamas to rain, clocks to the Census. The pair talk about the topic with each other, experts and kids, all with original songs (many of them ear-worms) as the soundtrack. This podcast is informative and super fun to listen to, especially for young children.


The Past and the Curious. History, storytelling, humor. This podcast brings history alive with deep-dives into big and small stories in history. The episodes cover everything you can think of and may things you might never have thought of—spies, basketball, The Pony Express, olden-days underwear. There’s a great score too!


Smash Boom Best. Debate, humor. From the same folks that do “Brains On,” this podcast showcases debates in fun and informative ways. Two guests (usually adults) debate topics like “unicorns vs. dragons” or “super-strength vs. super-speed.” Each debate is judged by a kid based on genuine debate-judging criteria. It is great fun to listen to and you’ll learn something new in each episode.


The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. Fiction, mystery, slightly spooky. Best for older kids. This is a scripted, serial podcast, professionally produced and performed by kids. Mars Patel’s friends are missing and his search for them leads him into mystery and danger. The story is fully engaging, the performers are fantastic and the music is incredible It is a great podcast.