On Love and Independence…

“Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.”  Dr. Montessori

In parenting, love and independence are often placed in juxtaposition as though they are separate and perhaps rivaling entities. But they are not at odds with each other, being instead immensely, almost inextricably, intertwined.

At birth children are entirely reliant on the adults in their lives. They need us to take care of their every need. We not only provide their food and clothing, we must feed and dress them. As our children grow, they rely on us differently. They begin to feed themselves, dress themselves. However, we often cling to rituals through which we have exhibited our love. We carry our children when they are capable of walking, dress them when they can dress themselves, solve their problems when they can learn to solve them themselves.

Transitioning toward independence can be difficult – we carried and dressed and fed out of love. It’s understandable that we may be slow to give up these signs of love. However, our children grow, change and need us differently. As this happens, our love can now be manifest through a willingness to let them gradually take on the tasks of humanity. We are given the opportunity to love our children into independence.

Each child’s and each family’s path toward independence will look a little different. That said, there are times when particular steps can be made most easily. If we allow children to acquire life skills at the moments when they are interested, we have done them – and ourselves – a great favor. When the child’s internal motivation has passed, skills must be taught rather than naturally acquired and children often push back. On our children’s journey towards independence we’re looking for these choice times when acquisitions are made most naturally. Parenting is made easier by giving your child the right kind of independence at the right time. It serves no one to wait too long to allow children to grow.

The road is, of course, bumpy. We never hit all the magic times, and it can feel overwhelming to try. Here are two hints for finding these opportune moments for your child. First, observe them. When you notice that your child is trying to do something – let them. When you think your child seems ready to do something alone or for themselves – let them try. Second, talk to your child’s guide. There are many acquisitions that happen on a similar trajectory for most children. Guides are masters of this knowledge! Go to parent education, reach out, ask and let your community support you in this endeavor. This is not work you have to do alone.

Only by mastering a skill for themselves (in this case, tying a bow) are children then able to help others. The gift of independence is rich in reward.

Don’t get caught in the false dichotomy of love and independence – it is not an either/or choice. The path of love and independence is a beautiful dance of providing what is needed, of letting go, of being there to hold space for the child as they explore the world themselves and of letting them take off on their own.

My thanks, as always, to the photographic genius of Melinda Smith.

Introducing Melissa Fox

It is with great joy that we introduce the newest member of our team. Melissa Fox joined the VdM community in January as our resident Reading Specialist. Melissa has been diligently working to support the children in our environments. We are so happy to have her!

Describe your educational background.  

I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and Master’s Degree with Reading Specialization from Webster University in 2001.

How/when did you become interested in education?

I first became interested in education when I was a sophomore in high school. My high school had a fellowship in which students earned school credit for teaching ecology in partnership with Missouri Botanical Garden. I continued to pursue this passion for education throughout my high school and college years with Missouri Botanical Garden.

My dedication to teaching reading developed during my first of five years of teaching first grade. I wanted to find out more about this magical time in a children’s development as they move from being emergent to fluent readers and writers. I quickly moved from teaching the sciences, to find my love for coaching literacy.

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

Every day I wake up and am thrilled to grow and learn with the students. Many of the foundations of Montessori are engrained in my overall understanding of a child’s path of learning to speak, read and write. I see all of my coachings for literacy as a pathway of lifelong communication. I love working in an environment that understands and captures this underlying principle. “The education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life.” – Maria Montessori

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

I enjoy spending time with my three children and husband. I love being in the outdoors, physical fitness, and of course, reading books!

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

An ideal weekend day would be a spending a spring day at Innsbrook without ANY school activities, sports or commitments.  My family and I would have brunch together, go for a long walk with the dogs and play board or card games. ☺

What is something you forward to this school year?  

I look forward to getting to know the students, staff, and better understanding the Villa di Maria community. From meeting Clover the bunny to each student, each day has been a joy, and I am looking forward to many more.

Your Favorite:

Color: Yellow

Season: Spring

Book: Too many to list!

Childhood book: The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss

Read Aloud Book: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

Adult Book Read in Recent Years: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Holiday: 4th of July

Movie: Dead Man Walking

Hobby: Walking my dogs

Type of music: Pop, jazz, country, classical and after a long day, silence ☺

Song: “Living in the Country” by George Winston

Restaurant in St. Louis: Brasserie by Niche

Vacation: Destin, Florida

Sport: Any sport where I can cheer for my children

Game: Hearts and Spades

Fruit: Banana

Vegetable: Artichoke

If you had to choose ONE:

Rain or Snow: Snow

Coffee or Tea: Coffee

Morning or Night: Morning

Ocean or Lake: Ocean

Dog or Cat: DOGS, you can never have too many

Talk or Listen: Listen

Walk or Run: Walk

Save or Spend: Save

Bike or Swim: Bike

Salt or Pepper: Salt

Realistic Fiction or Fantasy: Realistic fiction

Summer or Winter: Summer

New York or California: New York; that is where my husband lived when we met!

Cook or Dine Out: Dine out

Standardized Testing

For many of us, schooling is inextricably linked to memories of testing, evaluations and scores. One thing that draws us to Montessori is the general absence of testing as we experienced it. However, the absence of traditional tests is not an absence of assessment.

Assessments are only helpful if they give information which is valid and accurate. Surely many of us can relate to the experience of doing well on a test but not truly understanding the information tested. So, unlike traditional models, assessment in Montessori classrooms provides real feedback to the guide – and the child – about their understanding.

The child is frequently assessed by their guide through direct interaction and observation. This one-on-one consideration allows the guide concrete understanding of where a child is, what they understand and where any gaps in knowledge might be.

Moreover, the children are given the skills to self-assess – to determine for themselves where they need more practice, where they went wrong, what they need to do to succeed. This work is not done in a vacuum; the guide works on the skill of self-assessment with the child. In the Elementary classroom this work can concretely be seen during weekly conferences although in reality the work is done every day. This is true not just of academic feats but also of social and emotional endeavors.

Testing in the more traditional sense is, however, a reality of our world. And as test-taking is a skill in and of itself, it is something we want to give the children some experience with. And so, at the beginning of March our 3rd through 6th year students will embark on a week of standardized testing after spending time at the end February prepping for the experience. For those with 3rd years, please know that this is a rite of passage that is generally greeted with excitement and eager anticipation!

As this type of test is divergent from the experiences most Montessori children are familiar with, the message that we send our children about it is important and formative.

To that end, we ask that you encourage your children to do their best without unnecessarily weighting the outcomes. From our perspective, this test gives them practice and exposure to the types of standardized tests which they may be taking in the future. It does not necessarily mean one thing or another about them academically. It has gravity and importance, but it does not (and cannot) reflect the fullness of their intellect or ability.

Finally, when you receive your child’s scores in the next few months, please refrain from sharing the results with them. This information is not helpful to your child, and it is difficult to share scores with children without giving them false import. Remember that while the scores may be helpful on a macro level (e.g., providing feedback to guides regarding class-wide strengths or weaknesses), the scores are taken out of any meaningful context for children. The children may try to contextualize their numbers by comparing them with classmates which is, as you can imagine, beneficial to no one. The social nature of Elementary children, coupled with the novelty of test scores, lead us to ask the community as a whole to refrain from sharing test results with children.

The important parenting work surrounding the test taking experience is to reassure your child that while you want them to do their best and try their hardest, you love them anyway, no matter what.  Make sure that they know that the test does not prove or disprove anything about them as people. And finally, to support the entirety of the experience, make sure they are well-rested, well-fed and unscreened the morning of testing.

My thanks to Anna Schwind for many, many of the above words along with lots of insights (as always!). The brilliance of the photography comes from Melinda Smith and Lauren Knight.

Adventure on Valentine’s Day

With the Sixth Years taking on Montessori Model United Nations in New York City, the rest of Upper Elementary decided to a take on the City Museum! Upper Elementary students came up with the idea, planned the trip and obviously had loads of fun!

My thanks to Lauren Knight and Samantha Clarke for the photos! And if you want to truly see the children in action, take a look at these. IMG_5252      IMG_5247

Alumna Spotlight

As our children progress through Montessori environments we delight in their growth and development. It’s worth noting though that this development does not just aid them as children, rather it forms a strong foundation for their whole lives. 

At times this connection can be difficult to see – we take a leap of faith that providing this for our children now will continue to bear fruit later. We give them practice making choices hoping they’ll learn how to make good ones. We teach interdependence hoping their worldview will be informed by this knowledge. We plant seeds so that we may see not just the bud but the full blossoming that often occurs much later. 

So, what a joy to highlight an alum who clearly is flourishing; who has taken all she’s been given at Villa di Maria and is doing her part to positively impact the world. So, let’s take a look at the project Gabrielle McAuley (VdM Class of 2016) is currently working on. Her Montessori roots are clearly bearing fruit just three years after graduating. 

Gabrielle working with a scientist through an internship at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

Gabrielle attended Villa di Maria from age two to twelve and is now a freshman at Clayton High School. (And yes, she is the daughter of Mrs. McAuley, P1 guide extraordinaire.) She was struck by the opportunity to help bond the city with the county by connecting Clayton High School students with communities in other parts of St. Louis. To that end, she applied for and was granted a plot of land through St. Louis’s Land Reutilization Authority’s Garden Lease Program to start a community garden downtown. Her hope is to eventually turn this project into a non-profit.

Gabrielle’s objective is to bring neighbors together, provide food for hungry families and partner with the community to grow their own food. She gives credit for having some of the essential skills needed to manage this initiative to the work she did of creating a rain garden while attending the Montessori Adolescent Program (MAP). 

Since it’s a shady lot, she’s collaborating to design sculptures that will amplify sunlight. She has also partnered with a student-run club, Volunteen, along with Green Club to build composting bins.

Her team is seeking to raise $400 for building supplies by selling t-shirts designed by her fellow students. To support Gabrielle’s project, please purchase your $25 t-shirt by 2/22/19 here. You can also make a donation of cash via this link (note, since she is not yet affiliated with an NPO, your donation is not tax deductible). 

T-Shirt Design

Good luck Gabrielle! It’s a delight to see the good you are putting back into the world.